We are almost there, my friends. You can smell the brackets freshly printed off the printer. You can hear the CBS theme song, followed repeatedly by the same advertisements over and over and over again until you’re somewhat sure you’re living the same day over and over again.
It’s Championship Week, which means Selection Sunday and the NCAA Tournament are a week away.
As I’ve said here before, this time of year, the prices on teams aren’t likely to be completely out of whack. We all know Duke’s really good. Got it. And Michigan State. And Villanova. Everyone now thinks Michigan’s really good since they won the Big 10 Tournament, so they’re in the top 10 lowest odds too. Still, there are a few prices I think are interesting as we count down the days to the unveiling of the field.
Florida 55/1, Kentucky 60/1
Sign me up for this. These are the 2 actual best teams in the SEC, and the 2 you should be eyeing in the tournament much more than Auburn or Tennessee.
Fun facts about those teams: Tennessee allowed a better FG percentage from 2-point range than they shot themselves in the SEC. Auburn is 4-4 in their last 8 games, and is going to continue to play without one of their best players for the rest of the season.
This is all a way of saying that I think the upside for Florida and Kentucky is immensely greater than for the actual 1 and 2 seeds in the SEC Tournament. And yet Auburn and Tennessee are both 45/1, while the Gators and Wildcats sit behind them. That won’t last long. The SEC tournament will decide some of the short-term price changes, but long-term, these are your squads. Their problem all year has been consistency, but when the tournament rolls around, upside becomes more important than consistency because it isn’t a problem motivating most teams for NCAA Tournament games. It’s one of the reasons why I hate Virginia every year, and why up until now I’ve always been right. Tony Bennett gets the maximum out of his players each game (to his credit, that’s amazing), but it means there isn’t another gear to go to in the tournament.
I have no idea what to do here, but man this number is enormous for a team with this profile. Here’s what we know: They are 22nd in KenPom, 24-6 this season (14-4) in conference. Their non-conference has a couple rough losses (Drexel, LSU) which have to be the sole reason for this price. In conference play, however, they split with Wichita State and Cincinnati, who are both regarded as top-tier teams this season who will get high seeds. Isn’t it at least possible that Houston is their equal? In which case, 175/1 is amazing. They also are in no danger of missing the NCAA Tournament (Currently a 7 seed in Bracketology. Isn’t it also possible the American was better than it normally is, with 3 teams ranked so highly? We pay so much attention to the ACC, and this season the Big 12, that we seem to make up our minds so early in the year on which conferences are good and which are not. This leads me to…
USC and UCLA (200/1)
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the Trojans and Bruins are on the bubble come tournament selection time. Let’s take a little walk down memory lane:
2017: USC is out of Joe Lunardi’s field the day before selection Sunday, with the Trojans eliminated from the Pac-12 Tournament. USC is then put in the field, in the First Four, drawing the ire of many pundits. USC then defeats Providence in the first four. USC then defeats SMU in the Round of 64 (an upset in both seed and spread, unfortunately ending Semi Ojeleye’s college career…I say unfortunate because man, he was fun to watch last year). The Trojans then lost (but covered miraculously) against Baylor, narrowly missing out on a trip to the Sweet 16.
2015: UCLA is included in the tournament field despite everyone universally agreeing they should not have been. What’s more, they are given an 11 seed and not sent to Dayton. UCLA plays SMU (the Mustangs again! Amazing) and Bryce Alford goes completely crazy. The Bruins win, then advance to the 2nd weekend of the tournament by beating upstart UAB. UCLA lost to Gonzaga in the Sweet 16, which makes sense because that Gonzaga team was incredible.
My point here is that for whatever reason, we get it in our heads that these Pac-12 teams don’t have anything to offer come tournament time, and recently those preconceived notions have been proven wrong by the team’s performance. This year, both USC and UCLA are bubble teams, despite the fact that they are the 2nd and T-3rd best teams in a power conference. The Pac-12 is being devalued a lot this season for a variety of reasons, but how many of those reasons are rooted in how teams were playing in November and not how they’re playing in March?