Baylor Bears guard Matthew Mayer (24) celebrates during the second half against the Kansas Jayhawks at Ferrell Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports
Baylor Bears guard Matthew Mayer (24) celebrates during the second half against the Kansas Jayhawks at Ferrell Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

East Region preview: Betting odds, favorites, sleepers and best bets for the 2022 NCAA Tournament

There’s no need to contain your excitement any longer—the day of reckoning is finally upon us! March Madness is here, and with the First 5 commencing tonight, the action is ready to get underway. This is it. As a sports bettor (or fan), this is the big time.Before the opening tip, we at WynnBET are taking a deep dive into the four respective brackets.

Stay with us now as we analyze the one the may be the most entropic and unpredictable of all: The East bracket. ALL ODDS AS OF TUESDAY, MARCH 15th

Bracket

  • No. 1 Baylor (-21) vs. No. 16 Norfolk St.

  • No. 8 North Carolina (-3.5) vs. No. 9 Marquette

  • No. 5 Saint Mary’s (SPREAD TBD) vs. No. 12 Wyoming/Indiana

  • No. 4 UCLA (-13.5) vs. No. 13 Akron

  • No. 6 Texas (-1) vs. No. 11 Virginia Tech

  • No. 3 Purdue (-15) vs. No. 14 Yale

  • No. 7 Murray St. (-1.5) vs. No. 10 San Francisco

  • No. 2 Kentucky (-17) vs. No. 15 St. Peter’s

The favorites

Baylor – The reigning 2020-21 Men’s NCAA Champs, the Baylor Bears, return a talented and experienced squad under Head Coach Scott Drew. At the moment, WynnBET currently has Baylor at 10/1 to repeat the act and win the 2022 Men’s NCAA Tournament, immediately yielding the fifth-shortest odds (behind Gonzaga, Arizona, Kansas and Kentucky) to do so.

Despite finishing second in the Big 12 to Kansas, the Bears are ranked No. 1 in this year’s East bracket and rightfully so—after running to a 26-6 record over the current season on the heels of winning the first Men’s CBB National Championship in school history, the Bears deserve some respect.

Can Baylor get an encore? It’s absolutely possible, but they find themselves in the toughest bracket (in my humble opinion) to navigate through. It is unlikely they’ll face a challenge in the opening game against 16-seed Norfolk State where Baylor is laying upwards of 20 points, but the road gets exponentially tougher from there. BU would face the winner of UNC-Marquette in the Round of 32 and then potentially either UCLA or St. Mary’s—both programs there can ball with the best. Of course, 2-seeded Kentucky is also here, and those Wildcats are actually my pick for the Final 4 out of this East bracket.

Kentucky – Yes, it is John Calipari’s squad that I believe to be most suited to make a Final 4-run from the East bracket. The Kentucky Wildcats Men’s basketball team played their way to a 26-7 regular season record—good enough for second in the SEC behind only Auburn. Despite a disappointing SEC conference tournament run wherein they lost in the semifinals to a very talented Tennessee-team, the Wildcats seem built to endure the many trials of the big dance.

At this level of basketball, it is often coaching and depth that make the difference. Naturally, those are two departments that Kentucky still rings strong in. Coach Calipari, a 3x Naismith COY Winner, is in his 13th season as the top man at Kentucky basketball. He has won one national title here (2012) and made four Final 4 appearances. It has now been over seven years since Calipari and Kentucky last made it that far, so you can ensure that these Wildcats come hungry.

This year’s edition of the Kentucky Wildcats is most impressive on the offensive end. Through the 2021-22 season, Kentucky has averaged 79.5 points per game (good enough to land them within the top-five percentile of NCAA division I basketball). Additionally, this team is playing with a chip on the shoulder after their most recent defeat against rival-Tennessee. This bracket will certainly be fun, and there are many contenders here, but I like the Kentucky Wildcats to outlast all others in the East. 

Sleeper team to win the region: UCLA

For a sleeper pick, I really love one of college basketball’s most celebrated programs: The UCLA Bruins. The boys from Westwood are only one season removed from last year’s inspiring run to the Final 4, and boast a roster that is athletic and experienced (only three freshmen on this Bruins team). Head coach Mick Cronin is in his third year at the post, and has guided UCLA to a 25-7 record on the current season. They finished second in the Pac-12 for the regular season, and nearly bested Arizona in the conference title game last weekend. For me, it seems a bit odd to have UCLA all the way down at a 4-seed. I understand that they may not warrant a top-seed at the moment, but I believe this time is too well-rounded to ignore.

