It's time to keep our region-by-region NCAA Tournament betting previews rolling.
After Jake Faigus shared his thoughts on the South, and I hit on the East, it's time to now turn our attention to the Midwest. Houston is the No. 1 seed, but should they be the favorite here?
Here is our full gambling preview, with picks, predictions and upset specials - with odds provided by Betfred Sportsbook.
The Favorite: Houston +130
The Cougars will be trying to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season, after making it to the Final Four in 2021 and the Elite Eight last season. Kelvin Sampson continues to establish himself as one of the premier coaches in the country, leading the Cougars to a 31-3 overall record and a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance for the first time since 1983 and only the second time in school history.
There is one major question for the Cougars entering the tournament, and that is the status of star Guard Marcus Sasser. Sasser left Houston’s American Athletic quarterfinal game on Friday against East Carolina with a groin injury, and his status is unknown for the opening weekend. As great of a season as this Houston team had, I’m not entirely sure if they are better, definitely better, than the teams they’ve had each of the last two seasons. The Cougars have only played and beaten one NCAA Tournament team since the start of the new year and that was Memphis.
In those games, Memphis was missing their star Guard Kendric Davis and they still almost found a way to win on Houston’s home floor. The Cougars were able to beat Memphis on the Tigers home floor, thanks to an epic buzzer beater by Jamal Shead, but Memphis did get some revenge on them with a dominant performance in the conference title game.
The one thing Houston does really benefit from however, is a good draw and that is definitely something they can take advantage of. With very good chances for upsets all around this region, Houston can definitely see a double-digit seed in the Sweet 16, which could open the door for a deep tournament run.
Does The Second Favorite Have a Chance? - Texas +375
I’m not sure how many teams in the entire country are playing better at the moment than Rodney Terry and his Longhorns. This Texas team has gone through an experience together that no other team in the tournament field has had to deal with, losing their head coach out of complete nowhere in the middle of the season.
While many thought this Texas team would be dead without Chris Beard, Terry has come in and done as great of a job as anyone could ask for. In the 24 games that Terry has coached with the Longhorns, they are 16-6 and won the Big 12 Tournament to put themselves in great position to get the No. 2 seed in the Midwest. In addition, Texas has not only beaten, but has hammered Kansas, twice in the last week, showing that they have a legitimate argument as the best team from the best conference heading into the Big Dance.
This Texas team also has legitimate star power, in the trio in Marcus Carr, Tyrese Hunter and Sir’Jabari Rice in the backcourt. There aren’t a ton of players that I trust more with the ball in their hands during the big moments than Rice, who is shooting an extremely efficient 87 percent from the free throw ling. Guys like Carr, Timmy Allen, Dylan Disu, Brock Cunningham and others also played together in the NCAA Tournament last season, and even won a first round game over Virginia Tech.
The one worry for this Texas team, is that they didn’t receive a great draw, having to face a really good Colgate team that has been to the NCAA Tournament the last few seasons, and then possibly having to match up with in-state rival Texas A&M, in the Round of 32.
Best Value: Miami +1500
Anytime you can get a team full of experienced guards and coach with legitimate NCAA Tournament experience it is always appealing, especially at this price. That is what we have here with Miami, as just one season after they made it all the way to the Elite Eight as a No. 10 seed, they will be +1500 to make the Final 4 as a No. 5 seed. The Hurricanes won the ACC regular season title for the first time in program history and this is only their second ever conference title ever as well.
The dynamic duo Nigel Pack and Isaiah Wong in the backcourt are electric to watch, and this Miami team plays a very fun brand of basketball. There are also guys like Bensley Joseph and Wooga Poplar that didn’t play that big of a role on last season's team, but have really expanded their game as productive and helpful supporting pieces.
While Miami did get a tough opening round draw in Drake, if they can find a way to win that game, then I think this Miami team has a pretty favorable path for the rest of the tournament. The No. 4 seed in their bracket, Indiana, also got a really tough first round draw and Houston may not have Marcus Sasser at 100% if they were to match up in the Sweet 16.
Miami is one of the handful of teams in this tournament that feels like a real threat to make a run, if they could just find a way to get by their first round opponent.
The concern however is the status of Norchad Omier, who left the Hurricanes ACC Tournament Game against Duke with an ankle injury. Omier is a very important part to this Miami team, and without him they are very limited in the size department. Omier did practice for the first time this week on Wednesday and his status for the NCAA Tournament might be key in determining just how far this Miami team can go.
