2019 NCAA Tournament Instant Betting, Bracket Picks for Every First-Round Game

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USA Today Sports. Pictured: Tennessee guard Admiral Schofield, North Carolina guard Coby White

  • Our experts offer their instant NCAA Tournament betting and bracket picks.
  • See which teams they like to cover and/or win every first-round game.

The 2019 NCAA Tournament bracket is set and our experts are making their instant picks.

Whether you’re looking for the best bets and/or advice on your office pool, we’ve got you covered with betting and bracket picks for every first-round game from college basketball experts Ken Barkley, Eli Hershkovich, Mike Randle, Stuckey and Collin Wilson.

Jump to: East Region | South Region | Midwest Region | West Region

EAST REGION

#1 Duke vs. #16 NC Central/N Dakota St. NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: TBD
  • Over/Under: TBD
  • Date: Friday, March 22
  • Time: 7:10 p.m. ET
  • Location: Columbia, S.C.
  • TV: CBS

Duke will win handily against whichever team comes out of this game, but you already know that. The spread will also be massive, maybe among the largest we’ve ever seen in the NCAA Tournament, now that Zion Williamson is healthy.

But if North Dakota State wins, keep in mind that the Bison shoot a high percentage and play at an extremely slow pace, so they might stay within a big number by limiting the number of possessions in the game.

Duke causes so many turnovers and is so disruptive with Zion that North Dakota State might not even get shots up on possessions, but if you want an angle on a monster underdog, that’s the team I’d be rooting for to win the play-in game.

Early bracket pick: Duke Locky

#8 VCU vs. #9 UCF NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: VCU -1
  • Over/Under: 125
  • Date: Friday, March 22
  • Time: 9:40 p.m. ET
  • Location: Columbia, S.C.
  • TV: CBS

This one will come down to pace, and the Rams’ ninth-ranked opponents’ turnover rate (23.4%) should allow them control it given the Knights’ issues in that department. They averaged the fifth-highest turnover percentage (18.3%) in AAC play, and VCU’s best on-ball defender in Marcus Evans (knee) is expected to give it a go despite exiting Friday’s loss to Rhode Island.

Moreover, UCF’s biggest offensive strength is playing through the 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall in the low-post, and getting to the line off the dribble drive. The Rams boast the second-highest 2-point defense (43.8%) in the country, so look for them to stymie Johnny Dawkins’ crew in half-court sets.

Mike Rhoades’ offense will be able to control the glass at the other end to keep the Knights in a funk, exposing their leaky interior defense.

Early ATS lean: VCU
Early bracket pick: VCU Eli Hershkovich


#5 Mississippi St. vs. #12 Liberty NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: Mississippi St. -7
  • Over/Under: 135.5
  • Date: Friday, March 22
  • Time: 7 p.m. ET
  • Location: San Jose, Calif.
  • TV: truTV

The Bulldogs notched a fine season under Ben Howland, but their 16-15-1 against the spread mark doesn’t exactly provide confidence to cover a larger spread. They’ll likely struggle defensively, facing a Flames team with the 65th-highest 3-point clip (36.6%) in the nation. Mississippi State owns a below average 3-point defense and scoring rate, respectively, too.

At the other end, Howland’s crew should be able to use its size advantage to have success on the offensive glass and in the paint as a result. But the Flames’ interior defense isn’t a weakness of theirs, holding their opponents to a 48.4% clip from inside the arc.

Look for the A-Sun tournament champs to deliver a close one, with Lovell Cabbil Jr. (44.5%) lighting it up from distance.

Early ATS lean: Liberty
Early bracket pick: Mississippi State — Hershkovich

#4 Virginia Tech vs. #13 Saint Louis NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: Virginia Tech -9.5
  • Over/Under: 126.5
  • Date: Friday, March 22
  • Time: 9:57 p.m. ET
  • Location: San Jose, Calif.
  • TV: truTV

I really don’t know what I just watched with Saint Louis, but hey, congrats to the Billikens on making it this far. However, the fact remains that throughout conference play, this was a team that was frequently handled on the road — something I always look at when determining if a team has a chance on a neutral court in a high-pressure situation.

Saint Louis lost by 30 at Saint Joe’s, by 11 at Rhode Island and by four at lowly Duquesne. It also lost to Richmond, which in and of itself should almost be grounds to not make the field, even as an automatic qualifier.

Meanwhile, Virginia Tech is a bad draw for a less talented team like the Billikens. The Hokies simply don’t lose to bad teams, with all of their losses this season coming against top-50 teams or better.

With that being said, the number is extremely big.

