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NCAA Tournament West Regional Odds and Predictions

North Carolina Tar Heels(25-10) @ Xavier Musketeers(28-5)

  • Where: Staples Center. Los Angeles, CA
  • When: March 15, 2018 1:30 pm EST
  • Moneyline: North Carolina (+300), Gonzaga (+325), Michigan (+350), Xavier (+400), Ohio State (+1100), Houston U (+1200), Texas A&M (+1200), Missouri (+1400), Florida State (+2600), Providence (+3300)

Without a doubt, the 4 teams at the top of the West’s NCAA tourney seeding have created the most tightly-packed field of favorites out of any Regional bracket.

It’s just a question of whether anyone else has a chance.

The quartet of odds-on contenders create a betting scenario in which North Carolina is atop the betting board with only a (+300) line. Gonzaga, another basketball powerhouse, is trailing close behind alongside Michigan and Xavier. Contrast that with the East region, in which Villanova is an (EVEN) odds-favorite while everyone else is just hoping for a shot.

But before we can select a winning pick from the 4, we should make sure that there’s not a tasty long-shot wager hiding in the weeds. So let’s look at the underdogs first. If none of the baker’s dozen of upstarts have a real chance, that makes any of the stalwarts a better bet.

Major conferences, minor chances

A group of Big 12 and Big Ten teams are holding at just over 10/1 odds to win the bracket of 16 – Ohio State, Texas A&M and the Missouri Tigers. Houston is also an almost-long-shot with (+1200) Region odds at Bovada.

Who in the group has a prayer, if anyone?

Texas A&M is one of those major-league squads that has the size, the look, the talent, and mediocre defense. Twice, the Aggies launched brief mid-season winning streaks and threatened to run up a promising conference record, only to allow too many good looks to sharp-shooting foes. Robert Williams is an excellent power forward, but he has gone cold from the field in February and March, and struggles to score in double-digits.

Columbus and Columbia are in similar straits. Ohio State has potential NBA talent on the roster, but talented coach Chris Holtmann hasn’t been able to hold the Buckeyes together, as the thin squad has lost more than it has won over the past 2 weeks. Missouri is excited about the return of Michael Porter Jr., but the school’s 8th seed is a disadvantage.

Finally, Houston is considered a sexy pick at 12/1 and beat Wichita State in its conference tournament. However, the next game brought a dismal offensive performance against Cincinnati in which senior guard Rob Grey shot only 6-of-22 from the field.

Pick from all four, and win the war

The way pundits are treating the North Carolina Tar Heels is indicative of how college basketball has changed over the past few decades. Once upon a time, 3-point shooting teams were considered fluky, destined to lose as soon as they ran into a powerful inside-shooting and dunking squad.

Being bad at 3-pointers meant that the roster would be convinced by its coaches to take less long shots, which would ultimately be a good thing anyway.

Welcome to 2018. UNC is an established powerhouse with Joel Berry II starting at guard and Luke Maye starting at forward. Coach Roy Williams has taken his squad to the national championship game in each of the past 2 seasons. But the school’s current lack of finesse from 3-point range has analysts predicting that the Tar Heels will be fatally out-shot by an opponent at some point during the tournament.

Will it happen? The 1st-seeded Xavier Musketeers are full of offensive firepower, and starting guard Trevon Bluiett is a crack 3-point artist. But in overall outside-shooting the Blue & Silver are well-down in the statistical pack. If North Carolina plays defense like Chapel Hill fans are accustomed to watching, the squad should be able to key on Bluiett and prevent a long-range barrage of buckets.

Michigan faces a similar dilemma in any eventual show-down with UNC. Yes, the Wolverines are hot with an 11-game winning streak, and have a top-10 defense to go along with a top-10 Associated Press ranking. Mo Wagner is an even more dynamic basketball player than Bluiett, all due respect to the Xavier standout. But if pure shooting is the key to beating the Tar Heels, University of Michigan won’t have a better than 50% chance to out-score them.

Ah, but let’s not forget about Gonzaga. The Zags are ranked 6th in America and have combined clutch defense with a powerful, versatile scoring attack. Statistically, Mark Few’s team has not excelled from the 3-point line. But there is more than one outstanding marksman on the squad. Sophomore forward Killian Tillie is a killer, a 6’11” freak of athleticism and talent who has made an amazing 50% of his trey attempts in ’17-’18.

If the Tar Heels key on Tillie, there are more weapons to worry about on the outside. Josh Perkins plays more than 32 minutes per contest and has nailed more that 40% of shots from beyond the arc, and Silas Melson is an accomplished senior guard and emotional leader who is almost as accurate from long-range as with a 12-foot jumper.

If UNC Zigs, Gonzaga will Zag

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In a tightly-contested bracket, the advantage goes to the team with an easier early-round path. But for Final Four hopefuls, the West has the defects of its virtues. Each favorite has weaknesses, but there is no easy path to the Elite Eight.

Gonzaga could meet Ohio State in the Round of 32. Xavier will face Missouri or Florida State early on. North Carolina may have to contend with Texas A&M and then Michigan before the probable showdown with the Zags.

So it’s a simple matter of picking between the 2 best teams, Gonzaga and UNC. North Carolina might be a better unit overall and 2-deep. But Few is one of the few coaches in the NCAA that Roy Williams can’t out-maneuver, and the Zags are the only team in the West that UNC won’t be able to shut down on the perimeter for 40 minutes. If extra Tar Heel defenders patrol the 3-point arc, Tillie will drive inside, converting buckets and drawing fouls. If Tillie is double-teamed, that opens up looks for Perkins and Melson.

It’s not a scientific analysis of who’s better. It’s an analysis of who matches-up better than anyone else against a field of 16. In the West Region, that team is the Gonzaga Bulldogs.

Take the ‘Dogs at (barely) underdog odds (+325) to prevail over North Carolina and a crowded batch of contenders.

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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