Stay Away: Xavier +900
Sean Miller has done an outstanding job in his first year back at Xavier, bringing the Musketeers back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018. Xavier has had some really talented rosters over the course of the last few seasons, but couldn’t get to the NCAA Tournament during the Travis Steele era. Now, Miller has a bevy of options to score the basketball, including arguably the best transfer to come out of the portal this offseason, guard Souley Boum. Boum had a legitimate case for winning Big East Player of the Year, after coming in from UTEP and is a guy who is capable of carrying this team in March. With other guys like Colby Jones, Adam Kunkel and Jack Nunge also making an impact, Xavier has one of the most dangerous and potent offenses in the country.
The concern with me for Xavier however, is on the defensive side of the floor.
The Musketeers rank No. 171 in estimated opposing field goal defense and 280th in the country in opposing turnover percentage. There have been plenty of examples of teams that have been really good on offense, but struggled in the defensive category, also disappointing when they get to the Big Dance.
In the championship game of the Big East Tournament, the Musketeers allowed 39 first half points to Marquette and the game felt over before it even started. Xavier also had some really confusing performances on the defensive end this season, giving up 84 points to DePaul, 82 points to Georgetown and more.
As great of a job as Sean Miller has done and as dynamic as this offense is, when you clearly cannot get stops in March, you can’t be trusted.
Long Shot: Pittsburgh +5000
In the history of the NCAA Tournament since the “First Four” in 2011, two teams have made it to the Final 4 after winning a game in Dayton - VCU in 2011 and UCLA in 2021. In addition, a handful of teams that have played in the “First 4” have made it to the Sweet 16, including 2013 La Salle, 2014 Tennessee, and 2018 Syracuse. This Pitt team has the ingredients to be added to that list, especially after watching their performance in their opening tournament game against Mississippi State.
In a back-and-forth classic NCAA Tournament game, Pitt found a way to outlast Mississippi State, thanks to 15 points from Nelly Cummings and a clutch shot with 10 seconds left by Jamarious Burton to give Pitt the league and they never looked back. The thing that makes this Panthers team really appealing to me, is the fact that they have five guards who are capable of making shots anytime they are on the floor. This was apparent last night with the Burton game winner, plus Blake Hinson’s pull up three out of nowhere to give Pitt a five-point lead with 3:10 remaining.
The trio of Hinson, Burton and Cummings are electric to watch, plus Greg Elliott is a veteran smart player that knows how to do all the little things right. With Nike Sibande, the reigning ACC Player of the Year, and the Diaz-Graham twins providing depth off the bench, I really think this Pitt team is built to have success in the Big Dance.
While Iowa State is a very favorable first round draw, they key to Pitt might be the health of big man Fede Federiko, who missed last night’s game due to a knee injury.
Jeff Capel deserves a lot of credit for the job he’s done this season as reigning ACC Coach of the Year, and his Panthers have the ability to bust a lot of brackets.
The Pick: Texas +375
As I stated earlier in the article, there aren’t many teams, if any at all, that are currently playing better basketball than the Texas Longhorns. Every time I watch them play, it is apparent that they are playing for a bigger purpose, that most other teams in this tournament can understand or match.
While Texas has only won a single NCAA Tournament game since 2015, and haven’t been to the Final Four since 2003, this is finally the time that is going to change. Aside from Houston and Texas, there aren’t a ton of teams in this region that I can realistically see making the Final Four and Texas is just playing too well right now for me to pick against them. While the committee didn’t help the Longhorns in their first round draw against Colgate, Texas should eventually be able to overwhelm the Patriot League Champions with their size and athleticism. Texas is also one of the older more experienced teams in this tournament with their core of returning players from last season, and even guys like Christian Bishop and Tyrese Hunter, who helped their previous schools advance to the second weekend before transferring to Texas.
Longhorns Head Coach Rodney Terry, has only coached in one NCAA Tournament game in his career, coming in 2016 when he coached No. 14 seed Fresno State in a loss against No. 3 seeded Utah. However, he has done a great job keeping these Longhorns focused and ready to roll.
This team has felt like it’s been on a mission since Terry has taken over, and they will complete their journey after winning the Midwest region.
Follow Zac Krull on Twitter - @ZacKrull_
To get full odds on the entire NCAA Tournament visit Betfred Sportsbook
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