Underdog student-athletes from New Jersey – for only the second year in a row – are crashing the late rounds of college basketball’s championship tournament.
Princeton, the South Region’s #15 seed, has outplayed 2 physical power-conference squads in a row to carry the Ivy League banner into the Sweet Sixteen, out-rebounding the favored Missouri “Tigers” 44 to 30 while to a 78-63 victory on Saturday. The sharpshooters in Princeton’s lineup like guard Ryan Langborg, ensure the Tigers do not need those kinds of heroics of the offensive glass to beat SEC and Pac-12 programs, a point illustrated by #2 seed Arizona squandering 12 rebounds from big center Oumar Gallo in the Tigers’ stunning opening-round victory. FanDuel Sportsbook did not offer Princeton as a Final Four or national championship pick following the Arizona upset, echoing how the sportsbook treated New Jersey’s 15th-seeded St. Peter’s Peacocks as the Cinderella ran into the Elite Eight in 2022.
Recall that instead of ignoring the 2021-22 Peacocks’ underdog bid completely, FanDuel’s oddsmakers promised full refunds on all losing futures bets if daydreams became a reality, and St. Peter’s won a Division 1 title as a total upstart. As Sweet Sixteen hype gets underway, it will become interesting to see how Princeton’s odds are handled by FanDuel Sportsbook and other confused and curious bookmakers, especially since the first week of tournament play has shown New Jersey’s blue-collar teams to be far more talented than their awarded seeds.
Fairleigh-Dickenson nearly became the first regional #16 seed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen on Sunday, falling 78-70 to Florida Atlantic in a dramatic contest in Columbus at Nationwide Arena. FAU, known as the smallest team in the tourney, was somewhat lucky to emerge with an 8-point conquest as FDU drove inside to the basket successfully all evening long but missed on a majority of its lay-up and dunk attempts.
However, no frustrating loss could erase the glory of FDU’s historic Round-of-64 win against #1 seeded Purdue, a result that’s being called college basketball’s “biggest” tournament upset ever by a pundit class who may have forgotten the 1983 NCSU upset.
March Madness will still feature more top seeds than Cinderella seeds booked in the Sweet Sixteen. But this season’s bracket is still undeniably a ledger of surprises and upsets. Purdue’s Zach Edey, the consensus-best player in college basketball, helped the #1 seeded Purdue Boilermakers to an early postseason title, manufacturing a mammoth 30-and-13 double-double to outlast a sharpshooting Penn State rally in the 2nd half of the Big Ten championship game. Edey’s 21+ point and 2+ blocks-per-game averages combined with his tremendous NBA potential make the 20-year-old center into America’s favorite individual-player prop wager. But the big man scored a “quiet” 21 points against Farleigh-Dickenson in Purdue’s almost inconceivable opening-round loss, and Edey wasn’t a major factor in a game that saw FDU bedazzle the slow-footed #1 with its swift small-ball tactics.
Arkansas, only a #9 seed in 2023’s NCAA Tournament, knocked Kansas out in a West Region stunner that further scrambles the bracket, while Furman ruined one of WagerBop’s highly touted Region Winner futures bets on #4 seeded Virginia by eliminating the ACC’s annual title contenders 68-67, led by forward Jalen Slawson’s double-double.
Virginia hit only 2 out of 13 trey attempts compared to Furman’s 10 swishes from beyond the arc, giving the contest a vibe not altogether unlike UVA’s historic loss to UMBC in 2018.
After a wild opening weekend, the 2023 March Madness bracket’s pair of surviving #1 seeds are competing to draw more championship betting action. Alabama has won its first 2 tip-offs by 43 combined points and draws an improved (+350) line to win the national championship with a manageable Sweet Sixteen pairing against San Diego State next up on the Tide’s South Region schedule. In this week’s regional semifinals, Houston (+390) may not boast such prohibitive chances to beat Miami, reflected in UH’s less popular line to cut down the Final Four nets in April. On the other hand, Houston was on a level above almost all of the NCAAM bracket in Second Round action, sending a message to the SEC by whipping Auburn 81-64.
