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March Madness Odds: Perennial Powers in a Pickle

Sascha Paruk

by Sascha Paruk in News

Dec 28, 2016 · 4:06 PM PST

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo is just 2-7 straight-up in the Final Four and 1-4 ATS over his last five appearances. Photo from Wiki Commons

Every time I drag my lazy bottom (pardon my language) to the gym in the morning, I see the same old dude on the same treadmill. Every damn time. I’m guessing he’s there every day. When the day comes that he’s not there (let’s face it, I’m probably going to outlive him), I’ll be left searching for terra firma. Some things are just givens, and when they give out, it makes you question what other ostensible constants are more gossamer than you thought. Will our country always be a global military superpower? Am I always going to be able to buy bananas at the grocery store? Will Tom Izzo always qualify for March Madness?

That last one might be the most certain of the three. Or it was at the start of the season when Izzo’s Spartans, who have made 19 consecutive tournament appearances, were a top-ten team in the Coaches Poll.

Sparty lost its first two games, but those were both neutral site games against top-ten teams (at the time), Arizona (65-63) and Kentucky (69-48), and there was no reason to panic. Then things got a bit concerning with a couple more losses in the next half-dozen games (73-58 vs Baylor; 78-69 at Duke).

Again, though, not time to panic. Baylor and Duke are both top-five teams at the moment.

Then the ground under our feet really started to show cracks. The cause of the fissure? An 81-73 setback to Northeastern … at home. Yes, Miles Bridges was out at the time. But still, Stony Brook managed to beat Northeastern. The Spartans should have rolled, Bridges or no Bridges.

Michigan State entered Big Ten play at just 6-5, and the loss to the Huskies could loom large come Selection Sunday. If the team doesn’t put together an impressive run in conference play, or capture the Big Ten’s auto-bid, Izzo will find himself watching at home come March. With the Big Ten in a bit of a down year, the chances for signature wins will be few and far between the rest of the way. If Bridges is less than 100-percent for an extended period of time, capitalizing on those remaining chances is going be tough.

Izzo’s Spartans aren’t the only March mainstay in danger of missing the dance. Syracuse probably should have missed out last year after going 23-14 overall and 9-9 in ACC play. Jim Boeheim righted the ship in the tourney, though, and made a run to the Final Four. Everything looked copacetic in Orangeland, and the team was top-20 in both preseason polls. That now feels like a lifetime ago as Syracuse enters conference play with five losses, including a truly embarrassing home setback of their own: 93-60 versus St. John’s.

St. John’s! The team that’s dead-last in the Big East, the team that’s already lost to LIU, Old Dominion, and Delaware State.

The Orange are now poised to miss just their second tournament in the last nine years, and it’s going to take a huge in-conference performance to change that.

Meanwhile, UConn, which won it all in 2012 and 2014 and has only missed the tourney twice since 2010, is under .500 and showing no signs of improvement. The VCU Rams (six straight appearances) are on the early bubble thanks to Ls against Illinois (64-46, neutral) and Georgia Tech (76-73, home).

ESPN’s latest bracket projection reflects the Big Ten’s unimpressive year to date, with no Big Ten teams on the top three lines. Minnesota and Northwestern are both among the last four in, and Michigan and Illinois are even on the bubble right now. That projection still has nine Big Ten teams in the field, but that’s not going to hold.

I don’t have time or space to touch on all the disappointments from non-conference play. Before we get to the odds du jour, though, I will give a special shout-out to Texas (6-6 overall with losses to UT-Arlington and Kent State).


2017 March Madness Props

Odds to win the tournament

Duke: 6/1
UCLA: 9/1
Kentucky: 14/1
Kansas: 16/1
Villanova: 20/1
Baylor: 22/1
UNC: 22/1
Gonzaga: 35/1
Indiana: 35/1
Virginia: 35/1

Duke has a loss on its resume, unlike UCLA, Kansas, and Villanova. But the team is ridiculously deep. Even if Grayson Allen is having a bad day (or is suspended), Luke Kennard can take over … or Jayson Tatum … or Amile Jefferson … or Frank Jackson. (And that doesn’t even account for potential no. 1 overall pick Harry Giles.) The ceiling for this team is scary. On the other hand – and no offense to TJ Leaf and Bryce Alford – but UCLA is going to look like a drastically different squad if and when Lonzo Ball has an off night.

Odds Michigan State makes the field: 4/5

It’s been rough for Izzo so far, but I still believe in the Hall of Fame coach. When Bridges is back to full speed, I see this team putting together a nice Big Ten resume.

Odds Syracuse makes the field: 9/1

Their losses aren’t of the same quality as Michigan State’s, and they have an unrelenting ACC schedule ahead of them. They’re going to be in the bottom half of the conference and that, coupled with a poor non-conference showing, will ensure they don’t get the chance to recreate last year’s magic.

O/U on the number of Big Ten teams that make the field: 7.5

The top of the conference isn’t great, but there’s still decent depth. After Syracuse’s run to the Final Four last year, we may (unfortunately) see more mediocre power conference teams get at-large bids over upstart mid-majors.

Odds a Big Ten team receives a top-three seed: 1/2

Whoever wins the regular season title should enter the tourney as a top-12 team, barring some serious parity.


Photo credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class David Danals [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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