My power ratings for the

NCAA

basketball tournament, as well as the "trends" we noted in

last week's column, led to a successful betting weekend in the conference tournaments.

The selections for the NCAA tournament are always controversial, and this year was no exception. Based on my power ratings, two teams that did not have automatic bids received invitations to the tournament over teams that were better. In my opinion,

Seton Hall

, which has a power rating of 81, and

Indiana State

, which has a power rating of 79, did not deserve to make the tournament.

I believe

Vanderbilt

,

Southern California

,

Arizona State

and

Kent State

would have been favorites over Seton Hall by 2 points, and Indiana State by 4 points, on a neutral court.

The NCAA selection committee also blundered on the seedings for the tournament, based upon the power ratings for the teams. The biggest injustice was dropping

Tulsa

to a No. 7 seed and elevating

St. John's

to a No. 2 seed. The Johnnies were 3-point underdogs to

Connecticut

last Saturday night on their quasi-home court. It is true that they won that game, but the power ratings will always win out in the long run.

And a special note to "Dickie V" Vitale --

University of Nevada at Las Vegas

deserves to be in the tournament. When you win the league championship and the conference tournament (even on your own floor), you deserve to be in the Big Dance. UNLV's power rating is 84, while

Notre Dame

(which didn't qualify) barely reached 80. The bias against teams that are hardly ever on TV in the East is alive and well with Dickie V.

My "sleeper" pick to win the tournament is

Illinois

. If the Fighting Illini can get their act together, they have as much talent as anybody and could win it all with a little luck. They are about 60-1 odds to win the tournament with the offshore sports books.

In the first round, I like the following teams to at least cover the spread:

Lafayette +21

This team shoots 39% from 3-point range and has a 7-foot center to limit

Temple

in the paint. Temple plays a methodical game, and the teams that have defeated the Owls have done so when 3-point shooting played a key. Lafayette lost to

St. Joseph's

in overtime on the road earlier this season and St. Joe's was one of the teams that beat Temple this year. Lafayette also beat

Princeton

on the road and lost competitive games to

Penn

and

Georgia Tech

on the road. I think the correct spread for this game is 14, and I've made a substantial play on Lafayette, plus the points.

Winthrop +17

Another unknown team that had some success against decent teams early in the season. Winthrop lost to

Maryland

in overtime, beat

Missouri

(on the road) and beat

William and Mary

at home. I made the line 14 and played Winthrop.

Appalachian State +14 1/2

The same pattern emerges, a team no one has heard of that plays decent teams on the road in a competitive way. Appalachian State beat

Clemson

on the road and played competitive games against

Marquette

,

Oklahoma State

and

Pittsburgh

. Appalachian also beat

East Carolina University

in a home game.

Oklahoma

is a good team, but a spread of 12 is appropriate.

Samford +14

This is a team with great 3-point shooters that should match up extremely well if

Syracuse

plays zone defense, as it has for most of the season. While Syracuse is much quicker than Samford, I believe 14 points is enough to compensate for that quickness, particularly with a Syracuse team that is not comfortable running the ball up and down the court.

Oregon - 1 1/2

I am going against one of the teams that I don't believe should be in the tournament: Seton Hall. Oregon has the quickness to match Seton Hall and has played an equally tough schedule. I have Oregon winning by five points.

Utah State + 9 1/2

Another play against the Eastern bias. Utah State was undefeated in its league, the Big West. The team is eight-deep and has one of the most unheralded coaches in the country in Stew Morrill. Connecticut has been struggling all season, and I do not believe they can dominate Utah State. I think the line should be 6.

Kansas Pick'em Over DePaul

A coaching mismatch here. Kansas' Roy Williams is far superior to DePaul's Pat Kennedy. In a pick'em game, I will take the better coach. I made Kansas a two-point favorite.

Gonzaga-Louisville Over 137 1/2

Two teams that like to run. Gonzaga can also hit the 3-point shot. Louisville has no starter over 6 feet 7, and when it plays a team that will run, the Cardinals usually go over the posted over-under total. Gonzaga will run with anyone and I see a game in the high 140s here.

In the NCAA tournament, I look for underdogs first. Many of the first-round games go down to the wire and taking three points or more gives you a comfort level when the game is decided in the last minute. Below are the matchups with the Lieberman Power Ratings and the Lieberman Line along with the Official Line.

Barry Lieberman is the general counsel for a Las Vegas gaming company and an associate of James Padinha. He's been an amateur gambler for more than 20 years, and welcomes your feedback at

barrylieberman1@prodigy.net.