Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Monday, February 13, 2017 at 11:00 AM
The NCAA Selection Committee took a page from their football brethren this weekend and released what the national top 16 seeds in the coming NCAA Tournament would be if the bracket had to be made today. As you can expect, there were some areas where opinions differed significantly from the numbers posted in Las Vegas. And as you can expect, the Duke Blue Devils were at the heart of the discrepancy.
Duke has started to play better basketball of late, winning five in a row. That includes a victory at Notre Dame and last week’s high-profile home win over North Carolina. The bad headlines this proud program dealt with earlier in the year with Grayson Allen and the problems of Mike Krzyzewski’s health are now in the rearview mirror and the Blue Devils have sent a clear signal they’ll be a tough team to beat the rest of the way.
Even so...are they really the second-best team in the nation? That’s what Las Vegas says, posting Duke at a 9-1 shot to win Coach K’s sixth national title, narrowly behind favorite Gonzaga. By contrast, the NCAA Selection Committee currently has Duke as a 4-seed, or the 16th-best team in the country.
In fairness, the oddsmakers and the selection committee have different jobs. The committee’s job is to evaluate what a team has done. An oddsmaker, particularly on the futures market, must consider what they could do. Seen in this light, it’s entirely reasonable to believe both that Duke’s resume as-is, merits a 4-seed, and that they’re still highly likely to cut down the nets in Phoenix this April.
But we do have a very recent precedent of this same phenomenon. Kentucky was a 15-2 favorite to win the NCAA championship as recently as a couple weeks ago, despite an on-court performance that suggested they more of the 3-seed caliber that the Committee placed them this weekend. In this case, it was the oddsmakers who moved toward the committee. In the aftermath of that ugly 88-66 nationally televised loss in Florida a week ago Saturday, the Wildcats’ championship odds are down to 12-1.
A similar convergence is likely to happen with Duke as well, and I’ll be watching as closely as anyone when they go to Virginia on Wednesday night.
Other notes on the NCAA’s top 16 seeds…
*Baylor represents another big contrast. The Committee gave them a 1-seed. Las Vegas says the Bears are 30-1 to win the NCAA title. The skepticism about Baylor’s recent March failures are clearly on the mind of the market, although that same factor isn’t hindering anyone from betting Gonzaga down to an 8-1 favorite. Baylor hosts Kansas on Saturday.
*A number of commentators focused on the omission of Wisconsin from the top 16. I won’t engage an argument whether the Badgers should be a 4-seed or a 5-seed, but I will say that this Wisconsin team hasn’t beaten anyone of real note. The Big Ten has mostly underperformed, with Michigan State a disappointment and Indiana a dysfunctional mess. That clearly works against the Badgers and their flaws were exposed by Sunday night in a 66-59 home loss to Northwestern.