Ultimate Guide to Betting All 16 Thursday NCAA Tourney Games

Ultimate Guide to Betting All 16 Thursday NCAA Tourney Games article feature image

Mar 9, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide guard Collin Sexton (2) smiles to the crowd during the second half of the quarterfinals of the SEC Conference Tournament against the Auburn Tigers at Scottrade Center. Alabama won 81-63. Mandatory Credit: Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports

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Merry Christmas to all and to all a good day of picking winners in the opening round of the greatest two days in sports. Let’s dive right into our NCAA Tournament betting guide for every Thursday game, which matchups and metrics to watch, along with trends and our favorite bets from our crew of experts (Stuckey, Jordan Majewski, Bryan Mears and Ken Barkley — aka @LockyLockerson).

Be sure to check back here up until game time for insight into last-minute sharp action, significant line moves and any other betting market info. We’ll have a similar piece for all 16 Friday games as well.

Let’s get to it!

All spreads as of Wednesday evening. 

#10 Oklahoma vs. #7 Rhode Island -2 | O/U: 158

Pittsburgh, PA | 12:15 p.m. ET on CBS

No. 1 thing I’ll be watching: The whistle.

If the refs call this game tight, Oklahoma guard Trae Young could live at the line. Rhode Island plays one of the most aggressive defenses in the entire country. Consequently, the Rams foul on 24.3% of their defensive possessions (268th in the country). Given Young’s ability to draw contact, not only could he potentially get the Rhode Island perimeter in foul trouble, but seeing his shot fall consistently at the line could get him going from elsewhere. Oklahoma as a team also shoots an outstanding 74.8% from the stripe (55th nationally).  —Stuckey


Did You Know?

Oklahoma is the least profitable team against the spread (ATS) in postseason play since 2005, compiling a 10-29 ATS record. — John Ewing

Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger has failed to cover his past six games in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. He has an overall record of 1-8 ATS in his last nine games in the first or second round. — Evan Abrams

Betting Market

Rhode Island has moved from a PK to -2 since opening behind nearly 60% of spread bets and 71% of spread dollars. — Mark Gallant

My Favorite Bet

Stuck: Oklahoma +2
Jordan: Rhode Island -2
Mears: Oklahoma +2

#14 Wright State vs. #3 Tennessee -12.5 | O/U: 132

Dallas, TX | 12:40 p.m. ET on TruTV

No. 1 thing I’ll be watching: The battle of the boards.

Tennessee has a top-five offense, but not as a result of an efficient shot profile. They rank 222nd in percentage of shots from the 3-point line, 323rd in percentage of shots from the rim, and 243rd in transition. The Vols’ offense comes from great shooting and pounding the offensive glass. The latter will be tested against a Wright State squad that ranks 38th in defensive rebounding rate.

Conversely, the Raiders rank 18th in the nation in frequency of shots around the rim, which suggests a more efficient offensive approach. If Tennessee isn’t hitting its mid-range jumpers like it usually does, Wright St. could easily keep this within the number.  — Bryan Mears

Did You Know?

When Tennessee plays on Thursday, it’ll mark 3,282 days since Rick Barnes’ last cover in the Big Dance. In fact, since 2005, only two coaches have covered in fewer than 33% of their NCAA Tournament games (minimum 10 contests):

  1. Rick Barnes (31.6%) — Tennessee
  2. Jamie Dixon (31.6%) — TCU

Barnes is actually on a current seven-game ATS losing streak in the NCAA Tournament. Those losses all occurred during his time at Texas, dating back to 2009 in a second-round game against Duke. — Evan Abrams

Betting Market

Wright State has weaseled their way into “trendy dog” territory. Now getting 52% of spread bets and 62% of spread dollars, they’ve moved from +14 to +12. — Mark Gallant

My Favorite Bet

Stuckey: Under 132
Jordan: Under 132
Ken: Wright State +12.5; Under 132

#13 UNC Greensboro vs. #4 Gonzaga -12.5 | O/U: 135.5

Boise, ID | 1:30 p.m. ET on TNT

No. 1 thing I’ll be watching: If the UNCG defense can hold up for 40 minutes.

