As March Madness approaches, it’s time to start researching teams that have a chance to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament so you can get an edge in your pool. It’s also time to consider which top seeds are most likely to torpedo the bulk of brackets, a factor often as crucial as picking multiple correct Final Four teams.
The advice below is relevant for sports betting on sites such as DraftKings Sportsbook and FanDuel Sportsbook. Keep an eye on injury news right up until tip-off since things can change quickly in the NCAA Tournament. The odds listed may change, and strategies may differ as news continues to break leading up to Selection Sunday.
Top Seeds That Could Ruin Your Bracket
Notes on Strategy
For some of these teams, “ruining” your bracket is a relative expression. Since a No. 1 seed such as Duke is essentially expected to make the Final Four, even an exit in the Sweet Sixteen could badly hurt those who take the Blue Devils to make the title game or win it all.
Leading into the 2018 NCAA Tournament, higher seeds had won 71 percent of tournament games since the field expanded to 64 teams. Picking against the highest seeds is a risky endeavor and one that should depend on that nature of your pool.
The more entries in your pool, the more risks you should take if you want to earn that big payday by finishing first or second. Thus, the biggest upsets and boldest claims should probably only correlate to pools with 40 entries or more.
Let’s take a look at some top seeds that could go down early:
No. 2 Seed Kentucky (Odds to win the national title: +1100 on FanDuel Sportsbook)
While the Wildcats have some very impressive wins this season, their record in close games throws up some red flags. With narrow losses to Seton Hall, Alabama, and LSU (two of which came at home), Kentucky is 1-3 in games decided by three points or fewer. The Wildcats big win over Tennessee is now negated by a 19-point loss in Tennessee, indicating the fragility of this young club away from Rupp Arena.
No one will argue with Kentucky’s athleticism, but John Calipari‘s squad has only one upperclassman (Travis Reid) in the rotation. That’s become the norm with the top programs in college hoops. Yet this group lacks the transcendent talent of Duke or UNC. Plus, Calipari doesn’t have the best track record in terms of X’s and O’s coaching.
Kentucky could draw Wofford, a top 25 team throughout nearly the entire season, in the second round. That’s a tough matchup for an athletic, but inexperienced, Wildcats team. Then, they could face another Mid-Major power in Houston. According to Bracketology prediction models, Kentucky has a modest 20.8% chance to make the Final Four.
No. 2 Seed Tennessee (Odds to win the title: +1500 on BetStarsNJ)
The Volunteers may be a classic case of peaking too early. They strung together a 19-game winning streak that came to an end on Feb. 15 at Kentucky’s Rupp Arena. You could chalk up a blowout loss that included a 14-0 Kentucky run to a blip on the radar for the Volunteers, but then they fell in an 82-80 nail-biter at LSU.
Experience may only get Tennessee so far. Head coach Rick Barnes has gone 22-23 in the NCAA Tournament over a long career at Providence, Texas, and now Tennessee. His Volunteers bowed out in the second round last season. And the last time one of his teams made it past that round was in 2008 with Texas.
Tennessee’s regular season schedule simply hasn’t been on par with most of the other top seeds. They were 1-3 against ranked opponents leading into the SEC Tournament. While Cincinnati or Iowa stand little chance in the second round, we could easily see Purdue send Tennessee home in the Sweet Sixteen.
No. 2 Seed Michigan (Odds to win the title: +1700 on FanDuel Sportsbook)
Last season, the Wolverines made a run all the way to the National Championship game. But they would’ve lost in the second round if not for a miraculous shot from Jordan Poole. The rest of their draw was objectively fortunate. They didn’t face a seed higher than No. 7 and took on Cinderella story Loyola-Chicago in the Final Four.
This season, Michigan seemed to peak early with key wins in late November and early December over UNC and Purdue. Since then, they’ve split a series with disciplined Wisconsin and dropped a shocker (74-59) to unranked Iowa. The Wolverines couldn’t beat rival Michigan State at home on Feb. 24 with the Spartans missing two of their top three scorers.
Gone is Mo Wagner and without him, Michigan lacks the steady presence of an interior scorer, playmaker, and versatile defender. Jon Teske simply isn’t the same type of player. He’ll be prone to foul trouble when the Wolverines face athletic frontcourts. Even with Teske playing well, the Wolverines have struggled on the boards at times and could get burned by an underdog team with a slew of aggressive rebounders and clutch shooters.
No. 3 Seed Texas Tech (Odds to win the title: +2600 on FanDuel Sportsbook)
The biggest factor in Texas Tech’s vulnerability is the overall state of the Big 12. Kansas is way down this year, while some of the perennial contenders of years past (Texas, West Virginia, Oklahoma) are well below .500.
Despite the state of that conference, Texas Tech dropped three straight games, including road losses at Baylor and Kansas State. Getting held to just 45 points in Manhattan (at KSU) is a huge red flag that indicates the Raiders potential to go ice cold at a neutral site in the tournament. Texas Tech also struggled at Texas and West Virginia, then barely won at Kansas this season.
While the Raiders navigated the Big 12 Tournament, facing a Mid-Major power in Buffalo in the second round spells trouble. Texas Tech would likely face Michigan or senior-laden Nevada in the Sweet 16 and that is a very tough draw.
Any of those opponents could look to mirror Kansas State’s defensive game plan and force a low-scoring affair with Texas Tech.
No. 4 Kansas (Odds to win the title: +3300 on BetStarsNJ)
This is a far cry from one of those loaded Kansas teams of years past that ruined a slew of brackets by losing in the first couple rounds. Yet the Jayhawks are still projected to earn a No. 3 or even No. 2 seed in a down year and that sets them up for an early upset. Kansas has dropped games to lowly West Virginia and Texas, needed overtime to win at TCU, and was dominated in a 91-62 loss at Texas Tech over the past couple months.
The Jayhawks own a rough 1.02 assist/turnover ration (ranks 165th in the nation) and perhaps most concerning is their 69.8% free throw shooting, which ranks 202nd in the country. Kansas struggles to rebound, struggles to score down the stretch (averages 38.9 PPG in second half), and doesn’t shoot the three very well. That makes the Jayhawks quite overrated with a meager 9.9% chance to make the Final Four. For our money, we’d take Northeastern to upset Kansas in the first round in larger pools.