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October 2, 2014

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NCAA Tournament by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of Sunday’s Elite 8

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Bill Wippert / AP

Villanova’s Ryan Arcidiacono (15) shoots over Connecticut’s Ryan Boatright (11) during the first half of a third-round game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament Saturday, March 22, 2014, in Buffalo, N.Y.

Both the NCAA Tournament’s East Region and Midwest Region wound up with a team everyone expected against a team no one expected for their bids to the Final Four.

More than 4 out of every 10 people who filled out brackets on Yahoo! Sports picked No. 2 seed Michigan and No. 4 seed Michigan State to reach the Elite 8. No. 8 seed Kentucky and No. 7 seed Connecticut, the Great Lake State schools’ respective opponents, both hovered around 5 percent to stay alive until today.

Las Vegas measures indicated some of the same sentiments. Michigan State was the most popular bet to win the tournament, crashing down to the favorite at 7-to-2 odds on Selection Sunday a couple days after the LVH Superbook had it all the way at 10-to-1. Kentucky, meanwhile, ballooned from 30-to-1 to 40-to-1.

Talking Points favors one category of teams over the other in Sunday’s last games before the Final Four. Find out which one in our continued picks of every game in the tournament below.

No. 7 seed UConn plus-6 over No. 4 seed Michigan State The Spartans are right where the entire nation predicted, yet their unabashed devotees have no money to show for it. Michigan State hasn’t cashed a ticket in the NCAA Tournament against the closing number.

Granted, all the point-spread decisions have been heart-pounding close calls. The Spartans pushed minus-15 in a 93-78 win over Delaware. They lost the cover in the final second against both Virginia, where they won 61-59 as 2.5-point favorites, and Harvard, an 80-73 victory at minus-8.5. Still, the results reveal Michigan State might be ever-so-slightly overvalued by the betting market — and ripe for the taking against red-hot Connecticut.

For the first time in several games, Michigan State won’t have a glaring backcourt advantage. Neither Shabazz Napier nor Ryan Boatright are quite Kemba Walker, but together they give this Huskies group as much as the one that improbably won the title in 2011. DeAndre Daniels — who scored 27 points and had 10 rebounds in a 87-61 upset of Iowa State — emerging is exactly what UConn needed to go from tough out to Final Four caliber.

No. 8 seed Kentucky minus-1.5 over No. 2 seed Michigan The Wildcats dethroned the first undefeated team in 20 years last Sunday. They followed by knocking off the defending national champions, which also happen to be their archrivals. It’s time to say this team is becoming what everyone believed it to be at the beginning of the year.

And at the beginning of the year, Kentucky and Michigan would have never played in a virtual pick’em game on a neutral court. Oddsmakers would have given the Wolverines a few more points. It might sound short-sighted, but anyone who watched both teams in the Sweet 16, must have come away thinking Michigan would need the handicap.

The Wildcats have such an evident personnel advantage. Their season-long shakiness and a clear coaching disadvantage with John Calipari against Michigan’s John Beilein are causes a pause. But no one should go out of their way to step in front of the Wildcats right now.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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