The Hokies didn’t obliterate teams like Notre Dame, Miami or Boston College. So even when they have a big advantage, the margin doesn’t always end up being enormous.

Despite my belief that Saint Louis has almost 0% chance of winning, I’m still leaning Saint Louis at the double-digit spread.

Early ATS lean: Saint Louis
Early bracket pick: Virginia Tech — Locky


#6 Maryland vs. #11 Belmont/Temple NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: TBD
  • Over/Under: TBD
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 3:10 p.m. ET
  • Location: Jacksonville, Fla.
  • TV: truTV

The Terps will be a popular upset pick in this one, but that depends on which teams they face in the Round of 64. The Owls own the AAC’s top 3-point defense (29.6%), which is Maryland’s biggest strength. Meanwhile, the Bruins have been kind to perimeter-oriented offenses, giving up the third-highest 3-point clip (36.4%) amid their OVC docket.

Were Temple to move on, the Owls would give Maryland’s frontcourt a run of its money with their ability to matchup in the frontcourt as well.

Since Belmont is structured around its 3-point shooting, the Owls have an advantage in the play-in game, triggering their own explosive shooting from behind the arc in transition. I’m expecting Temple to thrive around this run representing Fran Dunphy’s final season coaching and advance to the second weekend.

Early bracket pick: Temple — Hershkovich

#3 LSU vs. #14 Yale NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: LSU -8.5
  • Over/Under: 160.5
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 12:40 p.m. ET
  • Location: Jacksonville, Fl.
  • TV: truTV

Of course this is an incredible talent mismatch, and of course LSU is a big favorite to advance, but in terms of the spread there are some interesting things here.

The Tigers’ profile away from home this season was to play incredibly close, nip-and-tuck games. They blew almost no one out and had a lot of luck in overtime to get their record where it’s at in conference play.

And this is a big number.

Ivy League teams typically play major conference teams very close in this spot because they tend to shoot well and not turn the ball over. Yale was first in the Ivy League in eFG% and TO%. No one on LSU has been in this spot before, and without its coach in unfamiliar surroundings, I think it’s more than likely this game gets sketchy late.

I like LSU to win but Yale to stay within the number.

Early ATS lean: Yale
Early bracket pick: LSU — Locky


#7 Louisville vs. #10 Minnesota NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: Louisville -4.5
  • Over/Under: 133.5
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 12:15 p.m. ET
  • Location: Des Moines, Iowa
  • TV: CBS

Picking Minnesota might be tempting because the Golden Gophers have gotten some publicity recently. They beat Purdue at home and stormed the court, then beat the Boilermakers again in the B10 tournament.

But the fact remains that away from home, the Gophers’ splits are abysmal — look no further than losses to Nebraska, Illinois and Rutgers. Minnesota simply cannot be trusted in any road or neutral court situation, especially against a coach in Louisville’s Chris Mack, who has had a lot of NCAA Tournament success at Xavier.

Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Louisville coach Chris Mack

One thing working in Minnesota’s favor, though, is that Louisville fouls a lot, and Minnesota was one of the best schools in the Big Ten at getting to the line. Depending on how the game is officiated, that could create an opening for Minnesota to have success. Short of that, I like the Cardinals.

Early ATS lean: Louisville
Early bracket pick: Louisville — Locky


#2 Michigan St. vs. #15 Bradley NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: Michigan St. -19
  • Over/Under: 131.5
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 2:45 p.m. ET
  • Location: Des Moines, Iowa
  • TV: CBS

A Missouri Valley team has won at least one NCAA tournament contest in each of the past five seasons. With the Braves representing the league’s lone program in the Big Dance, that won’t happen this year.

The Spartans should dominate the glass and control the pace via their top-100 average possession length (16.9 seconds). Bradley’s biggest issue defensively comes from letting up a below average free throw rate, and MSU gets to the line at a high rate because of its transition opportunities.

Look for the 6-foot-1 Cassius Winston to thrive against the Braves’ 5-foot-10 point guard Darrell Brown as well, feeding the ball inside to Nick Ward and Xavier Tillman on the block to get the Braves into foul trouble. Although it’s always difficult to lay that many points despite MSU’s clear-cut advantage, Bradley’s inconsistent offense should also struggle against the eighth-rated Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (90.4 opponents’ points per 100 possessions).

Tom Izzo and Co. will roll into the Round of 32.

Early ATS lean: Michigan State
Early bracket pick: Michigan State — Hershkovich

SOUTH REGION

#1 Virginia vs. #16 Gardner-Webb NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: Virginia -24
  • Over/Under: 131.5
  • Date: Friday, March 22
  • Time: 3:10 p.m. ET
  • Location: Columbia, S.C.
  • TV: truTV

What’s the one thing that Gardner-Webb does really well at a national level? Shoot the 3. That proficiency from beyond the arc should at least make the Bulldogs interesting against the Virginia pack line.

