It’s that time of year we all love as sports fans – March Madness is upon us! Nobody wants to pick a bracket buster, but everybody cheers for a Cinderella story. Nobody believes their local school can go all the way, but every alum fills out one extra bracket “just in case.” Loyalties are tested and divided. Sports bars fill up with enthusiastic (and sometimes overly enthused) basketball fans. Jerseys are bought and sold, wing sauce is spilled on them, and water coolers are flooded with statistics and sign-up sheets. All hail March! No mater what the Groundhog said, it’s always sunny in Hoopsadelphia. Here are some interesting first round picks to keep your eye on as the action gets underway Thursday and Friday. Yes I know – there are “play-in games” on Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio – but I’m talking about the real deal field of contenders this year. If you’re a Cinderella fella, you can’t beat Miami (Florida) vs. Buffalo in the South – a #3 vs. a #14 – and the Buffalo Bulls are a +900 dog. Has it happened before? You bet. It’s rare for a #15 or a #16 to knock off a #2 or a #1 seed, but it’s not impossible for a #14 to do it. When you get right down to it Miami has only won five more games than Buffalo, so these teams may not be as far apart as they appear. Duke may also be vulnerable as a #4 seed in the West going up against #13 NC Wilmington. Duke is a perennial tournament team and a heavy -630 favorite as a result, but these two teams are even closer together and the Seahawks have the better record at 25-7 vs. 23-10. There’s a natural regional rivalry here that may motivate those birds to knock the Blue Devils off their perch. Now let’s talk about the really outrageous lines that simply aren’t going to happen – but if they did you’d almost be hitting the lottery to play. Does anybody believe lowly #16 Hampton (21-10) can knock off powerhouse #1 seed Virginia (26-7) in the Midwest? As a -23,000 favorite I’d say no. STILL at +8,500 you don’t need to be smart, just lucky. A close game, a hail mary at the buzzer, and you walk away with a small fortune. Not a line I’m keen on but it’s out there. Similarly you can’t expect the road tested Big 12 tournament champion Kansas (30-4) is going to do anything but cakewalk through Austin Peay (18-17) and the lines reflect it. The #1 seed is a -13,000 favorite and the underdog a whopping +39,000. At that point it’s not even realistic to think you can cash in – it’s way way way out of bounds. Don’t forget those middle of the road lines though, the parlay plays that can stack up if you run the table on a few bets. U Conn vs. Colorado can go either way at -170 to +150 and neither has “home field advantage” in Des Moines, Iowa. Gonzaga vs. Seton Hall is two regular bracket busters matched up with each other at -125 to +105 – almost a coin flip. Don’t overlook Northern Iowa vs. Texas (+170 to -200) or Cincy vs. St. Joseph (-125 to +105) either. Stack up those picks and make your bets but please remember to do so responsibly and only wager what you can afford. Enjoy the Madness and we’ll be back for the Sweet 16!!
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