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2017 March Madness South Regional Predictions and Odds

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  • Where: .. Memphis, Greenville, Milwaukee, Sacramento, Indianapolis
  • When: March 14, 2017 9:10 pm EST
  • Moneyline: North Carolina (+135) Kentucky (+275) UCLA (+450) Butler (+1000) Wichita State (+1000) Cincinnati (+1400) Dayton (+2800) Minnesota (+2800)

Analysts love to say “conference tournaments don’t matter anymore.” UNC, the #1 seed in the NCAA Men’s Tournament South Regional, is about to put that maxim to the test.

The Tar Heels lost to Duke 93-83 in the ACC tourney early last week. But it certainly did not hurt their standing with the seeding committee, who have allowed them a near-first round pass over #16-seed Texas Southern. Meanwhile, fellow top betting pick Kentucky (+275 to go to the Final Four) won their 30th SEC tournament title without too much trouble.

Are the bookies correct to disregard Kentucky’s unblemished post-season record and give UNC the best odds? And could North Carolina’s early exit from conference play help them arrive fresh to the big dance?

Possible spoilers Butler and UCLA are waiting in the weeds. But most wagerers believe that the South will come down to an inevitable match-up between the two titans.

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North Carolina – The Williams way

2017 March Madness South Regional PicksUNC head coach Roy Williams watched his team lose to Kentucky in the final moments of an early-season tournament final. But talented guard Joel Berry III was sitting out injured, and would return with great performances in January and February. Despite multiple losses to Duke and a late-season slip against Virginia, the Tar Heels are a well-rounded favorite with size and scoring touch.

Isaiah Hicks is an experienced power-forward who has been averaging around 20 points a game down the stretch. Berry is a plus-40% shooter from beyond the arc, and 6’10” senior Kennedy Meeks is a rebounding machine. But title hopes will ultimately rest on Justin Jackson, the ACC Player of the Year. Jackson has improved his long-range shooting and averages 18 points per game, though his recent slump has caused consternation on Chapel Hill.

For a #1 seed, UNC has a somewhat difficult draw, casting doubt on their generous (+135) ML odds to win the South. After the gimme over Texas Southern, the ‘Heels could face any combination of Arkansas, Butler, Middle Tennessee (who are 30-4 on the year) and Kentucky before arriving in the Final Four.

Kentucky – Can the diaper dandies strike again?

UK and North Carolina are a study in contrasts, with John Calipari’s soon-to-be-NBA studs facing the experience and polish of UNC. Kentucky has not exactly blazed through its schedule, losing five times in the 2016-17 campaign. But what the sixth-ranked Wildcats have is talent in spades.

Malik Monk, an amazing freshman guard, is averaging 20.5 points per game. In the December tournament win over UNC, Monk scored 47. His teammate De’Aaron Fox is averaging 16 points and provides another outside passing and shooting threat to balance the squad’s trademark brawn and depth on the inside.

Calipari is livid that Kentucky has gotten the #2 seed despite winning their conference tournament while the Tar Heels lost in theirs. But turning down the noise, the draw could actually work out well for UK. Wichita State could face the Wildcats in the second round, but the Shockers don’t have the bodies to endure two halves against a much bigger and deeper opponent. UCLA, a likely Sweet Sixteen foe and the #3 seed in the South, is dealing with team captain Bryce Alford’s shooting slump and a controversy over its head coach possibly leaving town.

Underdog blues

The South offers perhaps the slimmest pickings for cash players looking for a high-payoff sleeper. Wichita State did well to win their conference despite fresh talent developing in the ranks. UCLA will suffer from a lack of focus as Bryce’s pop Steve Alford mulls leaving Los Angeles at the worst possible time to do so. Middle Tennessee is an intriguing small-conference entry with a great record, but not a substantial threat to reach Phoenix.

Butler is a trendy upset-pick at (+1000) odds. But the Bulldogs struggled to score in the Big East tournament, losing to fair-to-middling contender Xavier 62-57. Worse, the squad must defend Winthrop University’s brilliant, diminutive senior guard Keon Johnson, in the first round.

A First Four warm-up wager

Without a viable sleeper-pick to win the region, bettors feel pressure to pick a winner between UK-UNC in a likely Elite Eight showdown. But the South does offer the most potentially exciting game of the First Four in Tuesday night’s clash of #11-seeds Kansas State and Wake Forest.

With odds essentially a toss-up on most books, the value pick is Wake. Look for the Demon Deacons, led by sharp-shooting forward John Collins, to overwhelm the Wildcats (plenty of Wildcats in the tourney this year!) who were only 8-10 in the Big 12 and only got this far thanks to conference reputation.

Kentucky – more upside, better cash-out

MSB is bucking the trend and recommending Kentucky (+275) to reach the Final Four over their favored rivals from Chapel Hill. The ‘Cats are riding an 11-game winning streak, and beat North Carolina in the one and only head-to-head match-up between the two squads.

Yes, Joel Berry is back. And sure, Coach Williams was secretly thrilled to rest his #1 seed instead of playing in the ACC final against Notre Dame. But to reach the Final Four, UNC has to win four games…not simply once over Kentucky.

The Tar Heels’ recent disappointments – losses to Miami and Duke and the glacier-cold shooting against Virginia, are too ominous to support the bookies’ odds. Place your wager on the young and deep Wildcats for a much better value pick, and watch the Heels – or another Elite Eight opponent – struggle to tame UK.

Kurt BoyerThis article was written by Kurt Boyer

A freelance sportswriter from Missouri, Kurt has covered court, gridiron, rink and ring for 10+ years. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.


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