NCAA Basketball Tournament Best Bets for Friday Evening

NCAA Basketball Tournament Best Bets for Friday Evening article feature image

Lance King/Getty Images. Pictured: Duke’s Kyle Filipowski.

March rolls on Friday, and our college basketball writers came prepared.

With a stellar evening slate on Friday's NCAA Tournament docket, our NCAAB scribes came through with seven best bets, including three picks for Texas A&M vs. Nebraska, two picks for Colorado vs. Florida and one pick for Yale vs. Auburn and Vermont vs. Duke.

Read on for all seven of our college basketball best bets for Friday evening's NCAA Tournament games — and be sure to check back for our late-night March Madness picks.

College Basketball Best Bets for Friday Evening

The team logos in the table below represent each of the matchups that our college basketball betting staff is targeting from Friday evening's set of NCAA Tournament games. Click on the team logos for any of the matchups below to navigate to a specific bet discussed in this article.

GameTime (ET)Pick
4:15 p.m.
4:30 p.m.
4:30 p.m.
6:50 p.m.
6:50 p.m.
6:50 p.m.
7:10 p.m.
Specific betting recommendations come from the sportsbook offering preferred odds as of writing. Always shop for the best price using our NCAAB Odds page, which automatically surfaces the best lines for every game.

Yale vs. Auburn

Friday, March 22
4:15 p.m. ET
Auburn -12.5

By D.J. James

The Auburn Tigers might be one of the best teams in the tournament. After all, this Tigers team ranks top-10 in Adjusted Offensive and Defensive Efficiency.

They take on the Yale Bulldogs. While Yale doesn't turn the ball over, it doesn't do much else aside from that.

The Tigers can shoot from inside and out, hitting over 35% from outside. The Bulldogs allow opponents to hit 34% from deep with one of the highest 3-point attempt rates in the country,

In addition, Yale doesn't defend the interior well. Auburn shoots about 55% from 2-point range, while the Bulldogs allow opponents to hit 49% of their shots from inside the arc.

Obviously, Auburn has had a tougher schedule on the season, so this is just the cherry on top.

The glaring issue in this game will be Yale's offense. The Bulldogs hit about 35% from outside and 52.5% from 2-point range, but the Tigers rank first in defensive effective field-goal Percentage. Simply put, the Tigers hold opponents to inefficient shots, which should pay off here.

Now, Auburn also doesn't turn the ball over much, and the Tigers force more turnovers than the Bulldogs. This should provide a boost to the defensive attack from Auburn, giving them the chance to score in transition more often.

Take Auburn in this one to -13.

Pick: Auburn -12.5 (Play to -13)

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Colorado vs. Florida

Friday, March 22
4:30 p.m. ET

Colorado +2

By John Feltman

Colorado took care of business in its First Four matchup against Boise State, and now it gets to face a red-hot Florida team. However, the Gators will be without center Micah Handlogten due to a leg injury.

The significance of the injury is massive, and it appears oddsmakers have not made a proper adjustment. The Buffs enter the matchup 26th in adjusted offensive efficiency and now have a significant advantage on the glass.

Big man Eddie Lampkin is primed for a massive day on both ends of the floor, and I can't imagine the Gators containing him on the interior without Handlogten. The Buffaloes' other frontcourt tandem of Tristan da Silva and Cody Williams will also create too many mismatches for Florida.

As well as the Gators have played of late, the Buffs are flying under everyone’s radar due to their inconsistent play throughout their conference schedule, which was impacted by injuries.

The Buffs are also 32nd in opponent 3-point percentage, as their perimeter defense has been tremendous.

Colorado is loaded, and if everything clicks at the right time, it's awfully tough to beat. I admire the job Todd Golden has done in Gainesville, but unfortunately for his team, the injury bug hit them at the wrong time.

Pick: Colorado +2 (Play to PK)

Under 159.5

By Patrick Strollo

The No. 10 seed Colorado Buffaloes will face the No. 7 seed Florida Gators in first-round action this afternoon.

This will be the second game of the tournament for Colorado after it fought its way through the First Four with a win over fellow 10-seed Boise State.

