Off the Dribble: Beware the Odds of March

Yes, it's that time of the year again! Time to fill out brackets while pondering new excuses to miss work on Thursday and Friday.

The NCAA Tournament continues to be one of the greatest sporting events in the world, and if this season is any indication, this year's should be one of the most exciting in recent memory. The playing field seems to have leveled even more this year, as several mid-major teams have already posted wins over some of the top seeds.

But with so many uncertainties heading into the heart of March Madness, the office pools are sure to be as wide open as the Tournament itself. For this reason, every college basketball fan that plans to fill out a bracket sheet should pay attention to every little bit of information they can gather about the world of college hoops – even columns such as this.

There may be others more in tune with the college basketball landscape, but remember this: it is folly to ignore the Odds of March.

4 to 1: The ACC will have more teams in the Sweet 16 than any other conference.
This one is a no-brainer, especially when you consider that five out of the six ACC teams in the tournament received a #4 seed or higher.

8 to 1: At least one ACC team will make it to the Final Four.
For some reason, several analysts are leaving the ACC out of their Final Four picks. But the fact is that these teams are more ready for this event than anyone else. Duke is still the favorite of the group.

10 to 1: St. Joe's doesn't make it past the first weekend.
Everyone has been knocking the Hawks for their soft schedule, and that 20-point loss to Xavier may be more than a fluke. Charlotte will be a tough out for such an untested team.

8 to 1: UNC doesn't make it past the first weekend.
Even if the Tar Heels survive a tough first-round match-up against the Air Force Academy in the high-altitude of Denver, they might be too tired to take out a deep Texas team in the next round – leading Roy Williams to make the comment that the NCAA Tourney is the "second biggest cocktail party in the world."

6 to 1: There will be a Baylor reunion in the Final Four.
When teammates Lawrence Roberts and John Lucas III were given permission to transfer from the disastrous program at Baylor and be eligible to play right away, no one knew they would the impact they did for Mississippi State and Oklahoma State, respectively. Now that both teams have #2 seeds, people are pointing to a possible reunion of the two in the Final Four. By the way, a third Baylor transfer, Kenny Taylor, may be looking forward to a second round meeting with Roberts and MSU.

6 to 1: All Big Ten teams will be eliminated after the first weekend.
The Big "Televen" is known for ugly games, ugly coaches and ugly players (former Purdue forward Brian Cardinal and current Wisconsin junior Zach Morley come to mind). Thankfully, the Sweet 16 will look a lot prettier this year.

12 to 1: Maryland's miraculous run ends early.
The Terps have been hot, but they are likely to cool off early on – especially if UTEP plays as well as it did in the WAC tournament last week.

40 to 1: There will be a Duke/Carolina rematch in Atlanta.
The Heels have a long road before them, with Texas and Mississippi State being the biggest speed bumps. And the Blue Devils will have an unusually tough match in the second round against either Seton Hall or Arizona.

12 to 1: A double-digit seed will make it to St. Louis.
Valparaiso has to be the toughest #15 seed ever, and Northern Iowa, Pacific and Nevada are all capable of pulling off upsets. Illinois-Chicago may be the most talented underdog of the group, but Kansas coach Bill Self is under too much pressure to not win that first-round game.

16 to 1: A double-digit seed will make it to Phoenix.
Manhattan, Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth are all very dangerous, and you can never sleep on Utah, even without Rick Majerus.

10 to 1: NC State will make it to the Sweet 16.
Traditionally, State does not do well when the embarrassment factor is high, and teams like Louisiana-Lafayette and Western Michigan are two of the toughest double-digit seeds in the Tourney. But Julius Hodge and company should be fired up and healthy for one more run. Of course, if any of the Wolfpack's opponents can consistently run full-court pressure and a 1-3-1 zone, the odds may swing.

32 to 1: Gonzaga finally makes it to the Final Four.
The Bulldogs are much better as underdogs. They may not even make it past Valpo.

80 to 1: A first-round loss by Vanderbilt leads to a reinstatement of the school's athletic department.
While a loss to Western Michigan is very possible, a return to sanity is not in the cards for the administration.

2 to 1: CBS coverage of the Tournament will sink to a new low.
CBS seems so bent on improving the viewing experience that they are bound to ruin it somewhere along the line. It is inevitable. In fact, if you thought Fox Sports Net did such a poor job this year…

60 to 1: Rick Pitino makes a return to the Final Four.
After backing into the Tournament, Slick Rick and the Louisville faithful may need to wait another year or two.

12 to 1: Kentucky won't have a chance to enjoy that overall #1 seeding in the Final Four.
Call it a gut feeling – the Wildcats just seem ripe for an upset.

4 to 1: The Tourney winner will come out of Phoenix.
UConn was the early season favorite, and can be very dangerous with a healthy Emeka Okafor in the lineup. Stanford is better than most people think. Whoever survives that regional final should emerge as the favorite in April.

1000 to 1: After the Tournament, there will be enough complaints from coaches to cause the NCAA to eliminate its ridiculous "pod" system.
We should all know by now that the NCAA brass doesn't care about fairness in competition – just money. Filling up the venues for first- and second-round games is much more important than eliminating home court advantages of undeserving teams.

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