Eli’s March Madness Bracket Picks & Upset Predictions: UNC Vulnerable 1-Seed In Final Four Betting Odds

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Written By Eli Hershkovich | Last Updated
Bracket Picks

With the 2024 NCAA Tournament field — and March Madness odds — officially finalized, there’s no better time to break down my bracket picks. In this article, you’ll find my first go-around of Final Four selections. You can follow along with our free printable bracket and opening first-round odds.

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East Region: No. 1 seed UConn ()

The first of my bracket picks might seem like the easy way out, but my raw numbers have the Huskies power-rated more than two points higher than any other NCAA tournament contestant. The defending champs replaced Jordan Hawkins with Rutgers transfer Cam Spencer, who boasts a top-45 perimeter clip (44.4%). Then, there’s five-star freshman Stephon Castle, seamlessly filling the void left by Swiss Army knife Andre Jackson.

Dan Hurley’s bunch is well-positioned to face Auburn in the Sweet 16, the only other team with a top-10 adjusted efficiency rating at both ends (via Haslametrics). Although I have a longshot futures bet on the Tigers, dating back to November, I don’t trust their transition-heavy offense if UConn turns this potential matchup into a half-court slog.

As loaded as the bottom of the East Region appears, I anticipate a myriad of upsets. I’ll share them in my complete bracket picks column.

Therefore, if the Huskies knock off the SEC tournament victor, their path is well-constructed to rake in consecutive Final Four berths. While I’m not “betting on” UConn at around even money, it’s one of my bracket picks.

West Region: No. 3 seed Baylor ()

Here come the surprises. I believe North Carolina, the second choice to win this region, is overvalued in the betting market at . The Tar Heels should face an arduous second-round opponent one way or the other.

Mississippi State is best suited to challenge them in the paint. The Bulldogs deliver a top-25 offensive rebounding clip, paced by 6-foot-11 Tolu Smith, who is also proficient near the rim. Surprisingly, UNC center Armando Bacot isn’t as sound of a post-defender as expected. The Tar Heels don’t apply much ball pressure, either, assisting the Bulldogs’ turnover-prone offense.

Eli’s West Region Bracket Pick(s)

This potential upset opens the door for longshot picks — and their respective odds — to claim the West Region crown. If Clemson gets by New Mexico on Friday, my Tigers’ Final Four futures could make a run. However, I’m hesitant because of the Lobos’ prowess on the boards — Clemson’s biggest strength.

Moreover, Tigers guards Chase Hunter and Joe Girard have been victimized by athletic backcourts, which the Lobos certainly possess with Donovan Dent, Jaelen House, and Jamal Mashburn.

Therefore, Baylor showcases a favorable path, assuming Langston Love, an integral reserve, returns from an ankle injury. Scott Drew’s 1-3-1 zone defense should provide fits throughout the tournament, and the Bears have one of the college basketball’s premier scoring duos in point guard RayJ Dennis and soon-to-be lottery pick Ja’Kobe Walter. They’ve tallied a top-10 3-point clip (39.4%) collectively, representing a high-variance candidate to emerge from this region.

There’s no shame in falling to Iowa State in the Big 12 semis. Generally speaking, bettors shouldn’t allow conference tournament results to greatly impact their perception of teams like Baylor. Like the Huskies, the Bears are solely one of my bracket picks — not an actual wager.

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South Region: no. 5 seed Wisconsin ()

Not only are the Badgers my biggest longshot pick to reach Phoenix, but I even placed a wager on their Final Four odds over the weekend.

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After Wisconsin rounded out the non-conference slate with six wins in its final seven games, it hit a wall in the midst of Big Ten play. From Feb. 1 through March 13, the Badgers shot 30.1% from long range, yielding a 39.8% clip in the process. While they rank No. 320 in open 3-point attempt rate allowed (via ShotQuality), there’s a big difference between poor shooting luck and defensive lapses.

It led to a 3-11 straight-up record to end the regular season. Nevertheless, once the Big Ten tournament tipped off, the pendulum swung in the other direction. During the Badgers’ four-game stint in Minneapolis, they strung together a 40.4% perimeter clip.

Wisconsin two-guard Max Klesmit and stretch-five Steven Crowl both shot above 47.4%. Despite the small sample size, their 3-point splits were much closer to their season averages than the horrid 11-game stretch.

Additionally, AJ Storr and Chucky Hepburn reverted to their game-wrecking ways. Hepburn was particularly dynamic at each end, nabbing 22 points, four assists, and three steals in the Badgers’ upset victory versus Purdue in the tournament semifinals. The 6-foot-2 point guard took Braden Smith, his counterpart, out of the game as well.

Potential Final Four Path

With Wisconsin regaining its early-season form, expect its veteran-laden roster to avoid an upset loss of its own over James Madison in the first round. Even though Houston would pose a formidable test in the Sweet 16, the Cougars’ depth is a major concern, especially with their center J’Wan Roberts suffering a shin injury in the Big 12 tournament.

Conversely, the Badgers are seemingly at full strength for the first time since mid-January, with backup guard Kamari McGee returning to the rotation. This variable is significant for winning four straight matchups. Their top-20 defensive rebounding rate allows them to impose their methodical pace, to boot, another factor in disrupting the opposition.

That could play a big role if they square off against uptempo in-state rival Marquette or Kentucky in the regional final.

Midwest Region: no. 2 seed Tennessee ()

This region represents the chalkiest of the bunch for me, so I won’t waste too much of your time. My raw numbers have the Vols power-rated nearly evenly with the Boilermakers. If you’re a non-believer in Creighton’s long-term prospects, Tennessee has a marginally easier draw to reach the Elite Eight than Purdue.

Like Baylor, Rick Barnes’ crew shouldn’t be subjected to recency bias after bowing out in the SEC tournament quarterfinals. Mississippi State, arguably the Volunteers’ biggest kryptonite, upended them. As noted, the Bulldogs have a high ceiling in the Big Dance.

Plus, Tennessee advertises three headline-worthy components this time of year: a stud playmaker in Dalton Knecht, a top-20 ranking in potential quick points off breakaway steals (PPSt) per 100 trips up-court versus the average opponent (via Haslametrics), and a top-80 offensive rebounding percentage. Jonas Aidoo does a fine job of protecting the rim, too.

Two weeks ago, the Vols were considered a national title contender. That conversation has somewhat evaporated. I can’t buy into this newfound perception — even if that means having faith in Barnes amid the Big Dance.

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