Han Solo would not enjoy this article.
All odds listed are for that particular team to win their region and advance to the Final Four, and all odds are accurate as of early Tuesday morning. Be careful opening the overhead compartment, as odds may have shifted during your flight.
The smart money is on: I like Virginia at 2-1 slightly better than Villanova at 3-2, just because I think Nova's half of the bracket is slightly tougher. Neither of those picks would be considered dumb, however.
The team whose odds have the best value: Michigan State at 12-1. Any time you can get a Tom Izzo team in March at 12-1, you have to take a long look at it. Virginia can't be thrilled that their potential second-round opponent in the 2-7 game is the team that took them out last year. (I guess they can be happy that their 7-seed isn't a top-15 team in the country-- one that also happens to be an in-state foe with a Napoleon complex that has been itching for a chance to play the 2 seed for years. But let's not talk about KU for a second).
My favorite long shot pick: North Carolina State at 60-1. The Wolfpack knocked off Duke, North Carolina, and Louisville this year, and is the exact sort of streaky 8 seed that can either make a decent run, or lose by 20 in the first round and fire their head coach the next day. It wouldn't be any fun if your long shot was reliable in any way, shape, or form.
Smart money: Kentucky is at -400 right now for this region. That is absolutely ridiculous. Kenpom has them at 68% to win the region. That is also ridiculous. Generally speaking, anything below even money and above 50% in those respective categories is crazy. Basically, Kentucky has been trashing conventional gambling/projection numbers for weeks now.
Best value: Because of the Kentucky factor, there are plenty of juicy picks here-- although technically, because of the Kentucky factor, they should all probably be classified as long shots, as opposed to value picks. Whatevs. Notre Dame, which is basically the blueprint for the type of team who could possibly beat Kentucky, is at 10-1. I'm a little down on our Jayhawks this year, especially sans Cliff Alexander, but it's pretty rare to get 10-1 odds on a #2 seed-- and a blue blood, no less! Wichita St. has the same 10-1 odds, seriously, good job Selection Committee on that #7 seed. Gun to my head, I think the tastiest value pick is probably Maryland at 25-1. No, I don't think they have an especially good chance to beat Kentucky, but if banners were hung before the tournament started, I'd be wearing a Kansas 2010 National Championship t-shirt right now-- and only because my '97 Champs shirt wouldn't fit any more.
One other interesting note: Vegas currently has #11 seed Texas at 20-1 to win the Midwest, and #5 seed West Virginia at 40-1. I'm not quite sure what to do with that info-- probably should ignore it since Kentucky will roll everyone by 20 anyway-- just thought I should pass it along.
Favorite long shot: Your Bobby Hurley-led Buffalo Bulls at 150-1. Here's a probably overused anecdote that you've surely already heard, will continue to hear, and will indeed hear again right now: Buffalo led both Kentucky and Wisconsin at halftime of their games this year. On the road both times. Yes, they ended up losing both games, but that's the kind of stat I want to see from my 150-1 long shots.
Smart money: Wisconsin and Arizona are both 1.3-1, and rightly so*. Don't make me pick between those two teams. If the aforementioned gun is still pointed at my head, then I'll take Wisconsin. But that would be one hell of an Elite 8 game, and pretty much the definition of a stay-away game from a gambling perspective.
*Seasoned gamblers: I know that 1.3 is improper form, I didn't want to throw up +130 out of nowhere. Just trying to make it easier to understand for non-gamblers.
Best value: I kinda like Ol' Roy and the Tar Heels at 10-1. They've been pretty disappointing all year long, in the sense that I thought they were a title contender back in November, but minus the last ten minutes of the ACC Championship game (the same ten minute stretch that has me terrified of Notre Dame), they're finally showing signs of being that Final Four threat.
Favorite long shot: Georgia State at 300-1. RJ Hunter is a future NBA player. Kevin Ware has big-time tournament experience from his time at Louisville. Ryan Harrow should have had big-time tournament experience from his time at Kentucky, but they went to the NIT that year, and then Calipari recruited over him and he transferred. Sad face.
So they have the names; as far as mid-majors are concerned, that's half the battle for casual gamblers. Now for some actual stats: They rebound the ball horribly, and are just 272nd in the country in shooting 3's. However, they are great at turning over the other team while not turning it over themselves, ranking 17th and 38th in the nation, respectively. And what they lack in 3-point shooting, they make up for inside the arc, ranking 19th offensively and 15th defensively in 2-point %. What that adds up to for me is: If the Panthers can just string together a couple of decent shooting nights, and continue to do everything else they already do well....that's all I'm asking for with a 300-1 shot. I'm a simple man like that.
Smart money: Duke at 3-2. I think that Duke's ceiling is as high as Kentucky's; when the Dukies are on, they're terrifyingly good. But as we also saw this year, their floor can be low (hi loss to Miami by 16 at home). I don't think they're in danger of a Lehigh or Mercer-type meltdown, but I'm sure those memories are rattling around Duke fans' brains just a lil' bit this week.
Best value: I didn't see anything that made me want to immediately hop on a plane and start dumping money in every sports book on The Strip. I love Iowa State in this region, and think they have a really good shot to at least upend Gonzaga and get to the Elite 8....but unfortunately the oddsmakers agree. 5-1 isn't exactly phenomenal odds for a #3 seed. If you're of the Kenpom persuasion, then I suppose you can do worse than getting Utah, the 8th best team in the country, at 6-1 odds.
Favorite long shot: Eastern Washington at, wait for it, 1,000-1. The Eagles launch a ton of 3's, and make just under 40% of them (good for 14th nationally). They play Georgetown in the Round of 64, and besides the fact that John Thompson III loves to get upset in the early rounds, Georgetown is horribly over-seeded as a 4. Knock off the Hoyas, and hey! Both you and Eastern Washington are already 1/4 of the way there! We all remember VCU in 2011. This kind of thing can happen, and all you have to do is risk a couple bucks for a multiple-thousand-dollar payout. Have you seen Taco Bell's Dollar Menu lately? $3,000 buys LOTS of Beefy Fritos Burritos and Triple Layer Nachos.
If a thousand to one is too crazy for your blood, then I dunno, take Stephen F. Austin at 75-1 or something. I guess you don't love Taco Bell that much, Fun Police.