NCAA Tournament Odds & Picks: Our 5 Best Bets for Thursday’s Early March Madness Games (March 17)
Lance King/Getty Images. Pictured: Drew Timme.
March is here, and it feels like Christmas morning.
Our staff is as ready for the NCAA Tournament as it could be, opening March Madness with five best bets from three of Thursday’s early games, including Michigan vs. Colorado State, South Dakota State vs. Providence and Georgia State vs. Gonzaga.
And be sure to check back later because we’ll have even more best bets — plus plenty of other betting content — for Thursday’s later NCAA Tournament games.
Let the madness begin.
Thursday NCAA Tournament Best Bets
The team logos in the table below represent each of the matchups that our college basketball staff is targeting from today’s slate of games. Click the team logos for one 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.|
Michigan vs. Colorado State
The first game I immediately went to bet once the lines opened was Colorado State (+3) against an overrated Michigan squad. The line has dropped since with news that starting point guard DeVante’ Jones will miss the Round of 64 bout.
Colorado State’s offense cannot be understated. This is a team that is top-10 in 2-point percentage, 13th out of the half-court and top-25 from both the mid-range and on finishes at the rim, per ShotQuality. And it doesn’t turn the ball over either.
It has capable 3-point shooters and can stretch the opposition thin in the half-court. Do-it-all big man David Roddy will likely pull Hunter Dickinson and/or Moussa Diabate away from their comfort zone in the paint and toward the perimeter.
The result is easier attacks inside from Isaiah Stevens, John Tonje and co., or a kick out into an open 3 for a player like Roddy who hits at a 45.4% clip.
The Rams’ biggest concern comes on the defensive end of the floor, having to guard the power duo 7-foot-1 Dickinson and 6-foot-11 Diabate. Roddy will be tasked with one of the two, and remaining out of foul trouble is of the essence.
Colorado State is normally a strong team when it comes to defending finishes at the rim, but it hasn’t faced two big men like this at one time.
Michigan should control the boards and find consistent success out of the post. But it can’t rely on Dickinson to string together a Herculean effort for a full 40 minutes in true one-man-band fashion.
I just trust Colorado State in this matchup. Jones’ absence for the Wolverines is also a big one, as he is their quarterback and primary ball-handler. Freshman Frankie Collins will likely make his first start ever and take on a larger role against a solid defensive backcourt.
Tack on the Rams’ well-balanced offense that won’t make many mistakes and should create efficient looks from all over the floor by stretching Michigan thin, and I think they’re a safe bet to tip off Thursday’s Round of 64 slate.
Pick: Colorado State +1.5 (Play to PK)
Michigan vs. Colorado State
No. 11 seeds who are favored in the first round have gone 6-1 (86%) against the spread in the NCAA Tournament. Talk about sample size!
But this is a flat-out bad matchup for Colorado State, which runs its offense directly through 6-foot-6 big man David Roddy. Roddy is the heartbeat to this offense and averaged 19 points and eight rebounds while hitting 58% from the field.
He used his wide frame and never-ending motor to dominate in the Mountain West, which won’t bode well against Big Ten competition.
The Wolverines had a rollercoaster final month of the season highlighted by the Juwan Howard altercation and suspension. Despite owning a 17-14 overall record, this team still is well respected in advanced metrics, ranking 33rd overall in KenPom. The Wolverines found victories down the stretch over the likes of Purdue, Iowa, Rutgers and Ohio State.
Michigan will be without starting guard DeVante’ Jones for this matchup, but this game will be won in the paint.
Colorado State ranks outside the top 300 in the country in average height. That lack of size shows with an inability to rebound. Now, the Rams matchup against a huge Michigan frontcourt that is one of the better rebounding teams in the tournament.
Seven-foot center Hunter Dickinson, who averages 18 points on 56% shooting, is going to expose the Rams’ lack of size. Roddy will likely draw the assignment, which puts him in danger of getting into foul trouble early.
Mountain West teams have not fared well in the tournament, going 19-37-2 (34%) against the spread since 2006. I’m backing the Wolverines to continue that trend and pull off the “upset” as the 11-seed.
