How To Bet On The First Round Of The NCAA Tourney: East Region

  • Matt Rudnitsky

You should fill out a March Madness Bracket (or seven of them, if you’re one of those assholes). They’re fun. But you know you likely won’t win, and there’s a decent chance you’ll be screwed after one or two rounds. But there’s a way to ensure excitement, and if you’re smart, make str8 ca$h even if you get plenty of games wrong. That would be betting on individual games, which is fun and will have you cheering for meaningless baskets in long-decided games. Yay, degeneratism.

Here’s my first round primer for the East Region, where I will do my best to help you not lose money betting on the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It is easy to lose money if you don’t spend sufficient time analyzing matchups. While you were out contributing to society, I was researching the March Madness gambling lines. I stimulate the economy, too.

Note: The NCAA Tournament is very hard to bet on. Honestly, there’s more value in the tournaments that nobody watches (NIT, CBI, etc.). But we will be watching, so let’s do our best to profit. It can be done, if we put our minds to it.

Check out my West Region gamblin’ guide and my (Mid)west Region gamblin’ guide, if you haven’t already.

1 Indiana (-∞) vs. 16 LIU/James Madison

KenPom ranking: Indiana (2), LIU (182), James Madison (180)

We have to wait ’til tomorrow to find out the spread, but I project it to be ∞. I think Indiana will cover said spread. #Oladipope

ATS Pick: Indiana -∞
Bracket Pick: Indiana

8 NC State (-4.5) vs. 9 Temple

KenPom ranking: NC State (35), Temple (69)

NC State is getting a lot of hype for a team that doesn’t play defense, but their offense is elite and the talent is there. It makes sense. They deserve some hype, just not lots of it. Temple is overseeded and not especially good. They aren’t a good 3-point shooting team, yet they shoot a lot of threes. They are like the leading scorer on your child’s rec team.

They beat VCU at home, which was impressive. But their one strength is limiting turnovers, and that’s exactly how you beat VCU. Anything can happen if the Owls hit their threes (I’m now picturing an Owl playing blackjack), but there’s a very good chance of NC State advancing and covering.

And if they win, NC State will get the honor of losing to Indiana, because that’s what you get when you are the preseason No. 6 team because of your talent, but you refuse to play defense. If they somehow beat the Hoosiers, I guess all will be forgiven, deservedly. But they won’t. Nice coaching, Mark Gottfried. You know, after you recruit the players, you have to coach them, too.

ATS Pick: NC State -4.5
Bracket Pick: NC State

5 UNLV (-3) vs. 12 California

KenPom ranking: UNLV (34), Cal (60)

UNLV was 17-3 at home, because they have Vegas strippers give the pregame speeches, or something. Yet they were just 7-12 ATS at home, because oddsmakers know about these strippers or whatever it is that makes them so tough at home. Both teams were bad against the spread, overall, meaning they were relative disappointments.

The Runnin’ Rebels (not to be confused with the Ole Miss Rebels who like to run in their fast-paced offense) did virtually nothing of note on the road this year. But they did beat Cal on the road, by one, despite a poor shooting night. They got a lot of offensive rebounds and Cal made just 53.6% of their free throws, which explains the result. Cal beat Arizona on the road, but they needed un-Cal-like 3-point shooting success, and that’s about all I’m impressed with.

I don’t like either team, but there are no ties in March Madness (except for this zany one!). Both teams do play very good defense, but neither shoots well. Cal is really tall.

This game stumps me, so I will side with Vegas, with both their favorite and their hometown squad. Synergy!

ATS Pick: Pass, lean UNLV, but take that gun away from my head, please
Bracket Pick: UNLV

4 Syracuse (-12) vs. 13 Montana

KenPom ranking: Syracuse (13), Montana (144)

Syracuse gives up a lot of 3-point attempts, but opponents typically make a low percentage of them. Opponents shoot more threes against the Orange than virtually any team, but they make the 16th-lowest percentage. Typically opponent’s 3PT% is meaningless, but the Boeheim Exception is a sorta-real thing that they should teach you in statistics class.

You should care about this because Montana is a very good shooting team overall and the 31st-best 3-point shooting team (37.8%). They will shoot a lot of threes, and if they make them, they have a shot here.

But Syracuse struggles when teams play good defense, and Montana does not play good defense. Syracuse will miss shots like they always do, but they’ll dominate the offensive boards and the transition game.

Anything can happen if Montana makes threes, but Syracuse’s length and athleticism will be overwhelming. Oh yeah, the Grizzlies are also missing their leading scorer. This is why that Grizzly is sad.

