Nonstop basketball for the next three or so weeks is a sports fan’s dream. Fans across the nation are filling out brackets, only to throw them in a fire two hours into the tournament.
Forbes reported that the odds of filling out a perfect bracket all the way from the play-in round to the championship are an astounding 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808. For those keeping score at home, that’s 1 in 9.2 quintillion.
Odds that are a little friendlier are those provided by Vegas concerning the schools most likely to bring home the gold on April 2. The ACC and Big 10 each have three teams in Vegas Insider’s top 11 teams most likely to win the big dance.
While you won’t take home the billion dollar prize for just picking the winner of the tournament, the feeling of winning a national championship is worth almost as much. Take it from someone jumped over a burning couch in Chapel Hill about a year ago.
Here’s a look at the team’s Vegas favors to cut down the nets.
VILLANOVA WILDCATS: 5/1
The Wildcats have only missed the NCAA Tournament once since 2005 and won the whole thing in 2016 (still an unmentionable in my household).
Villanova (30-4, 14-4) are one of the few teams in the county with four NBA prospects that aren’t all freshmen. Jalen Brunson (19.4), Mikal Bridges (18.0), Donte DiVincenzo (13.1), and Omari Spellman (10.7) are four of the Cats’ top five scorers on a team averaging 87 points per game.
There aren’t many teams capable of trading baskets with Jay Wright’s squad. Nova beat fellow one-seed Xavier by a combined 40 points in two regular-season meetings this season.
Nova is the top seed in the East and don’t have the most challenging road to San Antonio. The Wildcats have Virginia Tech/Alabama in the second round, West Virginia/Wichita State in the Sweet 16, and a likely date with Purdue in the Elite Eight.
VIRGINIA CAVALIERS: 5/1
The number one overall team in the tourney already boasts the ACC regular-season and tournament titles, and ACC Coach of the Year title.
The Cavs (28-2, 17-1) were unranked in the preseason. Tony Bennett’s squad quickly overcame that snub and reached the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll midway through the season.
Kyle Guy leads the Cavaliers with 14.1 ppg on 40.9 percent shooting from the field and 39.5 percent from beyond the arc.
UVA’s defense has been the talk of the league this season, holding opponents to 0.83 points per possession and an NCAA-best 53.4 points per game.
One potential issue for the Cavs is the season-ending injury to ACC Sixth Man of the Year De’Andre Hunter. Hunter was a staple of the Wahoo defense and made the game winning 3-pointer against Louisville on March 1.
Another issue is that UVA is in the most difficult region, with potential opponents such as Arizona, Cincinnati, Nevada, Miami, and Kentucky looming.
DUKE BLUE DEVILS: 6/1
Everyone’s favorite team to hate enters another NCAA Tournament as a favorite to win. The Devils sit at second in the Midwest and are ready to make a run behind ACC Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year Marvin Bagley III.
Bagley averaged 21.1 points and 11.5 rebounds per game this season on 60.5 percent shooting. The big man also boasted a 37.0 3-point shooting percentage.
Combined with Grayson Allen and an arsenal of scorers, a Duke team firing on all cylinders has the potential to down any other team playing at their best. The Blue Devils also have a Hall of Fame coach that has been able to shape a group of 18-year-olds into one of the best rosters nationwide.
Duke’s biggest obstacles will come in the Sweet 16 against third-seeded Michigan State and then in the Elite Eight against Kansas.
John Beilein’s team is looking for its first Fnal Four since 2013.
Moritz Wagner, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, and Charles Matthews all average more than 12.5 ppg on at least 44.1 percent shooting. Wagner also shot 39.6 percent from 3-point land as a 6-foot-11 forward.
The third seed in the West hit their stride late, entering the NCAA tournament on an 11-game winning streak. The Wolverines defeated Michigan State and Purdue en route to the Big Ten title last week.
Michigan has winnable match-ups in the first two rounds against 14-seed Nebraska in the first round and 6-seed Houston in round 2. This sets up a rematch with North Carolina from earlier this season, a game the Tar Heels won 86-71 back in November.
Beilein said he would love to face UNC again and he just might have to down the defending national champs on the way to the 2018 championship.
MICHIGAN STATE: 8/1
Seeing a trend with these teams? All have coaches that are current Hall-of-Famers or coaches that will inevitably be placed in the Hall of Fame.
Tom Izzo has coached loaded teams in the past, but this year’s team seems different. Miles Bridges leads the team 16.9 ppg on 36.9 percent 3-point shooting.
Bridges is supported by a cast of teammates featuring the Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr. and the nation’s leader in offensive rebounding Nick Ward.
The Spartans are shooting 41.3 percent from beyond the arc and some of the best defense in the county inside it. Izzo may just earn his first championship since 2000 if everything clicks.
OTHER NOTABLE NAMES:
Arizona Wildcats – 12/1
Kansas Jayhawks – 14/1
Purdue Boilermakers – 15/1
North Carolina Tar Heels – 18/1
Cincinnati Bearcats – 22/1
Xavier Musketeers – 22/1
Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith