The first four-day marathon of March Madness comes to an end Sunday.
We have already seen a 15-seed knock off a 2-seed and No. 1 Purdue go down in the East Region to 16-seed FDU.
We’re off to a pretty good start.
Sunday, the final spots in the Sweet 16 will be filled. My two preseason futures bets, Creighton (+10000) and Baylor (+1600), will face off.
I lean Baylor there, but for my bets, I went with another game and Final Four futures with some value.
Kentucky -1.5 over Kansas State (BetMGM)
Betting Kentucky this year has been a little less painful than banging your head against the wall for two hours. The Wildcats have been inconsistent all season, but if you look at the last month, Kentucky has shown signs of turning things around.
Kentucky is 6-2 over its past eight games, with both losses coming to Vanderbilt. The six wins aren’t hollow either — the Wildcats have victories over NCAA Tournament teams Providence, Arkansas, Mississippi State and Tennessee. So, if you look at Kentucky’s body of work over the past month, it’s encouraging.
I love Kansas State and I’m a huge fan of head coach Jerome Tang. The team plays hard every night, and Kentucky will need to match Kansas State’s intensity. There are, however, some matchup edges for Kentucky in the game that are hard to ignore.
The biggest is rebounding. The way to beat Kentucky is to limit its second-chance opportunities and make it shoot from the outside. As Providence found out, Oscar Tshiebwe is an absolute monster. Tshiebwe finished the first-round game with a tournament-record 25 rebounds, and he should dominate again Sunday, especially on the offensive boards.
Thanks to Tshiebwe, Kentucky ranks second in offensive rebounding percentage, while much smaller Kansas State ranks 219th in defensive rebounding percentage. Kentucky also turns rebounds into points, ranking third in second-chance conversion percentage and fifth in near-proximity (layups, dunks, tip-ins) field goal percentage, according to Haslametrics. When Kentucky is scoring from close range, it’s tough to beat.
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The other thing to watch in a close game is that Kansas State really struggles with turnovers and fouling, ranking north of 290th in both categories. If Kentucky wins the turnover battle and Tshiebwe is dominating in the paint, look for it to advance to the Sweet 16.
Florida Atlantic to win East Region +500 (FanDuel)
One thing some people forget is you can still bet futures during the tournament. Sometimes the way a bracket shakes out early opens up value on a certain team. That’s the case with Florida Atlantic.
FAU had a dead-even first round matchup against Memphis, and with a win was likely to face No. 1 seed Purdue. Well, the Owls won, only they won’t be facing the Boilermakers after Purdue was shocked by Fairleigh Dickinson.
That huge upset gives FAU a likely spot in the Sweet 16. Anything can happen, but the Owls are 12.5-point favorites Sunday. Let’s say seeding holds and Florida Atlantic advances, then things will get interesting.
FAU’s next game would be against the winner of Duke-Tennessee, with Kentucky, Kansas State, Marquette or Michigan State next. While that certainly isn’t an easy road, the Owls actually match up well with all those teams.
There is a lot to like about this FAU squad, which ranks in the top 40 in both offensive and defensive efficiency on KenPom. The Owls shoot well, defend well, rebound well and don’t turn the ball over. You can argue they don’t play in a Power 5 conference, but other than that, this team doesn’t have many weaknesses.
If Memphis had hung on and beaten FAU, its odds would have been shorter than +500. There is some value on the Owls making the Final Four with Purdue out of the picture.
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