Submitted by Jim Hurley’s Network on Monday, March 12, 2018 at 11:00 AM
One of the most enjoyable aspects of handicapping the first round of the NCAA Tournament each year is involve scouting out upsets. They can pay off big if you bet them on the money line. You can coast to victory if you took the points. Even in office pools, you can get a leg up on the competition by figuring out which "public" teams are likely to fall flat out of the gate.
JIM HURLEY won't post any official underdog selections here in THE HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK. That wouldn't be fair to paying clients. But, we will spend some time today looking at possibilities, keyed by proven indicators from past seasons.
Generally, you should look for upsets:
*In the 5-12 an 4-13 rungs on the seed ladder
*Whenever the favorite ended the season in sluggish form
*Whenever the favorite is in a letdown spot after winning its conference tournament
*Whenever the underdog has been seeded incorrectly, and should be getting more respect
That gives us a good starting point. Though, we have to admit that it's hard to find outlandish seed errors in the low teens this season. There aren't any real breakout teams who have proven they should have been seeded more in the 6-9 range. The biggest obvious mistake is Pennsylvania, who somehow got saddled with a #16 seed when it should have been more like a #13. That at least sets up a chance for a historic upset of a #1 seed when the Quakers face Kansas (who could be in a letdown spot after winning its conference tournament).
Let's run through the historical strike zone...
#12 vs. #5 Seeds
New Mexico State (+5) vs. Clemson
Davidson (+5.5) vs. Kentucky
South Dakota State (+7.5) vs. Ohio State
Murray State (+9.5) vs. West Virginia
Definitely some vulnerable favorites there. And, we can add a new situation! Usually a seed in this range didn't have a week off before the tournament. But, the Big 10 moved its tourney up a week this season so it could play in Madison Square Garden. That means Ohio State has had a very long layoff, and could be rusty. Also, the Buckeyes may have peaked several weeks ago, given their third straight loss to Penn State in the Big 10 tournament. Clemson lacks consistency. Kentucky got hot last weekend, but is now in a letdown spot off the surprising SEC tournament run. Only West Virginia isn't in a clear "down" scenario, though fatigue could be an issue after playing three games in three days in Kansas City last week.
No hints...but we think the chances are good that we have at least one upset here...or one overtime game that just misses.
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#13 vs. #4 Seeds
Buffalo (+8.5) vs. Arizona
Charleston (+11.5) vs. Auburn
Marshall (+12) vs. Wichita State
NC Greensboro (+12) vs. Gonzaga
Those point spreads aren't exactly suggesting danger spots. We have to admit that the #13 rung isn't particularly loaded this season. But, we do have Arizona in a letdown spot after a big weekend in Las Vegas...Auburn as a team that's been a huge disappointment in the final weeks after suffering some injuries...Wichita State floundering recently when they run into good teams...and Gonzaga in a delayed letdown because it won the West Coast tournament in advance of the major events.
We're impressed with Gonzaga right now (who should have been seeded with more respect), and aren't looking for them to fall early. Any of the other teams could definitely struggle to impress. It all depends on what the dogs bring to the table. In short, despite "fade the favorite" indicators being obviously in play, the "you can obviously trust this underdog" indicators are not.
What about higher up in the seedings? Let's take a quick peek at the #14 vs. #3 games.
#14 vs. #3 Seeds
Stephen F. Austin (+11) vs. Texas Tech
Montana (+11) vs. Michigan
Wright State (+13) vs. Tennessee
Bucknell (+14) vs. Michigan State
All double-digit spreads, so we're talking longshots. But, two Big 10 teams are in the mix, dealing with a long layoff for the first time ever. Michigan is also in a letdown spot off winning the Big 10 tournament with a fantastic run. Michigan State has been overrated by markets recently. Tennessee at least might be tired off its war with Kentucky to finish second in the SEC. Texas Tech is experienced, but not particularly explosive. This isn't a vintage Stephen F. Austin team, or that line would have been closer to seven or eight.
Hope we've given you some food for thought today. JIM HURLEY will be releasing his BIG, JUICY WINNERS for you to devour in short order. You can purchase our BEST BETS right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453 during normal business hours. Be sure to ask about packages that take you all the way through the Big Dance or the NBA Finals.
We've talked all season about the relative parity in college basketball this year. That looks to have set up one of the most exciting NCAA tournaments ever. All the top seeds are vulnerable to upset before the Elite 8. Many "pretty good" teams are capable of getting hot and matching what Michigan did in the Big 10 tournament (or what Davidson did in the A10 tournament) on a much larger scale. We can't wait!
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