The first round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament is in full swing and so far, things are going about as expected. You have your blowouts (2 Wisconsin over 15 American U. 75-35), a good effort by a David team vs. a Goliath (16 Albany College sticking with 1 Florida eventually losing by only 12 points), and a couple of mild upsets with 5 Ohio State falling at the last second to 11 Dayton (which I predicted here) and 11 Harvard taking down 5 Cincinnati.
A few loose notes:
* Betting. Some good advice from ESPN Insiders Vegas (subscription only):
Florida is the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament. The Gators are No. 1 in the AP writers’ poll and the USA Today Coaches Poll.
But they’re not No. 1 in the Vegas Rankings.
In fact, the top team from the combined power ratings of our panel of handicappers — Geoff Kulesa (“Wunderdog”) of wunderdogsports.com, Teddy “Covers” Sevransky and yours truly, Dave Tuley — isn’t one of the other No. 1 seeds, or a No. 2 seed or even a No. 3.
Our top-rated team is Louisville, the defending national champions who again look as though they’re peaking at the right time coming off their AAC title.
There’s a lot of support in Vegas for the Cardinals as the LVH SuperBook made them 15-1 when the brackets were announced Sunday afternoon, but by the end of the night they had been bet down to co-third choice on the futures board with Florida the favorite at 5-1, Michigan State (another No. 4 seed, interestingly enough) as the second choice at 5-1, and then Louisville and Arizona at 7-1. The LVH odds for all 68 NCAA teams are in the accompanying chart, along with their Vegas power ratings.
For the bettors, it’s all about “value” rather than who wins or loses — best bets to beat the point spread.
* Cal-Poly is the 24th team since 1955 to make the tournament with a losing record. The won their play in game last night against Texas Southern. Their joy is expected to be short lived. They play undefeated 1 Wichita State on Friday.
* 7 Oregon had a surprisingly easy time of it with 10 Brigham Young, winning by 19. The Ducks rode a 15-2 run late in the game to victory.
* The oddsmakers might like Louisiville, but the Cardinal’s coach Rick Pitino is a little worried about his first round match-up. 4 Louisville will be going up against 13 Manhattan College coached by a former Pitino assistant Steve Masiello.
Those two go way back:
Masiello served as a ball boy with the New York Knicks when Pitino was coach in the 1980s, played for him at Kentucky (1996-97) and then spent another six years coaching alongside him at Louisville (2005 to 2011). They know each other quite well, and Masiello is molding the Jaspers in the Cardinals’ image.
You can’t blame him. It’s like playing a game coached by your alter ego. The Cardinals are favored by 14.5 points.
* 2 Kansas won’t have star center Joel Embiid for the first two games of the tourney. The 7 footer, thought to be a high first round pick in the NBA draft if he leaves KU, is suffering from a stress fracture in his back.
Kansas opens the tourney against Eastern Kentucky and if they win on Friday, will face the winner of the Stanford-New Mexico game on Sunday.