March Madness 2024 Brackets and Staff Picks: UConn Huskies are Clearly the Team to Beat... Again

Covers' expert college basketball brains give you their pre-tournament picks for the Most Outstanding Player, most likely Cinderella, and the team that will be cutting down the nets come April 8.

Mar 20, 2024 • 19:29 ET
Tristen Newton UConn Huskies college basketball
Photo By - USA TODAY Sports

The brackets are filled and the first round of March Madness tips off tomorrow... but are you still wondering who you should pick to win or what underdog(s) will bust brackets coast to coast?

There is no shortage of people dissecting March Madness odds and sharing their March Madness bracket, but it's now time for the most important March Madness picks of all — the official plays from the Covers staff!

We've polled our trusted college basketball betting minds for their favorite plays for the Big Dance, and they year — and see if their March Madness bracket predictions resemble what you've filled out!

March Madness 2024 picks

Writer Winner MOP Cinderella
Jason Logan Jason Logan UConn UConn UConn Donovan Clingan NFC South Carolina
Rohit Ponnaiya Rohit Ponnaiya Arizona Arizona Arizona Caleb Love McNeese State McNeese State
Douglas Farmer Douglas Farmer UConn UConn UConn Tristen Newton Nebraska Nebraska
Chris Vasile Auburn Auburn Auburn Johni Broome Oregon Oregon
Chris Hatfield Chris Hatfield UConn UConn UConn Tristen Newton Mississippi State Mississippi State
Jared Hochman Jared Hochman UConn UConn UConn Tristen Newton Samford Samford

Covers staff March Madness picks

Jason Logan, Senior Industry Analyst (@CoversJLo)

Experience, coaching, depth, versatility, defense, blah, blah blah. The Huskies are built for this format and have the fewest flaws among top-seeded teams. The East Region is no easy task, with the likes of Iowa State, Auburn, and Illinois buzzing around, but even those teams come up short against the Huskies.

Tristen Newton gets the attention, but 7-foot sophomore Donovan Clingan is the X-factor for the Huskies: Scoring inside, protecting the paint, and cleaning the glass. He stuffs the stat sheet, which is what you want from your MOP. Clingan will be vital in advancing past UNC/Arizona in the Final Four — and a potential battle versus Zach Edey in the title game.

My biggest Cinderella? The South Carolina Gamecocks. The No. 6 seed stuck it to the SEC all season, scoring notable wins over plenty of the other teams in this tournament. The Gamecocks get two good matchups in the opening week, facing Oregon and likely Creighton, and are +450 to make the Sweet 16 — that would set up a date with Texas or Tennessee, one of which already lost to the 'Cocks this season (and an Elite Eight appearance pays +1,300).

Rohit Ponnaiya, Betting Analyst (@Covers_Ro)

The Wildcats are one of just three schools that rank in the Top 15 at KenPom on both offense (8th) and defense (11th) and if they get into the Final Four, they'll play at nearby Phoenix — where they'll receive plenty of crowd support.

The main reason that 'Zona got bounced in the first round last year was terrible play from their guards. It upgraded its backcourt in the offseason and added transfer Caleb Love, who leads the team in scoring with 18.1 ppg. Love enters the tournament on a mini-slump but tends to show up in the biggest games; he was on when he helped lead North Carolina to the title game in 2022 and he balled out in marquee non-conference matchups against Purdue, Wisconsin, and FAU earlier this season.

Cinderella teams often have three things going for them: A stingy defense that keeps games within distance, deadly outside shooters, and a schedule that matches them up against vulnerable foes. McNeese State is 10th in the country in defensive efficiency and seventh in three-point percentage (39.4%). They play an overrated Gonzaga squad that struggles to defend on the perimeter in Round 1 then would play either Samford or a Kansas team missing its best player in the Round of 32.

