The East region may be the most prolific corner of the March Madness bracket. Purdue held the top spot in the AP rankings. Duke and Kentucky are doing their best impression of past selves, making the tournament as middle-tier seeds. Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans ranked as high as 12th in the polls, but have fallen to a No. 7 seed. Can these traditional powers make a run to Houston?
Teams To Watch
No. 1 Seed
No. 11 Providence
No. 7 Michigan State vs No. 10 USC
No.12 Oral Roberts
No. 4 Tennessee
Big East Conference
Big Ten vs Pac-12
29-5 / 15-5
21-11 / 13-7
19-12 / 22-10
30-4 overall, 18-0
23-10 overall, 11-7
Spartans / Trojans
Tom Izzo / Andy Enfield
West Lafayette, IN
East Lansing, MI / Los Angeles, CA
NCAA Tournament record
70-34 / 17-22
Runner up, 1969
Final Four, 1973, 87
National Champion 1979, 2000 / Final Four 1940, 54
Elite Eight, 1974
Regional Semis, 1967, 81, 00, 07, 08, 14, 19
N/A (First Four TBD)
4-point underdogs to Kentucky
MSU -2.5 over USC
Oral Roberts +6.5 over Duke
Tennessee -11.5 over Louisiana Lafayette
+6500 / +15000
7th highest Win% in the nation (85.3%)
16th best Adjusted Offensive Efficiency
39.5% from 3 / 5.2 blocks per game
Last loss came on 1/9
-.071 Luck rating is third-lowest in tournament
No. 1 Seed
Once the best team in the country, a not-so shocking loss to Rutgers foreshadowed a second-half that ended their hops at topping the final AP poll. Regardless, they’ve landed as a top seed in this year’s March Madness tournament. Their first-round matchup is yet to be decided, but they’ll almost certainly be double-digit favorites. They’ve got an easy path to the Sweet Sixteen.
Unsurprisingly, they are listed as the favorites to win the East region, at +300, but the lack of distance between them and No. 2 Marquette (+370) may surprise you. The Boilermakers also hold +1200 odds to cut the nets on the tourney’s last day, the fourth-best odds of any competitor.
One of my favorite Cinderella candidates in this tournament in No. 11 Providence. As far as matchups go, they should do a good job of matching Kentucky’s powerful offense. Where the Wildcats ranked 14th in KenPom’s Adjusted Offensive Efficiency rankings, the Friars find themselves at 16. The difference of course is defensively, but only two-dozen spots separate the two on KenPom’s defensive rankings, which is smaller than one would expect for a 6-11 battle.
Providence is only a 4.5-point underdog, and holds a moneyline of +146, meaning a $100 bet would generate $146 in profit. If you’re willing to support this sleeper, take advantage of FanDuel’s promotion for Bet Basics readers: UP TO $1,000 BACK IN BONUS BETS.
Further, this year’s crop of No. 3 seeds doesn’t particularly impress me, even if Kansas State beats Montana State–as they should–they aren’t going to wipe the floors with the Friars. From there, a lowly No. 11 team can find itself a date in the Sweet Sixteen,
I’m foregoing the fabled 8-9 matchup to highlight the game that should catch the most eyes as the buzzer approaches triple zeroes. No. 7 Michigan State and No. 10 USC was the selection that I spent the most time on when making my bracket.
Currently, the Trojans are only 2.5-point ‘dogs and their +112 moneyline should signal that Vegas isn’t willing to favor anyone too much. The key to this one will come down to how well the Trojans can stop the Spartan’s prolific ranged attack. Southern California doesn’t do much spectacularly well, but they are as well-coached as MSU and defend better in the paint.
Come for the close game, stay for the legendary battle of historically-aligned nicknames.
It seems like every season, a No. 12 seed can knock off a No. 5 team. Call it overconfidence, fate, a curse, or something in between, but it is bound to happen again. Personally, the 12-seed I have this season is VCU, but if you cared about the West region, you would’ve clicked on that article.
While I won’t be taking their +220 moneyline, I have my eye on the spread of +6.5. The Oral Roberts Golden Eagles are efficient in their scoring and their facilitation, which will be important against a top 25 Duke defense. If the Blue Devils aren’t up to par from deep, they could find themselves bounced really early.
We know there’s luck involved in the March Madness tournament. It’s part of what makes the month so great. It fuels upsets, starts debates, and gives us some of the more improbable moments in college basketball history.
