The Villanova Wildcats will look for a sixth straight outright victory Thursday when they open their national championship defense with a first-round clash against Mount St. Mary’s as big 26 1/2-point betting favorites at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.
This season, Villanova compiled an impressive 31-3 straight-up record to claim the top seed in the East Region, but trails the favorites at +750 on the national championship odds going into Thursday night’s matchup at Buffalo’s KeyBank Center.
These two teams have met just once since 1998, with the Wildcats handing Mount St. Mary’s a 90-59 loss in Nov. 2013. The Mountaineers are unbeaten SU in five games, but winless in six straight as an underdog of more than 20 points.
North Carolina has been dueling with archrival Duke for the top spot on the national championship odds since emerging as the South Region’s No.1 seed, and opens the tournament against No. 16 Texas Southern as 26 1/2-point chalk.
The Tar Heels claimed the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season crown, but have lost two of four SU, including a 93-83 loss to the Blue Devils as four-point favorites in the ACC Tournament.
That victory earned Duke the No. 2 seed in the East, setting the stage for a possible Elite Eight clash with Villanova. The Blue Devils enter the Round of 64 gunning for a 12th straight postseason win when favored by 20 or more points when they battle No. 15 Troy as 20-point favorites.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs won 32 games en route to the West Coast Conference championship and top seeding in the West Region, where they open against No. 16 South Dakota State as 22-point favorites. The Bulldogs are 9-0 SU in the Round of 64 since 2009, but have failed to cover in five straight as double-digit chalk at March Madness.
The Kansas Jayhawks sit atop the Midwest Region bracket and will face No. 16 UC Davis in the Round of 64 after the Aggies played their way into the tournament with a 67-63 First Four win over North Carolina Central on Wednesday as three-point underdogs.
And No. 11 and No. 12 seeds were the surprises of last year’s tournament, with those lower seeds winning outright in five of eight Round of 64 matchups.
In the West, No. 6 Maryland faces a huge challenge when it battles No. 11 Xavier as narrow two-point betting favorites on the NCAA Tournament betting lines. Down South, No. 11 Kansas State is a narrow 3 1/2-point underdog against No. 6 Cincinnati, while No. 12 Middle Tennessee has moved to a narrow one-point favorite over No. 5 Minnesota.
Thumbnail photo via Adam Hunger/USA TODAY Sports Images