March Madness betting: Baylor, Kentucky are co-favorites to win East Region

·4 min read

If Baylor wants to repeat as national champions, it will have to emerge from the East Region of the NCAA tournament.

Baylor received the fourth and final No. 1 seed in this year’s tournament and was rewarded with a region that also includes Kentucky, Purdue, UCLA and stellar mid-major programs like Saint Mary’s and Murray State.

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In all, the East boasts a really intriguing group of teams and matchups. Here’s a closer look at the region from a betting perspective.

(All odds via BetMGM)

Odds to win East region

  • No. 1 Baylor: +200

  • No. 2 Kentucky: +200

  • No. 3 Purdue: +450

  • No. 4 UCLA: +600

  • No. 5 Saint Mary’s: +2000

  • No. 6 Texas: +1200

  • No. 7 Murray State: +3300

  • No. 8 North Carolina: +2200

  • No. 9 Marquette: +3300

  • No. 10 San Francisco: +3300

  • No. 11 Virginia Tech: +3300

  • No. 12 Indiana: +3300

  • No. 12 Wyoming: +10000

  • No. 13 Akron: +20000

  • No. 14 Yale: +20000

  • No. 15 Saint Peter’s: +20000

  • No. 16 Norfolk State: +20000

Kentucky forward Oscar Tshiebwe (34) celebrates during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference men's tournament Friday, March 11, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Kentucky forward Oscar Tshiebwe celebrates during the second half of the team's game against Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference tournament on Friday. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Kentucky, Baylor are co-favorites

Despite injuries to top outside shooter LJ Cryer and key interior defender Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, Baylor ended up as Big 12 regular-season co-champions alongside Kansas, the Midwest’s No. 1 seed.

This Baylor team doesn’t have top-end talent like Davion Mitchell and Jared Butler from last year’s team, but it’s a very balanced and defensive-minded group capable of beating anybody. That’s especially true when James Akinjo is playing at the top of his game. Without Cryer, though, the Bears were routinely playing just a seven-man rotation late in the season.

That’s part of why you see Kentucky listed alongside Baylor in the region's betting odds at BetMGM. John Calipari went away from having such a freshman-heavy team after a disastrous 2021 campaign. Instead, UK added a trio of transfers — highlighted by star big man Oscar Tshiebwe — to go with some returning veteran role players and five-star guard TyTy Washington.

UK is an incredibly talented team, but it didn’t feel like the Wildcats were clicking on all cylinders late in the year. The same is true for Purdue, which is led by projected lottery pick Jaden Ivey and the big man duo of 7-foot-4 Zach Edey and slick-passing Trevion Williams.

East region value plays

UCLA (+600): Can UCLA recapture its tournament magic from last year? As an 11 seed, the Bruins made it all the way from the First Four to the Final Four before losing on a miraculous overtime half-court buzzer-beater by Gonzaga's Jalen Suggs. A year later, the majority of that UCLA group is intact, led by the four-guard lineup of Johnny Juzang, Jaime Jaquez, Jules Bernard and Tyger Campbell.

Saint Mary’s (+2000): No five seed has worse odds to reach the Final Four than Saint Mary's. Sleep on the West Coast Conference all you want, but this team is really, really good. The Gaels beat Gonzaga during the season and can give teams fits with their patient offense, stellar defense and veteran leadership.

Murray State (+3300): This Murray State team is better than the one that had Ja Morant. The Racers have a trio of go-to scorers, are really consistent defensively and have depth. Look out.

First-round best bets

These were the first two that jumped out at me when I looked at the East region lines.

Murray State (-1.5) vs. San Francisco: I did a double-take when I saw Murray State open as a 1.5-point underdog, but the line has flipped. San Francisco is a solid team, no doubt, but it lost quite a few close games over the course of the season — including in spots where it was a short favorite. USF plays in a tougher conference than Murray State, but the Racers just find ways to win games.

Texas vs. Virginia Tech over 124: Chris Beard’s teams at Texas Tech were known for defense. This Texas team plays with similar characteristics but doesn’t have a whole lot of size. Virginia Tech has two strong interior scorers in Keve Aluma and Justyn Mutts and a bunch of guards who can knock down outside shots. I think this will be a bit more high-scoring than most projections lay out.

Virginia Tech's Keve Aluma (22) takes a foul shot in the first half of an NCAA college basketball championship game against Duke of the Atlantic Coast Conference men's tournament, Saturday, March 12, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Virginia Tech's Keve Aluma takes a foul shot in the first half against Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament on Saturday. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)