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Seed outlook: Gonzaga is the best team in the West with a substantial margin, but the Zags, despite reaching the final two years ago, haven’t always performed well beneath the tournament’s lights. However, Gonzaga has a 70 percent likelihood of reaching the Elite Eight, based on our model, and the third-best odds of any team to reach the national championship game (26 percent).
Should Gonzaga face Syracuse in the second round, the Orange’s zone defense will give the Bulldogs trouble. This is the very best offense Mark Few has had in Spokane, but it may be tested by any of the terrific defenses in the West: Four of the top 15 can be found within this region, including the top two in Texas Tech and Michigan.
Sneaky Final Four pick: No. 4 Florida State. A fixture at the KenPom Top 20 for most of the season, the Seminoles are hoping to build on last year’s championship run, which saw them come within a 4-point margin of making the Final Four. FSU has a dominant defense (No. 9 in Pomeroy’s evaluations ) and a balanced roster that saw four players collect at least 2.5 win stocks. This draw isn’t horrible, either: Vermont is not especially tough as a first-round foe, and Marquette is very beatable (more on that below). No. 1 seeded Gonzaga probably looms then, and we give FSU a 24 percent chance against the Zags — but the Seminoles could have a 48 percent probability of creating the Final Four if they were to pull off the upset.
Do not wager : No. 5 Marquette. Teams seeded fifth are not usually good bets to make it past the Sweet 16 anyway, but Marquette could be a particularly bad choice. As stated by the FiveThirtyEight power ratings, the Golden Eagles are by far the worst No. 5 seed in the area, and a first-round date using breakout mid-major superstar Ja Morant did not do any favors. Marquette has a star power of its own in junior guard Markus Howard, who ranks sixth in the nation with an average of 25 points per game, but this team lost five of its last six games and has a tough tournament road ahead of it.
Cinderella watch: No. 10 Florida. The Gators may have been one of the bubble teams to creep in the area of 68, but they are poised to do some damage now that they are here. They drew Nevada, a so-so No. 7 seed, at the very first round, and also we provide Florida a 42 percent chance of pulling the upset there. Last year’s national runner-up, Michigan, probably waits in Round 2, and that is a tough matchup (23 percentage odds of Florida) — however when the Gators win, they’ve a 38 percent likelihood of earning the Elite Eight. Than the, Florida looks better in a region with a number of good-but-flawed options.
Player to watch: Gonzaga, Brandon Clarke The linchpin of this Zags isn’t the consensus lottery selection, nor the two veteran guards that have collectively started 87 percent of Gonzaga’s games over the previous two seasons. It is a move from San Jose State who is in his first busy season with the team, Brandon Clarke. He’s perhaps the most underappreciated player in the nation.
On a group that typically features a 7-footer shielding the rim, it is Clarke, at 6-foot-8, who’s tasked with protecting the paint this season. Clarke has responded by setting a single-season blocks record and submitting the highest block speed of any group under Couple.
“If I feel like when I can get a good, fast jump , I will pretty much leap with anybody,” Clarke told me. “I mean, I’ve seen Zion (Williamson) coming down through the street before TV, and when I can not jump at the ideal time, I likely wouldn’t jump with him, however… I don’t actually see myself not jumping with anyone.”
Likeliest first-round upsets: No. 9 Baylor over No. 8 Syracuse (48 percent); No. 10 Florida over No. 7 Nevada (42 percent); No. 12 Murray State over No. 5 Marquette (32 percent)
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