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The NCAA Tournament bracket has been out for a few days now, and you've had time to break it all down and make your official picks - but just because you're picking all one seeds to the Final Four (shame on you), it doesn't mean that you can't find value in the gambling markets.
That's why in the lead-up to the NCAA Tournament, we're ripping through conference-by-conference previews here at Aaron Torres Online, giving you all our best advice - not only with the favorites, but long shots and stay aways as well.
Today, we start with the Midwest, where Kansas is the favorite, but there is plenty of value elsewhere.
All these odds are provided by DraftKings Sportsbook - where you can now bet on teams to make the Final Four, Elite Eight and Sweet 16.
Also, make sure to sign up for the Aaron Torres Podcast Bracket Challenge!
The Favorite: Kansas +160
Bill Self’s team secured a No. 1 seed in this region after beating Texas Tech on Saturday in the Big 12 title game. Kansas is well deserving of being the top dog in this region, considering they won both the Big 12 regular season and tournament titles.
Still, what not many will realize about is Kansas team is that even though they are a No. 1 seed and Bill Self is still running things, their overall level of talent isn’t great compared to other elite Kansas teams of the past. Since the FBI probe began, Kansas hasn’t been recruiting the same level of high caliber, one and done prospects. Instead, Self has continued to show he's an elite talent evaluator, turning a four-star like Ochai Agbaji into one of the five best players in the sport. In addition, guys like Christian Braun, Jalen Wilson and Dajuan Harris have evolved into roles for this team as well.
The one x-factor for this Kansas team, could be Arizona State transfer and Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year Remy Martin. After battling injuries throughout the season and failing to find a role, Martin has started to play much better of late. That included 12 points in 26 minutes of action off the bench in Saturday’s Big 12 title clinching win.
Despite being the favorites, Kansas is missing that next level speed to put them over the top, and a player like Martin could provide that. Despite not being the best NCAA Tournament coach historically, there are very few coaches that are better than Bill Self, as he is a legitimate weapon in the month of March.
Does The Second Favorite Have a Chance - Auburn +250
Auburn will enter as not only the No. 2 seed in the Midwest, but also as the second favorite on the board. Auburn is a prime example of how where you're placed in the bracket matters when it comes to your chances of getting to the Final Four. There wasn’t anyone who watched Auburn get run off the floor by Texas A & M on Friday in the SEC Tournament and thought “This is a team I’m picking to go to the Final Four.” With that being said, Auburn could not have asked for a more favorable draw and have a very good chance of getting to New Orleans.
Assuming they handle Jacksonville State in the first round, Auburn will get either USC or Miami, which both possess possible matchup issues; but overall, Auburn simply is better. Having Wisconsin as the No. 3 seed in your region isn't a bad draw, considering that Tennessee and Texas Tech are both on the same seed line. The fact that Badgers star Johnny Davis is less than 100 percent entering the tournament can't possibly hurt the Tigers either.
Auburn’s guards have not been great lately, as KD Johnson shot 0/14 from the field against A&M and Wendell Green is the definition of inconsistent. With that being said, Auburn still has the best frontcourt in the country that could lead the way for a deep run. Jabari Smith is still the likely option for No. 1 overall pick in the draft, Walker Kessler as a legitimate rim protector is a huge weapon, and Brue Pearl knows what it takes to get to the Final Four.
An easier draw to the Elite Eight compared to others should help this Auburn team gain some confidence and build momentum as they hope for a run to New Orleans.
Best Value: Iowa +330
There is not a single player in college basketball playing better than Iowa’s Keegan Murray. The world saw just how good Murray is this past weekend in the Big Ten Tournament, as he helped the school to one its first conference championship since 2006. After a disappointing ending to one of the best seasons in school history a year ago, the narrative has completely shifted in 2022. Iowa started off the season 14-7 overall, but have won 12 out of their last 14 games, all against elite competition. In addition to Murray, Iowa has a veteran experienced guard in Jordan Bohannon, who has played in 143 College Basketball games over the course of his career, which is an NCAA record. That experience came in handy on Saturday in the Big Ten Quarterfinals against Indiana, when Bohannon hit a long three at basically the buzzer, to secure the win for the Hawkeyes.
