2024 March Madness predictions roundtable: Betting the first round of the men's tournament



The possibilities are endless as we get set for the first round of the men’s NCAA tournament, but which games should you bet on? And which should you avoid?

Here are our men’s college basketball experts Dalen Cuff, Jeff Borzello, Tyler Fulghum, Anita Marks and Mackenzie Kraemer to explain which games they are keying in on for Thursday and Friday.


What’s your favorite pick against the spread?

San Diego State (-6.5) vs. UAB. UAB’s offense carried it down the stretch of the season, but it hasn’t faced a defense like San Diego State, which ranks in the top 10 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. And the Blazers’ defense doesn’t force turnovers, meaning it will likely have to play against a settled Aztecs defense most of the game. — Borzello

Kentucky (-13.5) vs. Oakland. The Grizzlies don’t have the firepower to hang with the Wildcats, who have five players who average double digits. Kentucky has size, coaching experience and a top-five offense per KenPom, averaging almost 90 PPG. — Marks

Alabama (-10.5) vs. Charleston. The Cougars play a similar style as the Tide that is pace, space and 3s. The Tide just do it much better and more efficiently than Charleston. Roll Tide. — Cuff

Auburn (-12.5) vs. Yale. Yale is a great story with its buzzer-beater to win the Ivy League, but Auburn is no Brown. The Tigers have shorter odds than every 2-seed but Arizona to win it all. — Fulghum

Baylor (-13.5) vs. Colgate. Colgate lacks the offensive firepower that previous tournament teams had. Baylor should overwhelm Colgate offensively, and Colgate won’t keep up. — Kraemer

What’s your ‘favorite favorite’ that’s under -200 moneyline?

Florida Atlantic (-145) vs. Northwestern. If Matthew Nicholson doesn’t play for Northwestern, I don’t think they have a prayer of defending Vlad Goldin on the interior. And if he does suit up, I still think FAU has too much firepower. Boo Buie can only do so much. — Borzello

South Carolina (-120) vs. Oregon. The Ducks are the trendy pick, which is par for the course all year for South Carolina. Lamont Paris will use all the Oregon hype like he did their preseason media poll selection of 14th in SEC. He’s now Coach of the Year in that league and the Gamecocks are 22-9 ATS. — Cuff

New Mexico (-140) vs. Clemson. New Mexico opened as a 1.5-point favorite and are now up a point to -2.5. At least one 11-seed has won a first-round game in 18 consecutive NCAA tournaments. — Fulghum

Drake (-120) vs. Washington State. Drake has tournament experience, Tucker DeVries, and is one of the best rebounding teams in the tourney. They are only 14th in turnover rate and will play in Omaha, which is right up I-80. — Marks

Dayton (Even) vs. Nevada. Dayton isn’t technically the favorite, but it has the best player on the floor (DaRon Holmes) and the better coach. When in doubt, fade the Mountain West in March. BPI gives Dayton a 58% chance to win. — Kraemer

What’s your favorite upset pick?

McNeese (+225) vs. Gonzaga. Buckle up, because the Cowboys (30-3) are going to surprise some folks. McNeese holds opponents to under 40% shooting, while they shoot close to 50% from the field. They are scrapy and defensively force 17 turnovers a game with a 14% steal rate. — Marks

James Madison (+190) vs. Wisconsin. JMU is 31-3 and might even be the better team, as they showed when they beat Michigan State in November. Are we sure Wisconsin is the better team? — Kraemer

Morehead State (+550) vs. Illinois. The Illini are flying high after winning the Big Ten tournament behind the dominance of Terrence Shannon, but the Eagles have a star of their own who could help them steal this game and make a Cinderella run. Remember the name: Riley Minix. — Fulghum

Samford (+250) vs. Kansas. The Jayhawks lack of depth made them vulnerable to upset even before Bill Self announced that Kevin McCullar is out for the tournament. Samford plays 10-deep, presses all game and could wreak havoc on the Jayhawks’ at altitude in Salt Lake City. — Cuff

Texas A&M (Even) vs. Nebraska. I actually prefer Samford (+225), McNeese (+220) and James Madison (+190), but one more underdog pick I like is the Aggies. A&M’s offensive struggles seem to be behind them, and Wade Taylor is playing his most efficient basketball of the season. — Borzello

What’s your favorite pick against the point total?

Alabama vs. Charleston OVER 173.5. Two teams that love to play with pace, will look to shoot within the first 15 seconds of the shot clock and want to score. Alabama has gone over in 10 of its past 11 games, and Charleston won’t have a problem keeping up. — Borzello

Long Beach State vs. Arizona OVER 163.5. Both play with a high pace, with Long Beach first in pace of play. Long Beach also has one of the worst transition defenses, which will play right into the hands of what Arizona does well — score! — Marks

Illinois vs. Morehead State OVER 147.5. Illinois can really score and has adopted a “we’ll try to outscore you” mentality recently. Morehead State can try to slow down the game, but I think the Illini push it to an over for the 13th time in their past 15 games. — Cuff

South Dakota State vs. Iowa State UNDER 135.5. Iowa State has been the best defensive team in the nation, but its shooting takes a step back away from home. South Dakota State will struggle to score, but it can do enough defensively to force an under. — Kraemer

Kentucky vs. Oakland OVER 163.5. If the Wildcats are involved in a game, I’m betting the over. Coach Calipari’s squad saw 23 of their 32 games finish over the closing total this year, by an average of +10.5 points per game. — Fulghum

Which game are you avoiding entirely?

Arizona vs. Long Beach State. The Wildcats have consistently not played to their level when they think they’re facing an inferior opponent. They are here and should punish The Beach but I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t get out of second gear and fail to cover. — Cuff

McNeese vs. Gonzaga. McNeese has been dominant against an awful schedule. Gonzaga is talented and battle-tested. The winner can make a deep run, but good luck figuring out which team that is. — Kraemer

Tennessee vs. St. Peter’s. Rick Barnes has been a hard coach to trust against the spread, though his Volunteers profile as one of the tournament favorites. I’ll take a wait and see approach before getting invested. — Fulghum

BYU vs. Duquesne. BYU is always a difficult read because the Cougars shoot more 3s than almost anyone in college basketball, but they’re a middle-of-the-road team when it comes to making them. And they’re playing a team in Duquesne that was the best in the Atlantic 10 in defending the 3-point line. It might not matter because BYU shoots so many of them, but I’m steering clear anyway. — Borzello

Michigan State vs. Mississippi State. This matchup is a toss-up. Those leaning toward the Spartans are doing so because of Tom Izzo, and those who have the Bulldogs are hoping they pull off a win with their stellar 3-point defense. Flip a coin. — Marks



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