NCAA Tournament Odds, Picks: 5 Early Thursday Best Bets for Missouri vs. Utah State & More
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images. Pictured: San Diego State’s Matt Bradley.
We made it.
We’ve been waiting for this madness ever since the college basketball season tipped off in mid-November, and it’s finally here.
Four straight days of wall-to-wall college hoops — there’s nothing like it on the planet.
Our staff is kicking off the 2023 NCAA Tournament with five best bets for Thursday’s early games, including picks for Maryland vs. West Virginia, Virginia vs. Furman, Missouri vs. Utah State and San Diego State vs. Charleston.
Check out all five of our best bets for Thursday’s early games below, and be sure to check back later today — and all week — for even more NCAA Tournament betting coverage.
Thursday’s Early NCAA Tournament Best Bets
The team logos in the table below represent each of the matchups that our college basketball staff is targeting from Thursday’s early NCAA Tournament games. Click the team logos for one of the matchups below to navigate to a specific bet discussed in this article.
|Specific bet 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.|
Maryland vs. West Virginia
No. 8 seed Maryland will face No. 9 seed West Virginia early this afternoon in the first round of the South Region in Birmingham, Alabama.
The Terrapins are no strangers to the NCAA Tournament, having made 71 appearances in program history and winning 14 of their last 15 first-round games dating back to 1997.
Maryland guard Jahmir Young has been on an absolute tear this season and is one of only 10 active players in the NCAA to tally career totals of 1,900 points, 600 rebounds and 350 assists. After transferring from Charlotte, the senior has contributed a team-high 16.1 points and 3.2 assists per contest.
Young and Terrapins draw a favorable matchup against a comparatively weak West Virginia defense that ranks 52nd in the nation in defensive efficiency. In particular, West Virginia has struggled this season in defensive free-throw rate, allowing 38.5% of field goal attempts to turn into free-throw opportunities.
This could spell trouble for the Mountaineers as they face a Maryland team that ranks in the top third of teams nationally in free-throw percentage at 73.9%. Young has been sharp from the line all season, making it to the stripe a team-best 162 times this year and draining 82.7%.
My model is projecting this game as a pick’em on a neutral court, and I see value in taking the points in what should be a tightly-contested game.
Down the stretch, look for Maryland to get to the line more and for its 34th-ranked defense to propel the Terrapins to the outright win.
Pick: Maryland +3 (Play to +2)
Virginia vs. Furman
Led by two fifth-year seniors — Jalen Slawson and Mike Bothwell — the Paladins run a five-out offense with five shooters on the floor at all times. That’s critical against Virginia’s pack-line defense that teams must hit shots over the top against in order to have any success.
Furman does like to get out in transition, but that won’t happen against a Cavaliers team that simply doesn’t allow opponents to run.
However, the Paladins are super comfortable running offense in the half-court. They rank in the 92nd percentile nationally in terms of points per possession on transition possessions, per Synergy. Well, they grade out even better in the half-court (98th percentile).
Furman also doesn’t beat itself with turnovers or missed free throws. That’s important for an underdog in the tournament, especially in a game that will have a limited number of possessions against the very methodical Hoos, who rank 360th in Adjusted Tempo, per KenPom.
I’m also skeptical of the ACC as a whole coming into the tournament. Plus, Virginia recently lost Ben Vander Plas to injury, which limits the ceiling of an already fairly limited offense.
That gives me more confidence backing a Furman team that does have holes on defense. That leaves it susceptible to very athletic teams, especially ones that can bully them in the post. But that’s not really Virginia.
I have a lot of respect for Tony Bennett, who I think is one of the best coaches in the country. However, we’ve seen his Virginia teams get upset by a No. 16 seed and No. 14 seed in the first round.
I wouldn’t be shocked if that happens again here against a talented Furman offense that matches up very well with the Virginia defensive scheme.
Now, let’s just hope all of the 3s the Paladins will fire go in.
Pick: Furman +6
Missouri vs. Utah State
By Brett Pund
Fading the Mountain West Conference has been a profitable venture in the NCAA Tournament in recent years. While it’s scary to go against this history, I’m looking for that trend to turn around this season, starting with Utah State defeating Missouri in the first round of the South Region.
The key reasoning behind this play is how well the Aggies have been playing over the last 10 games. Whether you look at adjusted efficiency or overall ratings, Utah State has been better than the Tigers across the board, according to BartTorvik.
In fact, Missouri rates toward one of the bottom squads in the entire South Region over this span.
This is the same school that ranks outside the top 240 in defending both 2-pointers and 3-pointers, which is not a good look against an Aggies team that’s top-40 in both categories.
The weakest unit on the floor will be the Tigers defense, and I expect Utah State to take advantage in a victory.
Pick: Utah State ML -122 (Play to -130)
San Diego State vs. Charleston
This is a fascinating tempo clash between these two teams. Charleston wants to play fast (29th in adjusted tempo), while San Diego State wants to slow things down and play in the half-court (251st in adjusted tempo).
Charleston has gone through two incredibly long winning streaks, but it hasn’t really played the toughest of competition this season. It lost and gave up 102 points to North Carolina near the beginning of the season but did have narrow wins over Kent State and Virginia Tech in the nonconference portion of the schedule.
However, the only team in the CAA that ranked inside the top 100 on KenPom was Hofstra, and the Pride won, 85-81.
The Cougars are a high-volume 3-point shooting team, owning the ninth-highest 3-point rate in the country, but they’re hitting just 33.5% for the season. San Diego State is an elite perimeter defense that allowed only 29.7% from 3-point range this season. The reason the Aztecs could pull this off was the fact they rank eighth in the country in Open-3 Rate Allowed, per ShotQuality.
So, if Charleston is going to fire repeatedly from deep, it’s going to have to make some contested jumpers.
The San Diego State offense hasn’t been elite by any means this season. It takes a ton of midrange jumpers and runs pick-and-roll at a high frequency, which Charleston has been elite at defending this season. However, the Cougars again haven’t played the stiffest of competition, as their average adjusted offensive efficiency rank faced this season was 294th, per KenPom.
This San Diego State team is also 21st in KenPom’s D-I experience metric, 39th in minutes continuity and 30th in bench minutes. This is a really difficult team to beat.
I love the value on the Aztecs at -5 given their ability to defend the 3-point line against Charleston.
By D.J. James
The trendy pick in the NCAA field for Thursday seems to be fading the San Diego State Aztecs when they face Charleston, which had over 30 wins on the seasons.
For one, the Mountain West was a strong conference this season, and SDSU boasts a top-10 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency.
Charleston may rank 22nd in defensive free-throw attempt rate, and SDSU relies on drawing contact for a source of points on offense. However, San Diego State ranks 36th in efficiency at the rim, per ShotQuality. Charleston is yielding a 49.1% 2-point percentage, so the Aztecs will have their fill on the interior.
In addition, only 28.6% of SDSU’s points this year came from deep. This is the most efficient piece of the Cougars defense, so this matchup is not favorable.
On the defensive end, the Cougars hoist the ninth-most 3s in the country, while SDSU is holding opponents to a 29.2% 3-point percentage. The Aztecs rank eighth in Open-3 Rate, as well per ShotQuality. The Cougars will not get the open looks they’re used to seeing in the Colonial Athletic Association.
The Aztecs are not a good matchup against a would-be Cinderella story in plenty of 5-12 cases. They have an elite defense and can crash the glass with Charleston.
Unless the Aztecs start fouling in an out-of-control matter, they should cover the spread in the Round of 64.
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