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Betting the NCAA Tournament: Which No. 1 seeds will reach the Final Four?

Last season, the Purdue Boilermakers were the second team in the history of the NCAA Tournament to lose as a #1 seed in the Opening Round. Back again in 2024 as a top seed, Purdue will look to again repeat history and win it all as the Virginia Cavaliers did the year after they lost to a 16-seed in the opening round.

The other one-seeds in the Tournament are the Houston Cougars, the North Carolina Tar Heels, and the Connecticut Huskies, the top overall seed this year.

Connecticut (+400) is the favorite among the sports books to win the National Title followed by Purdue (+600), Houston (+600), and Arizona (+1200). That's correct. North Carolina (+1300) is not the favorite in its region.

How many No. 1 seeds typically reach the Final Four?

It is a tournament of numbers, so let’s look at them. Since the Tournament expanded to 64 teams, all four top seeds reached the Final Four in 2008…and that is it. Far more common is for a single No. 1 seed to reach the Final Four. It has happened 16 times since 1985. Four times in history three top seeds have reached the Final Four. 14 times two No. 1s have reached the final weekend of the Tournament and three times the Final Four has been held without a No. 1 seed. You may recall last season’s Final Four included one No. 4 seed, two No. 5 seeds, and a No. 9 seed.

Next, let’s look at each of this year’s No. 1s and their odds to reach the Final Four.

UCONN Huskies (-120)

The defending champion is back and as previously mentioned, is the top overall seed. Try and find a weakness on this team. Point guard and Wooden Award Finalist Tristan Newton drives the bus, leading the Huskies in scoring (15.2ppg) and creating (6.0 assists/gm), but this team is deep with scoring and defense at every turn. The Huskies rank 15th in Scoring Defense and 23rd in Scoring Offense. Danny Hurley and his squad own the shortest odds to win it all. On paper, their stiffest competition in the East is Iowa State, Illinois, and Auburn.

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Purdue Boilermakers (+160)

A major story of last year’s tournament happened in Round 1 when Zach Edey and the Boilermakers were upset by Fairleigh Dickinson. They return to the Tournament a more mature, more experienced, and frankly, a better team. Led by Zach Edey (24.4ppg / 11.7 rebounds/gm), Purdue also boasts Big Ten 1st Team point guard Braeden Smith (12.5ppg / 7.3 assists/gm). Smith’s growth is the primary cause for optimism among the Purdue faithful that the Boilermakers will reach Phoenix. The calf injury he suffered in the Big Ten Tournament is worth watching, though, as the NCAA Tournament unfolds. Tennessee and Creighton are true contenders in the region, but Purdue’s biggest hurdle may be overcoming the nerves that will undoubtedly accompany their first close game.

Houston Cougars (+125)

The top seed in the South Region and winners of the Big 12 regular season crown, Kelvin Sampson’s team is among the prohibitive favorites to cut down the nets in Phoenix. In their first season in the most competitive conference in the nation, Houston tore through the Big 12. Houston owns the No. 1 scoring defense in the nation. However, injuries to Terrance Arceneaux (achilles), Ramon Walker, Jr (knee), and Joseph Tugler (foot) could hinder the efforts of the Cougars to apply relentless pressure. Fortunately, Kelvin Sampson’s starting backcourt of LJ Cryer and Jamal Shead might just be the best in the nation. This is an experienced tandem of coach and team that can enjoy One Shining Moment in early April but must overcome a talented region that includes Marquette, Duke, and Kentucky in order to do so.

North Carolina Tar Heels (+300)

For the 18th time, the Tar Heels are a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. That said, the Tar Heels are probably the biggest surprise of the four top seeds. That is why they are heading west. After missing the Big Dance last season, UNC won the ACC regular season crown led by conference Player of the Year RJ Davis (21.4ppg) and Armando Bacot (14.1ppg / 10.2 rebounds/gm). The Tar Heels sit 23rd in the nation in Scoring Offense but just 119th in Scoring Defense. That said, Hubert Davis’ squad has won eight of their last nine and appears to have figured things out on the defensive end yielding an average of just 68ppg in those last nine. The West Region also counts Baylor, Arizona, and Alabama among the top four seeds.

Which No. 1 seed will lose prior to the Final Four?

As discussed, history says, “Yes”.

UCONN is frankly too deep, too experienced, and most importantly, too talented to not reach a second consecutive Final Four.

Purdue has some demons to overcome, but they have Zach Edey on their side. No team in America played and succeeded against a more difficult slate of opponents than the Boilermakers. Only Purdue can stop Purdue from reaching Phoenix…but about those demons…

Houston is as entertaining as any team in America. Their relentless pressure on defense and constant hustle at both ends is everything you want in a team. However, they are banged up and are a team whose offense disappears for stretches.

North Carolina is a veteran team with many still on the roster from their Final Four run a couple seasons ago, but they are not even the favorite in their region to reach Phoenix. That distinction belongs to the Arizona Wildcats (+280).

As we laid out earlier in this article, the odds favor at most two of these top seeds reaching Phoenix. For the purpose of this exercise, let’s take two and leave two behind. We already have agreed UCONN is the class of the tournament and is expected to walk to Phoenix. Other than the Huskies, each No. 1 seed has a wart or two. Purdue must ward off thoughts of last season. Houston’s depth and too frequent scoring droughts could be lethal. North Carolina’s defense showed cracks in the ACC Final against NC State.

Ultimately, Purdue should be able to leave their demons behind thanks in large part to prime-time players Zach Edey and Braeden Smith. Houston's injuries and shooting woes are too real and North Carolina's bracket includes tougher outs than some of the other regions. Thus, expect Houston and North Carolina to fall short of their dreams of reaching another Final Four.