Both Colorado and Florida enter this game with excellent offenses, but I feel that oddsmakers have put too much stock in the respective offenses and have shortchanged the defensive ability of both programs.

Entering this game, both teams have an AdjD rating inside the top 100. The overall defensive efficiency of both teams gives me confidence that the offensive output will be tempered in this game.

While overall defense is the gist of my handicap, there are nuances for each team that factor into the under.

For Colorado, I think its turnover rate will be a factor in this game. It ranks 263rd in the nation in the metric, losing possession 18.2% of the time.

The Buffaloes are also an excellent 3-point shooting team, but they don’t pull the trigger nearly as much as they should from beyond the arc with a 3-point rate of 30.4%, which ranks 324th nationally.

Lastly, Colorado is an excellent defensive-rebounding team and should be able to limit second chances for the Gators.

The Gators, meanwhile, are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the nation, ranking seventh nationally with a 37.5% rate on the offensive glass. However, they face a tough matchup here.

Florida's prowess in the paint has been integral to its offensive efficiency this year, as its overall shooting hasn’t been spectacular. Yet, I believe Colorado can do enough to disrupt this.

I run two models for totals, and both come in well under the 159.5 total that's available in the market. My models are forecasted totals of 144.5 and 155.5. With the first number clearly being outside of the consensus number, I think it makes the most sense to use the higher of the two for a limit on this bet.

Back the under in this first-round matchup, and play it at 155.5 or higher.

Pick: Under 159.5 (Play to 155.5)

Texas A&M vs. Nebraska

Friday, March 22
6:50 p.m. ET

Texas A&M +1.5

By Brett Pund

There were a couple of games I liked in this range. Ultimately, I couldn’t look away from Texas A&M’s huge advantage in this spot as the underdog.

This handicap all comes down to the offensive glass. Coming into this matchup, the Aggies are first in the country in offensive rebound rate and potential quick points off second-chance opportunities, per Haslametrics.

Meanwhile, Nebraska has had its issues ending defensive possessions with a rebound, ranking 224th in defensive rebounding.

Since February, Nebraska has ranked in the bottom 20 among NCAA Tournament teams in allowing offensive rebounds. This is the same squad that's outside the top 300 in potential quick points off second-chance opportunities defensively.

Another key area for attack for the Aggies is from the free-throw line, where they're 24th nationally in terms of the percentage of points coming from the charity stripe.

The Cornhuskers have done a great job for most of the season not giving up free throws. However, they would rank in the bottom 20 among tournament teams in free-throw rate allowed since February.

I also love the fact that ShotQuality rates Nebraska’s luck record at -11.2. Meanwhile, A&M is due for some positive shooting regression at +7.72.

If you’re going to give me all of that with one of the hottest guards in the country in Wade Taylor IV, I’ll gladly back the Aggies here in the first round.

Pick: Texas A&M +1.5 (Play to PK or ML -120)

Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Texas A&M's Wade Taylor IV.

Texas A&M +1.5

By Matt Gannon

Nebraska and Texas A&M play with as much toughness as any two teams in the entire country. This game will be a mixture of a ton of great defensive plays, jump balls, and all-out hustle. Taking zero possessions off is what got both of these teams to this point.

Early in the season, Texas A&M was a very popular pick to win the SEC title. Clearly, that did not pan out, but the Aggies did what they needed to do to punch their ticket to the Big Dance.

Outside of that, I believe we're seeing Texas A&M heat up at the right time.

This is a team that prides itself on defense, but guard Wade Taylor IV is really coming into his own in big spots. He averages just under 19 points per game and should be able to get what he's looking for in this matchup.

Nebraska nearly made it all the way to the Big Ten Tournament final but fell short. Either way, it was a successful season for the Huskers, as they're now favored to win an NCAA Tournament game.

Head coach Fred Hoiberg's team can really hurt opponents with toughness and the 3-point shot. The Huskers go on tears where they're absolutely lights-out from deep.

Outside of that, the duo of Rienk Mast and Josiah Allick are a force down low.

This game is going to be extremely physical and hard-fought, but I give the edge to the Aggies. While they didn't win the SEC, their ceiling is still high, and they have a chance to prove why tonight.

