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Breaking down the bracket: South Region betting preview

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Despite various self-inflicted off-court tribulations, Alabama's on-court action has been good enough for the nominal No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament as of last Sunday. When you watch Brandon Miller and the Crimson Tide in full flight, you can see why.

At first blush, it appears that getting the top seed provides Alabama a smoothly paved path to the Final Four.

Odds to win the South 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.

Alabama (1) +175 42
Arizona (2) +450 39.5
Baylor (3) +550 38
Creighton (6) +900 38
Virginia (4) +1000 35
San Diego State (5) +1400 37.5
West Virginia (9) +1500 37
Maryland (8) +1800 36.5
Missouri (7) +4000 33.5
North Carolina State (11) +4000 33
Utah State (10) +5000 37
Charleston (12) +8000 32.5
Furman (13) +8000 30.5
UC Santa Barbara (14) +10000 29
Princeton (15) +10000 28.5
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (16) +10000 24.5

First-round bets to make

(13) Furman vs. (4) Virginia (-5.5, 132.5)

Furman seems like a hot pick around the watercooler, but 81.7% of participants in bracket contests are backing Virginia. This line opened at +6 and hasn't yet gotten to where it could reasonably close at +4.5.

Veteran leaders Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson have been building toward Furman's first tourney appearance since 1980, having missed out last season due to an overtime loss in the SoCon title game. Meanwhile, Virginia isn't much more than an average team - that was in the NIT last year - which means it's vulnerable to a first-round upset like in 2018 and a similarly lined game in 2021.

Pick: Furman (+5.5)

(10) Utah State vs. (7) Missouri (+1.5, 154.5)

You've probably heard by now that the Mountain West had a tough go of it in last year's tournament and that Sweet 16 appearances have been hard to come by for what's now regularly a multi-bid league. Maybe that's why we're getting a deal on Utah State. The Aggies probably aren't favored by as much as they should be because of this MWC versus SEC matchup; 57% of bracket challenge participants are taking Missouri. Oddsmakers are sharp enough to know that the 10-seed should be the favorite in this 10-7 matchup, even if the line isn't quite high enough.

Pick: Utah State (-1.5)

(12) Charleston vs. (5) San Diego State (-5, 141.5)

Charleston joins CAA teams of the past - Hofstra, Northeastern, Drexel, Delaware, and yes, itself - as a hot upset pick going into the NCAA Tournament. However, like every other one of those trendy picks since 2012, it'll likely come up short.

San Diego State gets painted with the same Mountain West brush as Utah State, but suffering an overtime loss of an 8-9 game with Creighton last year isn't the same as being the favorite. The Aztecs are known for their defense - holding opponents to 29.3% from three - but this might be their deepest offensive team - eight different players have had 16-plus points in a game.

Pick: San Diego State (-5)

Second-round bet to target

(9) West Virginia vs. (1) Alabama

If Bob Huggins' West Virginia can get past Maryland, it's going to get quite the shock against Alabama, which should win by 30-plus over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The Crimson Tide do what smart, analytics-driven teams like Liberty, Princeton, and Cornell do - they shoot threes and get to the rim (at a 91% rate). The difference is they do it with peak NCAA talent. The Mountaineers can grind past Maryland, but they won't be able to keep up with Alabama's attack.

Pick: Alabama (-6 or better)

Best value bet to win the South Region

You'd think Chip and Joanna Gaines might need to be called in to fix up Baylor by the way it's being dismissed in the betting market. Admittedly, back-to-back losses to Iowa State isn't the way you want to finish the season, but that might just be the result of a bad matchup. It's not like Baylor didn't rack up impressive road wins in some tough Big 12 locations this season.

The big complaint is the defense - Baylor ranks outside the top 100 in KenPom's defensive efficiency. However, according to ShotQuality, the Bears did the ninth-best job of forcing bad shots on a points per possession basis. Maybe they aren't bad enough to need to be faded?

When it comes to trying to take on Alabama, the best strategy might not be to try to shut the Tide down but instead to fight fire with fire, trying to outscore them. Baylor's trio of electric guards - potential NBA top pick Keyonte George and veterans Adam Flagler and LJ Cryer - are capable of getting hot just like Gonzaga and Oklahoma did when they toppled the Tide this season.

Arizona doesn't have the same ceiling that Baylor does in any given game, and the Bears have the better payout despite being a potential pick'em matchup.

Pick: Baylor (+550)

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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