NCAA Tournament Betting: East Region Picks, Sleepers, Upsets

Duke's Zion Williamson(USA TODAY Sports)`

Are you ready for March Madness? The greatest week of the sports betting season tips off Thursday afternoon. Whether it’s betting on the games or just playing in bracket pools, we have you covered with a region by region breakdown of the best bets, sleepers first-round upsets. We start off in the East Region.

Our Thomas Casale and Matt Schmitto break down the East Region. Can anyone upset Duke? Is there value in the east region? We have all the answers to your bracket questions with our best bets and sleepers.

All lines are courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook.

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East Region

Favorite First Round Bet/Upset

Casale: The East region is my least favorite from a betting perspective. My top play will likely be the winner of Belmont-Temple over Maryland but since we don’t have that line yet, I’ll go Yale +8 over LSU. This number opened LSU -9/9.5 and is down to 8. I think LSU will win but Yale is a tough first round draw because they shoot the ball so well. KenPom ranks Yale 44th in offensive efficiency and the Bulldogs average over 80 points a game. LSU played tight games away from home this season and will be without suspended head coach Will Wade for the tournament. If Yale can prevent LSU from dominating the boards, they will stay within the number and potentially pull an upset.

Schmitto: I couldn’t agree with you more on that one. I can’t help but think the coaching scandal at LSU is a bit of distraction, especially after losing their first game of the SEC tournament to Florida. Yale is 22-7 overall and they beat Miami on the road earlier this season. They have struggled during their last couple of weeks of the season, losing three of their final 5 games but I think they can hit enough shots to keep up with LSU and potential pull off a first round upset.

I also see Liberty sticking with Mississippi State. Liberty comes in hot winning 9 of their last 10 games. They don’t have any great wins but they’ve been competitive in games against power five conferences this year, losing by 9 points to Alabama in December. Mississippi State split with Bama during SEC conference play. The real question is if Liberty can play good perimeter defense, as the Bulldogs led the SEC in three-point percentage at 37%. I’m taking Liberty +7.5, hoping the threes won’t fall.

Casale: I really like the Liberty pick too. They can bog that game down and cause headaches for Mississippi State. Sounds like a Yale/Liberty ML parlay to me.

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Sleeper

Casale: I’m going with Virginia Tech +1600 to come out of the East. Not many teams in this region can beat Duke. Other than Michigan State, the only team I see with a legitimate shot is Virginia Tech. The Hokies won’t be intimidated by Duke, having defeated the Blue Devils at home 77-72 during the regular season. Granted, Zion Williamson was out for that game but the Hokies are an underrated, talented team and having already played Duke is a big factor. Virginia Tech is the only team other than Duke or Michigan State I see getting out of the East region, so I’ll take a shot with the Hokies at 16/1.

Schmitto: Yeah, I expect this region to be pretty chalky, too. I have a tough time imagining anyone other than Duke or MSU in the Final Four. I’m not sold on the SEC teams or Maryland. Virginia Tech is intriguing at +1600, and I don’t ever doubt a team coached by Buzz Williams. He knows what it takes in March as he had a lot of success with Marquette before coaching the Hokies.

With that said, if I’m riding with a dark horse then I’m going to make it a big one with Central Florida at +5500. UCF is coached by Duke alum Johnny Dawkins and has had the luxury of coaching a 7-foot-6 center from Senegal named Tacko Fall. Fall has helped UCF have a top 40 defense, and UCF has already beaten two tournament teams this season, Houston and Cincinnati. Beating those teams is no easy task. I’m convinced UCF can play, it’s just unfortunate that they run into Duke in the second round if they get past VCU. But here’s to a miracle.

Casale: Wow, now that’s a sleeper. I thought I was going to shock the world with the Montana ML later in the West but you beat me to the punch.

Schmitto: Maybe I’m still a little dazed from St. Paddy’s day.

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Pick to Win

Casale: Duke -175. Listen, I would love to pick against Duke but if the Blue Devils lose, I can’t see it coming before the Final Four. Remember, Virginia and North Carolina may be the two second-best teams in the country and Duke is 3-0 versus them with Zion in the lineup. Anything can happen in the NCAA Tournament. The best team I ever saw was UNLV in 1989 and they barely got past Ball State 69-67 in the Sweet 16. Is it possible Duke gets upset? Sure. Will it happen? No.

Schmitto: We’re on the same page again. As good as Michigan State has been this year, I can’t go against Duke. It’s like a sleeping giant has been awakened since Zion’s return. Despite my confidence in Duke making the Final Four, I will be looking to bet late numbers against Duke. Like the Yankees in baseball and the Cowboys in the football, the public will be all over the Blue Devils during the tournament. I think we’ll get some good value fading them during the last games of Zion’s career.

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