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 10:05 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.
Utah State (10) vs. Missouri (7)
Utah State -1.5 (-110)
If you've consumed any of our March Madness content this week, chances are this one won't come as a big surprise.
It really just comes down to this: while the Utah State Aggies are one of the most underrated teams in the tournament, the Missouri Tigers are one of the most overrated.
KenPom and BartTorvik both rate Utah State as a top-25 team, and they're easily the best of this year's 10 seeds. In fact, KenPom is so high on them that the Aggies are 18th, coming out ahead of teams like Duke, Kansas State, Indiana, Virginia, and Miami -- all schools seeded 5th or better.
On the other hand, Missouri is arguably the worst 7 seed, ranking 51st (KenPom) and 56th (BartTorvik). That puts them more in the realm of an 11 or 12 seed than one in single digits.
Both teams are excellent on offense, boasting top-15 marks in adjusted offensive efficiency, per BartTorvik. However, they're very different teams defensively.
While the Aggies are 64th in adjusted defense, the Tigers drop down to 176th. Missouri is particularly poor when it comes to effective field goal percentage defense (274th), opposing free throw rate (275th), and defensive rebounding rate (362nd).
At worst, it looks like these seeds should be reversed, and Utah State probably deserves even better than that. The Aggies are easy to recommend as such a modest favorite.
Howard (16) vs. Kansas (1)
Howard +22.5 (-115)
Despite the massive spreads we get in these 1/16 matchups, it's still usually hard to back these underdogs that are off the national radar and going up several tiers in competition. After all, a 16 seed has bounced a 1 seed only once ever in the men's NCAA tournament.
And yet, even the smallest of these Davids can make the Goliaths sweat more than expected sometimes, and that's what we're hoping for here.
Although the Howard Bison unsurprisingly sit low in the rankings on KenPom and BartTorvik, they're a significant step up from some of the other 16 seeds. The Bison are 215th on KenPom and 214th on BartTorvik, whereas First Four teams Southeast Missouri State, Texas Southern Tigers, and Fairleigh Dickinson Knights all fall outside the top 250.
Meanwhile, the Kansas Jayhawks may be viewed as a title contender, but they're arguably the worst of this year's 1 seeds. KenPom has the Jayhawks ranked 9th, and BartTorvik even has them dropping out of the top 10 at 12th.
Additionally, while it sounds like Kansas should have third-leading scorer Kevin McCullar Jr. back, coach Bill Self's status remains uncertain, which adds another potential wrinkle to this game.
Howard may not be the cream of the crop, but there are some things they do quite well.
While they aren't the most prolific three-point shooting team, they have the 31st-best shooting percentage from beyond the arc, which should help them mount a comeback if they get down early. They also crash the glass well on offense, ranking 27th in offensive rebounding rate, which could lead to second-chance points against a Jayhawks team that's average at rebounding.
Of course, a team like the Bison has its share of weaknesses, most notably turning the ball over at an alarming clip; they're 356th in turnover rate.
But if Howard can limit their mistakes, they have a chance to keep things fairly interesting against the defending champs. Our model projects Kansas to win by 18.7 points and gives the Bison a 61.2% chance of staying within the lofty spread. BarTorvik also sees Kansas coming up short of covering, predicting a 17.6-point win.
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (16) vs. Alabama (1)
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi +23.5 (-112)
Well, this could all look really stupid by Thursday evening, but here we are. We're siding with yet another 16 seed, and this is actually one of our model's favorite bets.
The Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders defeated Southeast Missouri in a First Four matchup on Tuesday, and their reward is a date with the top overall seed, the Alabama Crimson Tide.
While the Islanders' task is even tougher than Howard's, TAMU-CC is the second-best 16 seed and shakes out as a roughly average overall team. They're 170th by KenPom's ranks and 184th on BarTorvik.
While TAMU-CC isn't anything special on defense, they're above-average in adjusted offensive efficiency, coming in at 151st. That includes solid marks in three-point shooting percentage (50th), free throw rate (69th), and offensive rebounding rate (54th).
Maybe it won't matter against Alabama, which owns the nation's third-best adjusted defense, but perhaps it gives the Islanders a fighting chance to keep things from getting too far out of hand. It's also worth noting that TAMU-CC is missing their third-leading scorer and Southland Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Terrion Murdix, which could further hurt their chances.
But what this could ultimately boil down to is whether the Crimson Tide are hitting their threes. Alabama not only rains down three-pointers at the nation's 8th-highest clip, but TAMU-CC allows the 29th-highest three-point attempt rate.
The key here is that Alabama isn't actually elite at hitting said threes -- far from it. They're just 179th in three-point shooting percentage, so it isn't that outlandish to envision a scenario where they go cold from beyond the arc and let TAMU-CC hang around longer than expected.
numberFire's model sees 'Bama winning by 15.3 points and gives the Islanders a 72.3% probability of losing by fewer than 23.5.