Three of the four men’s NCAA tournament regions have clear favorites as March Madness rounds into Sweet 16 weekend — top seeds Alabama and Houston are odds-on favorites in the South and Midwest, respectively, while Tennessee is close to that in the East.
But in the wide-open, wild West Region, no one knows what to expect. Not even the oddsmakers.
At FanDuel Sportsbook, No. 4 seed UConn and No. 2 seed UCLA are both listed at +185, with No. 3 Gonzaga right behind at +230. Even No. 8 Arkansas, at +600, is a live long-shot bet.
The regional semifinals and final will be the first NCAA tournament games played in Las Vegas, so expect boisterous crowds — and plenty of betting.
Here’s how the matchups stack up, followed by a regional winner pick:
Arkansas Razorbacks vs. UConn Huskies
Time: 7:15 p.m. Thursday
Point spread: UConn -4.5
Money line: UConn -188, Arkansas +155
Analysis: Arkansas has knocked off a No. 1 seed for the second straight year, last year taking out Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 and this year bouncing Kansas in the second round. Can the Razorbacks do it again?
Arkansas is not a short team, with its starting guards ranging from 6-foot-4 to 6-7, but the Razorbacks also lack a true inside presence, with only reserve forward Makhi Mitchell taller than 6-7 among regulars. That could spell trouble against UConn, which leans on 6-9 forward Adama Sanogo for much of its offensive production.
Sanogo was 11 for 16 from the floor for 24 points in the second-round win over St. Mary’s, and he’s a true bellwether for this team: The Huskies are 19-0 when he scores 20 or more points.
Prediction: UConn 70, Arkansas 63
Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. UCLA Bruins
Time: approx. 9:45 p.m. Thursday
Point spread: UCLA -1.5
Money line: UCLA -122, Gonzaga +102
Analysis: It’s a rematch from an epic Final Four game two years ago when the Zags won 93-90 on Jalen Suggs’ banked-in buzzer-beater in overtime.
Unlike then, however, it’s UCLA that has the higher seed and is favored this time. Can the Bruins’ lockdown defense (No. 2 nationally in efficiency, according to KenPom) find a way to stop Drew Timme and the high-flying Gonzaga offense (No. 1 in efficiency)?
My favorite bet here is actually the over, because I believe Gonzaga will find a way to score on anyone but that UCLA’s underrated offense also can feast on the other end. As far as a winner, if the Bruins can find a way to slow the tempo down at least a little, they’ll find enough stops in the half-court to advance to the Elite Eight.
Pick: UCLA 79, Gonzaga 75
Odds to make the Final Four
Pick to win the West: UConn
Ultimately, the Huskies have the best combination of potentially explosive offense and suffocating defense in this region. They’ve underperformed in close games this year, but much of that can be chalked up to luck. In this case, we’ll take the +185 odds on a team that’s a solid favorite in the Sweet 16 and should be something in the neighborhood of a pick ’em against either potential opponent in the regional final.