ATS Pick: Syracuse -12
Bracket Pick: Syracuse

6 Butler (-4) vs. 11 Bucknell

KenPom ranking: Butler (53), Bucknell (62)

Try to keep your private bodily areas inside of your pants when analyzing a Brad Stevens team, guys. I know it’s hard (pun intended). Yes, the Bulldogs beat Indiana, and yes, Brad Stevens gives them the coaching advantage against almost anyone. But this isn’t a great team, and they struggle with turnovers. Fortunately for Butler, though, Bucknell is one of the worst teams in the country at forcing turnovers.

But Bucknell, like Butler, is very good at defense. They are 4th nationally in opponent’s effective FG%. Their defensive rebounding and 2-point defense are both exceptional, which matches up perfectly with Butler’s only offensive strengths. Also, Bucknell’s Mike Muscala is very, very good, and you should watch him.

I don’t think Butler should be favored, and Brad Stevens is not worth four points by himself. It’s still in your pants, right? Butler is overvalued because everyone knows them. Four points is a lot. Take advantage.

ATS Pick: Bucknell +4
Bracket Pick: I think this is 50-50, so I’ll pick Bucknell because I’m BOLD

3 Marquette (-3.5) vs. 14 Davidson

KenPom ranking: Marquette (25), Davidson (59)

Davidson failed its multiple non-conference tests, but then ran through their overmatched conference. We don’t really know how they’ll perform here. Marquette should be favored, but Davidson has a legitimate shot at the upset.

A few things to know: Davidson, despite their mention conjuring the image of Stephen Curry, is very strong down low. Davidson is not small, although that sounds like an oxymoron. Marquette’s strength is in the paint, and Davidson can counter that. Marquette is pathetic at at 3-point shooting (30.1%), so this appears to be a bad matchup for them. The Golden Eagles like to give other teams the ball often, but Davidson isn’t very opportunistic on defense. The way Marquette gets around their awful outside shooting is with offensive rebounds, but Davidson is a very good defensive rebounding team.

Marquette is the better team. But Davidson shoots it much better than Marquette, and this is a good matchup for the Wildcats. These Cats are also the best free throw shooting team in the country (80.1%). I’m not especially confident in this pick against the spread, but I think it’s worth a small bet, and I think it’s a great upset shot to take in your bracket.

ATS Pick: Davidson +3.5
Bracket Pick: Davidson

7 Illinois (-1.5) vs. 10 Colorado

KenPom ranking: Illinois (42), Colorado (48)

Colorado has been the more consistent team, but Illinois has more upside (they won at Gonzaga, vs. OSU, vs. Indiana, at Minnesota and on neutral vs. Minnesota).

Here’s Illinois’ deal. They shoot more threes than virtually anyone, yet they are bad at them. Logic. They are capable and shot well in non-conference play, but slumped badly for most of the Big Ten season. Colorado allows a lot of threes, but will Illinois make them?

As for Colorado, they don’t shoot well either. They have one major strength on offense: getting to the line (though they’re not great free-throw shooters). That’s their strength on defense, too — keeping teams off the line. But that’s not really an issue for triple-loving Illinois. Illinois should win the turnover battle handily, but Colorado could dominate the offensive boards.

If the Fightin’ Outside Shooters make their outside shots, this could be a blowout. Beating Miami in the next round isn’t a stretch. If they suddenly make all of the threes they expected to make throughout the year, they could keep winning. They could win the NCAA Tournament and then go on to beat the Bobcats and the Monstars.

More likely, they’ll win one game, max.

ATS Pick: Pass, lean Illinois
Bracket Pick: Illinois, sans confidence

2 Miami (-12) vs. 15 Pacific

KenPom ranking: Miami (14), Pacific (120)

Miami is overrated. They already lost to a 15-seed, this year (at Florida Gulf Coast by 12). They lost by 19 on a neutral court to Arizona. They lost to Indiana State, at Wake Forest and at home vs. Georgia Tech. They are certainly a good team, but they are certainly overrated and can certainly lose to a team worse than them, even a team named after an ocean. The fact that a 2 vs. 15 game has a spread of just -12 should scare you a bit.

Pacific isn’t great, but they’re 13th nationally in 3PT% (39.1) and they take care of the ball. They were destroyed in their two tough games (at Gonzaga and St. Mary’s), but a big reason was that they got dominated on the offensive boards, something Miami does very little of.

Miami should absolutely win. But if Florida Gulf Coast can beat Miami despite shooting 1-for-11 on 3-pointers, Pacific can beat Miami by shooting normally from down under the sea town. I’m not picking against Miami, but there are dumber upset picks to make than this.

ATS Pick: idk my bff miami i guess but don’t bet
Bracket Pick: Miami