The No. 13 seeds have beaten the No. 4 seed 31 times since 1985, when the tournament expanded. Over the years we have seen 13 seeds survive when it seemed like the odds were against them. So why expect anything different this year? In a season where there is no clearly defined upper echelon, any team is capable of upsetting – but there is something special about the 13th seed. Call it luck, call it fate, a 13 seed has taken its toll since Villanova cut the nets in that first year of the tournament, rising to 64 teams.
For a sports bettor, the 13 seed offers a chance to get some nice underdog value. At the end of the first two days, there’s a good chance all 13 seeds will have covered the spread – and two of the four could still be dancing.
South Dakota State at Providence (-2.5 on BetMGM)
The point spread tells you that Vegas thinks it’s going to be close. All the pressure is on Providence. They have an experienced squad and if they were to make a run at a championship this is probably their best opportunity. The game is also more in their backyard than most tournament teams; a seven-hour drive separates Buffalo, NY from Providence, RI. The Brothers are hitting at both ends of the field. They average 71.8 points per game and allow just 67 points. So if this is the most talented and experienced team, why should this match be close?
The answer is that Jackrabbits are real. They have one of the best offenses in the country. They have five guys who have no problem getting serious buckets. If the Brothers aren’t locked in defensively, they could light up like the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. The Jacks are playing a brand that won’t be intimidated by the location or the gravity of the moment. The beauty of the No. 4 vs. No. 13 matchup is that the 13th seed is supposed to lose. So South Dakota State, without pressure, can play freely. If they keep the score close until late in the game or if they can take a lead, the breathing around the brothers’ necks can get a little harder and that might be all the jacks need. to pass the first round upset. What if you like the Jacks to cover? So you probably like that they win. Take this moneyline +120.
Vermont at Arkansas (-5.5)
Arkansas is a sexy pick to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament. Heading into a buzzsaw at Texas A&M in the SEC tournament, the Razorbacks had a great run. They have won 15 of their last 17 games. They have four guys averaging double digits, led by senior point guard JD Notae who averaged 18.4 points per game. That semi-final loss to the Aggies likely cost them a higher seed in the Big Dance – a loss like this can either motivate a team to have a great run…or it can be aggravated and hurt when she meets another quality adversary. There is also a big difference in the talent of a 13 seed compared to a 14 or 15 seed. Sometimes the call does not match the final production. Especially when you have to travel to an area that favors the lower seed.
Vermont enters the tournament with a poor seed but a lot of hype (our Bracket Busters series loves their pace and 3-point range). They should have a higher seed, but when your lecture isn’t rated as hard, that kind of thing happens. Vermont is the Gonzaga of the Northeast. They’re America’s consistent class from the East, but they don’t get the respect they deserve because of the overall conference performance. Don’t get me wrong – Vermont is good, and adding fuel to the fire is the opportunity for their fans to visit the site of Buffalo, which (like Providence) is only a seven-hour drive away. from their house. This may be a catalyst for the Catamounts to make a serious run in the tournament this year. As well as a feeling of advantage on the home pitch, they have two things you need to create an upset:
- They have two guys who are elite scorers. Senior forward Ryan Davis leads the team with 17.2 points per game and senior guard Ben Shungu averages 16.1 points.
- They have an elite-level three-point shot. There are three guys on the team who are on average more than 40% from downtown. If they get hot and the crowd is pro-Vermont, it could snowball the game and could spell disaster for the Razorbacks. In fact, it probably will.
If you want to be safe, take the points but the real value is in the full on upset, it’s +180. The Catamounts try on the glass slipper.
Vermont wins, 72-70
Akron at UCLA (-13.5)
UCLA entered this season with high expectations. Many believe the Bruins sleepwalked during the regular season and now that they’re back in the tournament, we’ll see all of that promise come to fruition. They definitely have the horses — the Bruins are led by four guards and Johnny Juzang, who burst onto the scene last season with his standout performance in the tournament. That didn’t matter in the regular season, though, when they struggled to put away teams that weren’t even on the field. Winning is one thing, covering the spread is another. And 13.5 points is a big number, even when you’re up against a double-digit seed.
Akron is a formidable enemy. MAC Hoops are much better than many give them credit for and the Zips are riding an eight-game winning streak, which includes a run through the MAC Conference Tournament. They can score (71.2 ppg) and they’re playing good defense (allowing just 62.8 ppg) and they won’t be intimidated by the Bruins. The only game this season the Zips lost by more than 13 points was an anomaly against Fordham in November, when they were beaten 63-43. Since that game, every loss has been competitive. They will be looking to play good defense, keep the game close and try to steal it in the final minutes of the game. Will they win? Probably not – but they’ll keep it close. Take the points and roll with the Zips.
71-59, Bruins win, Zipped cover
Chattanooga at Illinois (-7.5)
This is a Jekyll and Hyde Illinois team. One game they look like world beaters and the next game? They just look beat up. They have one of the tournament’s most dominant big men on the All American first team, seven-footer Kofi Cockburn. His 21 points and 10 rebounds per game will be tough for the Mocs. That job will go to striker Silvio De Sousa (yes, that Silvio De Sousa), who will give up five inches. De Sousa will have to make Cockburn work defensively and hopefully cause him some trouble to neutralize the advantage. They will also need the defensive contributions of senior center Avery Diggs, the biggest body on the Mocs roster. Ultimately, what gives the Mocs a chance to keep this game close is Malachi Davis’ ability to put the ball in the basket. He is a great shooter and has the ability to neutralize Illini’s backcourt effectiveness of senior duo Trent Frazier and Alfonso Plummer.
This game has all the makings of being too close for comfort…and then the best team creates a little separation on the stretch. That should be the case in this game, but it won’t be a 7.5 point split.
Illinois wins, 69-63, Chattanooga covers
(Photo by Silvio de Sousa: AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek; The Athletic may receive an affiliate commission if you open an account with BetMGM through the links in the article above.)