Complete Region NCAA bracket breakdowns: March Madness betting odds and best bets

Mar 19, 2019 |

Covers Editorial staff breaks down every region of the NCAA Tournament, pointing out the live underdogs, Cinderella sleeper, the best and worst ATS team, Over/Under value, and everything you need to crack the odds in each region for this year's Big Dance.

EAST REGION

BETTING FAVORITE

The Duke Blue Devils, who are +220 favorites to win the national championship at FanDuel Sportsbooks, are -175 chalk to advance from the East Regional to the Final Four. And it’s easy to see why: top two NBA prospects, arguably the greatest college coach of all time, and the easiest path to Minneapolis in the entire bracket. Granted, Duke does have its soft spots, like scoring in a half-court set and shooting from the perimeter. But there’s no denying the talent on this team.

LIVE UNDERDOG

Central Florida has a very competitive No. 9-versus-No. 8 matchup with VCU in the Round of 64, but this Knights team is a tough matchup and checks off a lot of KenPom’s “Four Factors”, including ranking No. 58 in adjusted offensive efficiency and No. 36 in adjusted defensive efficiency. Central Florida plays a methodical pace, defends well, and has a game-changer in 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall. FanDuel Sportsbooks have UCF as a +5,550 long shot to win the East, due to being tracked for a second-round meeting with Duke.

POTENTIAL CINDERELLA 

After Loyola-Chicago’s run to the Final Four last year, everyone is on the lookout for similarly-sculpted “Cinderellas”. Liberty fits the mold, with an efficient offense, solid 3-point shooting, and a defense that protects the rim and allows only 60.8 points per game. The Flames, who moved from +8 to +7 for an opening-round matchup with Mississippi State, suck all the energy out of the gym with one of the slowest tempos in the country (66.5 poss per game). Liberty is a +10,000 long shot to win the East Regional with a possible run in with Duke in the Sweet 16.

BEST ATS TEAM

The Spartans really put the green in “Go Green! Go White”, finishing the season with a 24-10 ATS record. Michigan State went 2-1 ATS in the Big Ten tournament, including covering as a 1.5-point underdog in a comeback win over rival Michigan in the final. Tom Izzo’s team opens as 18.5-point chalk versus Bradley (opened -20) but hasn’t covered just once in its last six NCAA Tournament games.

WORST ATS TEAM

The Saint Louis Billikens were a No. 6 seed in the A-10 tournament and headed for a life outside of the NCAA Tournament. However, a red-hot postseason run sees them among the field of 68. Saint Louis is just 16-18-1 ATS this season – worst among East Regional teams – but has covered in three straight games (all as a dog) and is 7-3 ATS in its last 10 contests. The Billikens are getting 10.5 points as a No. 13 seed versus No. 4 Virginia Tech in the opening round.

 

BEST OVER TEAM

The LSU Tigers topped the total in 61 percent of their games this season, posting a 19-12-1 Over/Under mark. Louisiana State put up more than 81 points per game while allowing an average of 73 points against and enters the tournament in turmoil. Head coach Will Wade has been suspended due to his role in a federal investigation, leaving interim Tony Benford to whether the madness of March. 

BEST UNDER TEAM

When you think Duke, you think of all that offensive firepower behind Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett. That knee-jerk could be why Coach K’s kids have been a solid Under play this season. The Blue Devils are 9-23-1 Over/Under – staying below the total almost 72 percent of the time – and allowing just under 68 points per game. With the public puffing up their totals on a nightly basis, the wise move has been to swoop in and take the Under. It also helps that Duke doesn’t pose much threat from outside, making just 7.3 3-pointers per outing.

SHORTEST TRAVEL IN ROUND OF 64

The Duke Blue Devils will only have to travel about three and a half hours from Chapel Hill to Columbia, South Carolina for their opening round game versus the winner of NC Central and North Dakota State. Dukies generally travel well during the tournament, so expect a solid home-court edge for the Blue Devils inside for Colonial Life Arena. FYI: Zion is from South Carolina. 

