The 2024 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has not skimped on excitement this March. In one of the most tumultuous First Rounds in recent memory, several of the “blue bloods” – teams that are considered elite – are out of the tournament. What it means for the average Joe is that there are ZERO perfect brackets left as we enter the Second Round this Saturday and Sunday.

ESPN Bracket Challenge Over Before it Starts

Every year, ESPN has its Bracket Challenge, which is watched heavily by those who are extremely interested in college basketball. For this year’s challenge, over 22 million brackets were filled out by people around the world. What is different from years past is that, in 2024, the carnage of the First Round has left no perfect brackets in the competition.

Late on Friday night, there were three brackets left that had no losses before the late games. These brackets had picked the upset by Oakland University over the Kentucky Wildcats on Thursday night and the surprising Oregon Ducks vanquishing the #6 South Carolina Gamecocks. Those three brackets also had chosen one of the 5/12 matchups correctly, taking James Madison over Wisconsin, but they were unable to pick the other 5/12 matchup between the #12 Grand Canyon Antelopes and the St. Mary’s Gaels correctly, eliminating them – and all 22 million-plus competitors – from making a “perfect bracket.”

How bad was the carnage in the First Round? Of the double-seeded (#10 seed or worse) teams that took the floor this year, eleven of them were able to win their First Round pairing. This included those previously mentioned teams alongside the ACC Champion North Carolina State Wolfpack (seeded #11), the #11 Dukes of Duquesne (over Brigham Young University), and the Ivy League champion Yale Bulldogs, who stunned the #4 seeded Auburn Tigers.

Now the REAL Tournament Begins…

College basketball fans, after the devastation of the First Round, say that this is when the NCAA Tournament REALLY starts. The upsets are out of the way (for the most part), those teams who are expected to do well have gotten the butterflies out of the system, and the action on the floor begins to intensify. So, what will be the course forward? Here are a few things to watch for:

1) The SEC? Thanks for (At Least) Showing Up – The Southeastern Conference received eight bids to “March Madness,” but it seems that the tickets did not reach the players. Only Tennessee, Alabama, and Texas A&M were able to get through their First Round games, leaving what many considered one of the strongest conferences in the game with a paltry 3-5 record. By comparison, the soon-to-be-defunct Pacific Twelve (PAC-12) Conference went perfect with its five teams, including a double-digit seed in the Colorado Buffaloes upsetting the Florida Gators.

2) Does Cinderella Still Exist? – There are still a couple of teams that were not even expected to make this tournament that can wear Cinderella’s slipper. One is the Wolfpack of NC State, who have played seven games – and won them all – over the past eleven days. Either they or another double-digit seed, the Oakland Golden Grizzlies, will be moving on to the Sweet Sixteen, as they play each other Saturday night.

If you want to get adventurous, then the #12 seed James Madison might be an interesting Cinderella to root for. They have a tough matchup against a Duke Blue Devils squad that is not as strong as in years past. That game will be on Sunday afternoon.

3. Who is the Best Bet? And Who is the Best Value? – Still in the pole position as the favorite for the 2024 NCAA Men’s Tournament are the UConn Huskies. The Huskies, well aware of the trend in the past couple of years of the (formerly) unheard-of #16/#1 upset, went out Friday night and pounded Stetson 91-52. Currently, HardRockBET has them as a +250 favorite to win the National Championship.

There are two teams you might want to look at for a value bet for the National Championship. First is Tennessee who, although they did not win the SEC title, have been showing tremendous balance and consistency in the last half of the year – they have +1400 odds of winning. The second is the Marquette Golden Eagles, one of the main challengers to UConn in the Big East, who are getting a tasty +2000 to win.

There is still another great weekend of basketball and, by the end of the day on Sunday, we will know the “Sweet Sixteen” for the 2024 NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament. By the midpoint of April, the National Champion will be crowned in Phoenix, AZ, at the end of a long road to basketball immortality.

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