But luck isn’t just for the small schools paying for the tournament with chocolate bar fundraisers. Top seeds can have luck, too. They can also find themselves without it.
The Tennessee Volunteers rank 325th in KenPom’s luck ranking, out of 363 teams. It’s the third-worst mark in the tournament.
Therefore, the question remains: is regression to the mean inbound? At +265, I like the Volunteers’ odds to make the Elite Eight. They are a legitimately good roster with a simply suffocating defense. They are double-digit favorites over Louisiana, and I expect that to hold, sending them to the second round. From there, they would either play Oral Roberts or Duke, and their dominant defensive prowess remains an advantage. Even Purdue doesn’t strike the fear in God against me, even without a ton of size.
The Volunteers are legitimately good, and if that luck comes back around, they could get carried through a magical March.
Players To Watch
Shake His Money Maker
6th most points per game in CBB
Averaged 1.2 steals per game
4.2 assists per game was second in SEC
Shot 41.9% from 3
Shot 64.9% from inside the ark
Purdue’s Zach Edey is the best player in the Big Ten, supported by his conference Player of the Year honors. He may also be the best player in the entire tournament. At +1500, he boasts the third-best odds to win the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award.
Edey dominates with his size, as his 7-foot-4, 285-pound frame has lent itself to monstrous numbers in the paint. The Boilermakers will rely on him to optimize that size against smaller teams, especially when perimeter players go cold.
How far Edey and his team go may not be determined by his strong suits, though. If a team can spread Purdue out and attack him à la Rudy Gobert, there is a definitive recipe for success.
One player I’m buying stock on as the tournament kicks off is Kyle Filipowski. Viewed as a fringe first-round pick, a strong March Madness could propel him to relevancy.
He has the numbers–he puts up more than 15 a night, he is willing to shoot, regardless of result, and his defensive numbers indicate a feisty, creative defender, rather than a stiff, under-the-rim traffic cone.
Filipowski has stepped it up before, too. A big game player, Filipowski has already added ACC Tourney honors to his resume. Another strong tournament could very well be on the rise.
Shake His Money Maker
Speaking of buying draft stocks, no player in the East region has more to gain this summer from a strong spring than Cason Wallace.
Wallace has already been mocked inside the lottery, but a rise to the top 10 is possible if he lights the court on fire in the coming weeks. Of course, it’s a team effort to get there, but Wallace will be one of the most significant cogs in the machine.
He’s dealing with an injury that has limited his impact in the SEC tournament, and may have a mitigating effect on his tournament performance as well. If Wallace is at his best, he offers a sizable scoring output with some of the best playmaking the tournament can offer. Kentucky is always as talented, and Wallace’s path to prominence may be playing into that peripheral talent.
Keyontae Johnson will look to light up the tournament, but even without a miraculous performance, he’ll have impressed us all.
Johnson collapsed during a game in December of 2020. His basketball career was deemed severely in doubt moments after his condition was rendered stable. He would be honored on Florida’s senior night in 2021. Shortly after, Johnson’s basketball career was set to continue…on the transfer portal.
Picked up by Kansas State, Johnson mustered the strength to play the game that could have taken his life. Mind you, this isn’t a gimmick. The Wildcats aren’t honoring Johnson with a celebratory minute on the hardwood. They need him.
They’ve leaned on him to the tune of 34 minutes per game. He’s averaging 17.7 points, 7 boards, and 2.2 per night, and he’s averaging more than a steal per contest. Johnson is a formidable force in the middle of Kansas State’s lineup and success.
Marquette is one of my favorite teams in the tourney. A 2-seed, they hold +176 odds to make the Elite Eight, and I’m not sure they stop there.
Their journey starts against a small Vermont school that narrowly made the dance. The Golden Eagles will look to cover a spread of 10.5 in the contest most will be willing to skip.
What fuels them, though, is a unique blend of chemistry that few teams can truly brag about. An example of this is Kam Jones, a guard who has taken internal competition to heart. Teammate David Joplin’s is Jones, No. 1 hater, according to Jones himself. The two challenge each other to light up the scoreboard, one-upping each other in the pursuit of a Marquette victory.
In one game against DePaul, Jones finished with seven three-pointers. Joplin was there to remind him that he hit eight the last time the two teams squared off.
How far can these two propel each other this March?