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NCAA March Madness betting: If Michigan is vulnerable in the East region, who can take advantage?

Scott Pianowski and Frank Schwab
·8 min read
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More region breakdowns from Scott Pianowski and Frank Schwab: Midwest, South, West

The NCAA tournament is a gambler's dream, with non-stop action for the first and second rounds, futures bets, bracket pools and everything in between.

Yahoo Sports' Scott Pianowski and Frank Schwab perused the BetMGM odds and will break down each region from a betting perspective. Here's a look at the East region, which has the Michigan Wolverines as the No. 1 seed.

What's your confidence level with Michigan?

FS: Before the Isaiah Livers injury it would have been pretty high. Michigan is very good on offense and defense, and I like teams without a clear weakness. But I think Livers' foot injury changes their ceiling. Maybe I'm overrating his value to the Wolverines, but he's very likely to miss the tournament and that's a big factor. He was a versatile, valuable piece that a lot of teams can't match up with. I won't be advancing Michigan to the Final Four in any of my brackets and even will be looking to back LSU in the second round (if the Tigers get past St. Bonaventure, though the Bonnies could also give the Wolverines a scare).

Michigan head coach Juwan Howard led his team to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Michigan head coach Juwan Howard led his team to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

SP: It makes me sad, but I'll likely be fading Michigan. Although it's a deep roster, you worry that Livers could be the key Jenga piece, where you slide him out and the puzzle collapses. You love those versatile glue guys, an inside-out player, a senior. And the committee did the Wolverines no favors, throwing a ridiculously deep field at the No. 1 seed. Maybe Livers will be healthy enough to contribute later in the tournament, but you know how I feel about injury optimism. Sometimes it's no fun to be a pragmatist.

LSU didn't win the SEC tournament (it's amazing the Tigers haven't lifted that trophy since 1980), but it was the big mover there, taking down Arkansas and giving Alabama all it could handle. I give the Tigers (or St. Bonaventure; beware the team with outstanding guard play) a legitimate shot at winning in the second round.

I'm still toying with the bottom of the bracket. Alabama's defense is outstanding, but I worry about the 3-point reliance on offense, for two reasons. One, it's inevitable that every once in a while, the shots won't be falling. And two, when you have to sustain so much of your offense on the perimeter, you're rarely getting to the free-throw line or putting your opponent in foul trouble. I think I might have fallen for Texas, which finally got over the Big 12 hump with Shaka Smart (after a solid decade of Rick Barnes recruiting the world and disappointing in March; I promise you our final weave, the Midwest, will be spicy).

We better start betting on Georgetown before that line dries up, right?

FS: The Hoyas-Colorado line is already moving, though it caught my eye that Georgetown landed on Pete Thamel's story identifying four teams that coaches think will flop in the tournament. Still, I'll be on the Hoyas.

Other than Georgetown, what's your best bet for the first round?

FS: Another time I'll go against Pete's story, this time on the four teams coaches think will do well in the tourney. I'm fading St. Bonaventure. Nothing against the Bonnies, they're a good team, but I think this LSU team is seriously talented and I'll happy take them at -1.5. For some reason it didn't click for them through the regular season but the team I saw in the SEC tournament can make a run these next couple weeks.

SP: I can understand why coaches would fade Georgetown, but this is the type of thing I won't pay a lot of mind to. When you're a college basketball coach, you must be obsessively focused on your own team and conference, your own backyard. If the Hoyas aren't on your schedule, you're paying them zero mind. Then you look up on the ticker or your phone and see they made a run in a tournament half a world away, fixing a record that was under .500 all year, and you assume it must be a fluke. You have no reason to be invested in the story.

I know this isn't the best Villanova team, but Georgetown beat it and then destroyed a Creighton team that's experienced and usually careful with the basketball. Georgetown's Big East romp is what growing up looks like, a team finding itself, figuring it out. The Hoyas have been a completely different team since an extended mid-season COVID pause, and it's good at so many things we care about. Best 3-point team in the conference. Active on the offensive glass. Good free-throw shooting team. Experienced. Throw in some time-zone help from the scheduling gods, and I will pick the Hoyas to both cover and win outright against Colorado (no disrespect to the amazing McKinley Wright).

I have to side with Michigan State (-2) to get the money in the First Four draw against UCLA. Tom Izzo found a way to beat Michigan, Illinois, and Ohio State over the last three weeks, while the Bruins are on a four-game skid (and obviously played in a much weaker conference). You have to take this pick somewhat on faith, because MSU's KenPom page will cause you temporary blindness (especially the offensive stuff). But I've seen this Izzo movie too many times before.

Who's your pick to win the region?

FS: Glad you asked, because I've been dying to talk about Alabama.

I simply don't understand the disrespectful odds on them. They're +1600 to win it all and +400 to win the region, and it seems like those odds should be half of that. They are the No. 5 overall seed according to the committee. I have No. 1 seeds Gonzaga, Baylor and Illinois on a different tier than Michigan, so the Crimson Tide have the easiest road for a No. 2 seed. This is a team that is elite on defense and plays at a fast tempo that will cause problems. They're 20-3 since Dec. 19. Nate Oats is a phenomenal coach. The Crimson Tide has multiple players who can carry them to a win on any given night. I think that counterbalances the 3-point reliance you talked about earlier. I's unlikely they're all missing on the same night.

My favorite bet in any market for the entire tournament is Alabama to win this region. Those odds are way too high and I'm diving in head first.

SP: I'm leaning Texas, but might change my mind before the ball is in the air. What a group of talent; the roster reads like a McDonald's All-American game. The Longhorns are capable of controlling a game on either side of the court; they can beat you in the 80s or in the 60s. Seven losses might seem like a lot, but they have no bad losses and enter the dance in top form. Make some room, McConaughey.

(BetMGM screen shot)
(BetMGM screen shot)

Do you see any big surprises coming in this region?

FS: I think this group could get wild. I have the No. 1 seed on upset watch in the second round regardless of which opponent they draw. Texas is too inconsistent to trust for my taste, Florida State has a ton of talent but always seems to fall short, I'll be picking 5-seed Colorado to lose in the first round, I think everyone will be betting against 6-seed BYU in the first round whether it's Michigan State or UCLA who win in the First Four ... my East bracket picks might get a little crazy.

SP: I wonder if Florida State plays too many players. You need some sense of who's team it is, what the critical rotation will be. I think you're just helping the opponent when you limit the minutes of players like M.J. Walker and Scottie Barnes.

It feels like the type of region where so many teams could go deep or go home on the first day. Tyus Edney saved what was ultimately a UCLA championship in 4.8 seconds, opening night. (Doesn't it feel like 4.8 seconds go a lot further today?)

Another play-everybody team that I'm skeptical on is UConn. When R.J. Cole got dinged up in the Big East tournament, James Bouknight tried to go Teen Wolf and beat Creighton by himself. When the ball stops moving, bad things happen. I think Maryland takes out the Huskies, then has a puncher's chance against Alabama. (Maybe that's the wrong phrase, I thought Mark Turgeon and Juwan Howard were going to go 15 rounds last week.)

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