March Madness Betting Guide: First Round, Thursday
March Madness is here!
Filling out a bracket is the main attraction for most sports fans this time of year, but the fun doesn't have to stop there. It's also the perfect opportunity to place some bets at NCAAB odds.
The first round gets underway on Thursday, with the first of 16 games tipping off at 12:15 pm ET and the last one beginning at 9:57 pm ET. Who has time for work?
Which games should draw our attention? Let's find out.
Please note that lines are subject to change throughout the day after this article is published. Please check here to make sure you're seeing the most updated information. You can also look at our oddsFire tool to get a feel for what the betting public is doing.
Memphis Tigers (9) vs. Boise State Broncos (8)
This 8/9 matchup rates as one of the closest projected games of the first round, so there could be some value in siding with the underdog. The Memphis Tigers may be the 9 seed, but they're 3.0-point favorites over the Boise State Broncos.
According to KenPom, Memphis is the 28th-best team in the country, but Boise State slots right behind them at 29th. Similarly, according to numberFire's nERD, the Tigers rank 24th and the Broncos are 29th.
And while Memphis has the slighter more potent offense, both teams are top 25 in adjusted defensive efficiency, per BartTorvik.
This one should be a nail-biter.
However, the Tigers do have some glaring weaknesses that could get them into trouble. Few things can derail a team faster than turning the ball over, and that's something Memphis struggles with, ranking 352nd out of 358 teams in turnover rate.
They also rate poorly in defensive rebounding rate (288th), which could lead to more second-chance buckets for the Boise State, and they also allow opponents to get to the free throw line at a high clip (255th in free throw rate allowed).
It's worth noting that Memphis played well down the stretch, so there's the risk that Boise State is catching this team at the wrong time.
Still, numberFire's model projects the Broncos to cover the 3.0-point spread 57.62% of the time and also sees value in the moneyline (+128).
Longwood Lancers (14) vs. Tennessee Volunteers (3)
As you might expect in the round of 64, we're seeing quite a few hefty spreads for the highest seeds, and, let's face it, many of these games will ultimately end up as blowouts.
But there are always a few contests that end up being closer than anticipated, and the Longwood Lancers might be able to stay within the 18.5-point spread against the favored Tennessee Volunteers.
While other heavy favorites in action like Gonzaga, Baylor, and Kentucky all possess top-10 adjusted offenses, per BartTorvik, Tennessee ranks 35th in the metric. They're instead known for their stifling defense, ranking third in adjusted efficiency.
That may not bode well for the Lancers, but Longwood's greatest weapon is its three-point shooting. Despite the Volunteers' elite overall defense, they're just 240th in three-point attempt rate allowed, per Sports-Reference.
The Lancers have the nation's sixth-best three-point percentage, and they shot 50.0% or better from long range in four of their last five games, demonstrating how dangerous they can be when they get hot.
Additionally, Longwood does a decent job of getting to the charity stripe (47th in free throw rate), and that's another area where Tennessee struggles defensively (219th in free throw rate allowed).
This could all blow up in our faces if the Lancers have a poor shooting night from beyond the arc, and it's not like they've faced many top opponents this season.
Per BartTorvik, Longwood's only game against a top-50 opponent was Iowa in their first game of the season, and they lost 106-73. For what it's worth, though, the Hawkeyes are one of the best offenses in the entire tournament.
Our model likes Longwood's chances of covering, projecting Tennessee's margin of victory to be well below the 18.5-point spread.
Marquette Golden Eagles (9) vs. North Carolina Tar Heels (8)
The Marquette Golden Eagles are 3.5-point underdogs to the North Carolina Tar Heels, but this is another game that could go either way.
North Carolina rates as the better overall squad, sitting 30th on both KenPom and numberFire, whereas Marquette just sneaks instead the top 50 in both rankings. But that isn't a massive gap, and numberFire's model is only giving UNC a 57.8% win probability.
Offensively, the Tar Heels have the edge, ranking 26th in adjusted offense, but the Golden Eagles are a solid 60th.
Marquette wins out in adjusted defense, though (47th to 65th), and they're a top-40 team in effective field goal percentage allowed. North Carolina is particularly poor at forcing turnovers, ranking an abysmal 346th in defensive turnover rate.
However, the Golden Eagles struggle mightily on the glass. They sit outside the top 300 in both offensive and defensive rebounding rate. This is perhaps the biggest area of concern.
On top of that, Marquette also enters the tournament on a bit of a cold streak, winning just 4 of their last 10 games.
Still, when this team plays up to its potential, it can hang with quality opponents. Among teams that qualified for the tournament, Marquette defeated Villanova (2 seed) and Seton Hall (8 seed) twice this season and has wins over Illinois (4 seed) and Providence (4 seed).
I like the Golden Eagles' chances of covering the 3.5-point spread, and you can also target the moneyline (+136) if you want more bang for your buck.