LONGEST TRAVEL IN THE ROUND OF 64

A pair of Virginia based teams rack up the frequent flyer miles in the East Regional, with Liberty traveling 2,751 miles and Virginia Tech going 2,674 miles to San Jose, California for the Round of 64. The No. 4 Hokies may have the worst hand out of these two programs, having to play Saint Louis at 9:57 p.m. ET on Friday night. Their latest start time all season was 8 p.m. ET.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Besides Duke’s star-studded roster, basketball bettors should keep a close eye on Yale standout Miye Oni in the East Regional. The 6-foot-6 guard ranks just behind Duke’s R.J. Barrett in KenPom’s offensive rating, averaging 17.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists for the Bulldogs. He powers a Yale offense putting up 81 points and drew a reported 20 pro scouts to the Ivy League tournament.

WEST REGION

BETTING FAVORITE 

No surprise here as the top seed in the region is the betting favorite to advance out of the West. Gonzaga pays +150 to reach the Final Four and is currently at +500 to win the NCAA Tournament. 

No. 2-seed Michigan comes in at +250 to reach the Final Four, with Texas Tech and Nevada both sitting at +500. The Wolverines are paying out +1400 to win the tournament outright, while the Red Raiders are +2500 and the Wolf Pack +3000.

LIVE UNDERDOG

The West is possibly the most intriguing region when it comes to live underdogs. No. 3 Texas Tech has the fourth-best scoring defense in the nation had won nine in a row before losing to West Virginia in the Big 12 semifinals. No. 4 Florida State is possibly the deepest squad in the nation and showed it can compete with the top seeds when it knocked off Virginia in the ACC semifinals. 

But for a true live underdog, we’re looking to No. 6 Buffalo. The MAC champs have won 12 straight and feature the fifth-highest scoring offense in the nation at 84.9 points. The Bulls have a roster full of seniors who know how to take down good teams after knocking off No. 4 Arizona in the first round of the tournament last season.

POTENTIAL CINDERELLA 

Murray State. The Racers have been given the 12 seed, which is generally given to mid-major teams that have a legitimate chance to advance. Murray State enters the tournament winners of 11 straight, taking the Ohio Valley Conference title along the way. But most importantly, the Racers have Ja Morant, arguably the second-most exciting player in the entire tournament after Zion Williamson (see below).

BEST ATS TEAM

Too close to call between Gonzaga and Vermont. The Bulldogs went 21-12 ATS on the season, while the Catamounts finished with an impressive 20-10-2 mark. Vermont is a 10.5-point dog against Florida State on Thursday, while Gonzaga awaits the winner of a First Four play-in game.

Murray State also deserves a mention for its 19-10 ATS record and is currently a 4.5-point dog against Marquette.

WORST ATS TEAM

Northern Kentucky. The Norse sport an ugly 12-20 ATS record and are currently 14-point underdogs against Texas Tech on Friday. Montana (14-18) and St. John’s (14-18-1) are the next two worst ATS teams in the West.

 

BEST OVER TEAM

Another neck-and-neck battle between Montana, who went 20-12 to the Over, and Prairie View A&M and its 20-13 mark. The Grizzlies play Michigan with a total of 134 on Thursday, while the Panthers take on Fairleigh Dickinson with a total of 150 on Tuesday in the First Four. 

BEST UNDER TEAM

A lot of solid options for Under bettors in the West. Florida leads the way with a 23-11 Under record, with Michigan a close second at 20-13. Nevada (19-13), Arizona State (19-13), Syracuse (19-14), and Texas Tech (17-14) also need to be mentioned in the Under conversation.

SHORTEST TRAVEL FOR ROUND OF 64

Vermont, the 13th seed, lucks out with only having to travel 190 miles to Hartford, Conn., for its first-round game against No. 4 Florida State (who will be travelling just over 1,000 miles). The Seminoles are a 10.5-point favorite with a total of 133.5. 

