First Four Predictions: Odds, Bets For Opening Tournament Games

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Boise State forward Tyson Degenhart (2) reacts after hitting 3-point shot against San Diego State during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, March 8, 2024, in San Diego.
(AP Photo/Denis Poroy)
Chase Kiddy @chaseakiddy Mar 18, 2024, 2:01 PM
  • The First Four kicks off the NCAA Tournament on Tuesday and Wednesday.
  • First Four odds present strong opportunities for unders this year.
  • Virginia cannot hit free throws and has a bad run of NCAA losses.

Tuesday’s First Four games kick off a 96-hour extravaganza of 36 March Madness games. 

If you’re looking to get into the action, the BetMGM online sportsbook has loads of March Madness college basketball odds, including single-game spreads, Sweet 16 futures and odds to win the NCAA Tournament.

Tuesday’s first two games may seem like cannon fodder to casual fans, but anyone experienced in online sports betting knows that even games between No. 16 seeds can offer quality betting opportunities.

First Four Odds

Favorite (Spread)Underdog (Spread)TotalMoneyline
Howard (-3.5)Wagner (+3.5)128.5-165/+135
Colorado State (-2.5)Virginia (+2.5)120.5-145/+120
Montana State (-3.5)Grambling (+3.5)135.5-185/+150
Colorado (-2.5)Boise State (+2.5)140.5-150/+125

March Madness First Four Predictions

There’s a tendency among casual NCAA Tournament fans to disregard the First Four as not worth paying attention to. “The real tournament starts on Thursday,” you might imagine one of your friends saying.

I would strongly caution against that kind of flippant attitude. The First Four has a rich tradition of producing hot tournament teams, starting with 2011 VCU and continuing to the present here in 2024. 

More recently, at least one team from the First Four has won a Round of 64 tournament game in each of the last three years. That includes last year, when both No. 11 Pittsburgh and No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson advanced to the second round of the tournament. 

This year, the First Four winners will be particularly dangerous, as an unusually high number of bid steals push the at-large First Four participants onto the No. 10 seed line. 

In the midwest region, Texas will have to play against a national championship-winning coach or a Colorado State team that rates nearly 20 spots ahead of the Longhorns in the KPI rankings. 

In the south region, No. 7 Florida will be without center Micah Handlogten, who fractured his leg in Sunday’s SEC championship, when the Gators play the winner of Boise State vs. Colorado.

So the First Four is absolutely relevant to the opening results of the NCAA Tournament. And that’s to say nothing of handicapping. 

Below, I’ve listed my favorite bets & predictions for the 2024 NCAA Tournament First Four, as well as some details outlining why I like each bet.

First Four Best Bets

  • Wagner-Howard Under 128.5
  • Colorado State -2.5
  • Montana State -3.5
  • Colorado-Boise State Under 140.5

First Four Betting Picks: Howard vs. Wagner

These are the two worst teams in the field of 68, at least according to KenPom, with Wagner checking in at No. 293 overall. The Seahawks finished in sixth in the NEC and will surely be here for a good time, not a long time, in the NCAA Tournament.

I’d probably take a shot with the +135 Wagner moneyline if I wanted to get involved here, but the more interesting handicap is the total. Wagner plays basketball at a supremely slow pace, ranking 361st in adjusted tempo. There is only one team that plays slower offense than Wagner, and that’s Virginia. (More on the Cavaliers in just a moment.)

Howard, on the other hand, plays a very average tempo at 163rd in Division I. This is a median figure and comparable to several NEC teams that Wagner played during the regular season, including first-place Merrimack and last-place Stonehill. 

This total opened at 125.5, which is a number that implies Wagner’s funky, slow offense will dictate the pace of the game. But the market has spiked the total up to 128.5, which implies that the market thinks the game could be played on terms closer to what Howard typically runs. 

It’s also plausible that the movement is also affected by a potentially large volume of public bets coming in on a square over in the first tournament game available to bettors. 

