Mock March Madness: Projected 2020 NCAA Tournament bracket and Round of 64 odds

Mar 19, 2020 |
Mock March Madness: Projected 2020 NCAA Tournament bracket and Round of 64 odds
The cancellation of March Madness left sports bettors with so many questions. We try to answer those with our "Mock March Madness" bracket and odds for the Round of 64 matchups.
Photo By - USA Today Images
The cancellation of March Madness left sports bettors with so many questions. We try to answer those with our "Mock March Madness" bracket and odds for the Round of 64 matchups.
Photo By - USA Today Images

March Madness is on a one-year hiatus, among a sea of cautionary coronavirus cancellations. But longtime Las Vegas sportsbook director and oddsmaker Robert Walker stepped up anyway, seeding a mock bracket for Covers and providing NCAA Tournament odds and insights.

NCAA basketball provided a wild ride all season, leading many to expect one of the most wide-open tournaments ever. Walker certainly held that belief from his vantage point as USBookmaking’s director of sportsbook operations. And his bracket bore out that belief.

“We have maintained all along that there are 12 teams or so that could win this championship, although every year I say that, it seem like it gets very chalky,” Walker said. “I think this year would’ve seen some big upsets, at least in the public’s mind. There were no great teams, in a historical sense. There was just a lot of parity.

“I was really interested to see how Brigham Young, St. Mary’s or Utah State would’ve fared in the tournament. My feeling is that one of those teams makes a run, with BYU being the obvious one.”

We'll never get to find out, but we can do the next best thing.

The following is a region-by-region breakdown of Walker’s 64-team field and pointspreads for those Round of 64 matchups.

NCAA TOURNAMENT MIDWEST REGION

Walker started here because Kansas would’ve been the overall No. 1 seed, along with the top seed in the Midwest. A bit more surprising, though, was Walker’s No. 2 seed, Michigan State.

“The reality is we went back-and-forth as a No. 2 or a No. 3,” Walker said, noting USBookmaking’s Farrell Drozd assisted in the process. “It really came down to this: we think the Spartans will end up being the fourth or fifth betting favorite in the tournament, behind Kansas, Gonzaga and Baylor. So it was tough to drop them into the No. 3 seed.”

NCAA TOURNAMENT MIDWEST SEEDING

Seed No. Team SU Record ATS Record
1 Kansas 28-3 19-12
2 Michigan State 22-9 15-16
3 Duke 25-6 16-15
4 Wisconsin 21-10 15-13-3
5 Auburn 25-6 14-17
6 Brigham Young 24-7 19-11
7 Illinois 21-10 14-15-1
8 Marquette 18-12 17-13
9 Louisiana State 21-10 14-16-1
10 Utah State 23-8 13-16
11 Cincinnati 20-10 11-19
12 Akron 24-7 15-14
13 Liberty 27-4 15-13-1
14 Belmont 24-7 17-13
15 North Dakota State 22-8 14-13-1
16 Robert Morris 17-14 18-12

MIDWEST REGION GAMES OF NOTE

As if perennial contenders Kansas and Michigan State weren’t enough, Walker put Duke as the No. 3 seed, followed by Wisconsin and Auburn, and a bunch of mid-major and smaller outfits were among the No. 6-16 seeds. So setting lines was no easy chore.

“The Midwest is loaded. We have four games that have a 5-point or lower pointspread,” Walker said. “We struggled setting most of the lines, raising some of the obvious favorites. No doubt the book was going to need North Dakota State, Belmont and Liberty huge. Two great games would be Illinois-Utah State and Marquette-Louisiana State.”

As such, those two games were among the tightest and toughest lines to set: No. 7 Illinois -2 vs. No. 10 Utah State, and No. 8 Marquette also -2 against No. 9 LSU.

MIDWEST REGION POINTSPREADS

Favorite Spread Underdog
Kansas 27 Robert Morris
Michigan State 14 North Dakota State
Duke 14 Belmont
Wisconsin 10 Liberty
Auburn 5 Akron
BYU 5 Cincinnati
Illinois 2 Utah State
Marquette 2 LSU

NCAA TOURNAMENT EAST REGION

Dayton was having a season for the ages, rolling into the Atlantic 10 tournament on a 20-game winning streak (11-9 ATS). So Walker gave the Flyers the nod as the No. 1 seed, followed by Florida State, which was actually named the Atlantic Coast Conference champion, even though the conference tourney was halted before the quarterfinals. Creighton nabbed the No. 3 seed.

Walker had a little fun with this region, looking ahead in trying to set up an all-Northwest national championship game.

“We moved Oregon from the obvious West Region,” Walker said of the East No. 4 seed. “This allows the Ducks, should they get through, to meet Gonzaga in the final. I know the committee hates this potential. But it is fair. On paper, I feel like the East is the easiest bracket. The top four seeds all could get out.”

