NCAA Tournament Betting: South Region Picks, Sleepers, Upsets
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 and first-round upsets. Let’s take a look at the South.
Our Thomas Casale and Matt Schmitto break down the South Region. Can Ethan Happ lead Wisconsin on tournament run? Will No. 1 seed Virginia avenge their historic first round loss in 2018? We have all the answers to your bracket questions with our best values and potential upsets.
All lines are courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook.
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Favorite First Round Bet/Upset
Casale: UC Irvine +5 is a popular upset pick and I’m on the Anteaters’ bandwagon. Irvine is a dangerous 13 seed. The Anteaters are one of the top defensive teams in the country and can compete with bigger schools on the boards. Irvine is led by guards Max Howard (12.5 PPG) and Evan Leonard (11.1 PPG). When looking for a sleeper, teams that are experienced, play tough defense and possess strong guards are great candidates.
You have to feel bad for Kansas State. Not only could the Wildcats be without Dean Wade (12.9 PPG and 6.2 RPG), who missed the Big 12 Tournament with a foot injury, now they must face one of the most dangerous mid-major teams in the tournament. UC Irvine is tied for the most true road wins in the country with 13. They can play and it won’t be a major upset if Kansas State is one and done. Also, Virginia will hammer Gardner-Webb. Cavs will be the focused No. 1 seed in tournament history. Gardner_Webb relies on the three-ball and Virginia ranks first in defending the three. That’s a 50-point win. Lay the 24 points.
Schmitto: I’ve got to go with St. Marys +5.5 over Villanova. St. Marys is coming off one of the biggest upsets of the year after beating Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament, and I think they’re capable of making it two outright wins in a row. This Jay Wright team just isn’t the Villanova we’re used to seeing in March. Villanova relies heavily on Phil Booth and Eric Paschall as the duo averages a combined 35 PPP, accounting for almost half of Villanova’s points. If St. Marys defense can step up like they did against Gonzaga — the held them to 47 points(!) — then they can definitely send the defending champs home early.
Casale: That should be a tight game between two teams that play at a snail’s pace. The total is at 130. The Under may be worth a look at well. I’ll be surprised if either team reaches 70 points.
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Casale: I’m going with Wisconsin at 48/1 to come out of the South region. Everyone loves Oregon right now but the Ducks winning a weak Pac-12 Conference tournament doesn’t overly impress me. I expect the Badgers’ defense to cause problems for Oregon. Wisconsin will advance to play UC Irvine, where the Badgers will be favored to reach the Sweet 16 where a potential meeting with Virginia awaits. This isn’t the best Wisconsin team but the Badgers are a tough opponent to prepare for in a tournament setting and Ethan Happ can take them a long way.
Schmitto: Those are some crazy odds on Wisconsin. I like that pick a lot, especially with Happ down low. He can will that team to victories. Another team that catches my eye is Cincinnati +1800. The Bearcats played some great defense against Houston to win the AAC Tournament, holding Houston to just 30% shooting. They also have the conference’s player of the year in Jarron Cumberland who averaged just over 23 points throughout the conference tournament.
They have a short trip to Columbus for the first two rounds, which should help them a little bit if they meet up with Tennessee in the second round. I’m pretty sure tournament teams playing in their home state are significantly better against the spread. It won’t be an easy road, as they’ll likely face Tennessee and Purdue back to back if they make a run but I don’t mind taking a shot at +1800.
Casale: I thought my Wisconsin pick would chap your backside after you nailed Oregon to win the Pac-12 Tournament. Cincinnati was my other sleeper pick. I’m big on Tennessee but not happy they will face the Bearcats in Round 2. And they will face the Bearcats because Cincinnati is going to eat Iowa alive.
Pick to Win
Casale: I’m going with Tennessee +280. Some people aren’t high on the Vols but I thought Tennessee was one of the most consistent teams I watched all year long. They can win multiple different ways and they have a star player in Grant Williams. I do think Virginia will make a run this year after it’s embarrassing first round lost last season but the Cavaliers are +125 at FanDuel and Tennessee +280. I’ll take the better value with the Vols.
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Schmitto: Though Cincinnati is my dark horse, Purdue is actually my pick to come out of this region at +700. I think Virginia and Tennessee are both beatable, and Purdue impressively snagged a share of the Big Ten title after losing key players from last year’s Sweet 16 team. Purdue proved they can shoot from downtown, leading the Big Ten in 3-point shooting. Averaging 23.5 points per game, Carsen Edwards is one of the best players in the nation and is a candidate for the Wooden Award. Purdue will go as far as Edwards can carry them. At +700, I hope it’s all the way to Minneapolis.