Each of the Bulldogs’ top seven scorers are capable from deep, led by leading scorer David Efianayi (18.4 ppg). All seven shoot at least 33% from downtown, with four above 39%.

Now, Virginia is the No. 1 three-point defense in the country for a reason, and this will be the most focused a No. 1 seed has been for a 16-seed in the history of the tourney. Virginia will also crush Gardner-Webb on the glass in this matchup, as the Bulldogs are one of the smallest teams in the nation.

The bottom line is that the Bulldogs find themselves with two options: (1) Get scorching hot from 3 against the best 3-point defense in the country, or (2) get absolutely flattened.

Early ATS lean: Virginia
Early bracket pick: Virginia Stuckey


#8 Ole Miss vs. #9 Oklahoma NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: Ole Miss -2
  • Over/Under: 142.5
  • Date: Friday, March 22
  • Time: 12:40 p.m. ET
  • Location: Columbia, S.C.
  • TV: truTV

Both Ole Miss and Oklahoma struggled to win games down the stretch. The Rebels lost five of their last seven while the Sooners have lost eight of their last 12.

The teams are evenly matched in the advanced metrics, with the Ole Miss offense and Oklahoma defense having similar ranks. But Ole Miss is the pick here, as we focus on free throws and offensive rebounds. The Rebels are fifth in free throw percentage compared to Oklahoma’s rank of 234th. While the Ole Miss rank in offensive rebounding is just 102nd, Oklahoma is one of the worst on the offensive boards at 243rd.

I’m looking for a close game, but one that Ole Miss pulls out in the end.

Early ATS lean: Ole Miss
Early bracket pick: Ole Miss Collin Wilson

#5 Wisconsin vs. #12 Oregon NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: Wisconsin -1
  • Over/Under: 116.5
  • Date: Friday, March 22
  • Time: 4:30 p.m. ET
  • Location: San Jose, Calif.
  • TV: TBS

This is an Oregon team that started to come on at the end of the year, which makes sense considering all it dealt with earlier this season. The Ducks lost Bol Bol for the year back in December, and not only did he average 21 and 10, but he also anchored their interior defense with his 7-foot-2 frame. They also had to manage through stretches without forwards Louis King (13.1 ppg) and Kenny Wooten (6.2 ppg).

It took the Ducks a while to find their identity, but they eventually did just in time to save their season by winning the Pac 12 conference tourney. That identity is clearly on the defensive end, where some of their metrics resemble the Oregon squad that went to the Final Four and lost by one to UNC two years ago.

Head coach Dana Altman’s teams are always tough to face in a tourney setting. He will press, as well as play zone, man and a hybrid of both. The one area of weakness for the Ducks is their interior D, which 6-foot-10, 237-pound Wisconsin center Ethan Happ (17.5 ppg) should be able to exploit at will.

The current iteration of the Oregon offense is nowhere close to the 2016 version of this squad and is liable to go into serious droughts, which could signal doom against an elite Wisconsin defense that ranks third nationally in Adjusted Efficiency (87.1, per KenPom).

I should also mention that this game will be played on the West Coast, which could give a slight edge to the Ducks. Ultimately, though, I think Happ will be the difference in a battle of two strong defensive teams.

Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Ethan Happ

Wisconsin has the shooters to defeat Oregon’s zone, and the Badgers also don’t turn the ball over much — both of which will be of major help when Oregon goes zone and presses. The wild card here is the Hack-a-Happ strategy, which could exploit his abysmal free-throw shooting (46.5%), but I still think Wisconsin escapes with a win against what will be a trendy upset pick in the Ducks.

Early ATS lean: Wisconsin
Early bracket pick: Wisconsin — Stuckey


#4 Kansas St. vs. #13 UC Irvine NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: Kansas St. -6
  • Over/Under: 118.5
  • Date: Friday, March 22
  • Time: 2 p.m. ET
  • Location: San Jose, Calif.
  • TV: TBS

Assuming Dean Wade can’t go — and it sounds like he won’t be able to — this is a nightmare matchup for Kansas State.

UC Irvine can stymie K-State with the best 2-point defense in the entire country. The Anteaters give up nothing at the rim, as has been the case in each of the past five seasons (their worst ranking in 2-point percentage over that span was 16th). This Kansas State team just isn’t a great 3-point shooting team, especially without Wade.

