It has been a wild ride to the Final Four, with many more upset games than anyone could have predicted.
Every March Madness features upset games; that’s part of why betting on basketball is much more exciting than online casinos in America. Usually upsets occur early in the tournament with most of the top teams surviving to compete in the Final Four. Six of the past eight national champions received #1 seeds from the Selection Committee, and it has been 17 years since a team seeded lower than #3 won the championship (#4 Arizona in 1997).
America’s greatest sporting event is dominated by heavies, not underdogs. But this year is different. There have been more upsets than usual, and two of the remaining teams had been largely written off going into the tournament. This piece will discuss the remaining four teams, Florida, Connecticut, Kentucky and Kansas, as well as several Goliaths that didn’t make it.
Several big boys fall out early
Some of the country’s most talented teams made big money for online sportsbooks in Canada and the US by bowing out early. #3 Duke was the tournament’s biggest disappointment, losing its first round game against unknown Mercer. Without a doubt, that was the biggest upset game of the year. #2 Kansas, who we predicted to win the national championship, also proved to be a major disappointment, losing in the second round. They couldn’t overcome the injury of star center Joel Embiid.
Highly regarded Syracuse, whom I felt had a chance at winning the national championship as well, lost in the second round to underdog Dayton. This March the Davids stole games from the Goliaths more often than in years past.
Connecticut and Kentucky find ways to stay alive
The last time two teams seeded lower than #5 made the Final Four in the same year was in 2000. That is, until this year. #7 Connecticut and #8 Kentucky have proved doubters wrong in making it to the final round, with Mark Titus of Grantland even calling Kentucky “the most feared team in the Final Four.” How did it happen?
• The Final Four contestants are #1 Florida, #2 Wisconsin, #7 Connecticut and #8 Kentucky
• The last time two teams seeded lower than #5 made the Final Four in the same year was 2000
• Florida remains the odds-on favorite to win the national championship, but Kentucky is finally playing up to its potential and can compete with anyone
Connecticut features star guard Shabazz Napier but had been written off all season long as a one-trick pony. That is until they beat heavies Villanova, Iowa State and Michigan State, the last being given high odds to win the championship by Bovada. Coach Kevin Ollie was faced with the impossible task of replacing legend Jim Calhoun and did not disappoint. They face a tough match-up with oddsmakers’ favorite Florida, but they’ve proved everyone wrong so far. Why stop now?
Kentucky was touted as the most talented team in the country going into the season, then proceeded to be a large disappointment. Immaturity and inconsistency led to a season of blown opportunities. They received a modest #8 seed, then decided to start playing basketball. In the second round they beat previously undefeated #1 seed Wichita State before turning their attention to defending champion Louisville and #2 seed Michigan. They have faced arguably the toughest competition of any team to date, and enter the Final Four with as good a chance as anyone.
The high seeds: Florida and Wisconsin
Okay, Florida is a team that almost everyone had in the Final Four. They’ve only lost two games all year and their coach, Billy Donavan, already has two national championships under his belt. The Gators feature a brutal defensive style and the ability to clutch plays late in games. They were the oddsmakers’ favorite going into March Madness, and they still are. American gambling laws prohibit betting on basketball everywhere but Nevada, but people in office pools nationwide are overwhelmingly choosing Florida.
On the other side lies the Wisconsin Badgers, who will match up with Kentucky in the semifinal. They played impressively all season long and received a #2 see on Selection Sunday, so they aren’t exactly an underdog. But few observers gave much of a chance of advancing deeply into the tournament, and lower seeded teams like #4 Louisville, Duke, Syracuse and Michigan State were regarded more highly. Led by the emerging star Frank Kaminsky the Badgers have crushed the competition so far. Detractors said that they weren’t athletic enough, but they beat ultra-athletic Baylor and #1 seed Arizona on their way to the Final Four. They aren’t a Cinderella story, but they aren’t far from it either.