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College Hoops: Let the Games Begin

The conference tournament appetizer dish is now finished, and it's time to bring on the main course.

Thursday begins the 2003 edition of the NCAA basketball tournament. As usual, the NCAA selection committee has screwed up the seedings; although the only teams they left out of the Big Dance that my power ratings show should have received invitations are Boston College and Texas Tech. Auburn, Butler and Southern Illinois should consider themselves lucky to have gotten into the tournament.

As we can see from the chart below, in the first and second round of the tournament there has been no discernible edge for favorites or underdogs, so the individual matchups need to be analyzed.

Click here for the matchups for Thursday and Friday. The actual point spread is in the first column, and my point spread based on my power ratings is in the second column. Any advantage is listed in the third column. In the fourth column I've indicated whether a team is a good or poor road team, using the criteria of whether a team has a road point-spread record of 60% or more or 40% or less.

Favorites in First and Second Round
Against the spread
Year First Round Second Round
2002 17-16 8-6-2
2001 15-18 10-6
2000 16-15 2-14
1999 14-18 4-11-1
1998 17-14 9-6
1997 16-15-1 6-10
1996 16-16 9-7

Difference of Opinion

There are a number of games where I disagree with the oddsmaker. On Thursday, I think Creighton should be more than a 4-point favorite over Central Michigan. This is one of the most interesting matchups of the first round. Central Michigan is the best point-spread team in the country, with an 18-5 record, including a spectacular 10-2 record on the road. The team is led by 7-foot center Chris Kaman, who has dominated his Mid-American Conference opponents.

This game, however, is being played in Salt Lake City, which is about 4,300 feet above sea level. Creighton rotates nine to 10 players every game and shouldn't be affected by the decreased oxygen at such an elevation. But Kaman is going to have a tough time running the floor in the type of up-and-down game that both teams play, and I believe he won't be able to play as effectively as he has during the season. Creighton, one of the best-coached teams in the nation, also won't let up if they get a lead, as they showed in the Missouri Valley Championship game against Southern Illinois.
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