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March Madness: A breakdown of Houston and the South Region from an odds perspective

[Betting by region: East | South | Midwest | West]

Last season, Houston got its first No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament since 1983. The Final Four last season was in Houston. Everything was set up for the Cougars.

UH couldn't take advantage. Houston was upset by Miami in the Sweet 16. Houston changed conferences, dominated the Big 12 and is a No. 1 seed again in the NCAA tournament. The Cougars are looking for their first men's basketball championship in school history.

Yahoo Sports' Frank Schwab and Scott Pianowski are going to break down each region from a betting and bracket perspective, with odds from BetMGM. Here's a look at the South region:

Do you trust the favorite?

Frank Schwab: Houston is an odd case. There shouldn’t be any mid-major bias against the Cougars anymore after they won the Big 12 regular-season title. Houston has made deep tourney runs before under Kelvin Sampson. But the Cougars aren’t your typical national championship pick. They don’t shoot it well. They don’t have a future NBA first-round pick (though Jamal Shead is a very good college player). Houston also is dealing with some injuries. There’s no reason to believe Houston won’t win it all, but it’s a tough team to read.

Houston Cougars guard Jamal Shead leads the No. 1 seed in the South Region. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Houston Cougars guard Jamal Shead leads the No. 1 seed in the South Region. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) (Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Scott Pianowski: I never trust Houston. It’s going to take a Final Four trip to snap me out of it. We know this team loves to play volleyball on the offensive glass, but the offensive efficiency is shockingly low for a No. 1 seed. The Cougars also struggle at the free throw line. Maybe the Iowa State loss was a timely splash of cold water; remind yourself of your vulnerabilities, circle the wagons, re-focus. But something seems to be missing here.

Which non-No. 1 seed could make a run?

FS: The problem with picking against Houston is finding someone to rally behind. There’s a reason analytics give Houston a great shot to make the Final Four (UH’s BetMGM odds to make the Final Four are +125). Maybe Duke is the team. The Blue Devils were a preseason darling, have the high-end talent to play with anyone and fit the criteria for a potential national title winner. But why has Duke so rarely looked elite this season? I don’t like Kentucky’s defense and Marquette is a bit thin for my taste, so Duke (+600 to win the Final Four) might be the best choice to upset Houston.

SP: Kentucky scares the crap out of me. They’re an elite 3-point and blocked-shot team. It’s the classic young roster that got considerably better over the course of the season. They can run all day. Kentucky doesn’t care if you score 70 points, it figures it’s getting 90-plus. I’d rather root for a traffic jam than John Calipari, but we aim to be intellectually honest with these pieces.

First-round game to watch

FS: Kentucky is a popular Final Four pick, but it's 108th in defensive efficiency at KenPom.com. The Wildcats also got a tricky matchup against Oakland, who plays a zone defense and played teams like Ohio State and Illinois tough early in the season. If there’s going to be one huge upset in the first round, maybe it’s against a Kentucky team that simply doesn’t like playing defense.

SP: James Madison and Wisconsin will keep us up late Friday night. The Badgers won’t run away from anyone, content to milk the clock and play at a slow pace. It’s hard to know just how good the Dukes are, given their schedule; that Michigan State win was months ago and maybe MSU is down, anyway. But they don’t hand 31-3 records away at the airport, no matter who you play. It’s trendy and historically validated to pick a few 12-over-5s; I hate to make my Wisconsin friends sad, but I could see a one-and-done for UW.

I’m also curious to see what NC State has left after a crazy five wins in five days to steal the ACC tournament. There was nothing fluky about the Wolfpack run; they went through a gauntlet, the best teams. It feels unfair the committee slotted NC State for a Thursday game. Perhaps the Pack will be on fumes by tipoff and Texas Tech gets an easy ride. I’d be surprised if either of these teams challenged Kentucky.

Which long shot is being overlooked?

FS: Colorado came into the season with high hopes. The Buffaloes weren’t very good. But CU won eight straight before losing the Pac-12 championship game against Oregon and got a No. 10 seed and a date against Boise State in the First Four. Cody Williams hasn’t had a monster season but is still considered an NBA lottery pick. Teams from the First Four often do well in the first round and sometimes beyond. Colorado could get on a run.

SP: We can’t automatically slot Texas A&M for the second round, but if the Aggies get a shot at Houston, the Cougars could get picked off. This game is the Moses Malone special, two teams that love to pummel you on the offensive glass. The Aggies played Houston in mid-December and only lost by four points. They won’t be psyched out before the opening tip.