In addition to shooting over 40% from deep, Wade also makes a huge impact due to the defensive attention he commands, as well as his passing ability.

While Irvine won’t score at will against an excellent Kansas State defense that is ranked in the top five in the nation in Adjusted Efficiency, the Anteaters are still a dangerous team that matches up well with K-State. And don’t forget that the Wildcats struggle from the line, ranking 318th nationally at 66.4% — and those numbers include Wade, their best free-throw shooter (78.9%).

With Wade, Kansas State is a Final Four contender. Without him, the Wildcats could be one-and-done.

This should be a rock fight between two teams that play slow and have excellent defenses, but don’t be at all surprised if Irvine advances. The Anteaters are one of the deepest and most experienced teams in the nation, and their elite 2-point defense will make all the difference.

Early ATS lean: Irvine
Early bracket pick: Irvine — Stuckey

#6 Villanova vs. #11 Saint Mary’s NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: Villanova -6
  • Over/Under: 129
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 7:20 p.m. ET
  • Location: Hartford, Conn.
  • TV: TBS

I continue to be lower than the market on Nova, a team I’ve faded almost religiously for the past weeks. And based on the opener of -5, that trend will continue: I make this -3.

It’s actually a good matchup for a Mary’s team that defends the perimeter really well. Also, this under is worth a long look. Get it early, as it should drop. These are two pure snails. Both rank in the bottom 20 nationally in adjusted tempo.

I think Mary’s pulls the upset, just as it did as a No. 10 seed against the No. 2 Nova in the second round in 2010.

Early ATS lean: Mary’s
Early bracket pick: Mary’s — Stuckey


#3 Purdue vs. #14 Old Dominion NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: Purdue -12.5
  • Over/Under: 128.5
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 9:50 p.m. ET
  • Location: Hartford, Conn.
  • TV: TBS

Who is Old Dominion? Defense and rebounding. The Monarchs are actually 14th in the nation in effective FG% on the defensive end and are top-55 in NCAA in rebounding percentage of the floor. They also have a lot of length and are led by two senior guards in Ahmad Carver and BJ Stith.

The problem is Purdue can match them in all of those areas.

The biggest difference between these two teams is on the offensive end, where Purdue is leaps and bounds better. Purdue owns the fifth-highest Adjusted Offensive Efficiency in D-1 (121.1, per KenPom). Old Dominion ranks 217th (101.9) and has an Effective FG% ranking of 302nd (47.7%), 2P% of 340th (44.5%) and FT% of 324th (66.0%). It’s an ugly, ugly offense.

Both teams defend extremely well in the half court and will make each other work for points, but unless Carsen Edwards has an off night, I can’t see ODU posing a real threat.

Early ATS lean: Purdue
Early bracket pick: Purdue — Stuckey


#7 Cincinnati vs. #10 Iowa NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: Cincinnati -3.5
  • Over/Under: 139
  • Date: Friday, March 22
  • Time: 12:15 p.m. ET
  • Location: Columbus, Ohio
  • TV: CBS

The south is littered with snail vs. snail matchups featuring some of the slowest teams in the nation that also have excellent defenses. Cincy fits that bill, but this is the rare South matchup that pits two schools with completely different styles against each other.

Iowa wants to play fast while Cincy is 338th in the nation in Adjusted Tempo (63.2, per KenPom). This matchup could simply come down to which team controls tempo.

Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Cincinnati guard Jarron Cumberland

Where these two teams are similar is their defensive profiles: Like Syracuse-Baylor, this matchup pits two of the eight teams that run zone at least 30% of the time against each other. Iowa runs zone about one-third of the time, while Cincy does so in half of its possessions. Cincy will also press about 20% of the time while Iowa employs press at a 10% clip.

The Cincy defense is elite overall, ranking in the 91st percentile in points per possession. When the Bears press and go to their matchup zone, they can be incredibly stingy. Meanwhile, the Iowa offense is also elite and ranks in the 99th percentile against both press and zone, though it hasn’t seen either a ton playing in the Big Ten, so beware of the small sample size.

Regardless, this is strength-on-strength affair, and the difference in the game will come down Iowa’s absolutely dreadful defense, which will struggle against an underrated Cincy offense that has thrived against zones.

I think Cincy is the better team and will control the tempo and ultimately move on against an Iowa squad that was a few buzzer-beaters away from being on the bubble. Cincy is probably under-seeded and should be hungry after last year’s collapse against Nevada.

At the end of the day, these are two teams headed in opposite directions: Cincy just won the very tough AAC tourney, while Iowa lost five of six to close the year and didn’t beat a team with a pulse away from home all season.

