It's time to keep our region-by-region NCAA Tournament betting previews rolling.
After Jake Faigus shared his thoughts on the South, where top-seed Alabama begins its journey this March, it's time for me to look at the East.
The East is intriguing, with a team that many consider to be the "weakest" No. 1, along with a boat load of potential other intriguing squads, including No. 5 seed Duke, No. 6 seed Kentucky and No. 8 seed Memphis. Oh, and No. 2 and 3 seeds Marquette and Kansas are good enough to win this region and advance to Houston as well.
Here is our full gambling preview, with picks, predictions and upset specials - with odds provided by Betfred Sportsbook.
The Favorite - Purdue +320
While Purdue is the favorite to come out of this region, they have the toughest road to the Final Four out of any No. 1 seed, by a large margin. While the Boilers definitely did deserve a No. 1 seed, a lot of that is based on the work they did early in the non-conference season and it is apparent that a lot of the teams that Purdue beat up on early in the season have gotten significantly better since the Boilermakers played them, most notably Gonzaga and Duke. Purdue beat both in November in the PK85 in Portland.
In addition, while Purdue did win both the Big Ten regular season and conference tournament titles, it was one of the more underwhelming runs in a conference tournament I’ve seen. In the opener of the conference tournament Purdue was fortunate to get by a Rutgers team that missed the NCAA Tournament field, before beating No. 12 seed Ohio State in the semifinals. They barely held onto a 17-point lead against the No. 10 seed in that bracket (and No. 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament) Penn State, to clinch the title.
In terms of the team itself, there aren’t many players in the country better than Zach Edey, and his domination was in full effect for Purdue in the Big ten Tournament. It has to be an uneasy feeling however, relying on others, specifically a pair of freshmen guards in Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer. They've been impressive for much of the season, but have hit a little bit of a wall lately, and Loyer especially needs to figure out how to make a little bit more of an impact without shooting the basketball.
After not losing for the first time this season until January 2nd, Purdue has dropped four games since the start of February and doesn't look like the same team we saw dominate college basketball during the non-conference slate. The key for this Purdue team could come down to the role players around Edey like Mason Gilles, Ethan Morton and Caleb Furst’s ability to make shots, alongside the two above-mentioned guards.
The Boilermakers could be bound for an early exit, after a rough draw.
Does The Second Favorite Have a Chance? - Marquette +370
The Golden Eagles will definitely be one of the more popular and trendy picks to come out of this region, and rightfully so after their showing at the Big East Tournament this past weekend. In only his second season in Milwaukee, Shaka guided Marquette to both a Big East regular season and tournament title and he doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.
On the floor, Tyler Kolek has established himself as one of the best floor generals in the country, and there aren’t many players in the country I currently trust more with the ball in their hands. After transferring in from George Mason last season and really focusing on distributing the ball, Kolek has proven to be a very capable scorer, averaging 13.3 points on the season and scoring a combined 37 points in each of Marquette’s last two victories at the Big East Tournament.
There are a few other things really impressive about this group, including their team chemistry and how everyone is in sync and aware at all times. Guys like Kam Jones, O’Max Prosper and Oso Ighodoro each do different things well to really help the team win, and even Stevie Mitchell and David Joplin have provided great three and d throughout the season.
After the season this Marquette team just had, there is nothing they’re incapable of doing, as they will be looking to head back to the familiar site of Madison Square Garden for the East Regional. This is the same Marquette team that was picked ninth in the Big East during the preseason and are hopefully now on everyone’s radar after the special season they just had.
So yes, this group absolutely can win the region.
Best Value: Memphis +1800
While there are a couple of different ways to go here, there aren’t many teams in college basketball playing better right now than Penny Hardaway and the Memphis Tigers. Memphis just won the American Athletic Conference Tournament with a convincing 75-65 victory over Houston, and the game never felt that close. While Houston was missing star guard Marcus Sasser, this is the same team that received the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and had only lost two games all year prior to last weekend. In addition, Memphis proved they can play with Houston at full strength or anyone else in the country, when the Cougars narrowly beat the Tigers at FedEx Forum on a buzzer beater on the final day of the regular season.
Every March, we ask ourselves, who is capable of going on a Kemba Walker/ Shabazz Napier type run and simply refuse to lose until their team gets to the Final Four. One candidate for that is Memphis’ Kendric Davis, after averaging 22.1 points and 5.6 assists per game. There aren’t many better pure creators in this tournament than Davis, plus he has help from veterans DeAndre Williams and Chandler Lawson, who have both been playing great basketball of late.
