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 West region, featuring the tournament favorite Gonzaga:
Is Gonzaga a Final Four lock?
FS: I had BYU +14 in the WCC title game and even when they were up by 14 points in the first half I was worried Gonzaga would cover. And they almost did. This is a fantastic college basketball team. I think the draw is really favorable too, I know you like Iowa, but I don't think they are good enough on defense to beat Gonzaga. Anything can happen in the NCAA tournament, but I'd be absolutely shocked if Gonzaga isn't in the Final Four and pretty surprised if they don't win it all. Nothing is ever a lock, but this is close.
SP: I realize underdogs and upsets are the soul of March Madness, but the dirty little secret of pool life is that some chalk is required. It's difficult for me to pick or bet against Gonzaga. Sometimes it's difficult to reconcile a high (or top) seed that comes from a non-power conference, but it's interesting that Gonzaga already met and beat three of the teams in this region — Iowa, Kansas, and Virginia. They were all double-digit wins, too.
Iowa's defense has been notably improved for maybe 3-4 weeks, though the lack of a second interior defender was exposed badly against Illinois. (I could say Illinois is a bad matchup for Iowa, but Illinois is a bad matchup for everybody.) At least Joe Wieskamp looks healthy — easily Iowa's second-most important player — and they're deep and athletic. I actually think Iowa might skip easily to the Elite 8, and then get boat-raced by the Zags.
So many teams in this region come to the dance with rust or questionable form. Virginia and Kansas were COVID-bounced from their tournaments. Creighton was embarrassed by a Georgetown team that found itself at the right time. Iowa didn't throw a good punch against Illinois. In the second round, Gonzaga would face Oklahoma (currently on a 1-5 skid) or Missouri (on a 3-6 bender). Coaches don't like to be brutally honest about seeds and stuff, but Mark Few was gifted a dream draw. I don't know how we make money on it, but I'd be stunned if Gonzaga was seriously tested here.
Which first-round bet interests you most?
FS: For me it's UC Santa Barbara. I know it's practically a cliche to bet No. 12 seeds, but I like the matchup. UCSB has been on my radar as a potential first-round gem for a while, and they looked great in the Big West tournament. Creighton has been dealing with a lot of non-basketball issues after Greg McDermott's "plantation" comments, and while they had a couple strong games in the Big East tournament, I still think that might be hanging over this team. Give me UCSB +6.5 and also on the moneyline at +240.
SP: I'll backline your UCSB action. I'll admit, my wiring almost sees any 12 as a pick-em against a 5, given all the history. And I'm begging to bet against Creighton, a team that feels like it could lose to anybody (Marquette, Providence, Xavier, Butler all beat them, and of course Georgetown twice; and it wasn't a banner year for the Big East, either).
Oregon-VCU should be a fun game. Ducks, all offense; Rams, all defense. Oregon might be a little frisky if you give a pass for the Oregon State loss — like Georgetown, OSU figured it out at the right time. Dana Altman's 13-6 in the tournament since coming to Oregon, and while some of that was front-running, the Ducks did damage as a 12-seed two years ago. I'll take Oregon and swallow the 6, and maybe throw them into some money-line parlays. Now I'm hoping we see Oregon-Iowa in Round 2; first team to 85 points, wins.
FS: To your point on the 12 seeds, I might end up betting all four of them on the moneyline. I like each individual matchup, and the 12 vs. 5 history is more than a fluky trend at this point. I could see at least two and as many as all four hitting this year.
Which high seed could get upset early?
FS: There's a few, which goes back to Gonzaga's easy draw. Like you said, Oregon could be a tricky matchup for Iowa in the second round. Virginia hasn't been quite as dominant on defense as usual and now has a COVID-19 distraction. Kansas is probably the top-four seed I'm actively looking to fade in this region. This is clearly not a vintage Kansas team and I'll be taking Eastern Washington and 11 points.
SP: I'm fading Kansas too. The turnover rate worries me (show me a good team that doesn't value the basketball), and it's also a very young team. I'm confident the Jayhawks don't get to the second week.
But there's more friskiness in the other regions. The West is clearly the Gonzaga Invitational.
If you had to bet a non-Gonzaga team to win the region, who would it be?
FS: I think Virginia is the only answer. Virginia is really good on offense this year, I trust the Cavaliers can turn on the defense, they're going to slow the game down and perhaps that keeps Gonzaga from running away from them, and Tony Bennett is one of the best coaches in the sport. Virginia got blasted by Gonzaga in the regular season but that doesn't always matter for a rematch. Virginia is +900 to win the West region at BetMGM, and I think there's a little value there.
SP: I know agreement is boring, but Virginia. Bennett's chops. It's the type of team that's difficult to play on a short turnaround. The Cavaliers will never beat themselves. It seems weird to watch them concede the offensive glass all game, but the offense is so efficient, it doesn't seem to hurt them. Virginia easily could have been seeded a line higher.
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