Douglas Farmer, Betting Analyst (@D_Farmer)

Would I rather bet UConn at higher odds? Absolutely... but do not mistake a more creative futures play as a smarter futures play: The Huskies won it all a year ago and are now somehow better. Even though Dan Hurley had to replace three of his starters off a title-winning team, UConn got 2.3 points better by Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency margin.

That is enough reason to enjoy odds as low as +400 — as well as a bet on their ball-handing veteran leader to win Most Oustanding Player honors. Tristen Newton may not have the lowest odds on his team — that would be Donovan Clingan at +850 — but Newton has been here before. He will be the face of this team as it seeks the first repeat since 2007.

For my Cinderella, a Nebraska run would help UConn’s title odds. The Cornhuskers are on a tear, sitting at a 7-2 ATS clip since Feb. 10 — with one of those losses due to playing a third game in three days. Beating Houston in the second round would be a surprise... but not the massive surprise you may think.

Chris Hatfield, College basketball contributor (@_ChrisHatfield)

UConn is back... and better than it was last season. Not only is this the nation's most efficient offense, but it combines that with the second-highest rebounding margin – a vital indicator of a national champion. The selection committee did the Huskies no favors with such a stacked region, but their toughest test en route to the Final Four — Auburn — sees a massive disadvantage in the backcourt, and the enormous presence of Donovan Clingan mostly negates the inside presence of Johni Broome.

My MOP pick is Tristen Newton. If UConn repeats, he'll be getting the award. Newton, for my money, is the best pure point guard in college basketball; if the game is close late, he's taking control — and he'll do it in more ways than one, having already recorded multiple triple-doubles this year.
My Cinderella, Mississippi State, has a guard in Josh Hubbard that can carry a team if everything is firing. He's shined in big games, averaging 30.5 ppg vs. the five ranked opponents he's faced since the start of February. I like the First Round matchup against Michigan State and if they see North Carolina in the second round, they'll have a similar formula of packing the paint, winning with its physicality, and forcing the Tar Heels to shoot from deep — and as we saw in the ACC Championship game, this UNC team can be prone to some pretty poor shot variance.

Chris Vasile, Publishing Editor (@mc_silly3)

Yes, I know, Auburn did the majority of it winning at home, but it also faced elite competition every step of the way in the SEC. The Tigers possess a dynamite offense and a Top 25 defense, and while getting past UConn in the Sweet 16 is the hurdle, I believe they'll be up for the challenge.

Leading the way will be their big man, Johni Broome, who's been nothing short of stellar this year and the MOP has always been awarded to a player on the winning team. If Auburn reaches the pinnacle, Broome will be the one to get them there.

As for the Ducks: They started the year slow due to injuries but have lights out of late, beating up on good teams and winning games in a variety of ways. Their versatility puts them in a good spot to be a Cinderella as an 11-seed.

Jared Hochman, Content Operations Manager (@JLHoch)

Forgive me for all the chalk I'm coughing up, but in a season that's seen nothing short of chaos, there's only one team I trust to not lay an egg over these next three weeks — the Huskies. Pardon the pun, but they've got those dawgs in them; they're the most complete team in the nation, with a strong interior presence that anchors the defense, impeccable backcourt play to lead a high-powered offense, and championship experience, having gone back-to-back.

This year has been filled with chaos, but it's somewhat absent of bona fide superstars — and UConn is again somewhat in the same boat, so my MOP pick is Tristen Newton, well, because he's just more likely to have the ball in his hands the most as the point guard. Oh, and also he's a phenomenal basketball player... that helps too.

I'm expecting a couple of double-digit seeds to reach the Sweet 16, but I think my favorite is the 13-seed in the Midwest: the Samford Bulldogs. I think "Bucky Ball" will cause havoc in the opening round against a Kansas team sans star guard Kevin McCullar Jr., while KU center Hunter Dickinson is also likely less than 100% with a shoulder ailment, which could even the playing field for Samford forward Achor Achor. After Kansas, "Bucky Ball" could face a Gonzaga team that is also not as strong as previous years... I sure hope that Cinderella shoe can fit a few paws!

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