Staff Picks For 2023 NCAA Tournament

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Since the implementation of the one-and-done rule at the 2006 NBA Draft, a prohibition on players declaring for the draft straight out of high school has leveled the playing field in college basketball.

Led by Kemba Walker and his patented step back, UConn won the national championship in 2011 despite recording nine losses on the season. Three years later, the Huskies captured the title again, this time as a No. 7 seed. With additional appearances in the 2014 Final Four from No. 8 seed Kentucky, No. 1 Florida, and No. 2 Wisconsin, the combined seed total of the four teams hit 18, one of the highest since 2000.

The total for this year’s Final Four could be even higher due to across-the-board parity spread among all four regions. Teams from 10 of the 32 Division I conferences received inclusion in the AP Top 25 since New Year’s Day, the highest number in five years.

At SuperBook Sports, the over/under total for the four seeds to reach the Final Four is 15.5. There are numerous possibilities for the over, as a top-heavy bracket with South No. 1 Alabama, West No. 1 Kansas, East No. 5 Duke and Midwest No. 10 Penn State would clear the threshold. The same for a Final Four with East No. 1 Purdue, West No. 4 UConn, and two dangerous No. 6 seeds in Creighton and TCU.

The field may produce the most exciting NCAA tournament in recent years. Without further ado, here are our staff picks. A disclaimer: While we write about sports betting, we are not professional handicappers. We may be able to educate, enlighten, or entertain, but we should not be counted on to make anyone a profit.

Among sleepers, we like Oral Roberts, Furman, and Charleston to pull off an upset or two. Still, take all of our picks with a considerable grain of salt.

Chris Altruda

South:  No. 1 Alabama
East: No. 2 Marquette (Did you really think this alum would not put his team in the Final Four?)
Midwest: No. 1 Houston
West: No. 4 UConn

Final Four: Alabama over Marquette; UConn over Houston
National Title: UConn 83, Alabama 78
Sleeper(s): Furman, Oral Roberts to the Sweet 16

I don’t think the Crimson Tide get challenged on the court until facing Arizona in the regional final. How they deal with the increased media scrutiny of everything surrounding Brandon Miller when they get to the regionals may be the bigger tell of them living up to the expectations of being the No. 1 overall seed. There’s also nothing special about this region, hence the Paladins in the Sweet 16 as they get past a Virginia team that lacks the defensive chops of years past and then an Aztecs team that is somewhat like the Cavaliers.

Marquette, UConn, and Houston join Alabama in the Final Four, with the Golden Eagles avenging a loss to Purdue in the regional final, the Huskies getting past Gonzaga, and the Cougars fending off Texas for their second Final Four appearance in three years. There is some risk in picking Houston with Marcus Sasser not 100%, but Kelvin Sampson’s defense has traveled well in March each of the last three years.

The dream ends for my alma mater versus the Crimson Tide, while UConn wears down the Cougars with its superior depth to set up a rematch from the Phil Knight Invitational. The Huskies have the size and depth to go body for body with the Tide and match them strength for strength, especially on the glass. Alabama will not commit 21 turnovers like it did in the first meeting in November, but if the refs let them play, it should make for an entertaining championship game that sees the Huskies cut down the nets in Houston.

Concerning the pair of 12 seeds I have advancing to the Sweet 16, Oral Roberts is a dangerous offensive team that can shoot from the outside, somewhat negating Purdue big man Zach Edey’s defensive presence. And the Eagles may be the only team with someone who can stare down Edey with 7-foot-5 center Connor Vanover. If such a player prop were available, I’d take Max Abmas over 80.5 points in three games for Oral Roberts.

Mike Seely

South:  No. 1 Alabama
East: No. 12 Oral Roberts
Midwest: No. 5 Miami (Fla.) 
West: No. 8 Arkansas

Final Four: Oral Roberts over Alabama; Arkansas over Miami
National Title: Oral Roberts 86, Arkansas 83 (500/1 at FanDuel)
Sleeper: Oral Roberts 

Oral Roberts hasn’t lost since falling 82-75 at New Mexico on Jan. 9. That’s more than two months without tasting the bitterness of defeat. The Golden Eagles have a stellar floor general in Abmas, who averages 22.2 points per game, and a defensive albatross in Vanover. The mammoth senior center has altered shots throughout the season, averaging more than 3 blocks per contest.

Oral Roberts went undefeated in the Summit, absolutely throttling North Dakota State, 92-58, in the conference tournament title game. It will have to upset fifth-seeded Duke in the first round on Thursday to advance, but if ever there were a year where the strangest imaginable March Madness result could realistically come to pass, this is it.

Brett Smiley

South: No. 1 Alabama
East: No. 5 Duke
Midwest: No. 1 Houston
West: No. 3 Gonzaga

Final Four: Alabama over Duke; Houston over Gonzaga
National Title: Houston 72, Alabama 69
Sleeper: Boise State 

I think the Eagles defense, infrequently tested in the regular season and sparingly in the playoffs, won’t be able to get enough stops in the second half against the Patrick Mahomes-led offense. Oh shoot, we’re not here to rewrite our Super Bowl synopsis?