Early ATS lean: Cincy
Early bracket pick: Cincy — Stuckey


#2 Tennessee vs. #15 Colgate NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: Tennessee -17.5
  • Over/Under: 152
  • Date: Friday, March 22
  • Time: 2:45 p.m. ET
  • Location: Columbis, Ohio
  • TV: CBS

Colgate actually does have a very clean offense with shooters all over. The Raiders are 14th overall in effective FG% nationally and 13th from behind the arc. They are winners of 11 straight games and will lean on Patriot Player of the Year Rapolas Ivanauskas, a 6-foot-10 forward who can step out and stroke. He’s shooting 43.4% on the year.

If Tennessee does have a weakness on the defensive end, its defending the 3. The Vols finished 10th in the SEC during conference play defending the perimeter. Colgate could hang around early if it is hitting its 3s, but this is just an enormous athletic mismatch, and the excellent Tennessee defense should get whatever it wants. It should eventually “”brush”” aside Colgate.

For reference, Colgate lost all four of its games vs. power conference opponents by double digits this year. While the Raiders minimized the damage, losing to Pitt, South Florida and Penn State by just 10-14 points, they did lose by 21 to Syracuse, the only tourney team they played this season.

Early ATS lean: Colgate
Early bracket pick: Tennessee — Stuckey


MIDWEST REGION

#1 North Carolina vs. #16 Iona NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: North Carolina -24.5
  • Over/Under: 164
  • Date: Friday, March 22
  • Time: 9:20 p.m. ET
  • Location: Columbus, Ohio
  • TV: TNT

Iona is in the tournament for the fourth year in a row. Head coach Tim Cluess has done an outstanding job building the dominant program in the MAAC.

That said, this is the weakest Iona team that has made the NCAA Tournament, ranking 275th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (109.6, per KenPom). The Tar Heels’ top-10 defense and offense make a 16-seed upset highly unlikely.

Early ATS lean: UNC
Early bracket pick: UNC Mike Randle


#8 Utah St. vs. #9 Washington NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: Utah St. -3
  • Over/Under: 134.5
  • Date: Friday, March 22
  • Time: 6:50 p.m. ET
  • Location: Columbus, Ohio
  • TV: TNT

If you’re talking about Washington, you have to talk about the zone.

Washington is Syracuse West, as longtime assistant Mike Hopkins left Syracuse for Washington and implemented that same infamous 2-3 zone. And UW actually was the only team that zoned more than Syracuse this year. It almost exclusively runs its 2-3 zone (over 95% of the time), and it has done so with more efficiency this season, thanks in large part to Defensive Player of the Year Mattise Thybulle, who is an absolute nightmare manning the top of the zone.

The problem is that this matchup is terrible for Washington.

Utah State has an excellent zone offense. And on the other side of the ball, Utah State’s defense (with pack line principles) forces teams to beat them from deep (where they are vulnerable). But the Huskies are not a great shooting team. The Aggies should also dominate the glass on both ends.

Defense should keep the Huskies in the game, as well as their connected play and experience. But this matchup is just too tough to overcome.

Early ATS lean: Utah State
Early bracket pick: Utah State — Stuckey


#5 Auburn vs. #12 New Mexico St. NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: Auburn -7
  • Over/Under: 143
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 1:30 p.m. ET
  • Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
  • TV: TNT

The SEC Champion is just a 7-point favorite to the WAC champion. This opener didn’t seem realistic, as Ken Pom has this number around 10. New Mexico State is going to be a darling sleeper pick, looking for a hangover for the Tigers after a four-day run to the conference championship.

The fact is that Auburn will force its style of play, and if you don’t have the personnel to stop it, it could be tough just to cover.

Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Auburn guards Bryce Brown and J’Von McCormick

Auburn is nationally ranked first in steal percentage (13.4%) and fifth in block percentage (16.5%) defensively. In addition to those numbers, the Tigers shoot 3s at a furious pace. Auburn relies on 43.7% of its points to come from 3, a stat that ranks seventh in the nation.

While the Aggies are a respectable team that has not lost since Jan. 3, they rank 118th in turnover percentage (17.7%) and 104th in opponent 3-point percentage (33.1%). Finally, New Mexico State is 293rd in free-throw percentage (67.3%), and that could be a deciding factor in the cover.

Early ATS lean: Auburn
Early bracket pick: Auburn — Collin


#4 Kansas vs. #13 Northeastern NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: Kansas -8.5
  • Over/Under: 144.5
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 4 p.m. ET
  • Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
  • TV: TBS

Kansas (25-9) saw its incredible 14-year Big 12 regular-season win streak come to an end, then lost to Iowa State in the conference tournament final.

