March Madness returns today for two weeks of jam-packed action and excitement. Sixty four teams enter, but only one will leave as national champion.
Now that the First Four is in the books, the NCAAB Men’s Division I Championship aka March Madness 2018, can officially begin. The tournament kicks off in a big way with 16 first round games, the first of which tips off at 12:15 PM ET today and the last of which is at 9:57 PM ET. That same schedule repeats tomorrow (Friday, March 16). So if you’re a basketball fan that happens to have some vacation days you’re eligible to take, these next two days are going to feel like heaven.
Last year, at USABetting, we provided a historical preview of March Madness going over its origins, the culture associated with it and the wonderful but less than scientific art of bracketology. If you’d like to read up on that, you can find it here. This year, our focus will be on the teams, the matchups, the upsets and everything that has to do with the playing of the games themselves. This preview will dive right in and conclude with our March Madness predictions and betting tips.
The View from the Top: A Quick Look at the No. 1 Seeds
Dating back to 1979, the first year that teams were seeded, a No. 1 seed has won 23 times and finished as the national runner-up an additional 15 times. Only eight of the 39 championship games have been played without a one-seed, which is the same amount of games that have been contested between two No. 1 seeds. Two of these such games, took place over the last three tournaments.
To put that into simple terms, there is smart money to be placed on betting one of the four top seeds to win the whole thing. This year, you’ll have your pick between Virginia, Villanova, Kansas and Xavier.
No. 1 Overall Seed: Virginia (31-2); +620 (best odds): No team has been better or more consistent this season than the Virginia Cavaliers, who were the hands down choice for the NCAA tournament’s top seed. Virginia won both the ACC regular-season title and the conference’s tournament championship as well. This is a conference that includes a pair of No. 2 seeds in Duke and North Carolina, both teams Virginia defeated this year. In all, the ACC tied their NCAA record set last year by sending nine teams to the tournament. On paper, this makes the ACC college basketball’s top conference this year and its champion, the top champion. Virginia finished the season 17-1 in the ACC and as the best defensive team in the country.
This is their third time in the last five years receiving a No. 1 seed. However, if Virginia has one Achilles heel to keep an eye on, it’s overcoming the Elite 8. The Cavaliers have made just two Final Fours in 22 tournament appearances, the last one coming in 1984. As a one-seed, they have failed to advance past the Sweet 16 both times. So despite being college basketball’s best team in a powerhouse conference with strong out of conference performances, Virginia is far from a lock.
No. 2 Overall Seed: Villanova (30-4); +600 (best odds): As good as the ACC was this year, there is no denying that Villanova’s home conference was pretty solid in its own right. In fact, the Big East, while sending less teams than the ACC, has the distinct claim of being the only conference this year to boast two No. 1 seeds. Villanova is one and the second is Xavier, who the Wildcats defeated soundly in both their regular season meetings this year. Villanova lost the Big East regular season title to Xavier however, marking the first season since the Big East’s realignment in 2013 that the Wildcats were not outright champs. The team did however, win their second consecutive conference championship and third in the past four seasons. Not to mention, the consensus among analysts is that they have the easiest path to the Final Four, plus the team has a National Player of the Year candidate in Jalen Brunson, leading the way.
In Jay Wright’s tenure as head coach, the Wildcats have gone to the big dance in 12 of 16 seasons including each of the past four. However, much like Virginia, their performances in March Madness haven’t always inspired confidence. Villanova shocked many in the college basketball world when they won the championship in 2015-16 as a two-seed. As a one-seed however, which the Wildcats were last year and again in 2014-15, Villanova recorded a pair of disappointing losses in the second and third round respectively. So also like Virginia, this team is far from a sure thing.
No. 3 Overall Seed: Kansas (27-7); +1400 (7th best odds): According to ESPN’s People’s Bracket, which collects every bracket submitted and adds up the percentages of who fans most think will win, the national championship will be contested between Villanova (68 percent of brackets picked them to make the championship) and Virginia (70%). Coming in third, and a distant third at that, is Kansas, coming off winning their eighth Big 12 tournament championship since 2006, and their 14th consecutive outright conference title.
Kansas is one of college basketball’s all-time great teams. They have been to the NCAA tournament a whopping 46 times and are coming off back-to-back seasons of reaching the Elite Eight. The Jayhawks last won the title in 2008 and last played in the championship in 2012. This is their 14th year as a No. 1 seed, and third consecutive. As a one-seed, the Jayhawks have failed to get out of the Sweet Sixteen only six times, which is a much stronger track record than both Villanova and Virginia have.
No. 4 Overall Seed: Xavier (28-5); +1600 (10th best odds): The final No. 1 seed was decided between North Carolina (fifth overall) and Xavier, but at the end of the day the committee had to look at win/loss record and the Musketeers had five less losses than the Tar Heels. Historically speaking, Xavier doesn’t have the pedigree of a North Carolina but their tournament resume is every bit as worthy. The Musketeers won the Big East outright title for the first time and is coming off of two Sweet Sixteen appearances since 2015. The losses to Villanova notwithstanding, Xavier’s season was marked with a lot of success thanks in large part to Trevon Bluiett. Bluiett was one of college basketball’s best and most accurate scorers this year and if Xavier can get to their first Final Four in program history, it will no doubt be because of his lights-out shooting.
Our Preview’s March Madness Predictions & Betting Picks Verdict
If you’re not sold on putting your betting money on any of the top four seeds, that’s okay, because in a lot of ways, none of them are that solid. All of the top seeds have blemishes, no matter how small, leaving the field a little more open than fans have been accustomed to. Plus, the two-seeds, are incredibly strong this year, as are the threes, which feature Michigan State, the team tied as third favorites with the best sportsbooks to win March Madness 2018. Then there’s a team like Arizona, seeded 16th overall, but they have the fourth best odds to become champion.
There is definitely the potential for upsets. That being said, it is hard to imagine, with the way Virginia has been playing, that they won’t make the finals. Their one-seed is Xavier, which would be the easiest matchup, and their two is North Carolina, a team the Cavaliers have already beaten twice this year. Villanova, with the easiest road is always primed for an upset come March but this team has two of the country’s top-10 tournament players right now in Brunson and Mikal Bridges. They also won’t have to see either Duke, Michigan State or Kansas until the Final Four.
Look for this to be the third year in the last four that two No. 1 seeds reach the finals. As for the winner, and our March Madness predictions, if Villanova plays the way they did two years ago, it’s hard to see a better team in the country. If Virginia stays hot, they’ll breeze through the tournament. When it comes to March Madness, it’s hard to know which teams will play up or down especially with the track record of these two.