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The Degenerate’s Guide To Gambling On The First Three Rounds Of The NCAA Tournament

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One of the best weeks on the sports calendar is upon us. Even if you’re not a college basketball guy, it’s real hard not to get excited about the Thursday through Sunday gambling fiesta that is the rounds of 64 and 32 (because the NCAA decided to expand the bracket to 68 from 65, it’s now technically the first three rounds). Scrolling through the bracket, I see a few upsets that I really like, whether it’s because teams are coming into the tournament hot, cold, seeded poorly, or tournament-hardened. We’ll go through each region leading up to its Sweet Sixteen matchups, highlighting the games you should be putting that hard-earned money on. Let’s get to it.

Per usual, the lines provided are from our friends at

East Region

The East region has the top seeded number one and reigning national champion Villanova Wildcats. They also have what some consider the top number two seed, Duke, which many have chalked up to seeding by geography rather than merit. Either way, I’m going to put money down on one upset in this bracket, but two wouldn’t be out of the question. Some are saying that UNC Wilmington (+335) over Virginia is a good bet, because Virginia can’t score. Not a bad idea, but Virginia has gone through the tough ACC and UNC Wilmington isn’t going to throw anything at them that they haven’t seen before.

My upset pick in this bracket is going to be ETSU (+420) over Florida. Florida has looked like absolute shit at the end of the season, bowing out early in the SEC tournament. They lost their big man, which is troubling against ETSU, who is aggressive offensively and gets to the foul line. The return on this bet is great; do it ASAP. In the round of 32, I’m taking SMU to beat Baylor. SMU is a veteran team who plays complete basketball, and Baylor has been notoriously up and down all year. I think the more seasoned team gets it done and advances to the Sweet Sixteen.

The bets: ETSU over Florida (+420), SMU over Baylor (N/A)

West Region

The West region has both Gonzaga and Arizona, two teams that I personally hold in high regard. Though they’re my school’s rival, I have a ton of respect for Arizona in this tournament, as you’ll find out. I have this bracket as chalk, sans one game. I’m going to pick Xavier over Maryland in the Six-Eleven game. According to the stats guys, Xavier is criminally underseeded, and Maryland is another team who hasn’t looked great down the stretch. Six over Eleven isn’t a crazy pick, especially when looking at the line (+115). The Big Ten is not a great conference, so I expect Maryland to be one of the many Big Ten teams to make the tournament, but fall out in the first couple rounds. I’m also going to take Xavier to beat FSU in the round of 32, making a Sweet Sixteen appearance against Arizona.

The bet: Xavier over Maryland (+115), Xavier over FSU (N/A)

Midwest Region

I would consider the Midwest to be the weakest piece of this year’s bracket. Kansas is a strong one, but they also just lost in the first round of the conference tournament. Louisville wasn’t even supposed to be a two seed, but here they are. In this bracket, I have two lower seeds pushing past the round of 64. I’m taking Rhode Island over Creighton in the Six-Eleven game, and Oklahoma State over Michigan in the Seven-Ten game. I personally think the Oklahoma State-Michigan game is going to be one of the best games in the round of 64, as both teams were absolutely on fire down the stretch. Oklahoma State was dead in the water by mid-season, then went on an absolute tear. Michigan just won the Big Ten in their practice jerseys, and is going to be the trendy pick to make some noise because of the national attention they’ve received. That tells me that the line is going to start leaning to toward Oklahoma State, which is fantastic. Rams and Cowboys, do it.

The bet: Oklahoma State over Michigan (+125), Rhode Island over Creighton (Pick ‘Em)

South Region

The South region is the region of Blue Bloods, housing UNC, Kentucky, and UCLA. It also hosts dangerous teams like Arkansas and Wichita State. Wichita State has become the darling of the talking heads on TV because of their absolutely criminal underseeding. That being said, I’m going to ride that wagon for a bit. Dayton is a tough team with great coaching, but Wichita State is going to make solid work of them in the first round, in the very rare case where the lower seed is a huge favorite (-270), and I’m actually going to take the Two-Ten upset in the round of 32, having Wichita State advancing to the Sweet Sixteen to play UCLA.

As you noticed in the previous regions, I am not very high on the Big Ten. Another early exit by that conference should come by way of Minnesota. I’m picking Middle Tennessee State to take out the Gophers in the Five-Twelve game (Pick ‘Em). MTSU is battle-tested in the tournament, shocking Michigan State last year. They were ranked at 25 in the country, and were seeded at 12 in their region — seems like a recipe for an upset.

The bet: MTSU over Minnesota (Pick ‘Em), Wichita State over Dayton (-270), Wichita State over Kentucky (N/A)

Image via Shutterstock

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Great American, mediocre student, terrible golfer. For lukewarm takes, you can find me at @mel_kiper_sr on twitter, or hit the inbox at

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