Updated on 09/16/2011 7:59AM

Try a new Big Dance angle


This year's NCAA tournament will have a noticeably different feel.

Every year, we see a few high seeds upset in the early rounds. But then midnight strikes on the Cinderella stories and we usually end up with the top teams duking it out for the title.

Under new rules, the selection committee has bracketed the tournament with the goal of keeping more teams, especially top-seeded teams, closer to home for the first two rounds. I think this could lead to fewer upsets.

It's safe to say that home-court advantage is bigger in college basketball than any other major sport. A lot of games are won on emotion. Look at a team's scores and you often will see a strong home/road dichotomy. Teams split season series home-and-home all the time, much more often than in other sports.

This new regional bracketing gives many teams a home-crowd advantage even if the game is not at the school's actual home court. It appears oddsmakers have shaded their lines somewhat to take this into account, but I don't think they adjusted enough. We'll try to be ahead of the trend.

The non-stop action on Thursday and Friday is always very exciting, especially here in Vegas, with 16 tournament games each day. Sports books will be packed Thursday from well before the 9:20 a.m. local time tipoff of the Oklahoma State-Kent State game to the final buzzer of the Arizona-Santa Barbara game around 10:30 p.m. And then it starts all over again on Friday.

Pepperdine (+4) vs. Wake Forest

Much attention has been paid to how Gonzaga was snubbed by the selection committee by getting only a No. 6 seed. But a lot of people are forgetting that conference rival Pepperdine is nearly as good, splitting its regular-season games with Gonzaga before falling 96-90 in the West Coast Conference title game. Still, Pepperdine is only a No. 10 seed. On the plus side, the Pepperdine campus in Malibu, Calif., is a one-hour flight or six-hour drive from this game in Sacramento. The Waves will have their share of fans, plus other West Coast fans behind them, against No. 7 seed Wake Forest, which has to travel all the way from North Carolina to California. Wake Forest barely beat a down Fresno St. team 62-61 in its only trip to the West Coast this season. In addition, Wake Forest's lack of depth could catch up to it here.

Utah (+6) vs. Indiana

Indiana is another team taking a West-bound flight to Sacramento. Indiana has stumbled down the stretch. Jared Jeffries's ankle injury is still limiting his effectiveness, and the Hoosiers are 1-5 against the spread in their last six games, including losing three of the last four straight up away from home. Utah coach Rick Majerus always has his team ready, and I like his work on the bench late in a game. Getting half a dozen points is a bonus.

USC (-11) vs. UNC-Wilmington

UNC-Wilmington is also making a cross-country trek, to Albuquerque. UNC-Wilmington is 2-5 against the spread in its last seven road games and it hasn't had to travel west of Minnesota. I usually don't like to lay this many points in an NCAA tourney game, but Southern Cal's Sam Clancy could carry this team to the Final Four. Besides, the Trojans have covered the last four times they've has been double-digit favorites.

Kent St. (-2) vs. Oklahoma St.

This game opened at pick 'em and Kent was bet to a 2-point favorite by noon Tuesday. The money is on the right side. Kent struggled early, losing four of its first seven games under new coach Stan Heath, but the Golden Flashes have hit stride and enter the tourney on a 18-game winning streak.

Oklahoma State limped down the stretch and lost by 22 to Texas Tech in the Big 12 tournament. We have two teams heading in opposite directions. I'll try not to cringe too hard when TV "experts" call this an upset because OSU is the higher seed.

Other leans

Marquette (-4 1/2) vs. Tulsa: If you throw out a stretch in late December and early January when the Warriors were battling injuries and lost three of four, this Marquette team matches up with anyone. The defense will smother a young Tulsa squad.

Notre Dame (pick) vs. Charlotte: Notre Dame is solid, if not spectacular, both inside and outside. Charlotte's only win against a tourney team was against Marquette when the Warriors weren't at their best.

Wyoming (+6 1/2) vs. Gonzaga: Wyoming will bring its share of fans to Albuquerque, and the Zags could be in trouble if they start to believe their press clippings about how much better than a No. 6 seed they are. But Wyoming has a lot to prove, too, after playing poorly in the Mountain West tournament.