Journey To San Antonio Begins Now
March Madness is about to consume the country from coast to coast.
The NCAA men’s basketball tournament starts with first-round action on March 15-16 and second-round play on March 17-18.
From noon until midnight on those four days, there will be talk of great play, stunning upsets and Cinderella stories from some obscure colleges. This is the best tournament in the nation. Lose once and your favorite team is done.
It all ends with the championship on April 2 in San Antonio, Texas. The North Carolina Tar Heels are the defending champs. They are currently 18-1 to win it all again.
Let’s take a look at all 32 first-round games and second-round matchups and try to pick the winning teams that will earn a spot in the Sweet Sixteen (odds to win the national championship provided by Bovada). Teams predicted to win first-round games in bold.
The Cavaliers opened as the biggest favorite to win a first-round game, picked to beat UMBC by 23 points. A bigger test will come in the second-round game. Virginia has the best defense in the nation, allowing teams less than 54 points a game.
VGB’s pick — Virginia (+550)
The Bearcats have the second-best defense in the nation, allowing under 58 points a game. They are the AAC champions and now ranked sixth in the nation. The Wolf Pack’s top 10 offense will need to play its best game of the year to shock Cincinnati.
VGB’s pick — Nevada (+50000)
The Volunteers had won six straight before they lost the SEC final to Kentucky. Ranked 13th in the nation, Tennessee is led by conference player of the year Grant Williams. This bracket is packed with top defenses, and the Vols are no exception.
VGB’s pick — Tennessee (+4000)
The Wildcats are peaking at the perfect time. They may have 10 losses for the season, but the SEC champs are 7-1 in their last eight. After an inconsistent regular season, Kentucky has the look of a Final Four sleeper. However, Arizona and seven-foot-one freshman Deandre Ayton may have something to say about that.
VGB’s pick — Kentucky (+2000)
The Wildcats beat another No. 1 seed, Xavier, by a combined 40 points in two victories this season. Ranked second in the nation, Villanova is gunning for its second title in three years. The Wildcats lead the country in scoring, with more than 87 points a game.
VGB’s pick — Villanova (+550)
Three straight losses in February knocked the Boilermakers out of the Top 5. Now ranked 11th in the country, Purdue had won five straight before losing the Big Ten final to Michigan. They look to be Villanova’s biggest threat in the East.
VGB’s pick — Purdue (+1200)
The Red Raiders look to be the most vulnerable of the higher seeds in the first and second round. They’ve lost five of their last seven — including two to West Virginia. The Gators and their speedy lineup could cause a lot or problems within this region.
VGB’s pick — Florida (+10000)
The Shockers won eight of their last 10, including a victory on the road in Cincinnati. The Mountaineers won eight of their last 12, but lost twice to Kansas. West Virginia forces a lot of turnovers. They will have to convert them to points to be successful.
VGB’s pick — West Virginia (+2000)
The Musketeers should overpower their early opponents, but then it gets tough for the top seed in the West. Xavier has won 13 of its last 15 games, but it lost in the Big East semifinal to 21-12 Providence. They are the most vulnerable of all the No. 1 teams.
VGB’s pick — Xavier (+1600)
Luke Maye leads the defending champs, who are seeking their third straight trip to the national title game. The Tar Heels, 7-3 in their last 10, lost to Virginia by eight points in the ACC final. Watch out for the Friars, who beat both Villanova and Xavier this year.
VGB’s pick — North Carolina (+1800)
The back-to-back Big Ten champions ride into the tournament on an 11-game winning streak, including dominant victories over Michigan State and Purdue. The Cougars lost by a point to Cincinnati in the AAC championship.
VGB’s pick — Michigan (+1500)
The Bulldogs, with the ninth-best offense in the nation, enter the tournament on a 13-game winning streak. They are 2-2 against Top 25 teams this season. The Buckeyes, who have lost three of their last five, have fallen in the rankings.
VGB’s pick — Gonzaga (+2000)
The Jayhawks, who won their 14th consecutive Big 12 title, last won the national championship in 2008. Kansas can score points in bunches, but their biggest concern is a defense which ranks 143rd in the country. The Wolfpack have beat Duke and North Carolina this season.
VGB’s pick — Kansas (+1400)
The Blue Devils have a great young team, but it’s that inexperience that may cost them in the tournament. Duke lost the ACC championship to North Carolina — the second time in three meetings that the Tar Heels came out on top. How far can freshman sensation Trae Young carry the Sooners?
VGB’s pick — Duke (+750)
The Spartans have a good offense, a solid defence … and they can’t beat Michigan. The Wolverines topped MSU twice this season and likely knocked them out of a No. 1 seed. The Spartans had won 13 straight before a loss in the Big Ten semifinal.
VGB’s pick — Michigan State (+850)
The Tigers have lost three of their last four and four of their last six — not the way a team wants to enter the tournament, especially after losing in the SEC quarter-finals. Clemson has lost six of its last nine. Hello upset.
VGB’s pick — New Mexico State (+50000)