The Jayhawks’ offense has struggled all season, especially after the loss of center Udoka Azubuike (13.4 ppg) to injury and Lagerald Vick’s (14.1 ppg) leave of absence. Their 3-point shooting (35%) and free-throw shooting (69.7%) have also been suspect.

The Jayhawks have relied on their defense all season, and will need to do so against the sharpshooting of Northeastern. The Huskies rank 14th in 3-point accuracy (38.8%) and 11th in 2-point efficiency (56.4%). Senior guard Vasa Pusica (17.8 ppg, 40% 3-point shooting) and junior guard Jordan Roland (14.7 ppg, 41% 3-point shooting) are difficult to contain.

This game will swing on whether Kansas’ offense can outplay the Huskies’ defense. Which weak link will be better?

Early ATS lean: Northeastern
Early bracket pick: Kansas — Randle

#6 Iowa St. vs. #11 Ohio St. NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: Iowa St. -6
  • Over/Under: 141
  • Date: Friday, March 22
  • Time: 9:50 p.m. ET
  • Location: Tulsa, Okla.
  • TV: TBS

Iowa State (23-11) profiles as a team everyone will pick to go far.

The Cyclones are the Big 12 Tournament champions and are the type of team that makes a difficult matchup. They’re ninth in the nation in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency (119.0) while ranking 33rd in fewest offensive turnovers (16.2%).

However, the question remains whether they can stay consistent. The Cyclones lost the last three regular-season games before making a spectacular run in the conference tournament.

Ohio State looks like an easy opponent on paper, especially losing four of its past five conference games. However, the Buckeyes bring a great coach with Chris Holtmann and the return of big man Kaleb Wesson (14.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg). They also bring the kryptonite to the Cyclones’ high-flying offense: Defensive rebounding. The Buckeyes ranked second in Big Ten Conference play in limiting the opposition on the offensive boards.

If we see the Iowa State team that won the Big 12 Tournament, this is a blowout. But if we see the Cyclones’ team that ended the year losing at Texas and West Virginia? Watch out.

Early ATS lean: Ohio State
Early bracket pick: Iowa State — Randle


#3 Houston vs. #14 Georgia St. NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: Houston -12.5
  • Over/Under: 143
  • Date: Friday, March 22
  • Time: 7:20 p.m. ET
  • Location: Tulsa, Okla.
  • TV: TBS

Houston (31-3) looked like a lock to win the ACC Tournament after steamrolling Connecticut by 39 points in the opening round. But a huge Memphis second-half comeback that fell short seemed to illustrate the Cougars’ problems, which Cincinnati promptly took advantage of in the championship game.

The Cougars are still elite defensively, ranking second in the nation in 3-point defense and first overall in effective field goal percentage allowed. Very few teams will be able to defend the Cougars like the Bearcats did, holding Houston to 38% from the field and 24% from 3.

However, the last time Georgia State (24-9) was a 14-seed, head coach Ron Hunter (and his torn Achilles) celebrated a 57-56 win over Baylor. The Panthers rank 17th in the country from 3, a necessary ingredient in an opening round upset. They also earned two big wins over SEC opponents (Georgia and Alabama) in the non-conference schedule. Georgia State will have to hit its 3s, as it ranks only 316th in offensive rebounding percentage.

Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Houston forward Breaon Brady and guard Corey Davis Jr.

The Cougars always bring maximum effort and will need to contain a 14-seed that historically is not intimidated.

Early ATS lean: Houston
Early bracket pick: Houston — Randle


#7 Wofford vs. #10 Seton Hall NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: Wofford -3
  • Over/Under: 143
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 9:40 p.m. ET
  • Location: Jacksonville, Fla.
  • TV: CBS

Wofford (29-4) is the small school everyone wanted to avoid. The Terriers are on a 20-game win streak after finishing the Southern Conference regular season at a perfect 18-0.

Wofford is second best in the country in 3-point shooting with a blistering 41.6%. SoCon Player of the Year Fletcher Magee (20.5 ppg, 42.8% 3-point shooting) is a lethal scorer who hasn’t been stopped all season. Senior forward Cameron Jackson (14.6 ppg, 7.5 rpg) anchors the inside play, and has played well against all competition despite being undersized.

Seton Hall (20-13) punched its NCAA Tournament ticket on the backs of its defense and star guard Myles Powell (22.9 ppg). The Pirates were second best in effective field goal percentage and 2-pointers allowed in Big East conference play.

The key barometer of who wins this game will be the turnover battle. Wofford was second in conference play in turnovers forced while Seton Hall was last in the Big East in offensive turnover percentage. The Powell vs. Magee battle is one of the best in the opening round.