Pick: Michigan -1 (Play to -2)
South Dakota State vs. Providence
I truly believe the Jackrabbits are going to run Providence right out of the gym.
Providence has been the luckiest team in college basketball this year. Per ShotQuality, it has eight more wins than it should, and you saw a lot of that negative shooting regression hit in a big way in the Big East Tournament when Creighton went on a 31-2 run against the Friars.
If you haven’t seen this South Dakota State team play, it’s a wagon offensively. The Jackrabbits finished the season top-five in college basketball in the following categories: 3-point FG%, effective FG%, PPP in the half-court and PPP in transition.
That last one is huge because the Jackrabbits play at a fast pace (59th in adjusted tempo, per KenPom) and Providence ranks 320th in PPP allowed in transition defense, per Synergy.
Outside of transition, Providence really struggles to defend off-ball screens and off-the-dribble 3-pointers, sitting outside the top 250 in both of those categories. South Dakota is fourth in the nation in both of those categories, per ShotQuality.
I mean SDSU guards Baylor Scheierman and Charlie Easley are both shooting over 46% from behind the arc.
One of the biggest advantages Providence has had over its opponents is getting to the free-throw line at a high rate, ranking 12th in the country in that category. South Dakota State, meanwhile, ranks eighth in free-throw rate allowed.
This is a horrific first-round matchup for Providence, so I love the Jackrabbits +2.
Pick: South Dakota State +2.5 (Play to +1)
South Dakota State vs. Providence
By D.J. James
This might be the most intriguing game of the Thursday slate. The free-wheeling South Dakota State Jackrabbits battle with Providence to take on the winner of Iowa and Richmond.
Providence is the luckiest team in the country, per KenPom, and it has a sizable lead above the second-luckiest. This is definitely a factor, considering it’s playing one of the quickest and strongest offenses in the country.
Sure, SDSU plays in the Summit League, but it shoots a college basketball-best 44.2% from deep. The Jackrabbits can also get to the free-throw line and make their shots inside, providing them with the 12th-best adjusted offensive efficiency in the country (KenPom).
Providence’s detriment has been its defensive viability. It ranks 171st in Open-3 Rate and 136th in Rim & 3 Rate, per ShotQuality. This means it’s going to leave wide-open and efficient shots to one of the best offenses it will have played all season.
In fact, the strongest offense the Friars took on this season was Villanova, and they lost to the Wildcats twice, so this is something to keep an eye on.
The problem with the Jackrabbits is how poorly they play defense, but this should not be much of an issue. Again, per Shot Quality, the Friars rank 267th in Open- 3 Rate and 187th in Rim & 3 Rate offensively.
They bank on driving to the hoop and getting fouled, but the problem is the Jackrabbits don’t foul often.
Overall, this is just a poor matchup for the Friars, so South Dakota State could easily advance to the Round of 32. It would not be shocking.
Pick: South Dakota State +2.5 (Play to +1.5)
Georgia State vs. Gonzaga
Gonzaga is packed with offensive firepower, but it’s just as good on defense. The Bulldogs rank fourth nationally in the most important defensive handicapping metric, AdjD, allowing only 88.4 points per 100 possessions.
Georgia State is a defensive-minded team that ranks in the top third of teams nationally in AdjD. The stout Panther defense forces turnovers on 22.7% of plays, which ranks 18th nationally.
For purposes of this bet, Georgia State brings just as much to the table with its lack of offensive production. The Panthers rank 343rd in the nation in effective field goal percentage at 45.4%.
The technical trends are strongly in favor of the under in this matchup with both teams being some of the best in the nation when it comes to the under. The Bulldogs are 12-17 (58.6%) against the total, and the Panthers are an impressive 8-18 (69.2%) against the total.
I’m projecting the total for this game to be 145.37 points, but I expect this game to finish closer to the 140 mark.
Look for the top-ranked Gonzaga defense to aggravate the Georgia State offense all game. Gonzaga will score a lot of points, but the hot Panther defense should be able to hold it under 90 points.