Texas Tech has the second shortest commute as it travels roughly 375 miles to Tulsa, Ok., to take on Northern Kentucky, though the Norse don’t have to go overly far as their campus is about 660 miles from Tulsa.

LONGEST TRAVEL FOR ROUND OF 64

Syracuse could be road weary after it travels over 1,800 miles for its opener against Baylor in Salt Lake City. The Bears don’t have an easy travel either, however, as they’ll move over 1,000 miles to get to Utah.

The Orange actually might not have the worst travel schedule in the West. Should Fairleigh Dickinson advance from the First Four, it’ll have to go 1,965 miles to get to Salt Lake to face Gonzaga. If Prairie View A&M advances, it’ll face a much more reasonable 1,155 miles.

PLAYER TO WATCH

The West has two potential lottery picks in the upcoming NBA Draft in Murray State’s Ja Morant and Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura. 

Morant (24.6 points per game, 10 assists per game) is doing things rarely seen in college basketball as he is the only player in Division I to average at least 20 points and eight assists. In his last two games during the Ohio Valley Conference tournament, the sophomore guard played all 40 minutes in each and put up 29 points and eight assists in the semis and then 36 points, seven rebounds, and three assists in the finals. 

Hachimura, a 6-8 junior forward from Tokyo, Japan, didn’t start playing basketball until he was 13 but is now destined to be a top pick in this year’s NBA Draft as he leads the Bulldogs with 20.1 points per game on 60.9 percent shooting from the floor — including a 46.9 percent clip from behind the arc — while also averaging 6.6 rebounds.

SOUTH REGION

BETTING FAVORITE

Virginia is the No. 2 ranked team in the county in the AP Top 25 and Coaches Poll. UVA has a dominant defense (allowing an NCAA-low 55.1 points per game) and an offense featuring Kyle Guy, De'Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome who help the Cavs shoot at the fourth-best 3-point clip in the nation (40.9 percent). 

According to KenPom, Virginia has the best Adjusted Efficiency Margin in the nation and currently have 6/1 odds to win the National Championship. UVA deserves the Chalk for good reason but their loss to Florida State in the ACC Tournament semifinals, proved that they are mortal, which brings us to...  

LIVE UNDERDOG

If anyone has the ability to beat UVA at their own game in this region it's No. 5 seed Wisconsin.

Like Virginia, Wisconsin also has an excellent defense. They actually have the third-best defense in the country according to the KenPom Adjusted Defensive Efficiency rating, two spots ahead of Virginia. The Badgers also have one of the best big men in college in Ethan Happ, who can do pretty much everything (except hit free throws) with 17.5 ppg, 10.1 rpg and 4.5 apg. 

The Badgers and Cavaliers played against each other back in November and while UVA pulled out a relatively comfortable victory thanks to a big first half, Wisconsin almost crawled back into the game by locking down on defense late. The final score in that matchup was 53-46 for Virginia. With both teams playing at a slow pace and having excellent defenses, Wisconsin should be able to keep things close and as long as they're within striking distance they could pull out ahead, just like FSU. 

POTENTIAL CINDARELLA

UC Irvine. You might be seeing a pattern start to form but as the saying goes: "defense wins championships." The Anteaters are yet another team in this conference which prides itself on D, holding opponents to just 40.7 percent shooting from 2-point range, the best number in the nation. They're also 10th in the country in rebounding rate, snagging 54.7 percent of all available boards. 

In the first round they have a matchup with Kansas State who also have a tough defense and play at a slow pace. KSU could also be missing one of their best players (and most efficient scorer) in Dean Wade who missed the Big 12 Tournament with a foot injury and might not be ready to go for Friday's game. The Anteaters also won't have to travel too far for this game in San Jose (less than 400 miles) while KSU will have to travel almost 1800 miles. 

UC Irvin could be prime for an upset, and if they pulled that off they would play the winner of Wisconsin-Oregon which means yet another defensive battle of attrition which would give them a chance to sneak all the way into the Sweet Sixteen. 

