Published March 22, 2012
| Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA – Butler and Virginia Commonwealth, two of major conferences, made it all the way to last year's Final Four, with Butler eventually losing in its second straight NCAA Championship Game.
In fact, the last two NCAA Tournaments had five clubs outside the six major conferences make it to the Sweet 16.
This year is quite the opposite.
For the first time since 2004-05, only two of the final 16 teams are not from the top six conferences and the odds of them reaching the Elite Eight are virtually slim and none.
Xavier, a team that has won its first two tournament games in four of the last five years, is 75-1 to win the whole ball of wax. In addition, the Musketeers are 18-1 to even come out of the South.
Ohio is in an even worse position at 150-1 to win it all. The Bobcats are 25-1 to represent the Midwest in the Final Four.
For all the talk of handing out more at-large berths to teams from lesser conferences, the fact that 14 of this year's final 16 teams come from the top six leagues shows just how much capable those squads are than the ones from conferences such as the Colonial Athletic Association and the Mountain West.
Don't forget that Drexel, a team most experts thought should have made it to the Big Dance lost at home to Massachusetts in the third round of the NIT.
The Big East and Big Ten conferences lead the way with four teams each in the Sweet 16, while the Big 12, ACC and SEC come in with two apiece. The Atlantic 10 (Xavier) and Mid-American (Ohio) have one each.
The Big Ten is the favored conference to house the 2012 NCAA champion at 11-10 odds even though two of its four representatives are No. 4 seeds that will play No. 1 seeds in the regional semifinals.
The conference does have its own No. 1 seed in Michigan State as well as a No. 2 seed in Ohio State. The Buckeyes are the second choice to win it all behind Kentucky at 11-2, while the Spartans are third at 13-2.
The SEC is next at 19-10 despite having only two teams left in the tournament. The main reason for the low odds is that Kentucky is one of the two clubs. The Wildcats are the overall favorite at 11-5 and the only team to be less than even-money to reach the Final Four.
Meanwhile, Florida has been one of the more impressive teams in the tournament and the Gators have perhaps the easiest path of any team seeded higher than fourth. They are a prime longshot play at the generous odds of 22-1.
OTHER TOP-RANKED CONFERENCES
The Big 12 ranks a distant third at 9-2, but with Kansas and Baylor still remaining, it is best not to count out a league that arguably has been the toughest in the country. The Jayhawks have an easier ride into the Final Four than they might have had a week ago after North Carolina State upset Georgetown and North Carolina lost its starting point guard, Kendall Marshall.
Baylor gets to play Xavier on Friday night and even though the Musketeers have reached the Sweet 16 multiple times over recent seasons, they have made it to the Elite Eight only one time. If the Bears can knock off Xavier, top-seeded Kentucky awaits so it is doubtful they will reach the Final Four. Given that, go with Kansas at 8-1 rather than taking the Big 12 at 9-2.
The Big East, with four teams still on the board, is the fourth choice at 6-1. At first glance that might sound like a bargain, but there is a very good reason for the relatively "high" odds.
The way the brackets are set up, the league can only have two teams in the Final Four. Syracuse and Cincinnati are both in the East, while Marquette and Louisville reside in the West.
The ACC, with just two teams in the Sweet 16, comes in at 13-2, a figure that would have been much lower had Marshall not gotten injured. The sophomore has averaged 8.1 points and 9.8 assists this season while shooting 46.7 percent from the field. His expected absence won't be enough for the Tar Heels to lose to Ohio, but it might prevent them from beating Kansas in the Midwest Regional final.
N.C. State, the other ACC team still remaining, is up against it to win the entire tournament at 60-1, the highest total outside Xavier and Ohio. First the Wolfpack must take down Kansas, which is not expected to happen. However, if the upset occurs, their next opponent will most likely be arch-rival North Carolina.
This isn't football, where N.C. State has won the last five meetings. This is basketball, where the Tar Heels have been victorious in the last 13 meetings and 17 of the last 18.
ROUNDING OUT THE FIELD
The Atlantic 10, with Xavier its lone representative, is 75-1, and the Mid- American, with the upstart 29-7 Ohio Bobcats holding down the fort, is 150-1.
A double-digit seed has reached the Final Four twice in the last six years with two 11-seeds - Virginia Commonwealth (last year) and George Mason (2006). Nonetheless, both clubs lost in the semifinals.
This year's Final Four will not feature a mid-major representative and the odds are low the Elite Eight will include one as well.