NCAA Tournament Betting Preview: West Region
Overview: The West Region is loaded with decorated coaches, from mismatch mastermind Lon Kruger to pack line pioneer Tony Bennett. However, their trophy cases and sterling resumes won’t help them solve what appears to be an unstoppable force in Gonzaga. All eyes are on Mark Few and the Zags who enter the tournament as a heavy favorite to march on to the Final Four (-230 at DraftKings). The region also features two powerhouse programs in the midst of COVID issues, Virginia and Kansas. Unsurprisingly, betting vultures are already targeting their respective opponents, Ohio and Eastern Washington, after we witnessed countless mid-season COVID shutdowns cripple all types of teams.
Favorites: This is unquestionably Gonzaga’s kingdom with the biggest barriers, Iowa, Virginia and Kansas, all falling victim to the Zags by double-digits during the regular season. Perhaps the winner of Oklahoma and Mizzou in the 8 vs. 9 tilt could possibly, in a galaxy far, far away, give the Zags a scare? Not going to happen. For my money, which is currently invested in a Gonzaga -230 future to win the West Region, they have this sucker sewn up.
If it weren’t for the ultimate boss waiting in the wings, the +1150 price listed next to the 5th-seeded Creighton Blue Jays would look like a typo. Off the court distractions aside, the jump shootin’ Jays were quietly banged up down the stretch, and serious mileage began taking a toll on heavy used starters Marcus Zegarowsi and Mitch Ballock. This may have contributed to Creighton’s feast-or-famine performances over the final month of the year. But the silver lining is that the Jays are now criminally underpriced in the futures market. Again, the Zags are lurking in the Sweet 16 but never count out a great coach (Greg McDermott) with an electric floor general (Zegarowski) in March.
Darkhorses: If you refuse to subscribe to the Gonzaga mutual fund, Oregon at +2500 is an enticing flyer on the bottom half of the region. Akin to Jim Boeheim’s March magic, the 7th-seeded Ducks are always a tough out under Dana Altman. Altman is notorious for his endless bag of defensive tricks that routinely bewilder opponents, particularly with minimal time to prepare. Dating back to 2016, Oregon is 9-3 ATS in the postseason, covering by a whopping six points a game. USC isn’t getting much ink but the Trojans haven’t done much wrong this season. Behind a budding star in Evan Mobley and a giant frontline, Andy Enfield’s constructed an impenetrable interior fortress. The college basketball statheads will tell you that 2-point field goal percentage defense is an excellent predictor of long term defensive success and the Trojans boast the second-best clip nationally. Odds of +1000 as a sixth seed doesn’t look like a bargain without context but Kansas and Iowa are vulnerable in their own regards in the bottom half of the bracket.
Picks: For starters, the entire world seems to be picking on poor Virginia off that aforementioned COVID bomb. Without a standard preparation schedule, UVA will be climbing an uphill battle against the cerebral Ohio Bobcats; a well coached squad under the direction of Jeff Boals. If that’s not enough, Ohio is led by one of the top pro prospects in the mid-major domain in Jason Preston. Preston is a baby-faced assassin who can touch his chin on the backboard and one of multiple Bobcats with pro-level range — a critical element needed to bust the sturdy pack line defense. All that said, the current price of +7.5 is too low. The market steam sharpened this number out quickly and should be a stay-away if you missed out. Instead, turn your attention to the bottom portion of the bracket, where Iowa faces a pesky 15th-seed in Grand Canyon.
After being foolishly ousted at Vanderbilt, Bryce Drew took all but one year to parlay the Atnelopes’ premier talent supply in to WAC Champions. Drew spiced up that recipe with newcomer Asbjorn Midtgaard, a 7-foot tower in the middle. The Danish destroyer was a little used reserve at Wichita State but Drew has molded him into a defensive weapon. To be clear, no one in the country can shut down Luka Garza. But Midtgaard is a deceptively mobile skyscraper that will force Garza’s supporting cast to chip in offensively. If Drew wins the tempo tug-of-war, GCU +14 or higher is a worthy investment. The Lopes closed as an 11-point underdog against Colorado on a neutral floor earlier in the year and played them to a stalemate for 37 minutes.
For a West Region appetizer, take a gander at Appalachian State laying -3 in the play-in round. The Mountaineers’ out of body experience in the Sun Belt Tournament was a storybook run; four wins in four days, two of which in overtime. When in doubt, always back good coaches with time to prepare. Dustin Kearns isn’t a brand name but he’s a rising star among the mid-major coaching landscape. Against Norfolk State, a predominantly zone team on defense, the Mountaineers’ should have no problem finding open looks from long range and few shooters are as locked in as Michael Almonacy, who canned 20 threes during his team’s four-game Sun Belt tournament run.
Follow Three Man Weave’s Matt Cox @matty_cox.