NCAA TOURNAMENT EAST REGION SEEDING

Seed No. Team SU Record ATS Record
1 Dayton 29-2 17-14-0
2 Florida State 26-5 17-14-0
3 Creighton 24-7 18-12-0
4 Oregon 24-7 19-12-0
5 Butler 22-9 17-13-1
6 Penn State 21-10 16-14-1
7 West Virginia 21-10 16-15-0
8 St. Mary's 24-7 14-16-0
9 Florida 19-12 12-18-0
10 Indiana 19-12 15-16-0
11 Richmond 24-7 18-13-0
12 Yale 23-7 18-10-0
13 Vermont 24-7 18-11-1
14 Hofstra 23-8 22-8-0
15 Northern Kentucky 21-9 16-12-0
16 Winthrop 21-10 16-13-0

EAST REGION GAMES OF NOTE

Walker pointed right to the middle of the East bracket: the No. 8 vs. No. 9 game.

St. Mary’s versus Florida was a pick ‘em,” he said. “We struggled here, as we think the public would back Florida, so I could see that game going to Florida -1 or -2 fairly quickly.”

Walker found the No. 10-versus-No. 7 matchup of Indiana vs. West Virginia a bit tricky, too, mainly because it was tough for him to include the Hoosiers in the field of 64. He made the Mountaineers 3-point favorites.

“Indiana was one of the last teams in. The Hoosiers’ road record was terrible,” Walker said, alluding to Indiana’s 4-8 SU road mark.

EAST REGION POINTSPREADS

Favorites Spread Underdogs
Dayton 23 Winthrop
Florida State 12 Northern Kentucky
Creighton 11 Hofstra
Oregon 8 Vermont
Butler 5 Yale
Penn State 3 Richmond
West Virginia 3 Indiana
St. Mary's Pick'em Florida

NCAA TOURNAMENT WEST REGION

Aforementioned Gonzaga (29-2 SU, 16-15 ATS) nabbed the top seed out West, followed by San Diego State (30-2 SU, 19-12 ATS). The Aztecs blew their shot at No. 1 with a late-season home loss to UNLV, followed by a loss to Utah State in the Mountain West Conference tournament final. The West also includes defending national champion Virginia.

“The West is extremely tough,” Walker said. “The Zags lost to West No. 6 seed Michigan earlier in the year, 82-64. Nobody wants to play No. 5 Virginia. We set up a first-round matchup of Gonzaga-Eastern Washington for Spokane supremacy.”

Walker added that No. 11 seed North Carolina State was the last team in, pushing out UCLA.

NCAA TOURNAMENT WEST REGION SEEDING

Seed No. Team SU Record ATS Record
1 Gonzaga 29-2 16-15-0
2 San Diego State 28-1 18-10-0
3 Seton Hall 21-9 18-12-0
4 Maryland 24-7 14-15-2
5 Virginia 23-7 12-17-1
6 Michigan 19-12 16-14-1
7 Arizona 20-11 16-15-0
8 Houston 23-8 16-15-0
9 Arizona State 20-11 14-16-1
10 Xavier 19-12 11-19-1
11 NC State 19-12 13-18-0
12 Stephen F. Austin 28-3 17-10-1
13 North Texas 20-11 19-10-0
14 UC Irvine 21-11 15-14-1
15 Arkansas-Little Rock 16-15 19-10-0
16 Eastern Washington 23-8 17-11-1

WEST REGION GAMES OF NOTE

With Walker’s selections, the aforementioned Wolfpack end up in one of the more challenging games for oddsmakers.

“Michigan-North Carolina State and Arizona-Xavier were games we were looking forward to,” he said, while making the Wolverines 4-point faves in the No. 6-versus-No. 11 game and the Wildcats -3 against the Musketeers in a No. 7-versus-No. 10 tilt. “I think the biggest needs for the book were going to be Stephen F. Austin +6 vs. Virginia and Arkansas-Little Rock +14 vs. San Diego State.”

WEST REGION POINTSPREADS

Favorites Spread Underdogs
Gonzaga 19 Eastern Washington
San Diego St 14 Arkansas-Little Rock
Seton Hall 11 UC Irvine
Maryland 9 North Texas
Virginia 6 Stephen F. Austin
Michigan 4 NC State
Arizona 3 Xavier
Houston 5 Arizona State

NCAA TOURNAMENT SOUTH REGION

Baylor (26-4 SU, 18-12 ATS) was atop the rankings for a few weeks during its 23-game win streak (16-7 ATS). The Bears got the final No. 1 nod from Walker, giving the Big 12 two top seeds. Villanova (24-7 SU, 14-15-2 ATS) was No. 2 in the South, followed by Kentucky (25-6 SU, 17-14 ATS).

