Ohio State Favored Over Duke, Kansas to Win First NCAA Title Since 1960

Ohio State University is favored to win college basketball’s national championship even though they may be in the tournament’s deepest region and history is against them as the No. 1 overall seed.

The Buckeyes, who went 32-2 this season and captured the Big Ten Conference regular-season and tournament titles, are given 7-2 odds by Las Vegas oddsmakers to win their first men’s basketball championship since the 1960 squad that included Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek and Bob Knight.

Ohio State is a slight favorite over defending national champion Duke University and the other two No. 1 regional seeds -- the University of Kansas and University of Pittsburgh -- as the tournament field expands to 68 teams from 65.

“Even though Ohio State is the top-rated team, there is so little separation,” Tony Sinisi, a senior oddsmaker at Las Vegas Sports Consultants, said in a telephone interview. “You’ve got to make someone the favorite and they deserve to be because they’re a quality team led by the freshman (Jared) Sullinger, but you could make a case for quite a few of these teams.”

Since the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament started assigning a No. 1 overall seed in 2004, only one -- the 2007 Florida Gators -- captured the title.

Photographer: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Jared Sullinger of the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrates with the Big Ten Championship trophy in Indianapolis, Indiana. Close

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Photographer: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Jared Sullinger of the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrates with the Big Ten Championship trophy in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Ohio State may be tested by an East Regional that includes second-seeded North Carolina and fourth-seeded Kentucky, who rank 1-2 all-time in NCAA tournament victories. Also in the region are four schools from the Big East Conference, including third-seeded Syracuse and No. 5 West Virginia; sixth-seeded Xavier; and No. 7 Washington, which claimed the Pacific-10 Conference tournament.

“When you’ve got Kentucky as a four seed and Syracuse as a No. 3, the East is the toughest region from top to bottom,” said ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale, who picked Ohio State to beat Pittsburgh for the national title.

Tournament Begins

The NCAA tournament starts in Dayton, Ohio, with four play- in games to be played tomorrow and March 16 before full tournament play begins March 17. The championship game is scheduled for April 4 at Reliant Stadium in Houston.

A year ago, Kansas entered the NCAA tournament as the favorite and No. 1 overall seed, only to lose to Northern Iowa in the second round. This year, the Jayhawks -- the No. 1 seed in the Southwest -- are the third-favorite with 5-1 odds, according to the Las Vegas Hilton’s Race and Sports Book.

“I’m happy Ohio State is the overall No. 1 seed. We had that tag on us last year and didn’t play very well,” said Kansas coach Bill Self, whose team opens against Boston University and is in a region with No. 2 Notre Dame, No. 3 Purdue and No. 4 Louisville. “We all want to be a No. 1 seed, but I’d much rather have the right matchups.”

Duke, which last year beat Butler University for its fourth national title, has 9-2 odds of becoming the first repeat champion since Florida in 2006-07. The Blue Devils are the top seed in the West Regional, whose other top teams include No. 2 San Diego State, No. 3 Connecticut, No. 4 Texas and fifth-seeded Arizona.

Duke and Ohio State would meet in the national semifinals if both win their regions to reach the Final Four in Houston. Kansas and Pittsburgh could play each other in the Final Four on the other side of the bracket.

Pittsburgh Leads Big East

Pittsburgh, the top team in the Southeast Region, has the longest odds of the No. 1 seeds at 8-1.

The Panthers, in a region that features No. 2 Florida, No. 3 Brigham Young and No. 4 Wisconsin, lead a record 11 schools from the Big East in the tournament. The conference’s last national title came from Connecticut in 2004.

“What makes the Big East the best is not the top, it’s the totality,” CBS college basketball analyst Greg Anthony said during a conference call. “That’s what sets them up to be disappointing to a lot of people when they get in the tournament because they expect these teams to overwhelm you and they’re not those types of teams.”

Automatic bids went to 31 conference champions and the remaining 37 participants received at-large invitations. Clemson, Alabama-Birmingham, Southern California and Virginia Commonwealth were the last teams to land at-large spots.

Under the NCAA tournament’s new 68-team format, those four teams play for a seeded spot in the field.

Clemson-UAB

Clemson and UAB square off tomorrow for the No. 12 seed in the East and a chance to face fifth-seeded West Virginia. USC and Virginia Commonwealth play March 16 in Dayton for the 11th seed in the Southwest and a game against No. 6 Georgetown.

The other two play-in games involve the lowest-ranked teams in the tournament, with the winners getting a No. 16 regional seed and matchup against a No. 1 seed. A top seed has never lost to a No. 16 seed.

Ohio State will open against the winner of the March 16 game between Texas-San Antonio and Alabama State. Pittsburgh starts its tournament run against either North Carolina- Asheville or Arkansas Little Rock, who play tomorrow in this year’s first game. Duke’s first opponent is Hampton University.

San Diego State (32-2), which is seeded second in the West behind Duke, is the fifth choice to win the title. The Aztecs have 12-1 odds even though teams from the Mountain West Conference are 10-26 in the NCAA tournament.

Princeton University’s chances of winning the title may be about 5,000 to 1, said Las Vegas Sports Consultants’ Sinisi, who advises Nevada’s sports books on betting lines. LVSC didn’t set individual odds on Princeton, which faces Kentucky after winning the Ivy League’s automatic berth.

“I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of people saying, ‘Princeton-style offense against the athleticism of Kentucky,’” ESPN college basketball analyst Doug Gottlieb said. “But the Tigers are running a modified Princeton (offense) and we saw how Duke’s pressure defense suffocated them early in the year (in a 97-60 win). Princeton is a nice story, but Kentucky moves on.”


TEAM                     CHAMPIONSHIP
                             ODDS
====================================
Ohio State                   7-2
Duke                         9-2
Kansas                       5-1
Pittsburgh                   8-1
San Diego State             12-1
North Carolina              15-1
Florida                     18-1
Purdue                      20-1
Texas                       20-1
Notre Dame                  25-1
Syracuse                    25-1
Kansas State                30-1
Louisville                  30-1
Connecticut                 35-1
Kentucky                    35-1
Washington                  40-1
Brigham Young               50-1
UCLA                        50-1
Wisconsin                   50-1
Arizona                     60-1
Georgetown                  60-1
Gonzaga                    100-1
Michigan State             100-1
Missouri                   100-1
St. John’s                 100-1
Vanderbilt                 100-1
Villanova                  100-1
West Virginia              100-1
Xavier                     100-1
Butler                     200-1
Cincinnati                 200-1
Illinois                   200-1
Marquette                  200-1
Michigan                   200-1
Old Dominion               200-1
Temple                     200-1
Tennessee                  200-1
Texas A&M                  200-1
UNLV                       200-1
Florida State              300-1
Georgia                    300-1
Utah State                 300-1
Belmont                    500-1
George Mason               500-1
Richmond                   500-1
Southern California        500-1
Clemson                  1,000-1
Memphis                  1,000-1
Oakland                  1,000-1

Field (All others)          75-1
================================
Odds courtesy of Las Vegas Hilton Race and Sports Book

To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Matuszewski in New York at matuszewski@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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