Early ATS lean: Wofford
Early bracket pick: Wofford — Randle


#2 Kentucky vs. #15 Abilene Christian NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: Kentucky -22.5
  • Over/Under: 132
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 7:10 p.m. ET
  • Location: Jacksonville, Fla.
  • TV: CBS

John Calipari came on the Bracket Selection show and mentioned his team is focused on Abilene Christian, but it wouldn’t be surprising if there was overlook to a hot shooting mid-major like Wofford.

The Wildcats of Abilene Christian have a few important metrics that should get this cover home. They’re 19th in 3-point percentage and eighth in opponent turnover rate. The underdog will not turn the ball over while having a no pressure on the perimeter to shoot it deep, as Kentucky ranks 213th in opponent 3-point percentage.

It’s worth noting these teams have an adjusted tempo of 254th and 265th, giving even more value to a point spread north of 20.

Early ATS lean: Abilene Christian
Early bracket pick: Kentucky — Wilson

WEST REGION

#1 Gonzaga vs. #16 Fairleigh Dickinson/Prairie View A&M NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: TBD
  • Over/Under: TBD
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 7:27 p.m. ET
  • Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
  • TV: truTV

Fairleigh Dickinson and Prairie View A&M must both travel to Dayton before a 48-hour turnaround to Salt Lake City. Neither 16 seed has played at an elevated site, as Salt Lake City is at 4,226 feet. The 16 seeds are outside the top 200 in KenPom and should make an easy matchup for Gonzaga.

Fairleigh Dickinson is 5th in the nation in 3-point % but is one of the worst teams at turning the ball over. Prairie View A&M is 14th in steals but outside the top 250 in effective Field Goal percentage. The biggest question is Gonzaga’s overlook to the Syracuse 2-3 or Baylor 1-1-3 zone defense. Note Gonzaga’s recent performances in Round 1, when the Bulldogs beat UNC-Greensboro by just four points last year, South Dakota State by 20 in 2017, North Dakota State by 10 in 2015 and 16 seed Southern by just six points in 2013.

A cover is not out of the question with an inflated line and a Zags team on overlook to a zone defense.

Early bracket pick: Gonzaga — Wilson


#8 Syracuse vs. #9 Baylor NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: Syracuse -2
  • Over/Under: 135.5
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 9:57 p.m. ET
  • Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
  • TV: truTV

Zone-on-zone crime here, which is a real shame, as I like to see all of the zone teams play non-zone teams.

There are only eight teams in the field that run a zone defense on over 30% of their possessions. The Orange and Bears are two of them — although Cuse will run its 2-3 a lot more than Baylor will run its 1-3-1 (93.3% vs. 40.2%). You could see that percentage rise against a Cuse offense that has been extremely poor against zones this year: Syracuse’s offense ranks in the 16th percentile nationally against zones. Baylor’s ranks in the 72nd.

The winner of this game could potentially cause problems for Gonzaga. There’s a reason these two teams have made deep runs before. Foreign zones are tough in a tourney setting.

Early ATS lean: Baylor
Early bracket pick: Baylor — Stuckey

#5 Marquette vs. #12 Murray St. NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: Marquette -4.5
  • Over/Under: 148.5
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 4:30 p.m. ET
  • Location: Hartford, Conn.
  • TV: TBS

Ja Morant versus Markus Howard in the first round is a TV ratings bonanza. These teams are going in seperate directions, with Murray State winning 11 straight games and Marquette losing five of the past six. There are statistics that suggest Marquette can be exposed.

The Golden Eagles rank 240th in turnovers (19.4%), 147th in offensive rebounds (29.1%) and 331st in opponent steal percentage (6.7%). Murray State should create havoc on Marquette, ranking 109th in steals (8.3%), and more importantly, fourth in the nation in 3-point percentage against (28.5%). Murray State’s offense will have no problems keeping up, entering the tournament 22nd in effective Field Goal percentage (55.2%) and 53rd in offensive rebounding (32.4%).

In summary, Murray State has the supporting cast around its superstar to win this game.

Early ATS lean: Murray St.
Early bracket pick: Murray St. — Wilson


#4 Florida St. vs. #13 Vermont NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: Florida St. -11
  • Over/Under: 160.5
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 2 p.m. ET
  • Location: Hartford, Conn.
  • TV: TBS

Vermont was the mid major darling most of us wanted paired with a weak Power Five opponent, but Florida State is not that team. This is a Seminole roster, led by Terance Mann, that lost to Duke in the ACC Championship game and previously made the Elite 8 in last year’s tournament.

