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March Madness: 5 thoughts on the NCAA tournament bracket from a betting perspective

[Click for printable bracket]

If the NCAA men's tournament selection committee was replaced with oddsmakers, the bracket might look a lot different.

The betting world looks at some college basketball teams through a different lens. Before you fill out a bracket, you can learn plenty just by checking the point spreads of the first-round games or odds on which team will make the Final Four or win the championship.

Here are five quick thoughts on the bracket, from a betting perspective, with all odds and spread from BetMGM:

Which favorites can we trust?

Here are the betting favorites to win the NCAA tournament at BetMGM:

UConn +400

Houston +600

Purdue +600

Arizona +1200

North Carolina +1300

Tennessee +1500

Auburn +1800

Iowa State +1800

We can poke holes in just about all of those teams that are 18-to-1 or shorter to win it all. Houston doesn't have a sure future first-round NBA Draft pick (thought Jamal Shead is a great college player), which most champions have. Purdue has flamed out spectacularly in the NCAA tournament before. Arizona is good but the Pac-12 was awful. North Carolina has taken a few weird losses. Tennessee looked bad in the SEC tournament and coach Rick Barnes' tournament history is not good.

It's hard to find a fault with UConn, though. The Huskies have been tremendous most of the season. While it's hard to win the tournament, especially when you're trying to go back-to-back, there's a very good reason UConn is the favorite.

Donovan Clingan (32) of the Connecticut Huskies reacts during the team's win over Marquette in the Big East tournament final. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

More madness than usual?

March has already been pretty crazy. It could have ripple effects into the NCAA tournament.

In the conference tournaments, 21 No. 1 seeds lost. While that might not matter too much for Purdue or Houston entering the NCAA tournament (it could matter for Tennessee, which we'll get to), it could matter on the first weekend. The upsets in the one-bid leagues knock out some of the teams that might have had a better chance at an upsetting a brand-name opponent in the first round, like UC Irvine out of the Big West.

That could mean a slight bump to some favorites in the first round. But, it's also possible the unpredictability of the conference tournaments was a sign of things to come.

Tennessee in trouble?

Tennessee had a fantastic season and is a No. 2 seed, but has one big historic factor working against them: The Vols didn't make the semifinals of their conference tournament.

Every single champion since the NCAA tournament expanded in 1985 made at least their conference tournament semifinal, and all but four finalists made the semis as well according to a great thread by Andrew Weatherman on X (formerly Twitter).

Then you add Barnes' baffling issues in the NCAA tournament over his career, and it's a hard team to pick for a deep run. The Volunteers have talent, and Dalton Knecht is the type of player who can carry his team in an inevitable close game, but beware the warning signs before picking Tennessee to win it all.

Some higher seeds favored

Four games on the board have a higher seed as the favorite. That includes No. 11 seed New Mexico over No. 6 seed Clemson. New Mexico opened as a 1.5-point favorite at BetMGM and quickly moved to a 2.5-point favorite. That's rare. Since 2007 there have been only seven instances in which a No. 11 seed is favored over a No. 6 seed, according to Matt Eisenberg's annual tournament binder. Being an underdog isn't good news for Clemson; In the seven previous instances the No. 11 seed has won and covered six times.

The other games in which the higher seed was favored on the opening line: No. 8 Mississippi State vs. No. 9 Michigan State (-1.5), No. 7 Dayton vs. No. 10 Nevada (-1.5) and No. 8 Utah State vs. No. 9 TCU (-3.5).

Auburn might be underseeded

There are some teams that have a good argument that they were severely underseeded, like the entire Mountain West. But the one that might matter most is Auburn.

In previous years, teams that were ranked much higher in KenPom than their NCAA tournament seed have made deep runs, most notably 2021 Houston and 2018 Loyola Chicago. Auburn is ranked fourth in KenPom — a very popular college basketball analytics site that measures teams by their efficiency metrics — but yet got just a No. 4 seed in the East region. The major issue Auburn faces is it is in the same region as UConn, the best team in college basketball this season. But the KenPom/seed discrepancy for Auburn is worth noting. It has foreshadowed a deep tournament run for other teams.

A few other teams that were seeded too low based on their KenPom ranking: Duke (No. 8 KenPom, No. 4 seed), BYU (16th, No. 6), Michigan State (18th, No. 8), New Mexico (23rd, 11th), Colorado (26th, No. 10). For what it's worth, KenPom has North Carolina ranked ninth, but the selection committee gave the Tar Heels one of the tournament's four No. 1 seeds.