EAST REGION PREVIEW:
Perhaps no region feels as wide open as the East. Some of that is because of the failings of Villanova as a #2 seed last tourney. But I think a bigger part of the skepticism is the fact that Villanova plays in the Big East and by virtue of that affiliation, plays most of their games on the lesser-viewed Fox Sports Network as opposed to the ESPN juggernaut. I also think that is a big reason for a lot of the Big East seeding backlash, but if you’ll recall back to November and December, no major league acquitted itself any better in the preconference season than the Big East. And with six of the ten teams being tourney bound, and the four that weren’t being reasonably competitive (especially compared to the dregs of the Pac 12, SEC, and ACC) perhaps Villanova is better than most are giving them credit.
Or perhaps the reason is the simple fact that while Virginia’s resume might have merited #1 seed consideration, the simple eye test since Justin Anderson was injured leaves them feeling like a vulnerable two seed.
So who emerges from the East? And can we have some good value wagers hiding in the weeds? Let’s dive in with the East Region Preview.
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Villanova (9/5) – The ‘Cats are actually a really good value at close to two to one odds. Villanova lost just twice this entire season, and when you look not just at their wins but at the margins, you see a team that deserves a TON of respect. They have beaten Illinois, VCU (before Webber got hurt) and Temple, all by more than 14 points. They beat a healthy Michigan team, Syracuse, Xavier and Providence three times apiece, Georgetown, and frankly everyone else who crossed their path. Their only blemishes were an off-night at Georgetown and an early game at Seton Hall. They haven’t lost in 16 games and have looked awesome.
Villanova, like all the formidable contenders, has a veteran point guard who controls the game in Arcidiacano, but they are far more than that. They have size, shooting, good quickness and defensive prowess and they grab boards. It’s Jay Wright’s most complete team at Villanova, and their relative anonymity provides a nice value wager.
Virginia (11/5) – I am not in on UVA. Justin Anderson didn’t score in the ACC Tournament. Not like casual “hey, Anderson isn’t scoring” but the literal “he DIDN’T score.” That’s a problem. Despite the low scoring totals, they were actually a fantastic offensive team pre-injury; ranking in the top ten in the nation in defensive efficiency. They’ve fallen all the way to 27th since. It’s not the same team as they were in January and I don’t think they make it through this bracket.
Michigan State (12/1) – If you don’t think Izzo has the Spartans peaking again at the right time, watch the tape of the Big Ten Championship Game. They went toe to toe with Wisky on a neutral floor for 40 minutes. I think they roll Georgia in the opener and beat UVA in the second round (assuming UVA gets past Belmont. Seriously.) From there? All bets are off, a la UConn last season.
Oklahoma (9/1) – Again, if this region is wide open, then there is some great value in the Sooners. Buddy Hield can fill it up in a major way and the Sooners have beaten UCLA, Tulsa, Butler and every single good team in the Big 12 (KU, ISU, WVU, Baylor, etc) at least once. Yes, they have ten losses, but they have also shown they can BEAT anyone on any given day.
This is the bracket for a long shot if you are so inclined. Here’s my two favorites.
Providence (33/1) – Kris Dunn. Learn the name. The dude’s a stud and the type of player than can carry a team on a long run. They have a potentially tricky matchup if they get Dayton in the opening round in Columbus (a short drive from Dayton, who has a good fan base) and then obviously, Oklahoma would likely loom next. But in a bracket that could bust all over the place, they seem to have a decent shot to get to the Elite Eight. At 33/1, you’d have some awesome hedge opportunities.
Dayton (50/1) – The Flyers got screwed getting sent to the play-in game, and they made the Elite Eight last year with largely the same core. Don’t be stunned if Archie Miller conjures up a little more magic this season. At 50/1, they could also be worth the same hedge opportunity flyer.
My Pick: Villanova Wildcats (9/5) – but I’m really tempted with BOTH value plays
There’s some danger lurking all over the place in this bracket, but I’ll go with Wyoming and Larry Nance, Jr. putting a major scare in Northern Iowa and a TRUE longshot, Belmont stunning Virginia.