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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.
After starting with the Midwest yesterday, we move to the loaded South, where Arizona, Villanova, Tennessee and Illinois are all teams that can make a deep run - so let's get into it.
All 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 - Arizona (+150):
Arizona cemented itself as a No. 1 seed and made a case for the overall No. 1 seed after it beat UCLA in the Pac-12 Championship. There’s an argument that no one in the entire country is playing better than the Wildcats right now. There is a definite concern with Arizona if their starting point guard, Kerr Kriisa, can’t go or even plays and isn’t 100%, but the talent is still there for this team. The X-factor for this team is Dalen Terry, he stepped in to help at point guard along with Justin Kier and ended the game against UCLA with seven assists and zero turnovers.
This Arizona roster is also loaded and can withstand the loss of Kriisa for a period of time. Bennedict Mathurin is Arizona’s NBA lottery pick, and he will be asked to do more along with Azuolas Tubelis and Christian Koloko, and the thing is, they can step up. Tommy Lloyd and his staff will also have a game plan ready for the absence of Kriisa. Arizona needs to avoid some of their sporadic shooting issues and avoid their turnover issues as well. Arizona is still the favorite in this region without Kriisa and will be a tough matchup with whoever they matchup against.
Does the Second Favorite Have a Chance? – Villanova (+300):
The short answer is yes. Collin Gillespie and Justin Moore lead a dynamic backcourt that’s full of experience and are primed for a deep run in March. They don’t make mistakes, whether that’s turn the ball over or get into foul trouble and are very efficient overall. They are a great defensive team that slows teams down and grinds the tempo down to a halt almost.
Jay Wright also will be the best coach in any game that Villanova plays in that region, so that is a distinct advantage. Villanova doesn’t have a lot of depth, which could be an issue when games come down to the wire in the tournament. Villanova also doesn’t have a lot of size with 6'8 forward Eric Dixon being the biggest threat they have down low, so a team like Arizona could destroy Villanova on the glass. However, Villanova has good value here and should be seen as a team that could go far.
Best Value – Tennessee (+330):
Tennessee also has an argument to be made that no team is playing better than them right now. They just won the SEC Tournament title, and many people, including myself, think they got robbed of being a 2 seed. Tennessee plays great team defense and is one of the most efficient defenses in the country, mainly because of how many turnovers they force. They also are a guard-oriented team that has the recipe to go on a deep run in March. Santiago Vescovi, Kennedy Chandler, and Zakai Zeigler lead the backcourt with John Fulkerson manning the paint down low.
Rick Barnes has struggled to make noise in March with his teams, but this squad could respond well in March because they are coming on strong right at the right time. Their biggest issue as a team is that they sometimes have long scoring droughts, but even then, they've become a much more efficient offense the second half of the season.
Tennessee is the best value in the region though and are easily equipped to make a run in March to the Final Four.
Stay Away – Houston (+500):
Kelvin Sampson has done a great job of keeping the ship on course this year for the Cougars after Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark were lost with season-ending injuries in December. Sasser was Houston’s leading scorer and considered their best player as well. Houston kept the ship steady and are now a 5-seed in the tournament. They are an extremely efficient team on offense and a stifling team on defense. However, they also shoot one of the worst percentages from the free throw line in the country.
Their draw however is a tough one. UAB is one of the highest rated seeds that won their conference tournament but that wasn’t from a power conference. They are led by Jordan “Jelly” Walker, who’s their 5’11” do-it-all point guard. They are also a very high-scoring team and could get Houston in a track meet of a game. Houston could also meet Illinois in the second round, which would give them fits mainly because of Kofi Cockburn down low, but also Trent Frazier on the outside as well. Expect Houston to have trouble getting out of the first weekend.
Longshot – Illinois (+1200):
There’s a lot to like with this Illini team. Kofi Cockburn is a dominant force down low and is a matchup nightmare for any team. Trent Frazier is their main leader and as a fifth-year senior can take over a game. Alfonso Plummer can also fill it up from three-point range as well. The Illini are also very efficient on both ends of the floor and will create problems for a lot of teams.
This Illinois team is on a mission after losing to Loyola-Chicago last year in the Round of 32. The experience on this team is why they are a team to like in this tournament. They do have a tough draw with Chattanooga and then potentially Houston before the Sweet 16. Arizona also looms in a Sweet 16 matchup, as a rematch from earlier in the season. If you want a longshot to potentially reach the Final Four, getting the Illini at these odds would be worth it.
Prediction: Arizona (+150)
Arizona’s depth will be tested in this region if Kerr Kriisa can’t go or if he plays but just isn’t 100%. Arizona can compensate for that and is just a matchup nightmare for most of the teams in their region. Their size will be the difference with Christian Koloko, Azuolas Tubelis, and Oumar Ballo. No other team in their region can matchup with that size and overall depth, so take Arizona at +150 and also take a good look at Arizona’s National Championship odds as well.
Follow Jake on Twitter @Jake_Faigus
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