March Madness Odds: Which #1 Seeds Can Make it to the Final Four?

by Aaron Brooks
on March 12, 2018

You’ll never hear a team complain about being a #1 seed in March Madness. Not only are you being recognized for having an excellent year, you also usually have an easier path through your region on the way to the Final Four.

But as much as a top seeding is a feather in your cap, it can also be a curse. Just like great power comes with great responsibility, great expectations come with great pressure. It’s always easier to be the hunter than the hunted, which might explain why only 6 NCAA Tournaments in history have seen more than two #1 seeds advance to the national semifinals.

Knowing that it’s more than likely that at least two top seeds will bite the dust before the tournament’s final weekend in San Antonio, let’s take a look at each of the #1 seeds in this year’s tournament to assess which top-ranked squads in each region have the best chance at getting to the Final Four.

All odds that are referenced in this article were taken from Bovada.lv at 2 p.m eastern on March 12, 2018. These odds may have changed since the time of this writing.

Which #1 Seeds Can Make It To The Final Four?

We’ve all got our opinions on which teams stand the best chance of winning their regions in March Madness, but the best resource for analyzing probability is generally the Vegas odds.

Below are breakdowns of each of the #1 seeds’ chances at winning their regions, listed in order of most likely to least likely based on their current odds at Bovada.

1. Villanova (+100 to win the East Region)

Of all the #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats are the biggest favorite to get to the Final Four. Nova pays even money to win the East Region, with Purdue (+270), West Virginia (+650), Texas Tech (+800) and Wichita State (+800) its biggest challengers in the eyes of the oddsmakers.

High expectations are nothing new to Villanova, which is one of the top 2 seeds in its region for the fourth straight year and one of the top 3 for the 11th time in its last 24 tournament appearances. However, the Wildcats haven’t always lived up to the hype. Their national title win in 2016 was just the second time since 1985 that the Cats got to the Final Four, and they’ve been ousted before the Elite Eight in 6 of their last 7 tournament appearances – including last spring, when they were second-round victims of the Wisconsin Badgers.

If that’s one reason to be gunshy of backing the Wildcats to make the Final Four (especially at this short price), then their reliance on the 3-point shot is another. Villanova attempted the fifth-most treys in the entire NCAA this season, which works great when you’re shooting it well (their 39.8% success rate from behind the arc was 22nd in the nation) but can also bog your offense down when you’re not. Fortunately for the Wildcats, none of their top 5 biggest challengers in the East (I’ve also thrown Florida into the mix at +1800) ranked inside the top 50 in the country this year at defending the 3.

Villanova’s toughest task getting out of the East could be in the third round against either Wichita State or West Virginia. If the Wildcats survive to reach the Elite Eight, I think they match up really well against likely opponents Purdue or Texas Tech, teams that defend the paint well but aren’t great at guarding the perimeter.

I like Villanova to get to the Final Four, but I don’t think there’s any value in betting them at these odds.

2. Virginia (+125 to win the South Region)

Though the Cavaliers are the top-ranked team in the entire tournament, they pay plus money to get to the Final Four. Why would there be so much value on the #1 Cavaliers?

Well, let’s start with just how tough their region is. The South is top-loaded with several other teams with legitimate national semifinal potential. Second-seeded Cincinnati (+270 to win the South) is 30-4 on the year and boasts the second-best defense in the country, Arizona (+350) is oozing with talent and SEC champion Kentucky (+750) is always dangerous in March. Tennessee (+600) is also capable of going on a run, evidenced by the Volunteers’ 2 wins over Kentucky during the regular season.

As tough as that region looks, however, Virginia’s toughest opponent in the South just may be itself. The Cavaliers are under a ton of pressure to get to their first Final Four in 34 years, especially after flaming out in the second round of last year’s tournament with an embarrassing 65-39 loss to Florida. Virginia’s offense has been its Achilles heel over the last few seasons, and while that attack looks much improved this season, they’re always going to be vulnerable when getting to the 70-point plateau (something they’ve done only 3 times in their last 19 games) is a struggle.

