Upcoming Match-ups

5 Cinderellas to Dance with in 2018 NCAA Tournament

Sascha Paruk

by Sascha Paruk in College Basketball

Updated Mar 28, 2020 · 3:05 PM PDT

The O-Dome in Gainesville
The O-Dome figures to be rocking this year as Mike White has a top recruiting class joining a solid crop of veterans. Photo by Great Degree CC License.
  • Which March Madness longshots have a real shot of winning the 2018 national championship?
  • Is there any chance the Florida Gators will get hot and reach the Final Four?
  • Which team at +35,000 odds is worth a wager?

With the release of the 2018 March Madness bracket comes the release of new National Championship odds at online sportsbooks. The last time we updated our National Championship Odds Tracker (which aggregates the odds from various sites), we said Xavier was offering value at +2000, while Trae Young and Oklahoma were being overrated at +4000.

If you’re keen on the Musketeers, hopefully you jumped on them back then, because they earned a #1 seed in March Madness and are now looking at +1500 average odds; and hopefully you didn’t wager on the Sooners, who have only won two games since January and are now sitting at +14,000.

Today’s breakdown is for those bettors who set aside a small portion of their bankroll for a potential March Madness Cinderella, as we analyze the live underdogs in the latest national championship futures.

Florida Gators

If this were boxing, you would say that Florida has a “puncher’s chance.” The Gators are a highly volatile team that can beat Gonzaga (111-105, 2OT), hang with Duke (87-84 loss), and lose to Loyola-Chicago at home (65-59). They rely heavily on the three and can go ice-cold at times. If that happens in the tournament, they won’t last a game.

But they can also get extremely hot. If that happens in the tournament, they can beat anybody in the country on any court. When you’re looking for a longshot, you need to find some plausible narrative that leads to the improbable. Florida heating up from three behind the likes of NBA-level talent Jalen Hudson is one such story.

Currently sitting at +6,000, on average, Florida, a #6 seed in the tournament, will also have the advantage of playing a tired team out of the gate, getting the winner of the First Four game between #11s UCLA and St. Bonaventure. (Although it’s debatable whether that’s actually an advantage, since a First Four team has advanced to the Round of 32 every season it’s been in effect.)

The best payout on Florida, at the moment, is +9000.

Virginia Tech Hokies

Like Florida, Virginia Tech proved during the regular season that they can beat the best of the best, sporting a resume that includes Ws over Virginia (61-60, road) and Duke (64-63, home). One frequent attribute of Cinderella runs is great guard play, and Buzz Williams gets that in spades from his Justins: Robinson and Bibbs.

A #8 seed, they are slight two-point favorites over #9 Alabama in the Round of 64. If they advance, they will face a crucible against #1 Villanova. But Nova is the type of #1 seed that the undersized Hokies can hang with; they won’t kill you on the glass and take a lot of threes. When those threes don’t fall, the Wildcats can be picked off by anyone, even St. John’s.

Virginia Tech proved during the regular season that they can beat the best of the best, sporting a resume that includes Ws over Virginia … and Duke.

If the Hokies can get past Villanova, the rest of their region isn’t exactly a powerhouse. Purdue is arguably the weakest #2 seed; #3 Texas Tech’s best player, Keenan Evans, is battling a lingering toe injury; and #5 West Virginia relies heavily on its press, which can be circumvented with strong guard play. A sprinkling on Tech at +20,000 is a decent option.

Arizona State Sun Devils

Remember, remember the 24th of November? That’s when Arizona State obliterated Xavier, 102-86, behind a 40-point performance from Tra Holder. A few weeks later, they marched into Fogg Allen and beat Kansas by double digits (95-85).

Everyone’s forgotten about those wins thanks to an 8-10 record in Pac-12 play, during a year in which the second-best team in the conference didn’t even make the tournament, no less. But somewhere within this ASU roster is an electric offense that can make a run.

[ASU faces] Syracuse in the First Four, a zone team that [Tra] Holder and Shannon Evans II should be able to exploit.

Their +35,000 odds reflect the fact that #11 ASU finds itself in the First Four and will actually have to win seven games instead of six to hoist the title. Luckily, they get Syracuse in the First Four, a zone team that Holder and Shannon Evans II should be able to exploit. After that would be a TCU squad that is almost as allergic to defense as the Sun Devils, themselves. (Side note: take a long look at the OVER if that matchup comes to fruition.)

Their potential Round of 32 matchup with Michigan State looks disastrous on paper. The Spartans will crush them in the frontcourt and gobble up every rebound. But any ASU run is predicated on lights-out shooting from deep, and threes are worth more than twos (last we checked). For a true flyer, take the Sun Devils at +50,000.

Loyola-Chicago Ramblers

Maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on Florida for its home loss to Loyola-Chicago, because the Ramblers are pretty legit. The #11 seed in the South only lost five games all year and have won 10 straight entering the tournament. While the Missouri Valley Conference is not what it used to be, sans Wichita State and Creighton, it’s still halfway decent and Loyola was the class of it all season.

They connect at nearly 40% from three and have the ability to play shutdown defense, surrendering just 62.2 PPG (fifth in the nation). Their first-round opponent, Miami, will have an extremely tough time scoring the ball on Thursday, especially now that star guard Bruce Brown has been ruled out.

Does Loyola have what it takes to cut down the nets in San Antonio? No, but their +26,700 average odds underestimate how good they really are, and you should definitely consider their moneyline in the Miami game.

New Mexico State Aggies

The Aggies are another team that, if we’re being honest, has no chance to win the tournament. But they have a great chance to get to the Sweet 16. Well, greater than most #12 seeds, that is. This one is more about matchups than it is about the inherent strength of the team, facing #5 Clemson in the Round of 64 and then, likely, #4 Auburn in the Round of 32.

Auburn and Clemson are the weakest #4 and #5 seeds in the field. Both overperformed compared to expectations this year, and both are now dealing with key injuries. Auburn lost four of its last six after sophomore forward Anfernee McLemore (19.4 MPG, 7.4 PPG, 2.7 BPG) went down. Aside from the blocks, his stats don’t jump off the page, but Auburn is very thin in the frontcourt and he is their key rim-protector.

New Mexico State can hang with bigger dogs, owning wins over [Miami, Davidson, and New Mexico.]

Meanwhile Clemson has been trending down since losing Donte Grantham, their second-leading scorer. They were once a top-20 team in the polls (as high as #11). Now they’ve lost five of eight and their stout defense is showing cracks.

New Mexico State can hang with bigger dogs, owning wins over Miami (63-54, neutral), Davidson (69-68, neutral), and New Mexico (65-62, road) to go along with a tight loss to USC (77-72, neutral). Their defense is 14th in the nation in efficiency, 10th in scoring, and will give middling Clemson fits. Like Loyola, their average odds (+35,000) underestimate their chances to move onto the Sweet 16, or even further. The #1 seed in their region, Kansas, has its own major flaws, i.e. no frontcourt whatsoever without Udoka Azubuike.

Author Image