The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

Two first-round upsets Las Vegas odds suggest will happen

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If identifying teams capable of an upset by their uniform color or by the ferocity of their mascot hasn't proven effective in past office pools, a more successful approach might be to pay attention to some clues Las Vegas oddsmakers provide.

Two years ago, fifth-seeded Utah was a one-point underdog against 12th-seeded Arizona and No. 10 USC was a two-point favorite over No. 7 Boston College in their respective first-round NCAA tournament games. Vegas got it right both times.

Most of the top teams in the field are heavy favorites in their first games this week, but there are several opening-round games featuring higher seeds favored by oddsmakers. Here are two that are especially intriguing upset selections:

UCLA (7) vs. Michigan State (10)

Day/Time: Thursday at 9:20 p.m. ET

Site: Tampa, Fla.

Spread: Spartans by 1 1/2

Outlook: The question with this line is whether oddsmakers truly believe Michigan State will win or they are preying on the public's irrational faith that a Tom Izzo-led team can't possibly lose in the first round. The Spartans have been to two straight Final Fours and six in the past 12 years, yet the program is not invincible in the early rounds, having lost in the first round to George Mason in 2006 and the second round to North Carolina in 2007. The key for the underachieving Spartans to salvage their season and avoid a first-round flameout this year is to get more from slumping Durrell Summers, who has scored in double figures just twice in the past 12 games. For UCLA, it's important that center Joshua Smith stays out of foul trouble and that Malcolm Lee's knee is healthy enough for him to defend Kalin Lucas. {YSP:MORE}

Cincinnati (6) vs. Missouri (11)

Day/Time: Thursday at 9:45 p.m. ET

Site: Washington, D.C.

Spread: Missouri by 1

Outlook: One explanation for the Tigers being favored in this game is many believe they were grossly underseeded. While other teams that faded late in the season like Villanova and Illinois received No. 9 seeds, Missouri fell all the way to an 11 seed after dropping four of five and finishing 8-8 in Big 12 play. The matchup with Cincinnati is a classic contrast in styles. The Bearcats are a stout defensive team that pounds the ball down low to Yancy Gates and slows the tempo to a crawl, while Missouri's at its best when the tempo is fast and frenzied. Missouri's offense can stagnate when its defense isn't creating transition opportunities, so the key for the Tigers will be forcing turnovers with their trademark full-court press.

Other first-round lines worth noting: Florida State (10) is pick'em with Texas A&M (7) ... Old Dominion (9) is a two-point favorite over Butler (8) ... Tennessee (9) is a 1 1/2-point favorite over Michigan (8) ... Richmond (12) and Utah State (12) are both only two-point underdogs against Vanderbilt (5) and Kansas State (5)

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