How To Bet On The First Round Of The NCAA Tourney: South 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 South 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, (Mid)west Region gamblin’ guide and East region gamblin’ guide, if you haven’t already.

1 Kansas (-20) vs. 16 Western Kentucky

KenPom ranking: Kansas (8), Western Kentucky (185)

Kansas might be underrated. Nobody is talking about them because they’re vulnerable, but every team is vulnerable. These dudes won at Ohio State. They didn’t prove much on the road besides that, but they didn’t have a ton of opportunities. They had a few bad games because their offense sputters at times. Their main concern is probably Elijah Johnson, because he has the ball all of the time yet turns it over 26.5% of the time. Give this man the ball 3.8 times, and he likely has coughed it up once. This will not be a problem against Western Kentucky, though. But remember this for later, guys.

Western Kentucky is basically the Western Kentucky Elijah Johnsons. They turn the ball over on 22.4% of possessions, and they have a freshman named Percy Blade who doesn’t play a ton, but has a turnover rate of 39.7%. He probably won’t play any meaningful minutes, but I felt the need to call him out publicly. Sorry, Mr. Blade.

The Hilltoppers lost to Louisville by 23 and VCU by 32. Against VCU, they turned the ball over 32 times. 45.7% of their possessions. They are bad and barely won their godawful conference to earn the right to be embarrassed on national television. I’m not comfortable laying 20 points, but if you’re betting anything, bet Kansas.

ATS Pick: Pass, lean Kansas -20
Bracket Pick: hahaha, Kansas

8 North Carolina (-4) vs. 9 Villanova

KenPom ranking: UNC (28), Villanova (44)

I’ve seen people say that UNC will beat Kansas. Lots of people. I guess since UNC is actually underrated, for once, people have to get carried away and label them dangerous. Oooooh, I’m terrified of this team that lost to Butler by 11 and Indiana by 23 and Texas and had zero good wins away from home. Their only “good wins” are at home vs. NC State, at home vs. Virginia and at home vs. UNLV. Cool story, UNC. You guys suck.

There is one thing the Tar Heels are good at, though, and that is keeping teams off of the free throw line. Villanova is a very bad shooting team and only scores more than six points a game because they are No. 1 in the entire country in the ratio of free throws taken to field goals. They get more points from free throws than any team in the country. They are freeloaders, and North Carolina don’t like dem folk. Villanova is probably going to score six points. The Tar Heels play fast and will grab all of the Wildcats 96 missed shots and turn them into more than 10 points, so they will cover easily. (I think).

This is an awful matchup for Villanova so an awful team should win. Then people can hype UNC up and you can bet on Kansas and watch them crush brackets by shocking the world and making the Sweet 16 as a one-seed.

ATS Pick: UNC -4
Bracket Pick: UNC, but that doesn’t mean they’re good

5 VCU (-8) vs. 12 Akron

KenPom ranking: VCU (22), Akron (54)

Jay Bilas picked VCU to make the Final Four, which marks the first time a prominent “expert” has shown that he possesses balls. I mean, Dan Wetzel is a fantastic writer, but it doesn’t seem very fun filling in your bracket with chalk, especially when you know no results will ever look like his bracket. I think “experts” in sports media should have their names permanently changed to blathering eunuchs. That would be fun.

Oh yeah, VCU. They’re a good team, but a weird team. If their “HAVOC” is working and they can force turnovers, they can beat anyone. If their opponent takes care of the ball, they can look ugly (a la two losses vs. St. Louis). If you want to understand HAVOC, read this.

Akron turns the ball over a lot. They are 202nd in TO%, despite playing in the MAC. They also are missing their talented point guard. This is bad news, which is why this line was bet up from -6. I’m not comfortable taking this at -8 because Akron plays very good defense and knows HAVOC well, but if this gets back down to -6.5 or so, fire away.

But Michigan may await the Commonwealth next round, and they have the lowest turnover rate in the country. Sorry, Jay Bilas plagiarizers.

ATS Pick: VCU, but only if it gets back down to -6.5 or so
Bracket Pick: VCU

4 Michigan (-11) vs. 13 South Dakota State

KenPom ranking: Michigan (11), Akron (102)

Ah, Michigan is undervalued for the time since very early in the year, and that makes me happy as a betting man and a Wolverine. I haven’t been able to bet on them in quite some time. They have absolutely struggled down the stretch, but only one of their seven losses was to a team outside of the top 10 in KenPom. They overlooked a starving, improving Penn State team with Michigan State on deck. It was embarrassing, but it happens all the time in college basketball. If this team was in any other conference (though you could say that about Wisconsin, OSU and MSU, too), they could easily be a No. 1 seed. Don’t sleep on them.

