There’s always one region that looks a little tougher to predict than the others, and this year, that region appears to be the East. For starters, there’s nothing really “East” about this region, as only four teams out of 17 are in a state that touches the Atlantic Ocean, and Yale, Saint Peter’s, and Norfolk State will probably be gone by Friday. That means no team will have an edge with its fans in Philadelphia, making this a true question of talent and coaching.
There are a few favorites to come out of this region, but some are better bets than others. Here are my recommendations for the East Region.
There’s a reason that Kentucky isn’t offering a lot of value, and his name is Oscar Tshiebwe. Tshiebwe leads the nation in rebounds, averaging 15.1 per game, and he’s a nightmare of a matchup in the post for most of the teams in this region. There are really only two teams in this region that can confidently say they have the personnel to go up against Tshiebwe, and I’ll get to them in a bit.
But for the most part, Kentucky has the hardest player to guard in the region and quality guard play surrounding him. If Sahvir Wheeler and TyTy Washington can make good decisions with the ball and Kellan Grady gets hot from outside, Kentucky will be tough to beat. However, the Wildcats do have a weakness which might make you think twice: they’re not very good from the free-throw line.
The Value Play: Purdue, +300
If it’s not Kentucky who’s going to come out of the East, it’s probably going to be Purdue. The Boilermakers just reached the Big Ten final, and they boast a solid interior presence in Zach Edey and Trevion Williams. But it’s Jaden Ivey who really makes this team special, and he’ll have to go to another gear to take the Boilers to their first Final Four.
There’s one key issue with Purdue: the Boilers’ defense is very suspect. Purdue doesn’t give up many second chances, but teams don’t need second chances when the first shot goes in half the time. If they can solve that, they have the most talent in the region.
The Sleeper: Indiana, +5000
Don’t be blind to the risk you’re taking here. No 12 seed has ever made the Final Four, and Indiana would have to win five games to make it to the Final Four, not four. But the Hoosiers have the ability and the personnel to do it in this region. If they survive Wyoming, they match up well with Saint Mary’s, UCLA and Baylor, none of whom have the interior personnel to bang with Trayce Jackson-Davis. That would put the Hoosiers in a one-game duel with Kentucky or Purdue, where you’d be holding a 50-1 ticket. Big risk here, but huge rewards.
Team to Avoid: Baylor, +300
The Bears are banged up as it is and don’t have the interior game needed to throw their weight around against Indiana. Honestly, Baylor might not have the bulk needed to deal with North Carolina, which might take the Bears down in Round 2. I can’t see the Bears making a run in this region; I think they’ll be gone no later than the Sweet 16.
Kentucky doesn’t offer a lot of value, but you’re still getting plus money for the most complete team in the regional. I’d prefer the Wildcats were going off at +200, but Purdue’s defense scares me too much against Kentucky’s shooters. So I’ll back Kentucky at +150.
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