BEST ATS TEAM

It's little surprise that UVA has been so good at covering the spread, going 23-9 ATS this season. However, they are actually tied for the best ATS record in the entire field of 64 with another team in this region: Mississippi. Yep, the Rebels have flown under the radar with a 23-9 record ATS and have been an excellent underdog cover option going 10-3 ATS.

WORST ATS TEAM

The Iowa Hawkeyes started the season off with promise before fizzling and losing six of their last eight games. They've gone just 13-20 ATS this season, including just 1-9 ATS in their last 10 contests. 

The second-worst ATS team in this region? The Hawkeyes' first round opponents: Cincinnati. The Bearcats are just 14-20 ATS this season and are just 2-9 ATS over their previous 11 games.

 

BEST OVER TEAM

The Colgate Raiders are back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 23 years thanks to an explosive offense. They are 20-12 O/U this season and will be going up against another good Over bet in Tennessee (19-14 O/U) in the first round. The total for this game has been set at 150.  

BEST UNDER TEAM

With so many strong defensive squads in this region, there are quite a few schools that have been money for Under bettors. Oregon has been the best bet though, having gone 24-11 to the Under this season, including 12-2 to the Under in their last 14 games. Their first round matchup with Wisconsin is expected to be very low-scoring with the O/U set at just 118.

SHORTEST TRAVEL IN ROUND OF 64

Cincinnati has to travel a mere 106 miles from their campus to Nationwide Arena in Columbus, so their first round matchup with Iowa should practically feel like a home game. Bad news for Iowa, who will be going up against a Bearcats team that's 16-2 this season at home. 

LONGEST TRAVEL IN ROUND OF 64

If Wisconsin wants to live up to my choice of them as live underdog they'll have to overcome a doozy of a road trip in the first round. The Badgers have to travel more than 2100 miles from Madison to San Jose for their matchup with Oregon who will be travelling less than 600 miles and won't have to deal with jet-lag. 

PLAYER TO WATCH 

There are plenty of great players in this regional bracket from Happ, Hunter, Cinci's Jarron Cumberland, Villanova guard Phil Booth and Tenessee's Grant Williams. But we're going to shine the spotlight on Purdue's Carsen Edwards who averages 23 ppg.

According to KenPom, Purdue has the fifth-best Adjusted Offensive Efficiency in the country and Edwards plays a big role in that. Perhaps too big actually. Purdue's offense has a tendency to rely too much on Edwards (and to a lesser extent his backcourt mate Ryan Cline) to carry their attack. When Edwards has an off-shooting night the Boilermakers have nobody to step up and sink shots. That lack of balance on offense could really hurt them against the defenses in this region. 

MIDWEST REGION

BETTING FAVORITE

The Midwest Region is going to be a war of attrition in 2019. It is probably the deepest in the tournament, with at least five teams that you can a make a legitimate case to emerge victorious. However, it’s the North Carolina Tar Heels who are favorites to win the Midwest Region, as well as the third overall favorites to win the NCAA Tournament at +700 over at bet365. And for good reason too. The Heels have two wins over Duke (albeit with Zion) and were a hair away from going 3-0 (against him). They won 15 of 16 before the loss to Duke (the other loss was to Virginia) and have a win over fellow No. 1 seed Gonzaga. North Carolina is well coached, has a fantastic mix of veteran leadership (Cameron Johnson/Luke Maye) and young talent (Coby White), and rank in the top 10 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. They are a real threat for the title.

LIVE UNDERDOG

There is no shortage of live dogs in the Midwest. But the value bets are No. 5 Auburn and No. 6 Iowa State at 8/1. Both are coming off conference tournament championship runs and are more than capable of extending those runs in the big dance. Auburn is one of the best 3-point shooting teams around and led the nation in steals, while Iowa State had some puzzling losses this year, but is playing its best basketball of the season right now. They are deep and are terrific shooters, while the defense is coming around. It wouldn’t be that surprising to see either of these teams in Minneapolis.