They’re playing a worse version of themselves in SDSU. You’ll want to watch Nate Wolters, because he is mid-major Trey Burke. SDSU lost at Minnesota by 24, and they will likely lose by a lot here. They are ninth in the country in 3-point percentage, so I’m not comfortable backing Michigan -11. Michigan should win by more than 11, but there’s no need to bet on it.

(They beat New Mexico on the road, though, and with Wolters, anything can happen. My famous last words, perhaps.)

ATS Pick: Pass, lean Michigan -11
Bracket Pick: Michigan

6 UCLA vs. 11 Minnesota (-3)

KenPom ranking: UCLA (46), Minnesota (23)

UCLA beat Arizona three times. Aside from that, their resume looks like a fat, spoiled middle schooler’s. A name and three big cupcake stains. And they lost Jordan Adams for the season, who might be their most valuable player, much disrespect to talented 1-on-5 baller Shabazz Muhammad, who doesn’t like it when his teammates hit buzzer beaters and doesn’t have an A-button on his controller. Every button is shoot.

Minnesota is talented but was overmatched in the scary Big Ten. They get an absurd amount of offensive rebounds and they commit an absurd amount of turnovers. They play very good defense. Minnesota will dominate UCLA on the offensive boards, and UCLA will dominate the turnover battle. The teams match each other’s strengths, so I don’t know what will happen.

Trendy SportsCenter watchers are picking Minnesota in the “upset” because they are favored, but we all know that wouldn’t be an upset. The absence of Jordan Adams and the logical certainty that Shabazz Muhammad will shoot 916 times to boost his draft stock certainly makes me lean Minny in my bracket, but I don’t see value here against the spread.

ATS Pick: Pass, lean Minnesota if you can’t get rid of that itch
Bracket Pick: Minnesota

3 Florida (-20.5) vs. 14 Northwestern State

KenPom ranking: Florida (1), Northwestern State (129)

Florida is the most efficient team in the country, so trendy number hipsters like Muslim communist SportsCenter guest Barack Obama are picking them to go to the Final Four and beyond. This is certainly possible, but a team with zero impressive road/neutral wins shouldn’t inspire this much confidence. They are awful late in games, partially because they are bad free throw shooters. They also rely very much on 3-pointers. They are exceptional at them, but they aren’t immune to cold shooting.

But Northwestern State is not the team to not off these nerdy hipster deities. Northwestern State plays at the fastest pace in the nation, but they aren’t particularly good. Florida beats bad teams by lots of points. Since KenPom faps to Florida and he only has them winning by 22, though, this isn’t a strong bet.

ATS Pick: Pass, lean Florida
Bracket Pick: FloriDUH

7 San Diego State (-3) vs. 10 Oklahoma

KenPom ranking: SDSU (26), Oklahoma (51)

San Diego State has a skeletal resume away from home. They would flaunt neutral court wins over UCLA and Boise State if pressed in a job interview, then flee the room if asked to name another. They did hold New Mexico to 34 points at home, though, which is fun.

Oklahoma is very bleh too, and didn’t even bother making an away-from-home resume because it would only contain a win over Scott Drew, which is like including Bullying Remedial Students on your resume. They beat Kansas at home, which is fun.

I don’t see a reason to bet either team. SDSU does have an elite defense, so they’re my bracket pick. They’re much better than Oklahoma at defending. But there’s no reason to lay three points with a bad offense.

ATS Pick: Just (don’t) do it
Bracket Pick: San Diego State

2 Georgetown (-13.5) vs. 15 Florida Gulf Coast

KenPom ranking: SDSU (26), Oklahoma (51)

What a name, those Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles have. Map enthusiasts, they must be. If they win the whole tourney, they’ll go on to the World Championships to play the Norway Norwegian Sea College Salmon-Shorts-Sporting Seamen.

This game has minimal upset potential, but probably the highest of any of the 2-15 games. Florida Gulf Coast beat Miami (at home), in the second game of the year, despite shooting 1-for-11 on 3-pointers. The Eagles will play some zone and pressure the ball (they’re 25th in steal percentage). Georgetown doesn’t take great care of the ball, so the Boys from the Gulf could squeeze out some extra possessions (though they don’t take care of the ball, either).

Ultimately, I don’t think FLAGULF has a shot. They’re a bad 3-point shooting team, so it’ll be tough for them to pull a stunner. And Georgetown has Otto Porter. Barring an unexpected fire on the Gulf Coast, I don’t see this happening.

I lean Georgetown ATS because of their defense, but their slow pace and mediocre offense makes them hard to trust with a 13.5 point spread against a team they might overlook.

ATS Pick: Pass, lean Georgetown
Bracket Pick: Georgetown

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