It’s a battle of the No. 9 scoring offense in the country vs. the No. 6 scoring defense in the country. Gonzaga’s offense ranks 12th overall in efficiency and 10th in effective field goal percentage. The Zags hit the glass and finish at the rim as well as any team in the country, which are two reasons why they are one of the most underseeded teams in the tournament.

That said, UNCG is well-coached by former UNC point guard Wes Miller, and it dominates defensively where it matters. UNCG ranks 23rd in field goal percentage allowed at the rim, 20th in 3-point defense, and second in transition. The Spartans likely don’t have enough juice for an upset over this talented Zags team, but they can certainly make life difficult with their unique pressing style. — Bryan Mears

Did You Know?

As a top-4 seed, Gonzaga is just 5-14-1 ATS (26.3%) in the NCAA Tournament since 2005, the least profitable team in the country. On a related note, Mark Few and Gonzaga have lost 11 consecutive NCAA Tournament games ATS to schools outside the power conferences (ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC). — Evan Abrams

Betting Market

Gonzaga is one of the few large favorites receiving the large majority of public bets. With more than 70% of bets and dollars, the Bulldogs have moved from -12 to -12.5 since opening. — Mark Gallant

My Favorite Bet

Jordan: UNCG +12.5
Mears: UNCG +12.5

#16 Pennsylvania vs. #1 Kansas -14 | O/U: 147

Wichita, KS | 2 p.m. ET on TBS

No. 1 thing I’ll be watching: Penn’s early 3-point defense.

This is not your usual No. 1 vs. No. 16 tilt. This may play out more like a 3 vs. 14 tilt, especially since Penn matches up fairly well with the Jayhawks. The Quakers rank first among all NCAA Tournament teams (and second nationally) in 3-point defense at 29.2%. That is critical against the lethal shooters of Kansas (11th in the country at 40.3% from deep). However, if Kansas gets off to a hot start, Penn is not built to come back from a large deficit in this particular matchup. If Penn can defend the perimeter well early, as it is capable of, this one could get interesting.  — Stuckey

Did You Know?

At -14, Kansas is the smallest favorite for a No. 1 seed in the Round of 64 since 2006 (Memphis -10.5 vs. Oral Roberts). — PJ Walsh

Don’t read too much into that, though: 1-seeds favored by fewer than 20 points in the first round have gone 8-2 ATS since 2005. — John Ewing

True, but since Bill Self’s first season at Kansas in 2004, he is one of only three coaches with multiple tournament losses as a double-digit favorite in the first two rounds (John Thompson III and Mike Krzyzewski are the others). — Evan Abrams

Betting Market

We’ve seen some solid reverse line movement on Pennsylvania, which has moved from +16 to +14/+13.5 behind less than 40% of bets. — Mark Gallant

My Favorite Bet

Stuckey: Penn +14
Jordan: Over 147

#15 Iona vs. #2 Duke -20.5 | O/U: 157

Pittsburgh, PA | 2:45 p.m. ET on CBS

No. 1 thing I’ll be watching: How many points Marvin Bagley can score.

The freshman phenom is one of the most dynamic players we’ve seen around the rim in the college game in a long time. In Bagley’s tournament debut, he will face a 15th-seeded Iona squad that ranks 327th in percentage of shots allowed at the rim. In addition, Iona is one of the nation’s worst rebounding teams on both sides of the floor. In terms of percentage, Duke is the best offensive rebounding team in the nation, mostly thanks to Bagley. Duke couldn’t ask for a better matchup for Bagley and its other bigs. –– Bryan Mears

Did You Know?

Duke’s ATS record by seed since 2005:

  • No. 1 seed: 12-7-1 ATS
  • No. 2 seed or worse: 5-12 ATS

The Blue Devils, in case you forgot, are the No. 2 seed in the Midwest region. –– John Ewing

Betting Market

This is one of a handful of totals that has gone up since opening. — Mark Gallant

My Favorite Bet

Stuckey: Over 157
Ken: Over 157

#11 Loyola vs. #6 Miami -2 | O/U: 133.5

Dallas, TX | 3:10 p.m. ET on TruTV

No. 1 thing I’ll be watching: Loyola’s pick-and-roll defense.

Miami is one of the most pick-and-roll-reliant offenses in the country. Loyola has been phenomenal all year in pick-and-roll defense, mainly due to its ability to switch positions 1 through 4. However, if there’s a weak link in Loyola’s defense, it’s big man Cam Krutwig. As a result, 6-foot-5 forward Aundre Jackson will likely cover Miami’s 6-foot-11 forward Dewan Huell, who is an efficient “roller.” Jackson gives up a lot of size in that matchup. — Jordan Majewski

Did You Know?

Dating back to his final season at George Mason in 2010-11, current Miami Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga is the least profitable coach in the country against the first-half spread (6-24-2, 20%), when the game is played in the “postseason.” (NCAA Tournament, NIT, CBI, CIT and all conference tournament games). — Evan Abrams

Betting Market

Loyola is a small dog, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be trendy. With 56% of bets, the Ramblers have moved from +2.5 to +2 and even +1.5 at some shops. The total has seen both public and sharp action on the under, which has dropped 2.5 points since opening. — Mark Gallant

My Favorite Bet

Stuckey: Loyola Chicago +2
Jordan: Loyola Chicago +2
Mears: Loyola Chicago ML +110
Ken: Loyola Chicago +2

#12 South Dakota State vs. #5 Ohio State -8 | O/U: 146.5

Boise, ID | 4 p.m. ET on TNT

No. 1 thing I’ll be watching: SDSU 3-point shooting percentage

The South Dakota State Jackrabbits have very notable strengths on offense. They’re the best team in the nation at protecting the ball, and they’re excellent shooting it, ranking 13th in 3-point percentage. Ohio State, on the other hand, allows a high volume of 3-pointers (22.6 per game) and really struggles to create turnovers. The Buckeyes’ athleticism will likely win out in the end, but the Jackrabbits have the offensive recipe to hang if they are hitting their open outside looks from the perimeter. –- Bryan Mears

Did You Know?

Since the Big Ten tournament was held a week early this year, Ohio State will play its first game in 13 days. Rust could be a factor.  — Stuckey

Ohio State has failed to cover its past six NCAA Tournament games, dating back to 2013. The Buckeyes were favored in five of the six. — Evan Abrams

Betting Market

Talk about a trendy dog! Who would’ve thought that South Dakota State would be commanding more than 70% of bets against The Ohio State as a dog? That’s the case right now, as loads of public action is expecting the 12 seed to at least cover, if not upset altogether. — Mark Gallant

My Favorite Bet

Stuckey: South Dakota State 1H +4
Ken: South Dakota State +8

#9 N.C. State vs. #8 Seton Hall -2.5 | O/U: 157

Wichita, Kansas | 4:30 p.m. ET on TBS

No. 1 thing I’ll be watching: If N.C. State can create turnovers.

N.C. State has dialed up the full-court press this year, helping it rank 46th in turning opponents over this season. However, that comes at a steep price: The Wolfpack rank 307th on the defensive glass and 346th in percentage of opponent shots allowed at the rim. An N.C. State defensive possession usually either ends in a turnover or a wide-open layup for its opponent. Seton Hall is excellent on the offensive glass (33rd nationally in OREB%), but it can be a bit turnover prone (141st in turnover rate per possession). The turnover battle will determine the winner. –- Bryan Mears

Did You Know?

Seton Hall enters the NCAA Tournament on a five-game ATS winning streak. Over the past two seasons, teams that entered the Dance on an ATS winning streak of five-plus games are just 5-16 ATS. This trend also applies to N.C. Central and San Diego State, which also enter the tourney on five-game ATS winning streaks. — Evan Abrams

Betting Market

Bracket-builders are struggling with this 8/9 matchup, and spread bettors are, too. Bets are split almost 50/50 down the middle, but Seton Hall is commanding 75% of the money. The Pirates have moved from -2 to -2.5 since opening. — Mark Gallant

My Favorite Bet

Jordan: N.C. State +2.5
Ken: Seton Hall -2.5

#16 Radford vs. #1 Villanova -23.5 | O/U: 139

Pittsburgh, PA | 6:50 p.m. ET on TNT

No. 1 thing I’ll be watching: If Radford can slow the game up.

Radford presses to slow the game down, but that could have the opposite effect against elite point guard Jalen Brunson and the Wildcats. If Radford is having some success early in extending pressure on the Cats, the Highlanders could be worth a look in the live markets. They did get a break with only having to travel to Pittsburgh after their play-in game in Dayton on Tuesday. — Stuckey

Did You Know?

No. 16 seeds have never won a game in the NCAA Tournament, but they are 46-48-2 ATS since 2005. On average, they have failed to cover by just 0.72 points per game over the course of those 96 games. — John Ewing

Betting Market

Although the majority of bets and dollars are on the over, two sharp money indicators were triggered on the under. This has helped push the total down from 140 to 139. — Mark Gallant

My Favorite Bet

None of our experts is betting this game at the moment.

#12 Davidson vs. #5 Kentucky -4.5 | O/U: 143

Boise, ID | 7:10 p.m. ET on CBS

No. 1 thing I’ll be watching: Kentucky’s 3-point defense.

Davidson may not seem to have a lot in common with No. 1 Virginia, but listen to this: Davidson commits the third-fewest turnovers in the country (behind Virginia and Michigan) and plays at an incredibly slow pace (similar to Virginia). Now, for the big differences: almost every one of Davidson’s possessions ends with a 3-point attempt, and it obviously isn’t nearly as sound defensively.

Its game against Kentucky should play out in a very specific way: Davidson will milk the clock, swing the ball around in its motion offense and get a good 3-point look. Meanwhile, Kentucky will try to run and use its athleticism to dominate the glass. If UK can contest Davidson’s shots (difficult), and rebound its misses (not difficult), the Wildcats will win. In Kentucky’s favor, it ranks third in opponent 3-point percentage nationally (only Penn is better among tourney teams). — Ken Barkley

Did You Know?

Since 2013, John Calipari is 1-5-2 ATS in the NCAA Tournament when receiving the majority of betting tickets (which UK currently is; see live bet percentages here). However, the Wildcats are 7-1 straight-up in those eight games, with their only loss coming against Indiana in 2016. Could the ‘Cats win and not cover again? — Evan Abrams

Betting Market

The public is on Kentucky, easily the more popular of the two schools, but sharp bettors have disagreed. After opening at +6, Davidson has moved all the way down to +4.5 behind almost 60% of dollars.

My Favorite Bet

Stuckey: Davidson +5.5
Jordan: Davidson +5.5
Mears: Davidson +5.5
Ken: Kentucky -5.5

#11 San Diego State vs. #6 Houston -4 | O/U: 140

Wichita, KS | 7:20 p.m. ET on TBS

No. 1 thing I’ll be watching: If SDSU pounds the ball inside.

These are extremely similar teams. Both are physical on defense by bumping cutters and clogging up the lane. Ultimately, I’m not sure Houston can check a now-healthy Trey Kell on the perimeter, whereas SDSU has multiple options to switch on guard Rob Gray in Kelvin Sampson’s 1-4 high offense. Teams that pound the ball inside have had success wearing down Houston’s physical but small frontcourt. Look for SDSU to do that with burgeoning offensive talent –forward Jalen McDaniels (10.2 ppg) and forward Malik Pope (12.9 ppg). — Jordan Majewski

Did You Know?

San Diego State plays at a slow pace, averaging just 68.7 possessions per 40 minutes. Underdogs that average fewer than 70 possessions per game have gone 113-80-10 (59%) ATS in the NCAA Tournament since 2005. –John Ewing

Love that trend, John. One thing to consider on the flip side: Since 2009, Mountain West Conference teams (which include SDSU) are only 3-11-1 ATS (21.4%) when listed as an underdog in the NCAA Tournament, failing to cover the spread by an average of 5.3 points per game. — Evan Abrams

Betting Market

This game has seen significant action on the under so far, from both sharp and public bettors. More than 60% of bets and 70% of dollars are on the under, which has gone from 144 to 140 since opening. — Mark Gallant

My Favorite Bet

Jordan: SDSU +4
Mears: SDSU +4

#14 Stephen F. Austin vs. #3 Texas Tech -11 | O/U: 137.5

Dallas, TX | 7:27 p.m. ET on TruTV

No. 1 thing I’ll be watching: The turnover battle.

Stephen F. Austin has an amazing metric combo this season: It ranks No. 1 in forcing turnovers and 311th itself in turnovers. Basically, nobody can hang onto the ball in its games. Texas Tech’s guards (led by star point guard Keenan Evans) take care of the ball pretty well, but the Red Raider forwards have incredibly high turnover rates. For example, Tommy Hamilton turns it over one out of every four times he touches it. High turnover numbers by Tech could turn this game into more of an up-and-down game, which the Lumberjacks are accustomed to playing. If the turnovers are flowing, look for a live over. — Ken Barkley

Did You Know?

Since the 2009 NCAA Tournament, Big 12 teams are just 6-12 ATS (33.3%) as a double-digit favorite in the tourney, the least-profitable conference in the country. I wish the sample size was bigger, but it seems bettors have been equating the Big 12’s depth with tourney success, and it doesn’t always work out that way. Seven of the conference’s 10 teams made the dance this year. — Evan Abrams

Betting Market

Stone Cold Steve Austin is a very trendy dog, receiving more than 70% of bets and almost 90% of dollars. SFA has moved from +12 to +11 since opening. — Mark Gallant

My Favorite Bet

Jordan: Stephen F. Austin +11.5
Mears: Stephen F. Austin +11.5
Ken: Over 137.5

#9 Alabama vs #8 Virginia Tech -2 | O/U: 141

Pittsburgh, PA | 9:20 p.m. ET on TNT

No. 1 thing I’ll be watching: If Virginia Tech can get out in transition.

This is perhaps the most interesting game in the first round in terms of opposing strengths. The Hokies rank 12th in effective field goal percentage, primarily due to two reasons:

  1. They’re the fourth-best team at getting to the rim.
  2. They have the fourth-most efficient transition offense.

Alabama, meanwhile, has two very notable defensive strengths. The Crimson Tide ranks 37th in opposing shot frequency at the rim and 28th in transition defense. Which side breaks first? — Bryan Mears

Did You Know?

The underdog in the No. 8 vs No. 9 seed matchup has gone 30-19-3 (61%) ATS since 2005. — John Ewing

Virginia Tech has lost two consecutive games entering the tournament. Since 2006, teams on a two-plus game losing streak entering the Dance are 26-18 ATS (59.1%), having covered eight straight. — Evan Abrams

Betting Market

Bets are relatively split in this 8/9 affair, but money is heavy on Virginia Tech. The Hokies moved up to -2.5 at most books today, but can still be had at -2 at some square books. — Mark Gallant

My Favorite Bet

Ken: Virginia Tech -2

#13 Buffalo vs #4 Arizona -8 | O/U: 158.5

Boise, ID | 9:40 p.m. ET on CBS

No. 1 thing I’ll be watching: Tempo, tempo, tempo.

Both teams rank in the top 20 in offensive pace of play, which could help Buffalo cover. While the Bulls rank ninth in frequency of shots in transition, they actually limit opponents getting into transition on defense. Arizona has been atrocious in transition defense this year, ranking just 247th. DeAndre Ayton is a huge problem for every team in the Big Dance, and especially against a Buffalo squad that is awful in post defense. But Ayton can’t hurt the Bulls too much if this game is an up-and-down affair that focuses on the guards for both teams. — Bryan Mears

Did You Know?

Head coach Sean Miller in the NCAA Tournament by team:

  • Xavier: 8-1-1 ATS
  • Arizona: 9-9-1 ATS (3-8-1 since 2014 Tournament) — Evan Abrams

Since the 2005 NCAA Tournament, No. 13 seeds listed as single-digit underdogs are 19-31 ATS (38%). This spot also fits for College of Charleston against Auburn. — Evan Abrams

Betting Market

We’ve tracked two reverse line moves on Buffalo, which is only getting 34% of bets. They have moved from +9.5 to +8 since opening. — Mark Gallant

My Favorite Bet

None of our experts are betting this game at the moment.

#14 Montana vs #3 Michigan -10 | O/U: 134

Wichita, KS | 9:50 p.m. ET on TBS

No. 1 thing I’ll be watching: Early Michigan rust.

I alluded to the potential rust factor for Big Ten teams above in the Ohio State-South Dakota State preview. Given such a long layoff since the conference tournament ended, Michigan could come out a little out of rhythm. The Wolverines were absolutely rolling on both ends of the floor, and can’t be pleased with this layoff. If Montana takes advantage of a slow Michigan start, this one could get very interesting. — Stuckey

Did You Know?

A No. 14 seed has won a first-round game in four of the past five NCAA tournaments. — Stuckey

Michigan is 12-6-2 ATS in the tournament under John Beilein. That includes a 4-1 ATS mark against non-power conference schools (2-0 ATS as a double-digit favorite). — John Ewing

Betting Market

Montana is seeing a big dollar differential that has pushed the line in its favor. With 35% of bets and 57% of dollars, the Grizzlies have moved from +12 to +10. We’ve also tracked bet signals on the under, which has moved from a high of 135/135.5 to 134. — Mark Gallant

My Favorite Bet

Stuckey: Montana 1H +6.5

#11 St. Bonaventure vs #6 Florida -5.5 | O/U: 143

Dallas, TX | 9:57 p.m. ET on TruTV

No. 1 thing I’ll be watching: If either team has an off shooting night.

This game will feature multiple flame throwers on the court. Florida can shoot with anyone in the country, and so can St. Bonaventure. Although, the Bonnies grade out much higher in both 3-point shooting (19th vs. 55th) and 3-point defense (23rd vs 218th).

Florida’s ball movement can also be suspect, as it uses a lot of clunky dribble-heavy ball-screen motion. The Gators aren’t a team that can expose the Bonnies’ lack of size, and when coach Mark Schmidt can go small with 6-foot-6 LaDarien Griffin at the 5, the Bonnies are lethal. — Jordan Majewski

Did You Know?

At least one No. 11 seed has defeated a No. 6 seed every year in our database since 2005. In the past four years, 11-seeds are 10-6 straight-up and 11-5 ATS in the first-round. — John Ewing

Florida is 9-1 ATS in its past 10 opening weekend NCAA Tournament games dating back to 2011. In all 10 games, Florida was listed as the favorite and is 10-0 straight-up. — Evan Abrams

Betting Market

Seventy percent of bets are on St. Bonaventure, but the line is frozen solid. Though the trendy dog is seeing a ton of public action, Florida remains at -5.5. — Mark Gallant

My Favorite Bet

Stuckey: Bonnies +5.5
Jordan: Bonnies +5.5
Mears: Bonnies +5.5

Editor’s note: The opinion on these games is from the individual writers and is based on their research, analysis and perspective. It is independent of, and may not always match with, the algorithm-driven Best Bets from Sports Insights.

Alabama guard Collin Sexton; credit: Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports

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