Early in the week, we see some respect for the Bruins from the oddsmakers–WynnBET currently has UCLA at 30/1 to win the entire tournament. Within the East bracket, only Kentucky, Baylor and Purdue have shorter odds. The Bruins are a dangerous combination of talented, athletic and motivated. Last weekend, many liked UCLA to upset Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship game and they almost did exactly that. Additionally, the Bruins have showcased two impressive wins over their arch-rival in the last month (a solid USC-team that will also be at the dance).

Sure, UCLA may be some years removed from their glory days on the hardwood, but they are a program that is perpetually bringing in top-tier talent. Of course, it has been awhile since the Bruins went all the way–their last Men’s basketball national title came in 1995. However, given the competitive nature of the East bracket, don’t rule out the Bruins making it to their 20th Final 4 in program history.

First-round upset to consider

San Francisco over Murray State – Once upon a time, I nearly attended the University of San Francisco, so I tend to keep an eye on the Dons around hoop season. Despite playing in-conference with the squad many consider to be best in the nation (Gonzaga), there were high hopes coming into the 2021-22 year for Head Coach Todd Golden and the boys on The Hilltop. For what it’s worth, they did not disappoint. USF railed off ten consecutive wins to start this season and wound up finishing with a 24-9 overall record.

Along with the Zags and St. Mary’s, San Francisco (being from the Bay Area, I cannot call it “San Fran”) is a legit threat out of the WCC.I am not the most familiar with the current edition of the Murray State Racers, but I can respect that they are laying a point and a half to the Dons. However, with a spread under two, I think the USF moneyline (+105 on Monday) is the most valuable play here. These first rounds of the big tournament typically yield their fair share of upsets, and I see this being an early one to consider out of the East bracket. 

Best bets

Saint Mary’s ATS vs. Wyoming/Indiana – The Gaels won’t know who they face in the first round until late Tuesday night, but I like their chances against either opponent here. Wyoming and Indiana tipoff at 6:10pm PST. Whichever side emerges victorious will be working on short rest—SMC will be ready to go Thursday afternoon, regardless.Saint Mary’s College, under Head Coach Randy Bennett, is a small (in enrollment, not physical size) but mighty program. They routinely make respectable runs in the big tournament and are known for recruiting some of the best players from Australia and New Zealand.

This year, the Gaels have drawn a 5-seed–-their highest ever. And with the average height of the roster at 6’6”, this small program can play with the big boys. They are one of only three teams to defeat Gonzaga this season, and they nearly did it twice.Considering both Indiana and Wyoming are larger institutions with more comprehensive athletic departments, I imagine we may get a favorable number ATS for Saint Mary’s game on Thursday.

If Indiana wins tonight against the Cowboys, I’d expect something close to a PK in the ensuing matchup. If Wyoming trumps the Hoosiers in the First 4, then SMC will likely be favored. If it’s the Cowboys advancing, then I like Saint Mary’s laying 4 points or less. If the number reveals to be in that ballpark for either potential matchup, I’m taking the Gaels with all the confidence in the world.

Regional final prediction: Kentucky over UCLA

I see the reigning national champs having some trouble in this bracket. With very solid 4 and 5-seeds in UCLA and Saint Mary’s in the upper part of the East bracket with Baylor, I think somebody takes out the Bears in the Sweet 16. Whoever that is will see Kentucky in the Elite 8. I’ve been unimpressed with Purdue lately, and don’t really see anyone in that branch with the firepower to take on the Wildcats.Let’s not kid ourselves though, this bracket is a bit Helter-Skelter. At this time, I think it wise to rely back on the consistent factors of the game: talent, size and coaching. For me, Kentucky stands out above the rest in the East bracket. I expect the Wildcats to head to their first of many Final 4s this decade.

Our NCAA Tournament cheat sheet

The Playbook is here to provide all the betting content you might need for the NCAA Tournament. We have published in-depth previews on all four regions of the bracket, best bets, and value articles for those wanting to place futures ahead of the Big Dance. 

Here’s a rundown of all that content — in case you missed any of it.

Our region previews:

Futures market

Best bets

Bracket

We will also have a betting preview for every matchup of the 68-team event, so make sure to stay tuned throughout the NCAA Tournament in order to make sure you are informed as a bettor.