POTENTIAL CINDERELLA

No. 8-seed Utah State could make some serious noise in the tournament. The Aggies can really play at both ends of the floor and have the Mountain West player of the year in Sam Merrill (21.2 points per game). But if you’re looking for the team with the real “it” factor, look no further than the Wofford Terriers. You might think a Southern Conference champion on the seven line is ranked too high, but they may actually be under-seeded. The Terriers and enter the tournament winners of 20 consecutive games rank in the top 20 in the KenPom rankings. They also shoot 3’s. A lot of ‘em. And they rank second in the nation hitting 41.6 percent of them. Fletcher Magee is awesome. This is the type of team the casual tourney can really get behind and they are 18/1 to win the Midwest.

BEST ATS TEAM

Not only is North Carolina the favorite to win the Midwest, it was a favorite among bettors as well. At 21-10-2 ATS the Tar Heels had the ninth best ATS record in the country, covering spreads of all sizes. They ended the season covering the number in their last four games, including as 4.5-point underdogs in their 74-73 loss to Duke in the ACC semifinals. However, the Tar Heels are just 8-10-1 ATS over the last five years in the NCAA Tournament.

WORST ATS TEAM

Is this fate? The worst ATS team in the Midwest is North Carolina’s Round 1 opponent, Iona. The Gaels went a less than profitable 13-19 ATS this year, but it could have been much worse. Iona failed to cover the spread in each of its first 11 games this season. But the Gaels enter their matchup with the Tar Heels hot ATS, covering eight of their last nine games down the stretch on their way to a fourth consecutive MAAC title. The 24.5 points they’ll be getting against UNC is the most they’ve seen all season.

 

BEST OVER TEAM

Kansas might be the most over-seeded team in the whole Tournament, while also being the best Over bet of all the Midwest squads. Only the VMI Keydets cashed more Overs than the Jayhawks did in Division I, going 21-12-1 O/U this season. Kansas scores 75.4 points per game while allowing 70.1, but the big reason for all the Overs has been inconsistent play at both ends of the floor. Kansas lost Udoka Azubuike to a season-ending injury as well as Lagerald Vick and the lack of depth behind Dedric Lawson has show. The total for Kansas’ opener against Northeastern is at 144.

BEST UNDER TEAM

Hey! A Pac-12 team is the best at something! Yup, Washington is the Midwest region’s best Under bet heading into the tournament at 23-11-1, fifth best in the country. The Pac-12’s, um, best team is the perfect recipe for Under success. The Huskies work their tails off on the defensive end and they can’t score. Washington ranks 30th in opponent points per game at a low 64.4, while scoring just 68.9. But that could also be a product of playing in a terrible conference. The total for the Huskies opening round matchup with Utah State is 135.

SHORTEST TRAVEL IN ROUND OF 64

If you were looking for another reason to back a team like Wofford in the tourney, here it is. The Terriers could have a strong backing in the stands for their opening round matchup against Seton Hall, as they only have to travel about 370 miles to Jacksonville, Florida.

LONGEST TRAVEL IN ROUND OF 64

Talk about jet lag. Two teams in the Midwest will have to log about 2.400 miles in order to reach the destination of their opening round matchups. Washington will have to cross the country for its matchup with Utah State (which isn’t exactly a short trip either). The Northeastern Huskies will also have to cover that distance as they head out west to Salt Lake City for their matchup with Kansas.

PLAYER TO WATCH

There are a lot of great players in this Region. Sam Merrill of Utah State, Dedric Lawson of Kansas, Fletcher Magee can all take over games. But the player to watch is North Carolina freshman guard Coby White. When the season began all the talk about the freshman in Chapel Hill was centered around Nassir Little. But now it’s all White. He scores 16.2 points per game on 43.1 percent from the floor, while adding 4.2 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game. It already feels like there is no moment too big for the 6-5 guard. White can fly down the court, take you off the dribble and shoot. And that hair is so cool.

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