For all the hand-wringing over seeding, the NCAA Tournament is, and always will be, more about the draw. A team’s path to Glendale can open up significantly with an upset — whether they’re the ones doing it or if it happens elsewhere in the region. Looking at the bracket and the odds, there are a few longshot bets with value.
Notre Dame 14-1 to win West Region, 40-1 to win national title
The Irish had an ACC Tournament title melt away in the final minutes against Duke and landed on the No. 5 line with a favorable draw.
Princeton, a defensive-minded team from the Ivy League, is the first hurdle. The Tigers, much like the Irish, rely heavily on the three-point shot and are the least-threatening 12-seed in the field.
West Virginia presses like hell, but also should allow Notre Dame plenty of quick, clean looks from the behind the arc. Matt Farrell is equipped to quarterback against that defense. The Mountaineers also foul — a lot. If the refs choose to call it tight, the Irish are the best in the nation from the charity stripe (79.9 percent). Should Bucknell be the opponent, the Irish will have the bodies to bang down low.
Gonzaga has lost just one game this year but are also the least threatening No. 1 seed. The Bulldogs’ wins against Power Conference teams are months-old. Getting by more tested Northwestern or Vanderbilt is no guarantee.
Arizona is the likely Elite 8 matchup and, in my view, a tougher matchup than Gonzaga. The Irish would welcome Florida State in this game, having split with the Seminoles during the regular season.
Virginia 8-1 to win East Region, 33-1 to win national title
The Cavaliers can struggle to score but can make up for that deficiency with stifling pack-line defense, the most efficient in the nation per KenPom. UNC-Wilmington almost knocked off Duke last year and won’t be a gimmy. A second-round matchup with Florida would likely be a rock fight. The good news for Tony Bennett’s club is the Gators don’t burn the nets with made shots. The Gators are 63rd in scoring and also rely on athletic defense.
Villanova would obviously be the biggest hill to climb but don’t sleep on Wisconsin or Virginia Tech in that second-round game. The Badgers would present another limited-possession, tight game for an Elite 8 berth, presumably against Duke. The Blue Devils won in Charlottesville earlier this year and would be favored. But a familiar matchup on a neutral court is no gimme, even for the immense talent on the Duke roster.
Iowa State 10-1 to win Midwest Region, 40-1 to win national title
Nevada will be a trendy upset pick in the opening round. It will won’t happen. The Cyclones are the 13th-most efficient offense in the country and have a bonafide star in Monte Morris.
Likely second-round opponent Purdue struggled mightily with Michigan’s guards this year and likes to play a slower pace while pounding the ball inside. If the Cyclones can control the tempo — and limit Caleb Swanigan — they have a punchers’ chance.
The No. 1 seed in the region, Kansas, has had its well-known problems with being in such a position. Neither Miami or Michigan State will be mere speed bumps. But even should the Jayhawks make it to the Sweet 16, it would be a welcome rematch for Iowa State. The two teams split a pair of games decided by a total of seven points this season.
Having experience against a ball-pressure team like the Mountaineers, who the Cyclones beat last weekend, would pay dividends in a potential Elite 8 game against Louisville.
Miami 28-1 to win Midwest Region, 250-1 to win national title
As mentioned above, Kansas has had struggles. And while Michigan State on Friday night would usually be a concern, this is one of Tom Izzo’s most toothless teams. Extreme, extreme longshot but the path could open up nicely for the Hurricanes should they pull the second-round upset. Let it be know, though, that I want some royalties should the 250-1 hit by some miracle.