I’m rooting for Virginia to finally break through this year, but I don’t see it happening.

Whether it’s the offense and rebounding of Arizona overwhelming them in the Sweet 16 or a hard-nosed Cincinnati defense shutting them down in the regional final, the Cavaliers’ Final Four drought will continue this spring.

3. Kansas (+250 To Win The Midwest Region)

Don’t you get the sense that the only reason the Jayhawks are a #1 seed in their region is because their resume demanded they had to be? After Kansas claimed at least a share of the Big 12 regular-season title for the 14th consecutive year, Bill Self’s crew locked up a top seed at March Madness by winning the Big 12 tournament.

The betting odds in the Midwest Region tell a truer story about Kansas’ potential to get to the Final Four. Duke, not the Jayhawks, is the favorite to win the region at +180 odds, while Michigan State is considered the second-likeliest champion at +230. Kansas (+250) rounds out what looks to be a 3-horse race, with Auburn (+800), TCU (+1400) and Clemson (+1500) the only other squads paying less than +2800.

It’s easy to understand why people are skeptical of the Jayhawks. Despite routinely being one of the top seeds every spring, Kansas has gotten out of its region just once since winning the national title in 2008. This year’s guard-heavy squad is also undersized (which explains why they’re 280th in the country in defensive rebounding percentage), doesn’t have a ton of depth and doesn’t have a potential NBA lottery pick on its roster.

But by being the #1 seed in the Midwest, the Jayhawks don’t need to beat both Michigan State and Duke to get to the Final Four, since the Spartans and Blue Devils’ paths would cross in the Sweet Sixteen. Kansas also might not feel as much pressure this season as years past, since most experts will be picking either Sparty or Duke to come out of the region.

As long as Kansas can get past a tough Auburn team in the second round, the path actually looks pretty easy to get to the regional final.

Because of that, I think there’s a lot of value on the Jayhawks to win the Midwest at this current +250 price.

4. Xavier (+400 To Win The West Region)

By awarding Xavier its first #1 seed in school history, the NCAA tournament committee showed the Musketeers a ton of respect. That respect isn’t shared by the oddsmakers, however, who make Xavier a +400 darkhorse to cut down the nets in Los Angeles.

Who’s ranked ahead of the Musketeers on the West Region odds? Oh, just the North Carolina Tar Heels (+300), Gonzaga Bulldogs (+325) and Michigan Wolverines (+350), teams who have combined to appear in 4 Final Fours and 3 national finals over the past 5 years. Don’t forget, North Carolina and Gonzaga were the combatants in last year’s championship game, giving them both a huge edge in experience over a Musketeers program that has never gotten past the Elite Eight.

So yeah, Xavier’s road through the Midwest is incredibly tough. And we haven’t even mentioned a possible second-round matchup with the Missouri Tigers, who got potential top-5 NBA pick Michael Porter back during the SEC conference tournament after the freshman missed nearly the entire regular season.

Xavier’s enjoyed a heck of a year, but I’m afraid there are too many mines in this field for the Musketeers to overcome, especially when saddled with the burden of being the #1 seed.

My pick to come out of the West is Michigan, which enters the tournament riding an 11-game winning streak and surging with confidence after winning the Big Ten conference tourney.

Which #1 Seed Has The Best Chance To Win March Madness?

Well, I’ve already eliminated Virginia and Xavier from the national championship puzzle. And to be honest, my pick of Kansas to reach the Final Four was only based on the +250 odds we can get on the Jayhawks to win the region, not because I think they’re the most likely to do it.

That means the only team among the four #1 seeds that I feel totally comfortable in backing to win the national championship is Villanova. Unfortunately, the oddsmakers agree, making the Wildcats the overall favorite to win this year’s championship. Still, the +600 odds on Villanova are attractive enough to take a shot, especially with a veteran group seeking its second national crown in 3 years.

Virginia (+650 to win the national championship), Kansas (+1200) and Xavier (+1500) may look more tempting, but they all face daunting tasks in just getting through their regions, nevermind being the last team standing in the end.

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