The University of Kentucky is favored by Las Vegas oddsmakers to win college basketball’s national championship and deliver John Calipari his first career title. The Wildcats’ coach says he’s less confident.
Kentucky earned one of four No. 1 regional seeds in the National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s tournament yesterday, joined by the University of North Carolina, Michigan State and Syracuse University.
The Wildcats (32-2) received the No. 1 overall seed in the field of 68 schools even though they had a 24-game winning streak snapped yesterday with a 71-64 loss to Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference tournament final.
“The thought that we’re invincible, that’s done now,” said Calipari, who previously took the University of Massachusetts and University of Memphis to the NCAA tournament’s Final Four. “We’re going to be in a dogfight. That’s the way you have to approach this. Each game is like your last.”
The tournament, which last year expanded to 68 teams from 65, starts in Dayton, Ohio, with two games tomorrow and two more March 14 before full play begins March 15. The title game is scheduled for April 2 at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.
Kentucky, the No. 1 seed in the South Regional, will open against Mississippi Valley State or Western Kentucky on March 15 in Louisville, Kentucky. Vanderbilt, after knocking off Kentucky, is a No. 5 seed and faces Ivy League-champion Harvard University in its first game.
A No. 1 seed for an 11th time, the third most all-time behind North Carolina and Duke, Kentucky is the 9-5 favorite to win the tournament, according to the Wynn Las Vegas sportsbook.
“There’s been a lot of money bet on Kentucky throughout the season and it probably will continue throughout the tournament too,” Johnny Avello, Wynn’s director of race and sports operations, said in a telephone interview.
North Carolina and Syracuse are 6-1, followed by the University of Missouri at 8-1 and Michigan State at 9-1. Defending champion Connecticut, a possible second opponent for Kentucky, has odds of 60-1. Harvard, the 12th seed in the East regional, isn’t listed individually by the Wynn, yet would probably have championship odds of 1,000-1, Avello said.
“In reality they need to be about 20,000 to 1,” Avello said of Harvard, which is making its first tournament appearance since 1946. “They’re a good team, but you’ve got to win six games and they’re going to be an underdog in every game. For the middle seeds, every win is a remarkable accomplishment.”
Last Favored Champion
The oddsmakers’ favorite last won the NCAA tournament in 2007, when the University of Florida captured the title.
The other top teams in Kentucky’s region are second-seeded Duke University, No. 3 Baylor University and No. 4 Indiana. Wichita State is seeded fifth in the South and plays its first game against No. 12 seed Virginia Commonwealth University, which advanced to the Final Four last season.
“There is some pretty good Final Four and championship royalty there,” CBS college basketball analyst Clark Kellogg said on a conference call. “But I don’t see it being a region of real resistance. Kentucky is still clearly the favorite.”
North Carolina is the No. 1 team in the Midwest, gaining a top regional seeding for a record-extending 14th time. North Carolina’s top competition in the Midwest comes from the second- seeded University of Kansas, No. 3 Georgetown University and No. 4 University of Michigan.
Tar Heels’ Opener
The Tar Heels’ first opponent, scheduled for March 16 in Greensboro, North Carolina, will be Lamar University or the University of Vermont.
Michigan State (27-7) got the top seed in the West Regional after beating Ohio State 68-64 yesterday to capture its first Big Ten Conference tournament title since 2000. The Spartans will play March 16 in Columbus, Ohio, against No. 16 seed Long Island University in Brooklyn.
Missouri, which went 30-4 and won the Big 12 Conference tournament title, is the No. 2 team in the West behind Michigan State. Marquette University is the third seed, followed by the University of Louisville and the University of New Mexico.
In the East, Syracuse (31-2) is a top regional seed for a third time and will play the University of North Carolina- Asheville on March 15 in Pittsburgh. Ohio State is the second seed in the East behind the Orange, followed by No. 3 Florida State, No. 4 Wisconsin and Vanderbilt, which won its first Southeastern Conference title since 1951.
The draw opens things up for Syracuse to get to the Final Four, according to ESPN analyst and former St. John’s coach Fran Fraschilla.
“This is the best chance they’ve had in a number of years,” he said.
Automatic bids went to 31 conference champions and the remaining 37 participants received at-large invitations.
The University of California at Berkeley, University of South Florida, Iona College and Brigham Young University were the last teams to land at-large spots. Under the 68-team format, those four schools are among those that play in Dayton, Ohio, for a seeded spot in the field.
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