March Madness: Upset Specials and Betting Opportunities in the Tournament

Duke basketball

The 2023-2024 college basketball regular season is officially over, with the various conference tournaments taking place this week ahead of Selection Sunday on March 17, when we’ll figure out how the full NCAA Tournament field takes place. It’ll be at that point that the bracket parties begin across the nation, with classrooms, offices, families and friend groups all facing off to see who can come the closest to crafting a perfect set of predictions for the madness soon to take place.

It can be a frantic time of year, with the catchphrase that “we sleep in May” echoing the thoughts of many basketball fans who want to read every article they can, poring the internet for any scrap of advice that could help them in their quest to become the last broken bracket of as many as 100 million built every year. We won’t know exactly how the matchups shake out until Selection Sunday and the First Four games, but these are some early predictions on who could make a deep run in the tournament this year.

All About the Tar Heels

They say that losing builds character more than winning does, and while the North Carolina Tar Heels are one of the most successful programs in the history of the sport, this year’s group still knows a thing or two about the pain of heartbreak.

North Carolina entered the 2022-23 season as the preseason No. 1 choice, buoyed by a near miss in the previous year's national title game, where they lost by just a single possession. With four of their five starters making a return, their prospects for staging another title charge seemed more promising than ever. This setup not only heightened the anticipation for fans but also turned the spotlight on North Carolina betting promos, offering unique opportunities to engage with the season. These promos provide fans and bettors alike with the chance to support their team while taking advantage of the favorable odds and promotions tied to North Carolina's quest for redemption and victory

Instead the Tar Heels never managed to live up to those lofty expectations. Things started out as people expected, with North Carolina beginning the season on a 5-0 run, but a four game losing streak forced them out of the top 25 rankings entirely. The Tar Heels never returned to form, and ended the season with the ignominious distinction of being the first preseason No. 1 team to miss the NCAA Tournament entirely since the league moved to its current format during the 1985 season.

The Tar Heels couldn’t get through the offseason unscathed this time, retaining just Armando Bacot and R.J. Davis among their starting five, and rumors swirled that head coach Hubert Davis would lose his job should another subpar season occur. They’ve spent every week ranked so far, currently sitting as the No. 4 team in the country—and the top seed in the ACC—entering the conference tournament, giving them the sixth-best odds of winning it all. After all the bad mojo surrounding the team this offseason, it would be the most North Carolina thing ever for them to silence the doubters by cutting down the nets next month.

Mid-Major Madness

It feels like every few years we’ll see at least one team from a mid-major conference make a run to the Final Four. 2018 saw Loyala-Chicago make it to the semifinals, while last season Florida Atlantic and San Diego State faced off in the Final Four, with the Aztecs advancing to the national title game. It’s tougher to forecast who those lucky mid-major programs will be because they don’t pick up at-large bids at the same rate that the Power Six programs do: they often have to win their conference tournament in order to assure a spot in the big dance.

One mid-major club to keep an eye on is James Madison University, who ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi currently slates as a No. 11 seed in the tournament, predicting a first round matchup with No. 6 Washington State.

The Dukes won the Sun Belt conference, earning them an automatic tournament bid, and with a stellar 31-3 record, they’re an excellent bet to make a deep run in the tournament, even if the Cougars will provide some stiff competition. It’s their first tournament appearance in more than a decade, so you can bet that they’ll be ready to make up for lost time.

Same Old, Same Old

Finally, this year’s betting favorite to win it all is the UConn Huskies, last year’s national championship squad. Four of their five starters return from last year’s team, although the fourth-ranked recruiting class means they had plenty of turnover to their depth pieces. The Huskies entered this season with modest question marks as pundits waited to see how the new-look roster fit in but haven’t missed a beat, playing to a 28-3 record and the No. 1 seed in the entire NCAA.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see them hit a speed bump at some point—they’re the ‘Super Bowl’ of every team they face, after all—but it hasn’t happened yet, and there’s a solid chance that Dan Hurley’s squad becomes the first repeat champion since the Florida Gators won a pair in 2006 and 2007.