PREDATOR OR PREY? Kentucky can't be beaten, many say. But starting tomorrow, 63 teams will be trying to do just that. Photo courtesy AP

PREDATOR OR PREY? Kentucky can’t be beaten, many say. But starting tomorrow, 63 teams will be trying to do just that. Photo courtesy AP

It was not long after the NCAA Tournament Bracket was announced Sunday evening that Vegas gave the Kentucky Wildcats 10-11 odds to win it all this year. In other words, if you bet ten dollars, you would win eleven.

That’s as close to a sure thing as you’ll get out of Vegas.

Obviously, the downside to that wager is much greater than the upside. Sure, you might win one dollar for every ten you wager, or you could lose it all when Kentucky loses.

And Kentucky will lose. What tells us this? Plenty.

Beginning with Columbia in 1951, 18 teams have entered the NCAA Tournament undefeated. Of those, only seven went on to win the National Championship. That’s not even 40%. However, none of those teams that won the National Championship to remain undefeated came before the tournament expanded to 64 teams.

Kentucky2 by API’ll say that again: since the field expanded to 64 (and now 68) teams, no undefeated team has ever won the National Championship.

Yes, only two have tried, but two have tried and failed. So even if Kentucky were to win the title this year, the odds would still be worse than that for all 18 previously undefeated schools. And while Jerry Tarkanian’s UNLV team made it to the Final Four in 1991, Wichita State didn’t even make it to the Sweet Sixteen last year.

It may seem like I’m ragging on Kentucky, but I’m not. The Wildcats are a terrific team and hands down the best in the nation this year. No one here is disputing that. But the dirty little secret is that the NCAA Tournament isn’t about deciding the best team. If that were the case, we could crown Kentucky right now and move on.

No, the tournament is about survival. It’s a half-skill, half-luck attempt to make it through a month-long battle royale of chaos. Why do we have a #1 seed play a #16 seed? We obviously know which team is better. If Kentucky plays Hampton 1,000 times, they’re going to win 999 of those games. We all know this. So why do we play the game? Because that one time might just happen when it matters most.

And it only gets harder from there. The Wildcats are in the same bracket as Notre Dame and Kansas, the ACC Champion and the team that has had the second-highest RPI behind Kentucky for most of the past month. They also share a region with Maryland, the second-strongest #4 seed in the tournament if not the strongest, and a #12 seed (Buffalo) whose RPI is under 30.

It’s like the selection committee is begging for someone to beat Kentucky.

But perhaps the most damning evidence comes via Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight.com. In case you don’t know, Silver is a statistics and probability wizard. He projected the exact Electoral College results of the 2012 presidential election, correctly picking which candidate would win all 50 states. But Silver actually got his start in the world of sports.

The guys over at fivethirtyeight.com analyze everything. They probably know a team is more likely to win if their coach chews a certain brand of bubble gum. So what kind of chances did they give the Wildcats of remaining undefeated? 41%.

Are you still willing to bet your ten dollars? Because I’m not.

You see, picking a perfect team to remain that way through this tournament isn’t a safe bet, it’s anything but. Too much can happen. Too much has to go right.

For one thing, the Wildcats need to win six games in a row. They’ll almost surely have to play Maryland in their own region, and running into Notre Dame or Kansas is almost an equally likely proposition. After them, there’s a very, very good chance (79%, in fact, according to fivethirtyeight.com) that Wisconsin or Arizona will meet them in the National Semifinal. And even if you go through all that, all those potential giant killers, you still have to win the championship game on April 6th.

That’s 19 days away. What happens if Aaron Harrison twists an ankle between now and then? What happens if Devin Booker has an off day from the 3 point line? Or Willie Cauley-Stein gets into foul trouble early? These things happen every day in college basketball. They’re a part of the game.

The simple truth is someone is going to win this tournament. Kentucky is the number one overall seed, which would lead you to believe that they are the odds-on favorite to do just that. And that may be, but the thing about those odds – like that preposterous 10-11 line – is they’re talking about picking a team to win. Only one team is going to do that. 67 others are going to lose.

So would you still pick Kentucky? Or would you take the field? When you put it that way, betting on Kentucky is anything but safe.