As part of TheLines’ coverage of the NCAA tournament, we’re previewing each region, or quadrant, of the full March Madness bracket. What do the East Region bracket odds have to say about who will come out of arguably the toughest draw?
We’ll take a look at the top contenders, the teams on the fringe, and profile one longshot that could cause chaos and cash big.
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East Region Bracket Odds To Reach Final Four
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East Region Breakdown
We’ve listed the teams with their best price to win the national title in parentheses.
Baylor (): The selection committee certainly did not show the defending national champions any special level of respect here. By KenPom’s adjusted efficiency numbers, the Bears draw the region with the strongest No. 2 seed by quite a bit, the strongest No. 4 seed by quite a bit and the second-strongest No. 5 seed after the criminally underseeded Houston Cougars.
Baylor certainly has the top-end talent despite the departure of a couple of NBA draft picks from last year’s title team. They have two players currently projected in the 2022 first round by DraftExpress in forwards Kendall Brown (18th) and Jeremy Sochan (17th).
The Bears have a well-balanced team with four players averaging double figures but none cracking 14 PPG. Will that potential strength turn into a weakness if (when?) they need a key bucket in crunch time?
Kentucky (): Kentucky actually rated out stronger than Baylor by KenPom’s numbers, though the difference is basically a rounding error. The Wildcats played a breezy non-conference schedule but seemed to struggle against the top of the SEC. They went 1-4 against their fellow top four in conference.
Two pillars lead this team, likely lottery PG TyTy Washington Jr. and upperclass big man Oscar Tshiebwe. The latter is among the best rebounders in recent college basketball history. Like Baylor, they also have a coach familiar with deep tournament runs in John Calipari.
The market sees these two powerhouses as neck-and-neck, and the stats agree. If anything Kentucky may have lucked out a bit with the easier draw since No. 3 seed Purdue actually rates out lower than No. 4 seed UCLA.
Purdue (): Purdue has possibly the best guard/big offensive combo in the nation with potential top-five pick Jaden Ivey and nimble giant Zach Edey. And indeed, their offense checks in at third overall. They shot a hefty 39.1% from deep despite being known as a team that works inside-out.
Unfortunately, the defense has not held up its end. They gave up 68+ in losses to mediocre-at-best offenses of Rutgers, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Indiana. A team that can expose this big but relatively unathletic frontline and so-so defensive backcourt can take advantage of an inevitable off night shooting and bounce this hard-to-trust bunch.
UCLA (): UCLA made a shocking run to the Final Four in 2021 and entered the season as one of the favorites. Gonzaga handed them a humbling defeat early on but the Bruins rounded into form behind top wings Johnny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez Jr. Both are expected to be second-round picks eventually at the next level.
UCLA finished eighth in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency so don’t be fooled by the low seed. Combine that with their March experience and this is a potentially dangerous team. Juzang’s scoring is prone to streakiness since he relies so much on jump-shooting (less than 3 FTA per game) so watch for some variance from the Bruins.
Virginia Tech (): The No. 11 seed in the region, Virginia Tech did not have a particularly inspiring season, finishing seventh in a way-down ACC that only garnered five total bids. Of course, the Hokies secured one of those bids by spanking heavily favored Duke in the ACC final.
Can they make similar noise in the Big Dance? KenPom is a big fan, rating them 23rd overall and ahead of a ton of single-digit seeds.
It starts with a game against Texas, and that one is basically a coin flip according to the market. Purdue looks thoroughly beatable, and after that, who knows? Maybe favorites Kentucky and Baylor — likely fairly heavy favorites — will make it, and maybe they won’t. That’s why they call it Madness.
Other Region Breakdowns: