Gampel Pavilion at UConn

Three of the four 1-seeds – Connecticut, Houston, and Purdue – are the top favorites to win the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. [Image:]

Let the madness begin

March Madness is upon us, as the conference tournaments have concluded and the brackets for both the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball national championships tournaments have been revealed. I was sweating it out, as my school, the University of Virginia, was the second-to-last one in the field, but for loads of other schools, it was just an evening of looking forward to finding out who they were playing.

And with March Madness comes betting. The American Gaming Association estimates that people will wager $2.7bn on legal betting platforms and much, much more when one takes into account bracket pools and illegal sportsbooks.

So who are the favorites this year? Let’s take a look at who the bookmakers have installed as the ones to beat. We won’t be offering up any betting advice, as this writer is a terrible bettor – lucky for me it’s not legal in my state…yet – but just examining which schools are the favorites and if it’s all just chalk down the board.

Top four seeds aren’t the top four favorites

It probably comes as no surprise that the top seeds are also the favorites to win the whole kit and kaboodle. While the selection committee sometimes throws some curveballs, they didn’t bounce one in the dirt here (baseball reference in a basketball article). Defending champ Connecticut is both the top overall seed and easily the favorite to cut down the nets at +375, according to ESPN BET.

UConn’s East Region includes 2-seed Iowa State, 3-seed Illinois, and 4-seed Auburn

And that’s even with what experts consider to be the toughest region. UConn’s East Region includes 2-seed Iowa State, 3-seed Illinois, and 4-seed Auburn, all of whom are not just really good, but also won their conference tournaments.

After Connecticut, South Region top seed Houston comes in at +550 and Midwest Region 1-seed Purdue is +700 in what many think is the weakest region.

The other 1-seed, North Carolina, is interestingly NOT the fourth-favorite on ESPN Bet. That slot goes to Arizona, who is the 2-seed in the West, North Carolina’s region. Arizona is at +1,110, while UNC is +1,300. Why is that? Could be a combination of oddsmakers thinking Arizona is better, the regional being out west and therefore favoring Arizona geographically, and perhaps (though I’m not saying this is the case) that Arizona’s side of the bracket is perceived as easier.

Best of the rest

Arizona, though having better odds than North Carolina, was not the selection committee’s top 2-seed. That was Tennessee, which is in Purdue’s bracket and looks to have a favorable path to the Elite Eight, with 3-seed Creighton being the only real threat (of course, anything can happen, just look at Purdue falling to a 16-seed last year).

sportsbooks really like Auburn’s metrics

Tennessee is +1,600 to win the national championship. That ties them with the first real eyebrow raiser in Auburn, which is just a 4-seed in the East and was just 15th on the selection committee’s overall seeding list. Sportsbooks really like Auburn’s metrics, which have them in the top ten in many computer rankings. The committee may have looked at their weak nonconference schedule, favorable conference schedule, and lack of marquee wins to knock them down the bracket a bit.

Iowa State, another 2-seed, is next at +1,700. Kentucky, a 3-seed, is at +2,000, as is 2-seed Marquette. Kentucky has two possible top-five NBA draft picks and crushed some really good teams this year, while Marquette’s star Tyler Kolek is battling an injury, which could explain the parity in odds. They are also in the same region, so if things go to par, they will meet in the Elite Eight.

Rounding out the teams on the four-line or better are 4-seed Alabama and 3-seeds Illinois and Creighton at +2,500, 4-seed Duke at +3,000, and 3-seed Baylor and 4-seed Kansas at +4,000. Kansas is the most intriguing one of the group, as when healthy, they can beat anyone, but the Jayhawks are really banged up going into the tourney. Leading scorer Kevin McCullar Jr. and leading rebounder Hunter Dickinson are both hurt – Coach Bill Self says they will be good for the tournament, but who knows?

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