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Betting March Madness: 5 things we've learned en route to the Sweet 16

The NCAA men’s college basketball tournament is down to just 16 teams, as Sweet 16 is upon us during March Madness.

Cinderella is MIA

If it seems like the heavyweights, high seeds and blue bloods have dominated in this year’s NCAA Tournament, it’s because they have.

All three of the top seeds in each region have advanced to the Sweet 16 for only the second time (2009 being the other season) since the tourney expanded to 64 teams in 1985 and are joined by two No. 4s, a No. 5 and a No. 12. And even that 12 seed, Oregon, is from a major conference after qualifying automatically as the Pac-12 Tournament champ.

Twelve of the remaining 15 finalists are from either the ACC, SEC or Big Ten and the others are the regular-season champs from the Big 12 (Texas Tech), American Athletic (Houston) and West Coast (Gonzaga).

Looking forward, though, something is likely to give as there hasn’t been an Elite Eight featuring all eight No. 1 and No. 2 seeds since the field expansion 34 years ago.

And upsets are AWOL

Going hand-in-hand with the above, there were only five notable (difference of five seeds or more) upsets by seed in the first two rounds. That’s only half as many as there were through the first two rounds a season ago.

When the pointspreads are factored in, betting favorites have gone 37-11 so far straight-up (23-25 ATS) after an impressive 16-0 SU (11-5 ATS) showing in the second round.

Duke tickets aren’t cashing

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

While the No. 1 overall-seeded Blue Devils remain the favorites to win it all (see below) and Zion Williamson (and his dedicated in-game TV camera) is still the talk of the tourney, the Duke pointspreads are correspondingly inflated and the Devils remains a poor bet on game-to-game basis.

Coach K’s crew has failed to cover its first two NCAA games as 27.5- and 13.5-point favorites, respectively, and is now 18-18 against the spread on this season.

Meanwhile, the other three No. 1 seeds – Virginia (24-10 ATS), North Carolina (22-11-2) and Gonzaga (22-13) – are well above .500 against the number on the year and are all 1-1 ATS so far in the Big Dance.

Heed the ratings

No, not the telecast ratings (which are up by the way despite the lack of upsets and an abundance of late-game drama), but the numbers generated by college hoops guru Ken Pomeroy.

Looking back at Pomeroy’s pre-tourney ratings on March 18, 14 of his top 15 have since qualified for the Sweet 16, the outliers being No. 18 LSU and No. 43 Oregon.

And 12 of the current Sweet 16 teams owned top-10 adjusted offensive or defensive efficiency ratings with the exceptions of Kentucky (13th offense, 12th defense), Virginia Tech (11th, 25th), Houston (24th, 13th) and Oregon (108th, 18th) although all 16 squads were 18th or better in one or the other.

Championship odds on the move

Aside from longshots Oregon and Virginia Tech moving up significantly, there have been some notable changes in the tourney championship odds over the last week as posted at the Las Vegas Superbook.

Duke has slipped from 2-1 to 3-1 and North Carolina has likewise fallen from 6-1 to 13-2. Meanwhile, fellow top seeds Gonzaga (5-1 to 4-1) and Virginia (8-1 to 9-2) have seen their title odds improve.

On the No. 2 seed line, Michigan State (14-1 to 10-1) and Michigan (20-1 to 14-1) have seen their odds jump while Kentucky (12-1 to 16-1) and Tennessee (16-1 to 20-1) have taken dips.

And with the West Region’s top seeds (Gonzaga and Michigan) looking strong, Texas Tech (20-1 to 25-1) and Florida State (30-1 to 40-1) have been knocked down.


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