“The South is loaded as well,” Walker said. “Wichita State was one of the final teams in the tournament. The Shockers had a good Pomeroy rating, and it was their overall record (23-8 SU) that got them in over Minnesota and Purdue.”

NCAA TOURNAMENT SOUTH REGION

Seed No. Team SU Record ATS Record
1 Baylor 26-4 18-12-0
2 Villanova 24-7 14-15-2
3 Kentucky 25-6 17-14-0
4 Ohio State 21-10 19-12-0
5 Louisville 24-7 16-14-1
6 Iowa 20-11 19-9-3
7 Providence 19-12 16-15-0
8 Rutgers 20-11 18-10-2
9 Oklahoma 19-12 14-17-0
10 Texas Tech 18-13 14-17-0
11 Wichita State 23-8 15-13-3
12 East Tennessee State 27-4 15-13-0
13 New Mexico State 25-6 12-16-1
14 USC 22-9 19-12-0
15 Bradley 20-11 15-14-1
16 Siena 19-10 14-15

SOUTH REGION GAMES OF NOTE

USBookmaking is based in Las Vegas, but manages odds and risk for three New Mexico sportsbooks. So the No. 13 vs. No. 4 matchup in the South was among the more intriguing to discuss, with regional bias in play.

“Interesting for our books was New Mexico State playing Ohio State,” Walker said. “We had Ohio State as a 9-point favorite. However, I feel that number would've been closer to 7.5 or 8 in New Mexico. They love their Aggies.”

Several other South matchups proved challenging, with five games sporting spreads of five points or less.

“I think this region would've been awesome, with Iowa -3 over Wichita State, Texas Tech -1 over Providence, and Rutgers a 2 -point favorite over Oklahoma as standout games,” Walker said. “Books would be rooting hard for Bradley +10 against Villanova and East Tennessee State +5 against Louisville.”

SOUTH REGION POINTSPREADS

Favorite Spread Underdogs
Baylor 18 Siena
Villanova 10 Bradley
Kentucky 5 USC
Ohio State 9 New Mexico State
Louisville 5 East Tennessee State
Iowa 3 Wichita State
Texas Tech 1 Providence
Rutgers 2 Oklahoma

CINDERELLA STORIES    

Walker’s bracket clearly demonstrated he has an affinity for the little guys, as there are a lot of mid-majors in the field. But he justified those selections based on what the big boys did – or didn’t do – on the court.

“My general feeling is that if you finish in the lower half of your conference standings, you really can’t argue about not making it,” Walker said, pointing the finger squarely at Purdue and Arkansas. “I also believe the public loves the Cinderella aspect. And let’s face it, there are many really good mid-major teams.”

No. 1 seeds Dayton and Gonzaga led that pack, along with No. 2 seed San Diego State. But it wasn’t just conference champions – or in the Aztecs’ case, an excellent season, despite losing in the Mountain West final – that got Walker’s nod.

To name just a few: St. Mary’s and Brigham Young joined Gonzaga from the West Coast Conference, Richmond joined Dayton from the A-10, and Wichita State and Cincinnati snuck in with American Athletic Conference regular-season champ Houston.

BUBBLE TEAMS    

UCLA made a 9-2 late-season run, turning a .500 record into a 19-12 SU mark. Walker said that would’ve gotten the Bruins into a 68-team field and one of the play-in games, where he had them losing to fellow bubble squad North Carolina State.

In fact, the Pac-12 presented a couple of quandaries.

“We really struggled with Colorado,” Walker said of a team that was a tourney shoo-in mid-February, but didn’t hold up late. “It really came down to Colorado and Arizona State. The Sun Devils finished slightly higher in the standings, while Colorado really faltered down the stretch, losing five straight.

“The Big Ten in general was difficult. How many teams are you going to put in before it becomes another Big Ten tournament? We had nine teams in and could’ve easily added Purdue, which probably would’ve knocked Wichita State out of the field. Time would’ve shown us if we completely overrated that conference.”

Fellow Big Ten outfit Minnesota was among the first out, as well, along with major-conference squads Stanford (Pac-12), Syracuse (ACC) and Arkansas (SEC). The whole process gave Walker a healthy respect for those who put this field together each March.

“There is no doubt we left some teams out that should be in, that we struggled with seeding and were generally unfair at times,” Walker candidly said. “It’s really interesting that 64 teams seems like a lot, but as you delve into it, we could’ve easily added another 10 to 15 teams. I can fully understand why it takes a committee.”

Follow our "Mock Madness" Round of 64 selections on Twitter @Covers this week, as we ask you which teams would cover the spread for each the opening round games of the NCAA tournament.

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