The Catamounts were a threat to advance because of their success in offensive categories and a sneaky rank of second nationally in opponent offensive rebounds. That won’t be enough against an athletic Florida State team that is ninth overall in defensive adjusted efficiency.

Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Florida State guard Terance Mann

The Seminoles played a strength of schedule of 26th, have an average height that is 12th and frequently rely on reserves with a rank of 32nd in bench minutes. Florida State will have too much athleticism for Vermont.

Early ATS lean: Florida State
Early bracket pick: Florida State — Wilson


#6 Buffalo vs. #11 Arizona St./St. John’s NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: TBD
  • Over/Under: TBD
  • Date: Friday, March 22
  • Time: 4 p.m. ET
  • Location: Tulsa, Okla.
  • TV: TNT

There is plenty of argument that Arizona State should not be in this tournament with losses to Vanderbilt and Princeton.

The Sun Devils had issues turning the ball over during the season, and a draw of St. John’s is not favorable for Arizona State. The Red Storm are sixth in the nation in turnover percentage (14.1%), and I expect them to advance against Buffalo.

Buffalo has not lost since Feb. 1 and should be able to handle St. John’s pressure. The Bulls are 19th in turnovers (15.5%) and 63rd in opponent turnovers (20.5%). St. John’s is one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the nation, leading to plenty of extra possessions for Buffalo, which ranks top-20 in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency (114.9). While the Bulls are not a 3-point shooting team, they are 17th in the nation in 2-point percentage (55.7%).

Look for Buffalo to survive the Red Storm pressure, dominate the paint and have a better shooting percentage in this potential matchup.

Early bracket pick: Buffalo — Wilson


#3 Texas Tech vs. #14 Northern Kentucky NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: Texas Tech -14
  • Over/Under: 137.5
  • Date: Friday, March 22
  • Time: 1:30 p.m. ET
  • Location: Tulsa, Okla.
  • TV: TNT

There are benefits to being knocked out of your conference tournament on the first day. Texas Tech will have over a week of rest before a short trip to Tulsa to take on Northern Kentucky.

The Red Raiders excel in defense, ranking first in the nation in KenPom Adjusted Efficiency (86.0). Opponents ranks in effective field goal percentage, turnovers and blocks are all in the top 11 nationally for Texas Tech. The question is whether the Norse can put up any kind of offensive game to get a cover. While Northern Kentucky is 23rd in effective field goal percentage (55.0%), the Norse are 78th in 3-point percentage (36.4%) and a terrible 302nd in free throws (67.0%). Teams that struggle at the charity stripe do not have much success in the NCAA tournament.

Look for Texas Tech to have a little redemption after an embarrassing loss to West Virginia.

Early ATS lean: Texas Tech
Early bracket pick: Texas Tech — Wilson

#7 Nevada vs. #10 Florida NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: Nevada -2
  • Over/Under: 132.5
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 6:50 p.m. ET
  • Location: Des Moines, Iowa
  • TV: TNT

Nevada (29-4) has a gaudy record but is only 1-1 against Quadrant I opponents. Florida (19-15) has played its best basketball at the end of the year, scoring a big conference tournament upset win over LSU. The Gators played 16 Quadrant I games as a byproduct of playing in the SEC.

The Wolf Pack have the superior offense, ranking 27th in the country in 2P% (55.1%), but they will need to stay efficient from beyond the arc, especially leading scorer Caleb Martin (19.3 ppg), who has been inconsistent this season at 34%.

Early ATS lean: Florida
Early bracket pick: Florida — Randle


#2 Michigan vs. #15 Montana NCAA Tournament Betting Odds

  • Spread: Michigan -15.5
  • Over/Under: 131.5
  • Date: Thursday, March 21
  • Time: 9:20 p.m. ET
  • Location: Des Moines, Iowa
  • TV: TNT

If there is a longshot double-digit seed I am looking to advance in a huge upset, it might be the Montana Grizzlies.

Michigan comes into the game off a Big Ten championship loss after leading for most of the game. The Wolverines will need to come into this expecting a fight, as Montana checks the boxes in the categories we trust for the handicap. The Grizzlies are sixth in effective field goal percentage (56.6%), 26th in 3-point percentage (38.1%) and 13th in 2-point percentage (56.3%). More important is Montana’s roster, which is 6th in experience (2.46 years) and 19th in Minutes Continuity (73.2%).

This is a roster that will be ready to compete, and if Michigan cannot create havoc in the form of turnovers and blocks then Montana will take this to the wire.

Early ATS lean: Montana
Early bracket pick: Michigan — Wilson

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