I’ve been someone who's been very skeptical of Fran McCaffrey’s teams and their ability to make deep tournament runs in the month of March. With that being said, this Iowa team is playing so well right now that there is a legitimate argument to be made they are currently the second best team in this region behind Kansas. Aside from Kansas being there for a potential Sweet 16 matchup, there is not a team in Iowa’s way playing remotely close to better than the Hawkeyes right now. This Hawkeye team also has some toughness with Tony Perkins and Joe Toussaint in the backcourt.
The Big Ten’s disastrous postseason last year will create some doubt for many and considering they got nine teams in the NCAA Tournament, there is an argument to be made that the league is overrated. However, Iowa does not fall into that category.
Stay Away: Wisconsin +1400
Greg Gard has done one of the best coaching jobs in the country this season. After a tough 2021 season in which there was turmoil among the program's veterans, the Badgers were picked to finish 10th in the Big Ten preseason. They went on to win the league's regular season co-championship and earn a No. 3 seed in the Big Dance.
A lot of Wisconsin's success has to do with National Player of the Year Candidate Johnny Davis, who is averaging a staggering 19.7 Points and 8.2 rebounds per game. The issue is, things have taken a tough turn for Wisconsin since they clinched the Big Ten Title on March 1st. The following game Davis injured an ankle against Nebraska, and then lost their Big Ten Tournament opener with him at less than full strength against Michigan State.
Now, entering the tournament, the question for that has plagued Wisconsin all season long has re-emerged" “Do they have enough guys without Johnny Davis?” When Davis is in the lineup cooking, that leads to better opportunities for guys like Brad Davison, Tyler Wahl and Chucky Hepburn, opportunities that haven’t come in the last two games. Despite their first round site being in Milwaukee, it will be tough for Wisconsin to beat and out athletic a team like LSU in a potential second round matchup or Auburn in the Sweet 16.
As a possible upset, it’s likely this Wisconsin team will not make it out of the first weekend.
Long Shot: Providence +3500
There hasn’t been a more polarizing team in college basketball this season than Ed Cooley and his Providence Friars. Providence went 11-2 in games decided by five points or less, and because of it, have been tabbed by the advanced metrics as “lucky.” This is despite just taking home their first Big East Regular Season in program history and earning a #4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
As cliche as this might sound, both sides of the Providence argument are valid in different ways. Providence finding a way to win all of these close games is very impressive, but also something that could cost them in a single elimination tournament. Ed Cooley also deserves credit for leading this team to such a successful season without a single first team All-Big East player on his roster. Instead, guys like Al Durham, Jared Bynum and Nate Watson have found a way to consistently make big plays when their team needs it the most.
After the historic regular season Providence just had, it is going to be very important to win a game in this tournament for Ed Cooley. Cooley has almost completed a full rebuild at Providence since taking over in 2011, but still only has one tournament win on his resume. That was all the way back in 2016 when Kris Dunn was on the roster.
The committee didn’t reward Providence for their historic season, by sticking them with a South Dakota State team that hasn’t lost since December in the first round, with a potential matchup with Iowa in Round 2. Is there a chance that South Dakota State beats Providence in the first round? Absolutely. However, Providence is used to winning close games, and that should only help them in a setting like this. The fact that they're coming off a blowout loss to Creighton in the Big East Tournament should inspire them as well.
Providence will not be my official pick to get to the Final Four in this region, however 35/1 odds for a team that went 25-5 and won the Big East Regular Season Title, is something too good to pass up.
Prediction: Iowa +330
Any time there is a team playing so special like Iowa is now, it is always hard to bet against them. That is especially the case here, when Iowa got a really favorable draw and is playing better than anyone else in their region. Fran McCaffery just completed the best coaching job of his career, and the only way to complete that is getting to New Orleans!
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