Among the alternative picks to cut down the nets in Texas, UCLA’s 7-to-1 odds lead the betting action. The #2 seeded Bruins don’t enjoy the easiest draw in 2023’s West Region bracket, in which a mentally tough Northwestern team out-rebounded UCLA in the Bruins’ 68-63 Round-of-32 victory. Speculators still like the SoCal cagers more than another upstart from the northeast, UConn (+850) following 2 breezy wins that set up what should be a far tougher game against Arkansas in the Sweet Sixteen. Texas (+950) is drawing the next-shortest championship odds as the Big 12’s best chance at late-tourney atonement.
This Friday, Texas is a (-3.5) point spread favorite against Xavier, a nod to the Longhorns’ newfound respect with Xavier coming off an impressive win over Pittsburgh.
March Madness 2023: Zach Edey’s Exit…and Those Pesky Zags
As of Monday morning prior to the Sweet Sixteen, FanDuel’s proposition odds on 2023’s most outstanding player have been left displayed in their original order of standing. In other words, the sportsbook is not automatically rearranging the players’ names to put the most-expensive current picks at the top of the prop betting market. As their teams advance in the bracket, it is an opportunity to easily track cagers’ movement up and down the board’s “ranking” of prop-bet popularity. If a student-athlete is found with a cheap gambling line near the top of the players’ list, then he began the tournament with favorable odds and has since slipped in the race for Most Outstanding Player.
By contrast, if a cager is well down the list but now stands out with a thinner betting line than most in the prop bet market, then he’s having a great postseason, and the increased gambling action on his name is taking the player’s odds to an expected pinnacle.
You will also see a direct correlation between FanDuel’s odds on the tourney’s outstanding player and the sportsbook’s lines on teams to win a national title. A player can score an average of 30+ points for their school and lead all shooters during the NCAAM postseason, but if their program doesn’t reach the Final Four, they’ll have no chance of winning the award. Prop bets on the award winner are also picks on the cager’s team to advance through the bracket.
That is a hint as to why the Houston Cougars boast multiple trending picks on the Most Outstanding Player prop bets list. Marcus Sasser’s team was overtaken by Alabama again in a recent Top 25 poll, but the Cougars are still the darling of FanDuel’s gaming public when it comes to winning a national championship in 2023.
Houston does not have prohibitive odds to beat the Miami Hurricanes in this week’s regional semifinals. However, UH was on a level above almost all of the bracket in Second Round action, whipping Auburn 81-64 to send a message to the SEC. Sasser got off to a slow start against Northern Kentucky in the opening round on Saturday but awoke to score 22 vs Auburn.
After a red-hot opening weekend, Brandon Miller of co-favored Alabama is leading the prop betting market with 4-to-1 odds. Drew Timme is a trending dark horse after willing Gonzaga to a better postseason than the Zags’ shaky season seemed to anticipate.
In any event, none of the cagers listed above will have to outplay Zach Edey, the consensus best player in Men’s Division 1, following Purdue’s shock loss in Round 64 to FDU.
After a surprisingly easy run through the West Coast Conference tournament and 2 rounds of the NCAA tourney, Gonzaga’s odds of surviving and advancing are finally brightening. The Zags settled a few regular-season scores, literally and figuratively, by the time Gonzaga pasted St. Mary’s 77-51 behind superstar Drew Timme’s 18 points and the versatile Anton Watson‘s 10 rebounds. A sportsbook wager on Gonzaga (+1000) to win the 2023 national championship now costs three times as much as the Zags’ previous line of 30-to-1 that reflected a dull regular season. Gonzaga’s difficult draw in the West Region is throwing ice on the fire. Gonzaga’s cagers drew a very manageable bracket seeding with only #14 Grand Canyon on the schedule, but the Zags’ bracket still includes Arkansas, UCLA, and UConn.
Late on Sunday night, the Zags appeared to be in trouble against TCU, before the Bulldogs rallied for an 84-81 win behind 28 points from Timme, and another 17 from transfer veteran Rasir Bolton. On Thursday, Gonzaga will prepare for a Sweet Sixteen tip-off against UCLA, in what should be an extremely well-hyped, popular gaming attraction.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.