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Breaking down the bracket: Midwest Region betting preview

Bob Levey / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Few annual occurrences throw a wrench into bracket analyses like an injury to a key player right before the tournament. Houston held its breath this past weekend when Marcus Sasser hit the ground with a groin injury.

Sasser missed the 2022 tournament, and the Cougars missed enough shots in the regional final to fall short of the Final Four. Sasser appears probable for this weekend, though it shouldn't matter for the first two rounds - just as his absence wasn't a problem until the second weekend last year.

Odds to win the Midwest Region

Along with the odds to make the Final Four, we've included my point spread rating for each team. Take the difference in teams' ratings to project a fair point spread for a potential matchup later in the tournament.

Houston (1) +120 43
Texas (2) +400 40.5
Xavier (3) +900 37
Texas A&M (7) +1000 36.5
Indiana (4) +1200 36
Miami (5) +1600 34
Iowa St. (6) +1800 36.5
Iowa (8) +2500 34.5
Penn St. (10) +2800 34.5
Auburn (9) +2800 36
Pittsburgh (11) +5000 32
Drake (12) +5000 33
Kent St. (13) +10000 32.5
Kennesaw St. (14) +10000 27
Colgate (15) +10000 28
Northern Kentucky (16) +10000 25

First-round bets to make

(10) Penn State vs. (7) Texas A&M (-3, 134.5)

Throw these teams in an Octagon. Texas A&M's Buzz Williams builds his teams and their schedules with an eye on late-season tournament basketball toughness, while Micah Shrewsberry has a ready-made veteran group in Penn State that might be the last squad any team would want to see lurking nearby in its bracket.

The only tournament teams to attempt more threes than the Nittany Lions were Furman, Oral Roberts, and Alabama, and none of them converted a higher percentage. They also have the go-to bucket-getter you want in March; Jalen Pickett is scoring in double figures at the D-I level for a fifth year. He probes defenses and either finds a way to get a basket or finds a teammate for a three. Penn State doesn't turn the ball over either, so rebounding deficiencies are less important.

Pick: Penn State (+3)

(15) Colgate vs. (2) Texas (-13.5, 148)

Once again, people talking themselves into rating Colgate. Beating dopey Syracuse teams early in the season and then running through the member teams of the Patriot League gets them credit, but as much as we like to educate ourselves with the metrics, it's been years since the Raiders saw something like Texas.

Bettors took Colgate when the line opened at -14.5, and we're creeping toward our fair line of -12.5. Even if it doesn't get there, I'll pay a point's worth of tax to back the Longhorns. Texas was fourth in ShotQuality's adjDEF, which means the shots that Colgate is used to getting won't be forthcoming. This should look more like the Raiders' blowout losses to Arkansas in the 2021 tournament or Auburn this season than their cover in a loss to a mediocre Wisconsin to end last year.

Pick: Texas (-13.5)

(11) Pittsburgh vs. (6) Iowa St. (-4, 130.5)

Pittsburgh wandered in the darkness for a long time, so you could feel the sense of accomplishment for Jeff Capel on Tuesday night when the Panthers edged Mississippi State to get into the main bracket. They have an extra day and a short trip to Greensboro for this game with Iowa State, but the Cyclones are the type of the team you know will show up.

We found a winner in the Big 12 Tournament last week, predicting T.J. Otzelberger would stop his team from a late-season spiral. The Cyclones finished first nationally in ShotQuality adjDEF, so taking and making tough shots is going to be the ask for Pittsburgh after its biggest win in a decade.

Pick: Iowa State (-4)

Second-round bet to target

(7) Texas A&M vs. (10) Texas

My respect for Penn State doesn't mean I don't like Texas A&M as well. If the Aggies can knock off the hardened Nittany Lions, then a cross-conference, state rivalry game with Texas will be a fight.

We expect the Longhorns to have an easy time with Colgate, but that might only soften them up for the Aggies. That is relevant because Texas takes 70% of its shots from the mid-range, so we can see Williams putting together a plan to allow those inefficient shots. Meanwhile, A&M is one of the country's best teams at creating open looks. Expect a one-possession game if it happens.

Pick: Texas A&M (+4 or better)

Best value bet to win the Midwest

I'll be putting Houston into the Final Four of my bracket, but +120 isn't worth a bet with teams like Texas and Indiana or Miami looming on the second weekend. Instead, we'll look to the bottom half of the bracket for a team capable of a surprise run to the regional final at long odds.

Iowa State gets Pitt on short rest and then a potential pick'em game with over-seeded Xavier or Kennesaw State in the second round. If the worst-case scenario for a Sweet 16 matchup is a Texas team that the Cyclones game-planned for twice this season and beat once, that's not bad. They should be about a four-point underdog, and with Texas having its hands full in the second round, it's worth locking in a big price on Iowa State.

Pick: Iowa State (+1800 or better)

Matt Russell is a betting writer for theScore. If there’s a bad beat to be had, Matt will find it. Find him on Twitter @mrussauthentic.

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