While Memphis received about as well of a draw as they could have hoped for, it only matters if they are able to get by their first-round opponent in Florida Atlantic. The Owls also won their conference regular season and tournament title in their own right, after dominating a very good UAB team in their conference title game and they have only lost three games on the season. The winner of this matchup will be very live in their matchup against Purdue.
Memphis’ talent and motivation, after being in this exact same position last season, is good enough for me to peg them as really good value.
Stay Away: Kentucky +850
This is admittingly a scary proposition, considering Kentucky has felt dead at many different points this season, and always found a way to bounce back and get back on track. The issue is when they get back on track, there is always something new that sets them back and I’m not sure if there is enough to recover.
Beyond that, it is important to note that Kentucky has been dealing with some injury issues at the worst possible time. Star freshman Cason Wallace did play in Kentucky’s SEC Tournament loss to Vanderbilt, after leaving Kentucky’s previous game against Vandy in the regular season early with a lower leg injury. However, he struggled to make his normal impact in only 19 minutes of action scoring six points. In addition, Sahvir Wheeler has not played for Kentucky since February 4th with an ankle injury. Even CJ Fredrick, who has been out there for the past handful of games, is managing a cracked rib that he suffered earlier in season.
Drawing Providence in the opening round is a scary sight, considering their leading scorer and assist man Bryce Hopkins, transferred in from Kentucky last offseason. It was always a little puzzling why Hopkins didn’t get more playing time last season, especially considering Kentucky’s struggles scoring the basketball going into their first round game against Saint Peters. Hopkins has been able to showcase his skills at Providence so far this season, and even though the Friars haven’t been playing great basketball of late this is a scary matchup. There aren’t many better coaches in college basketball to find your weakness and expose it, better than Ed Cooley. The game plan on Kentucky is obvious at this point, putting Oscar Tschibwe in a ball screen and forcing him to stop it. It will be up to John Calipari to find a counter for this and respond.
There will also be a ton of pressure on Kentucky entering this first round game, and while it is always scary to bet against John Calipari when no one is expecting Kentucky to do anything, they aren’t a team I trust to win four games and get out of this region.
Long Shot: Michigan State +1200
No matter what the year or what team he has, any time you can get Tom Izzo at 12-1 to make the Final Four, that is something that is going to be appealing. Izzo has made it to eight Final Four’s in his career, even once making it as a No. 7 seed back in 2015. This Michigan State team has always been very appealing to me this season, having five different players that play significant minutes and are capable of knocking down the three ball.
Tyson Walker has made a major leap from last season and has established himself as one of the premier guards in the Big Ten. Joey Hauser is also a matchup nightmare with his size and ability to shoot the three ball, and he is playing with much more confidence, compared to where Michigan State has been entering each of the last two NCAA Tournaments. Izzo got a lot of heat this offseason, for not pursuing any major transfer from the portal and also scheduling a very difficult non-conference schedule.
While this season hasn’t gone perfect for Michigan State, those decisions did show a lot of confidence in the players currently in the Spartans program and I believe that will come in handy in this tournament. While it is slightly concerning just how poorly Michigan State looked in the Big Ten Tournament against Ohio State, I try not to put too much value in what happened in the conference tournaments and this Spartans team is very dangerous.
The Pick - Memphis +1800
The proposition of picking a team that is only laying two points in their first round game to go to the Final Four isn’t comfortable. However, I really like the way this draw set up for Memphis and they have plenty of confidence after the way they played against Houston. Last season, this Memphis team seriously had Gonzaga who was the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament on the ropes, and would have gotten the job done if it wasn’t for a 25 point takeover from Drew Timme.
While FAU is a great team and a great story, they haven’t beaten an NCAA Tournament team all season and this Memphis team is playing too well right now. The Tigers also have the size and physicality to matchup against Purdue, and will have the best guard on the floor by a large margin.
Beyond that, look at the rest of the bracket.
A lot of people are going to be picking a red hot Duke team that just won the ACC Tournament. Their first game against Oral Roberts really concerns me, with the scoring ability of Max Abmas and Connor Vanover.
With a potential Michigan State/Marquette second round game being the definition of a tossup and Kansas State not exactly having the firepower to make a Final Four, this is going to be the time for Penny Hardaway. His time to show everyone why he made the correct decision targeting an older more experienced team in recruiting, which tends to have success in the NCAA Tournament.
This East Region is built for chaos and a lot of brackets being busted, opposed to the South and Midwest in particular, which feel more like a very favorable path for the No. 1 seed.
That will not be the case here and Memphis will become the second eight seed in as many years to make the Final Four.
Follow Zac Krull on Twitter - @ZacKrull_
To get full odds on the entire NCAA Tournament visit Betfred Sportsbook
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