Anything can happen in the month of March, so who should you place your money on in the wide-open field of the NCAA tournament? Below are 10 teams that have something to prove in the Big Dance and could find themselves heading to Minneapolis at the beginning of April should they peak at the right time. (Odds up-to-date as of 8 p.m. Friday, March 15)
1. Virginia (+600)
The No. 1 seed in last year’s tournament, Virginia experienced the ultimate embarrassment by losing its opening-round game to an unknown UMBC and making history as the first No. 1 seed to lose to No. 16. Virginia is back again and should earn another top seed with an ACC tournament victory. With Duke’s Zion Williamson returning to the court, the Blue Devils are still the favorite to win the NCAA tournament. But Virginia is a solid pick that will earn you a slightly better payout than siding with Coach K’s team. The Cavaliers’ only two losses were 2- and 10-point defeats to Duke. Sophomore De’Andre Hunter and juniors Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy have vengeance in their eyes and could very well earn Tony Bennett his first NCAA title as head coach.
2. Gonzaga (+600)
Though a mid-major school, the Gonzaga Bulldogs have recently become more of an NCAA tournament Goliath than underdog. In 2017, the Bulldogs made it to the title game, where they lost to North Carolina 71-65. They followed up their title game appearance with a loss to Florida State in last year’s Sweet 16. This year, the Bulldogs ranked in the top 10 of the AP poll the entire season and reached No. 1 on Feb. 25. They just suffered a loss to St. Mary’s in the West Coast Conference tournament, but they’re likely to remain a top-four seed due to their dominance throughout the year. The Bulldogs blew out the majority of their competition; though, their strength of schedule is a measly 58th in the country. Don’t forget, however, Gonzaga scored a two-point victory over tournament-favorite Duke early in the season. The Bulldogs may not win the title, but they’re certainly not a team to overlook and could be a fun bet to make during the madness of March.
3. Wofford (+10000)
You may be wondering who the Wofford Terriers are. Ask the 10th-ranked North Carolina team they faced in December 2017 and defeated 79-75. The Southern Conference surprise team of the season managed to make its way into the top 25 and earned a NET ranking of 13. Wofford’s head coach Mike Young, in his 17th season, has already coached his team to four NCAA tournament appearances since the 2009-10 season. The Terriers have only ever reached the second round of the tournament, at best, but this Wofford team is unlike any in its history. The school is the smallest to earn a Top 25 ranking in the AP poll since VMI in 1977 and is currently on a 20-game win streak after claiming the Southern Conference tournament title. They may not be a Final Four contender, but they could find themselves in the Sweet 16. Forget last year’s UMBC Retrievers. Keep your eye on the new top dog Terriers to make a surprising run in the tournament.
4. Louisville (+8000)
Possibly the most confusing team of the 2018-19 season, the ACC’s Louisville Cardinals were meant to stumble through a rebuilding year, with a brand new head coach in Chris Mack. But an 82-78 win against a then-6th-ranked Michigan State team incited a feeling of false hope among Card Nation. The hype died quickly after Louisville, ranked 16th at the time, inexplicably threw away a 23-point lead against No. 2 Duke and ended up with a 71-69 loss at home. On Feb. 23, Louisville came out strong against Virginia, leading by 10 at the half. Then, the Cards fell apart once again in the second to lose 64-52. The Cards are looking to prove they’re more than just a first-half team and capable of showing up for all 40 minutes of play. They faced the third-toughest schedule in the nation. Now’s the time to finally knock off the powerhouses they nearly defeated in the regular season.
5. Kentucky (+1100)
That other school in Kentucky, the one known for its eight national titles, hasn’t hung a banner since 2012 despite cycling through a bevy of star-studded talent. To start the season, UK looked rough in its regular-season debut against Duke, losing 118-84 as the favorite heading into the game. Now ranked sixth nationally, UK is looking to reclaim its former glory and earn a spot in the national title game. The Wildcats looked impressive in their 86-69 win over Tennessee, snapping the Volunteers’ 19-game winning streak on February 16. Less than a month later, however, Tennessee gave UK a taste of its own medicine, handing the Cats a 19-point loss on March 2. Since then, Kentucky has looked less than dominant against Mississippi and Florida. But, Reid Travis is looking to make his return from a knee injury and step up at the perfect time. Should the Wildcats stay healthy in the tournament, they could be a strong contender for a Final Four run.
6. Houston (+3000)
The Houston Cougars cracked the AP Top 25 on Dec. 10 and peaked at No. 8 in late February. Head coach Kelvin Sampson has gradually improved his AAC squad each year. Last year, Houston lost by 1 in the second round of the NCAA tournament to eventual title game contender Michigan. This season, Houston is at the top of the American Athletic Conference over fellow Top 25 team Cincinnati. The Cougars have only two losses this season, one against Central Florida and one at Temple, but their strength of schedule is just 57th in the country. They may not stack up to the stiffer competition, but they are equipped to reach the Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight with the right draw on Selection Sunday.
7. Michigan State (+1200)
Tom Izzo is known as a tournament coach, but his recent performances in the NCAA tourney have left much to be desired. The last of Izzo’s seven Final Four appearances took place during the 2014-15 season. Since then, Michigan State has made it no farther than the second round of the tournament. With two losses to Indiana, one at Illinois and one at Louisville, this 25-6 squad has quite a bit to prove heading into the tournament. You can never count out Mr. March, but Michigan State’s not exactly a force to be reckoned with this season. Expect the Spartans to come up short once again.
8. Duke (+225)
Duke looked to be the team to beat early in the season. A freak accident that led to Zion Williamson’s knee sprain against the Tar Heels on Feb. 20 left the Blue Devils on wobbly footing, with the team suffering three losses in its last six games. Yet, with Williamson returning this week, the Blue Devils remain NCAA title favorites at +225. Duke lost a close game to Kansas in last year’s Elite Eight. Should Coach K’s squad regain full strength and remain in top form, there’s no reason this team shouldn’t hang its fifth banner at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
9. Villanova (+5000)
Head coach Jay Wright now has two NCAA titles to his name since winning his first championship in 2016. Villanova destroyed Michigan in last year’s title game 79-62, but this year’s team is without 2018’s top four scorers, who each left for the NBA. Without them, the Wildcats had 60.7 points and solid defense to make up for. Villanova ended the regular season 22-9 with the 16th most difficult schedule in the nation. The Wildcats lost three in a row in February to St. John’s, Georgetown and Xavier. They also ended the regular season with a loss at Seton Hall. It’s not looking good for this year’s Villanova squad. Their reign in college basketball has likely come to an end.
10. Tennessee (+1400)
Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes has appeared in the NCAA tournament 23 times, yet he’s never won a title. His only Final Four appearance came in 2003, when his top-seeded Texas Longhorns lost to eventual champion Syracuse. Last year, the third-seeded Volunteers lost by one point in the second round to Cinderella Loyola-Chicago, who made it to the Final Four as an 11th seed. Tennessee reached No. 1 in the AP poll back in January but fell to No. 5 in mid-February after it suffered a huge loss against UK, then lost by 2 in overtime on the road at LSU two games later. The Vols are most recently coming off a loss at Auburn. A strong showing in the SEC tournament should give them the confidence to head into the Big Dance ready to dominate. With the right draw in the tournament, Tennessee could surprise the field and pull off a championship.