March Madness Betting: West Region Preview

March Madness Betting: West Region Preview

March Madness Betting: West Region Preview
By Robert Ferringo

With two of the tournament favorites (Kansas and UCLA), three other classic programs (Duke, Indiana and Kentucky), a pair of Top 10 staples from this season (Pittsburgh and Southern Illinois) and some dangerous mid-Majors (Holy Cross, VCU and Wright State), the West Region could be one of the most perilous places for bettors to earn a buck this month.

The smart money has UCLA and Kansas squaring off in a must-see Elite Eight contest. But chalk washes off. There are potential pitfalls for each that lurk in earlier rounds.

Besides that, there are plenty of potential mentor-pupil match-ups that could occur down the line. Illinois coach Bruce Weber could face Southern Illinois, the school he took to the Elite Eight not so long ago, in the second round. Also, UCLA’s Ben Howland could cross paths with good friend and former assistant Jamie Dixon (Pitt) in the Sweet 16.

With the luxury of not having to wander out of The State of Schwarzenegger, the Bruins have to be considered the favorite. They play in Sacramento in the opening rounds before rolling over to San Jose for the regionals at HP Pavilion. UCLA benefited from the same scenario last year en-route to the Final Four, kicking it in San Diego and Oakland before wandering to St. Louis.

I suppose sometimes winners do finish No. 2.

Here’s one man’s look at the West (San Jose) Region:

No. 1 Seed: Kansas (30-4 overall, 16-16 against the spread)

With depth, strength and an average margin victory of 16.3 points over their last 11 games the Jayhawks have been the best team in the nation over the past month. They are the Big 12 regular season and tournament champions and they have beaten Florida on a neutral court. You should know all about their talent level by now. But there is one huge negative about this team: they have flamed out in the first round of each of the last two years against inferior opponents. If they make it out of the first weekend I think they’re bound for Atlanta. That’s still a big if.

No. 2 Seed: UCLA (29-5 overall, 16-12-1 ATS)
With an 8-1 SU mark against the RPI Top 50, the Bruins seemed a lock as a No. 1 seed. But their late season swoon bumped them down to a protected No. 2 where they don’t have to leave the state of California until the Final Four. This is an outstanding team – solid defensively and with the experience of making it to the championship game. However, two things worry me. First, they are just 3-6 ATS in the last month and have just two “good” wins in their last eight. They fell far behind against Arizona State before pulling that win out and did the same thing in the loss against Cal.

No. 3 Seed: Pittsburgh (27-7 overall, 16-14 ATS)
It’s tough to get the vision of the Panthers getting an Abu Ghraib-style beat down in the Big East title game out of my mind. They were languid and overmatched, and looked nothing like the team that was camped out in the Top 10 for most of the season. They are just 3-7 ATS in their last 10 games and sinking quickly. Their only hope is that Aaron Gray decides to play up to just half of the hype surrounding him, because right now the center is the most overrated player in the country.

No. 4 Seed: Southern Illinois (24-8 overall, 17-9 ATS)
The Salukis are renowned for their defensive prowess (No. 3 in the nation at 56.3 points allowed per game) and are experienced, returning all five starters from last year’s 21-win crew. Southern Illinois is an automatic play as an underdog, posting a 5-2 ATS mark when getting points. However, they may not get into a position as a dog. Their first round game is against a tough Holy Cross club, and SIU is just 2-7-1 ATS in their last 10 games as a favorite of 6.0 or greater. Their strength is the backcourt tandem of Jamal Tatum and Tony Young, and look out for frontcourt studs Randall Falker and Matt Shaw. 

No. 5 Seed: Virginia Tech (21-11 overall, 14-15 ATS)
The Hokies are a maddeningly inconsistent team with a high ceiling and the potential for a quick flameout. They feature two senior guards (Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon) that can play with anyone in the nation and an athletic and experienced frontcourt that matches up well with opening round opponent Illinois. Tech getting swept by N.C. State showed that the Hokies have trouble playing a half court game. The bad news is that if they get past Illinois they will likely play another down-tempo team in Southern Illinois.

Best first-round match-up: No. 8 Kentucky vs. No. 9 Villanova

There are several juicy subplots at work here and both teams have proven that they can play with and beat the best teams in the country. Kentucky gave UCLA and Florida scares this year and Nova has shot down Georgetown.

Best potential second-round match-up: No. 10 Gonzaga vs. No. 2 UCLA
This would be a rematch of these schools’ classic Sweet 16 game last year that the Bruins won in dramatic fashion. UCLA has struggled against teams with outstanding perimeter play and the Zags fit that mold to a “T”. Gonzaga won’t be scared of the Bruins. They’ve already beaten North Carolina and have played a schedule that would even make John Cheney wet his Depends.

Upset Alert (first round): No. 6 Duke vs. No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth
Controversy has surrounded the Blue Devils for the past month or so, culminated by their upset overtime loss to N.C. State in the ACC Tournament. VCU is a very talented team and their pressing style could cause problems for the shaky Blue Devil guards. The Rams are the No. 15 3-point shooting team in the country. If they’re hitting from the outside they could pull the upset here with an outright win. However, the Blue Devils have made nine consecutive Sweet Sixteens.

Upset Alert (second round): No. 9 Villanova vs. No. 1 Kansas

If Nova can handle Kentucky’s size and depth I think they could knock off the region’s top seed. Again, Kansas has an awful recent tournament track record. Villanova can defend, is an outstanding free throw shooting club, and if Scottie Reynolds and Mike Nardi are knocking down triples they could become a bracket buster. Several of these players suited up for the Wildcats three years ago when they took eventual champ North Carolina to the wire.

Dark Horse team: No. 6 Duke
Look, you know I hate the Blue Devils with all of my might. But I’m not an idiot. Duke may not be up to the level of past seasons but they’re still a quality team. They went 4-1 SU against nonconference teams that made the tournament and lost three games in overtime by an average of three points. They play great defense and because they were overseeded they don’t have too tough a draw. And don’t forget that Coach K is the best in the business

Team That Makes Me Nervous: No. 5 Virginia Tech

The Hokies have the potential to make a deep run and have the athleticism to get up and down with Kansas in the Sweet 16. They swept North Carolina, and any team that can do that could make the Final Four. But they also have some serious Red Flag Losses to Marshall, Western Michigan, Wake Forest and N.C. State (thrice). They’re an all-or-nothing crew, and teams like that are dangerous for betters this time of year.

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