Unfortunately, my mind rarely turns the page from football, and so I have very little in the college hoops well to fill up brackets. Mainly, I’ll rely on the data of others like KenPom, FiveThirtyEight, and The Power Rank, plus use historical trends to try to go contrarian in spots while picking some upsets.

Which brings me to Houston over Alabama. A pair of No. 1 seeds! How daring! I’m steering clear of the region of mass chaos, aka the East, and sticking with the two top offenses with even better defenses, both of which have clearer paths to the Final Four. And Houston — now the odds favorite at +550 outright — cuts down the nets in Houston.

Bennett Conlin

South: No. 6 Creighton 
East: No. 1 Purdue
Midwest: No. 1 Houston
West: No. 3 Gonzaga

Final Four: Creighton over Purdue; Gonzaga over Houston
National Title: Creighton 84, Gonzaga 77
Sleeper: Drake

I’m high on Creighton. Admittedly, I’m probably too high on Creighton, but I love the offensive and defensive balance of the Blue Jays. They have size, shooting, and defensive ability. When healthy, they’re one of the best teams in college basketball. There’s a reason they’re No. 13 in KenPom’s rankings, and I’ll take +4000 odds (BetMGM) on Creighton to win the national title.

I also like Purdue and Gonzaga to make deep runs this year. I like each team’s offense (they’re both in the top 10 in adjusted offensive efficiency, per KenPom) and I find their NCAA Tournament draws favorable. As for Houston, I’m banking on Sasser’s health, as the Cougars need him in order to advance beyond the Sweet 16.

Drake is my top candidate for a sleeper team, in part due to experience. The Bulldogs have five seniors who play significant minutes, and they’re in the top 50 nationally in 3-point shooting and 3-point shooting defense. Seems like a good combination for a double-digit seed with Sweet 16 aspirations.

Mark Saxon

South: No. 1 Alabama 
East: No. 5 Duke
Midwest: No. 4 Indiana
West: No. 2 UCLA

Final Four: Alabama over Duke; UCLA over Indiana
National Title: UCLA 72, Alabama 64
Sleeper: VCU

This UCLA team has excellent senior leadership in David Singleton, Jaime Jaquez Jr., and Tyger Campbell, and it protects the ball as well as anyone in the country while playing relentless defense. Those traits stand as an awfully good starting point for the Bruins to earn their first national title in 28 years. It seems like one of the country’s most storied franchises is due to get back on top soon, and Mick Cronin’s team has many of the elements to get there.

That East region seems primed for an upset with Purdue installed as the No. 1 seed, since big men-led teams can sometimes come up short in March. Duke is as good as anyone when fully healthy and could emerge from that region to get to its 18th Final Four. But Alabama is too good and too hot for Duke and will emerge as UCLA’s biggest threat. A hard-fought title game will tip UCLA’s way late.

Meanwhile, VCU will play the role of the No. 12 seed that messes up everybody’s brackets. The Rams rolled through the Atlantic-10 tournament and play outstanding defense while led by strong guard play from junior Adrian Baldwin Jr., the team leader in points and assists. Their first-round opponent, St. Mary’s, looked like a decent sleeper pick itself, but its veneer was shattered by an awful performance against Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference tournament.

Matt Rybaltowski

South: No. 2 Arizona 
East: No. 5 Duke
Midwest: No. 2 Texas
West: No. 6 TCU

Final Four: Arizona over Duke; TCU over Texas
National Title: Arizona 81, TCU 77
Sleeper: Charleston

Recovering from a January dry spell, Arizona is rounding back into the early-season form it displayed when center Oumar Ballo was conjuring images of Baby Shaq. The one-two punch of Ballo and Azuolas Tubelis provides the Wildcats with arguably the most potent frontcourt in the field. Arizona also has a veteran backcourt led by heady point guard Kerr Kriisa and sharpshooter Courtney Ramey, a transfer from Texas. Arizona potentially faces a tough matchup against South No. 1 Alabama in the de facto national championship game, but I would see the Wildcats prevailing.

Arizona will be joined in Houston by Duke, Texas, and TCU. Winner of nine straight, Duke is 17-1 this season with a fully healthy lineup. The Longhorns, another hot team, are coming off a scintillating 20-point win over defending national champ Kansas in the Big 12 finals. TCU, led by electric guard Mike Miles, has the firepower to win four straight on the road to Houston.

As for my sleeper, I’m going with Charleston, the No. 12 seed in the South. The Cougars (31-3) have a favorable path to the Sweet 16 with a matchup against San Diego State in the first round, followed by the winner of Virginia-Furman as a potential opponent in Round 2. Ante Brzovic, a formidable 6-foot-10 forward, should cause fits for opponents in the Orlando subregional.


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