Look for Texas A&M to play extremely physical defense and hopefully find that second gear on offense.

Pick: Texas A&M +1.5 (Play to PK)

Nebraska -1

By Shane McNichol

If it pleases the jury, I’d like to take a moment to argue the pro-Huskers side of this highly-anticipated Friday night matchup.

I hear the points of my colleagues above and readily admit that Texas A&M is sure to have its way with the Huskers on the offensive glass.

However, I’d counter that Nebraska has an equal — if not greater — advantage elsewhere in this game.

The Aggies rank 352nd in the country in 3-point rate allowed, with over 44% of their opponents' field-goal attempts coming from long range. That’s music to the ears of Fred Hoiberg and his Huskers, who took the deep ball at the highest rate in the Big Ten this season.

No Big Ten team scored more of its points from outside the arc than Nebraska. The trio of CJ Wilcher, Brice Williams and fireball-shooting Keisei Tominaga will feast if the Aggies sit back and allow triples over the top.

There’s also a real chance for some positive shooting regression for the Huskers, who have hit under their season average from deep in five of their last six outings.

If Nebraska is making shots, Texas A&M has no answer. The Aggies shot just 28% from long range this season. If this is a high-scoring affair, Buzz Williams is bringing a knife to a gunfight.

I’m inclined to take a small-unit flier on Nebraska to win by a wide margin on the chance the 3-point barrage happens early and often.

Pick: Nebraska -1

Vermont vs. Duke

Friday, March 22
7:10 p.m. ET
Under 132.5

By Tanner McGrath

I was devastated to hear that my beloved Vermont Catamounts drew Duke.

The Catamounts needed to play an uptempo team that would get uncomfortable running into John Becker’s dynamite transition denial defense — say, for example, Kentucky (ugh).

Instead, they drew Duke, which has slowed the pace considerably in the Jon Scheyer era and is very comfortable playing in half-court, low-possession game scripts. The Blue Devils went 1-3 in games over 70 possessions this year and 23-5 otherwise.

I still think Vermont’s defense can execute.

Ileri Ayo-Faleye is the mid-major's best interior three-level defender who dominates against roll men (.36 PPP allowed, 95th percentile). He can stick with Kyle Filipowski, and the entire Duke offense revolves around him on the screen-and-roll game.

Similarly, Shamir Bogues is the best backcourt defender to ever come through Burlington. I think he can stick with Jeremy Roach off the bounce, and the Vermont defenders are generally good at closing out on perimeter shooters, which will be big against Duke’s ACC-best 39% 3-point shooting clip.

Those two are among the most athletic and physical defenders at the low-major level. Duke is talented, but the Blue Devils are soft, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Vermont compete from a physicality standpoint.

Unfortunately, I have a hard time believing Vermont can execute its half-court offense.

The Catamounts run a five-out motion that lives and dies by the 3-point shot. But while Ayo-Faleye and Bogues are dominant defenders, they’re also 27% 3-point shooters combined on low volume, which has messed with Vermont’s spacing.

They also don’t have a natural post scorer. Vermont’s best teams have had Taylor Coppenrath, Anthony Lamb and Ryan Davis as low-block back-to-the-basket scorers.

When shots weren’t falling, those teams could hit the big man in the screen-and-roll game for easy offense, dragging defenses toward the interior and re-opening the perimeter for the five-out to cook again.

These Cats don’t have that. Instead, when shots aren’t falling, they rely on Bogues' bully-ball driving to the rim and finishing through contact.

But Roach, Tyrese Proctor and Jared McCain are three devastating point-of-attack backcourt defenders, and Duke boasts a more-than-competent 3-point defense behind them.

Vermont’s five-out will be at a major athletic disadvantage against a competent defensive backcourt, and the Cats’ only recourse is Bogues driving into those athletic, devastating point-of-attack backcourt defenders.

Combine the schematic issues with a projected languid pace, and I’m betting on a rock fight in Brooklyn on Friday.

Vermont and Duke are a combined 42-22 (66%) to the under this year. Expect more of the same, and wager accordingly.

Pick: Under 132.5 (Play to 130)

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