Read This Before You Fill Out Your March Madness Bracket

Borgata sportsbook director Thomas Gable breaks down the regions, underdogs to watch and his pick to win it all

March 20, 2024 6:18 am
A view of the NCAA March Madness logo. We spoke with Borgata sportsbook director Thomas Gable for some tips on filling out the 2024 bracket.
March Madness is about to get underway. If you're making a bracket, here are some tips.
Katharine Lotze/Getty

With the Big Dance set to tip off tomorrow in earnest when Michigan State takes on Mississippi State in Charlotte just after noon, Cinderella season is officially upon us. That being the case, we reached out to Thomas Gable, race and sportsbook director at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, to get this thoughts on each region in the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament. Here are Gable’s thoughts on keeping your bracket from busting, or maybe even close to perfect, and avoiding letting March Madness dissolve into March sadness. Let the games begin.

East Region, No. 1 Seed: UConn

The committee didn’t do UConn any favors by putting them in this region here with these teams. I think UConn is the best team in college basketball, but they have a tough road here. They’ll be taking on the winner of Florida Atlantic and Northwestern and they also have to go through Iowa State, who were in contention for a No. 1 seed. I think they may have peaked a week too early, but they just beat Houston down in the Big 12 tournament.

The team I think the committee didn’t get right in terms of seeding is Auburn. They are the No. 4 seed and they are a tremendous team. I think they can certainly give UConn problems and it would not surprise me if they make a Final Four run, honestly. The other team to look at in this bracket is BYU at the sixth seed. They have a tremendous ceiling. They take a ton of threes, and watch out if they’re shooting it well because they can put up a ton of points. If they string together some good offensive performances, they can go pretty far here.

I was a little disappointed to see Washington State (No. 7 seed) and Drake (No. 10 seed) matched up in the first round. Drake beat Indiana State in their conference championship and they’re a pretty good basketball team overall. Washington State is a very well-coached team. I’d give them a B+ in terms of talent, but they have A-level coaching and that makes up for a lot, especially come tournament time. I think both of those teams have a chance to give Iowa State some problems in the second round. This is UConn’s bracket to lose but they have some landmines to get through to get to the Final Four.

West Region, No. 1 Seed: North Carolina

Arizona is a No. 2 seed that seems vulnerable here. They’re facing Long Beach State in the first round, a team that has the distinction of actually being led by a coach who is already technically fired. Long Beach fired their head coach before their conference tournament but allowed him to continue on and they won. Now they are in the NCAA tournament. Weird story. Arizona should be able to put them away in the first round, but they’re going to have a tough matchup next with Dayton or Nevada. I’d like Nevada there.

The 5-12 matchup in this region is St. Mary’s (No. 5) and Grand Canyon (No. 12). You’ll probably get some people taking Grand Canyon, but I like St. Mary’s a lot here and actually like them overall. I wouldn’t be opposed to picking them to get to the Final Four out of this region. It’s doable for them as a No. 5 seed.

The other team to look at is Mississippi State. They played pretty well in their conference tournament and they are facing Michigan State. Tom Izzo gets a lot of backing because of his past history and what he’s done, but I like Mississippi State in the first round game and I think probably they’ll give North Carolina a scare too.

If there’s one region you could see a higher seed come out of, I think this one would be it. I would not be surprised to see an Elite Eight matchup of St. Mary’s versus Nevada. Take your pick out of those two because they are pretty good defensively. It’d be a five against a 10 seed, but I would not be surprised in the least if that happens. I wouldn’t take the chalk in that region, I’ll say that.

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South Region, No. 1 Seed: Houston

Houston is definitely the strongest team here. They are tremendous defensively. They go through droughts sometimes and don’t score for extended periods and that’s where they lose it if they lose. They’ve been a good program for the last couple years, been right in the hunt for a national title, but I think this is their best team out of the three years. The only issue is they have some injuries right now, so depth could be an issue for them as we get into later rounds. I like them to get to at least the Elite Eight.

The best thing that happened to Kentucky was getting beat in the SEC tournament. They can score with anybody, but defense is a liability for them. I would also say coaching is a liability for them. John Calipari has NBA-level talent on that team and he’s one of the best recruiters in college basketball, but I think he really holds them back when it comes down to actually getting it done.

Marquette (No. 2) is a team that’s also been dealing with injuries. They should be back to close to full strength this week though. I like them a lot, but I think they’ll have their hands full with Kentucky. It should be a very high scoring game if those teams meet up in the Sweet 16. But I like Houston to come out of the South. I think they do have the best draw.

Midwest Region, No. 1 Seed: Purdue

With Purdue and the No. 2 seed in this region, Tennessee, both of their coaches always seem to get knocked out early in the tournament. It’s interesting the committee put those teams as the top two in this region. That said, I think this is probably a different Purdue team than we’ve seen in the past. They’re second in the country in terms of three-point percentage and they are very solid on defense as well. It’s all there. It’s just a matter of if you think Purdue is going to choke again this year. Same thing with Tennessee.

I really like the No. 3 seed in this region and that’s Creighton. They are the third team out of the Big East to get into the tournament and they’re going to face South Carolina [or] Oregon in the second round. I don’t think they’ll have an issue with either one and then they’ll probably be facing Tennessee or Texas. I think Creighton can get by Tennessee. They’re a better offensive team and have good coaching. They have a solid core group and came within a hair of the Final Four last year. Everything’s lining up for Creighton and I think they’ll come out of this region with Purdue getting knocked out at some point.

Some sleepers I like in this region are Samford knocking off Kansas and McNeese State beating Gonzaga in the first round. Samford is one of the fastest teams in college basketball. They play at such a quick pace that you really have to prepare for them. They just fly up and down the court and it’s tough if you haven’t seen them before.

Final Four and National Champion

I’ll take UConn, St. Mary’s, Creighton and Houston. I’ll go with Houston and UConn in the championship game with Houston winning it all.

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