NCAA Tournament Betting Preview: South Region
Overview: The South Region features plenty of NCAA Tournament pedigree with six teams (Ohio State, Texas Tech, North Carolina, Villanova, Florida, and Wisconsin) having made at least one Final Four appearance over the last decade. Not included on that list is Baylor, who is an incredible 50-6 straight up over the last two seasons. It’s also a region ripe for upsets. We’ve seen early money come in on Winthrop (opened +7.5 now +6.5) vs. Villanova as well as Colgate (opened +10.5 now +8.5) vs. Arkansas. And Purdue can’t be pleased with its draw against a North Texas squad that plays defense as well as most teams in the Big Ten.
Favorites: Baylor is the South’s top seed and rightfully so as the Bears rolled through the Big 12 regular season to the tune of 13-1. I don’t put any stock into Scott Drew never having reached the Final Four. He’s got two Elite Eight appearances under his belt with far less talented squads. In terms of odds to win the region, there isn’t a sport or time of year where it pays more to shop around. I’ve seen the Bears as high as -250 at one prominent sportsbook (an obscene price that shouldn’t even be considered) while others are in the +150 range. Following that, we see Ohio State (+400) and Purdue (+650). Ohio State is an interesting study. The Buckeyes closed the regular season with four straight losses — three of which at home — and none were overly fluky. In the Big Ten tournament, OSU then limped past Minnesota, nearly choked away a comfortable lead in an overtime win over Purdue, did the same in a one-point win over Michigan, and then lost to Illinois in overtime in the title game. It’s well documented the Big Ten was merciless this season and “current form” is an incredibly overrated handicapping angle this time of year. But even when the going was good, Ohio State never came across as a team that screamed deep postseason run. And I’ll never get past that 10th-rated defensive efficiency mark in league play — the lowest of any of the eight Big Ten teams to reach the tournament. With a far better defense and better price, Purdue offers more value. Plus, Villanova without Collin Gillespie is a potential big score for the Boilermakers should both teams meet up in the second round. In the end, you certainly won’t catch me laying a price with Baylor to win the region but with Ohio State the second highest power rated team of the group, only Gonzaga has an “easier” path to the Final Four out of the four no. 1 seeds.
Darkhorses: Texas Tech is a team that may be undervalued. The Red Raiders, who reached last year’s title game, went from allowing 28.4% from deep last year in Big 12 play to 38.3% this season. They were also dead last in FTA/FGA defense meaning they sent their opponents to the free throw line at an ridiculously high rate. Poor three-point defense over the span of 17 games, especially for a team that is a perennial power house on the defensive end, is correctable. If TTU allowed, say, 34%, we’d be looking at this team in a far different (and positive) light. Add in the physical and whistle swallowing nature of the NCAA Tournament and you can start to envision TTU making a run. Next we get to two “brand name” teams who are both around +1000. One of which is going the be bounced in the first round with North Carolina facing Wisconsin. The Tar Heels pose a bigger threat to Baylor, but I also don’t trust them to win the type of game the Badgers like to play. Lastly, keep an eye on Virginia Tech. The Hokies had a late season COVID pause and as a result, played just one game in March. But give me VT head coach Mike Young over Florida head coach Mike White any day of the week. Coupled with Ohio State being a bit overvalued and Tech’s funky guard-heavy attack, and I could see the Hokies shimmy their way into the regional finals.
Picks: Few head coaches in the country game plan for a specific opponent better than North Texas’ Grant McCasland. And there’s one thing he’s shown a refusal to do and that’s play anything but a methodical pace. Over the last two seasons, the Mean Green played up-tempo Arkansas twice and the final games scores were 109 and 123. West Virginia doesn’t mind playing an up-and-down game either yet when it played North Texas, the end result was a 64-possession, 62-50 win. Loyola Chicago, who plays a very similar bruiser-type of style to that of Purdue, faced UNT earlier this season and won a slobberknocker, 57-49. Point spreads in the 6-8 range are always ripe for fouls at the end which means I’ll have something on the first half UNDER.
I’m going to stick to my guns in terms of Texas Tech’s statistical profile regressing positively to the mean. And it’s really the perfect opponent to test my theory. Utah State doesn’t shoot a lot of 3-pointers (289th 3PA/FGA rate) and doesn’t get to the free throw line a lot (230th FTA/FGA). Most of the Aggies’ damage come from Neemias Queta and Justin Bean scoring inside the arc. The Red Raiders meanwhile do two things really well defensively: They don’t allow 2’s and, when they do, they defend them really well (21st nationally). And while Queta will be five inches taller than anyone of the court for TTU, I trust that Chris Beard will be aggressive with double teams and switching defenses to limit his touches. Lay the points with Texas Tech.