Five Underdogs to Watch
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Defending national champions Villanova have gone under the radar, but could they win it all again in Minnesota?
The Villanova Wildcats have won two of the last three NCAA national championships but haven’t had a regular season the Wildcats are used to.
Villanova currently has a 22-9 record with the Big East Tournament still to come yet the Wildcats have already suffered their most losses since the 2012-13 season.
The Wildcats were strong at home but dropped five consecutive road conference games to wrap up the season. Those losses came at the hands for Marquette, St. Johns, Georgetown, Xavier, and Seton Hall with Xavier being the only team of those mentioned not projected in the NCAA tournament.
Seniors Phil Booth and Zach Pascal have carried the Wildcats with experience. Booth leads the team in points and assists averaging 18.6 ppg and 3.9 apg, while Pascal ranks second in scoring and leads the team in rebounds with 16.5 ppg and 6.1 rpg.
Villanova are a six seed and will have their work cut out as 11 seeds have a tendency to defeat 6 seeds. Last season, both Syracuse and Loyola-Chicago won the opening game as an 11 seed with Loyola-Chicago making it all the way to the Final Four. The Wildcats have 50 to 1 odds to cut down the nets.
NCCA Tournament Cinderella Sleepers
Marquette - 5 seed
Villanova - 6 seed
Nevada - 7 seed
Syracuse - 8 seed
Murray State- 12 seed
Joining Villanova from the Big East is the Marquette Golden Eagles. Marquette was a top-10 team in the nation for most of the regular season until hitting a rough patch in conference play.
The Golden Eagles finished 23-8 after losing four consecutive games to Villanova, Creighton, Seton Hall, and Georgetown. Over that span of losses, Marquette averaged 15.8 turnovers per game which will have to be cleaned up before the start of the tournament.
The Golden Eagles are lead by one of the nation’s top scorers in junior guard Markus Howard, who ranks sixth in Division 1 averaging 25.0 ppg. Marquette has 40 to 1 odds to win it all.
The Nevada Wolfpack finished the season 28-3, and similar to Marquette, fell out of the top 10 after suffering some bad losses. Nevada, who ranked sixth in the nation at the time, lost by 27 points on the road against a below average New Mexico team.
However, the Wolfpack recovered with experience and lost just two more games on the season with strong efforts from a senior heavy depth chart lead by brothers Caleb and Cody Martin.
Caleb leads the team in points and steals averaging 19.6 ppg and 1.4 stlpg; Cody lead the team in rebounds with 5.1 rpg and ranks third on the team scoring 11.6 ppg.
Fellow senior Jordan Caroline has been the Wolfpacks’ enforcer nearly averaging a double-double with 17.7 ppg and a team-high 9.6 rpg. Nevada has the ninth best odds to win at 28 to 1.
The Murray State Racers earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament when claiming the Ohio Valley Conference Championship by defeating Belmont 77-65.
The Racers hold a 27-4 record and are lead by projected top-three NBA draft pick Ja Morant, who has been arguably one of the best players in the country this season.
Morant is averaging a double-double and ranks within the top 10 in the nation for both categories; ranking eighth in scoring with 24.6 ppg and leads the nation with 10.0 apg. Murray State has 150 to 1 odds to win the NCAA tournament.
The Syracuse Orange had a rollercoaster regular season finishing sixth in the ACC with a 19-12 overall record. The Orange pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the year taking down the top seeded Blue Devils in ACC conference play 95-91 as an unranked opponent.
Syracuse returned a core group of players who reached the Sweet Sixteen as an 11-seed last year such as junior Tyus Battle, sophomore Oshae Brissett, senior Frank Howard, and senior Paschal Chukwu.
Battle leads the team averaging 17.2 ppg while Brissett leads the team in rebounds with 7.5 rpg and ranks third on the team with 12.6 ppg. The Orange have 70 to 1 odds to win it all.
By Stephen Rodriguez
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