Who's going to win the East Region in the 2017 March Madness Tournament? That question probably has three legitimate answers, but we have to trim some fat before we get there.
A few things to pick off here before we start with the logical bets at the top of the order: First, the No. 5 Virginia Cavaliers are nowhere close to what they were last year. Oh, and they have no rebounding. The No. 4 Florida Gators are also nothing close to a contender. Also, don't get No. 16 Mount Saint Mary's confused with actual Saint Mary's. They're different schools. Lastly, this is an absolutely top-heavy region so that should steer your bets pretty firmly.
The No.1 Villanova Wildcats (+140 to win East Region) are undoubtedly the team to watch, but if you haven't been following college basketball all season long then you might not know that they're completely different than last year. Kris Jenkins is still the star after hoisting last year's championship game winner, and he's flanked by the ever evolving talents of Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart.
Last year's squad was a perfectly built, balanced roster. This year is radically different, boasting four guards and brining a high-tempo, ball slinging style of play that reflects how the game has changed over recent years. If you're going to find any flaw on this team, it's that they don't guard particularly well. But that weakness hasn't shown up when it matters. These Wildcats lost just three games all year long.
Of course, the biggest wild card to topple Villanova is the No. 2 Duke Blue Devils (+200 to win East Region). The drama surrounding Coach K and Grayson Allen has been the lead story, but the reality of the narrative is that this team always had the potential. All of it was realized in a raucous ACC Tournament and that's really scary. This team is capable of doing it all at a truly elite level. The question, as it's always been, is if they have the fortitude for the length of the Madness.
People are going to stream towards the No. 3 Baylor Bears (+800 to win East Region) for obvious reasons, but I think the polish has come off the shoes here. Baylor is just 6-4 SU and 4-6 ATS in their last 10 games and just lost to Kansas State in the Big 12 Tournament. They've also historically been a huge letdown in March Madness.
If you're going to get frisky with anyone in the remainder of the field, you have to go with the No. 6 SMU Mustangs (+600 to win East Region). I love how the Mustangs play college basketball. An obnoxiously energetic scoring scheme that relays on volume is led by Semi Ojeleye and Shake Milton. It's like the program just feels the pure joy of not having Larry Brown around, and it's absolutely contagious. This is the type of team that scares handicappers in the big tournament.
There's no way you can bet on the East Region without a play on the top seeded Villanova Wildcats. If you're hoping for a streamer to upset the balance, I'd rather take SMU at +600 over Duke at much less. The Blue Devils have so much potential, but I find it hard to ignore a full season of frustration after just four days of hot ACC action. Take the Wildcats and the Mustangs in your futures bets. They can avoid each other until the Elite Eight round.
If you haven't done so already, submit your brackets for your chance at $1,000,000 in this year's March Mayhem Bracket Contest. Every $100 that you deposit between March 1st and noon on March 16 earns you a free bracket to the $1,000,000 bracket contest. Deposits after that earn you a free entry to the $10,000 bracket contests.