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Breaking down the bracket: West Region betting preview

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Kansas will defend its title from the familiar position of the 1-seed, but it's not the No. 1 the Jayhawks wanted. Pushed out to the West Region, this is the rare case in which a fanbase was hoping for a Sweet 16 trip to Kansas City instead of Las Vegas.

Odds to win the West 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.

TEAM (seed) ODDS RATING
Kansas (1) +300 39.5
UCLA (2) +300 41
Gonzaga (3) +400 40
Connecticut (4) +450 41
TCU (6) +900 36
Saint Mary's (5) +1000 38
Arkansas (8) +1900 36.5
Illinois (9) +2500 35
Boise State (10) +4000 35.5
Northwestern (7) +4000 34
Arizona State (11) +10000 32.5
Nevada (11) +10000 34
VCU (12) +10000 33
Iona (13) +10000 34.5
Grand Canyon (14) +10000 28.5
UNC-Asheville (15) +10000 26
Howard (16) +10000 23

First-round bets to make

(10) Boise State vs. (7) Northwestern (-1.5, 128)

Sometimes you can just tell what the betting market is going to do. When Boise State opened -1.5, it wasn't a surprise that Northwestern - a team from the Big Ten - took money. I got the Wildcats on the moneyline at +105 on Sunday night, but now that the line flipped, I'll play back over the top on the Broncos +1.5. This is based on the idea that the opener was correct and the market made an over-adjustment based on a difference in familiarity.

Pick: Boise (+1.5)

(12) VCU vs. (5) Saint Mary's (-4, 123)

It looked rough in the West Coast Conference final for Saint Mary's against Gonzaga, but the Gaels are better than that, and we can expect Randy Bennett to use the 10-day break to get his team back on track. Saint Mary's plays high-efficiency basketball on both sides of the court, ranking eighth in adjOFF and 23rd in adjDEF, according to ShotQuality.

VCU is getting a lot of attention as another hot 12-seed after a dominant second half over Dayton to win the Atlantic 10 in a rare nationally televised game Sunday. However, based on shot quality, the Rams' record was a whopping seven games better than it should've been.

VCU also lacks the rebounding advantage to give it extra possession to make up for the gap in efficiency. While points will be hard to come by, I've lined this game at -5.5, and it's available at -4. That's ample value for the better team.

Pick: Saint Mary's (-4)

(11) Arizona State / Nevada vs. (6) TCU

Though Wednesday's First Four finale hasn't been played yet, I don't think the outcome matters for the first round of tournament proper. While there's some concern about TCU losing sizeable big man Eddie Lampkin Jr., the team won't feel his absence against either Arizona State or Nevada.

The winner between the Sun Devils and Wolf Pack heads west to high-altitude Denver for a game less than 48 hours after a big win in Dayton and must take on the quickest-paced team in the country, which leads the nation in fast-break points. That's enough for me to back the Horned Frogs at even an inflated number.

Pick: TCU (-6 or better)

Second-round bet to target

(5) Saint Mary's vs. (4) UConn

If we're right about the Gaels dusting themselves off after losing the WCC, then they'll be live to knock off UConn. These teams have similar profiles efficiency-wise, but stylistically, Saint Mary's can pull the Huskies' bigs away from the basket, neutralizing one of their main advantages - big men Adama Sanogo and Donovan Clingan.

Dan Hurley has yet to make the Sweet 16, and while this is his best team, any point spread over a full possession is going to be worth a bet on the weekend in a coin-flip game.

Pick: Saint Mary's (+3.5 or better)

Best value bet to win the West Region

We talked about the annual bummer that is a key injury before the NCAA Tournament in the Midwest preview. UCLA fell victim to that seeming inevitability when it lost Jaylen Clark for the season. Losing an all Pac-12 defender may affect the Bruins in the most high-end matchups late in the tournament, but UCLA is first in defensive efficiency on KenPom and second according to ShotQuality. Mick Cronin's connected defense thus won't fall apart without Clark, as evidenced in the Pac-12 Tournament.

The Bruins may be under the radar because they lost late to Arizona on Saturday, but they were essentially without any post-defenders for the last five minutes of that game - due to injury and foul trouble - and held up well against the Wildcats' giants in the post.

In the bottom half of the bracket, they'll slow down either TCU or Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 and should be the favorite against No. 1 Kansas in the regional final, so holding a +300 ticket would be great before any tipoff in that round.

Pick: UCLA +300

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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