Either way, I disagree with the assumptions that would be driving this kind of line movement. Wagner repeatedly played games against moderately paced teams that had final scores checking in below 120. It was not uncommon for some to finish below 110. Wagner won the NEC Championship 54-47. 

It’s definitely boring, but I like an under here. 

First Four Betting Picks: Virginia vs. Colorado State

Here’s my favorite pick of the bunch. Regular readers know I live in Richmond, in the middle of ACC country, with many family members and in-laws who attended the University of Virginia. I am forced to watch a lot of UVA basketball.

I am no fan of Mountain West teams right now and have entered this NCAA Tournament bracket period with a general strategy of fading the Mountain West. But I absolutely cannot do that here against what appears to be a pretty pathetic late-season UVA team.

I’ll let others on the internet bicker about whether or not the Cavaliers should have made the NCAA Tournament. (They should not have.) Instead, I’ll point out that – even in a good year! – UVA’s particular style of offense does not translate well to the NCAA Tournament. 

If you throw out the 2019 national championship season for a moment and look at what UVA has done in other recent seasons, the Cavaliers are 0-3 in NCAA Tournament games since 2018 despite playing as a No. 1 seed once and No. 4 seed twice. Yikes.

Then, there’s this season, where Virginia has struggled to close games against inferior opponents because of its inability to hit free throws. One anecdote: Last month, I bought tickets for my sister and parents to go to John Paul Jones Arena for a game against Wake Forest. The Cavaliers won a farcical game after shooting 1-for-11 from the free throw line. One. For. Eleven.

Virginia was 4-5 down the stretch, losing by at least 10 points to Pitt and North Carolina and by at least 20 to Duke and rival Virginia Tech. The Cavs needed overtime to get by Boston College in their first ACC Tournament game because they couldn’t hit their free throws. They shot 8-for-18. And they ultimately lost to NC State in part because – you guessed it – their offense scored 58 points in regulation, and couldn’t hit their free throws.

This team is not very good and has struggled against tournament teams, both this season and in past tournaments. I am happily pounding the table for Colorado State -2.5 as my biggest position in the First Four.

First Four Betting Picks: Montana State vs. Grambling

Grambling is a fascinating handicap for this tournament. The Tigers are 17-4 since Jan. 6 and have thoroughly dominated their SWAC schedule. They closed the season on a 9-1 run and appear to be playing their best basketball right now. 

The problem is that a SWAC schedule doesn’t present many comparative NCAA Tournament challenges. The conference has zero teams above KenPom 250; most of the conference is sub-300. Take a peek at the opening two months of Grambing’s schedule, where the Tigers went 0-10 against a Division I nonconference schedule that included Troy, Delaware State, Sam Houston, and Southeastern Louisiana. 

Montana State was not the best team the Big Sky had to offer this year, winning the conference tournament as a No. 5 seed. But in March alone, the Bozeman Bobcats have three top 200 Kenpom wins. It won at Cal in November and edged UC Riverside a week later. 

Montana State has shown more and done more, and a 3.5-point spread is not asking me to give up too much advantage. I’ll bet the favorite in Wednesday night’s first game. 

First Four Betting Picks: Boise State vs. Colorado

This is the First Four game I probably have the least feel for. On spec, I’m inclined to fade the Mountain West and bet Colorado at -2.5. So far, this line hasn’t moved. 

The market appears to have stronger feelings about the total, which has slid from 141.5 to 140.5 at BetMGM despite overwhelming majority action on the over. The reverse line movement is a clear indicator of what side the sharps like.

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About the Author

Chase Kiddy

Read More @chaseakiddy

Chase Kiddy is a writer for BetMGM and co-host of The Lion's Edge, an NFL and college football podcast available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and everywhere else. He has also written for a number of print and online outlets, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Washington Post, Daily News-Record, and HERO Sports. His first novel, Cave Paintings, is in development.

Chase Kiddy is a writer for BetMGM and co-host of The Lion's Edge, an NFL and college football podcast available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and everywhere else. He has also written for a number of print and online outlets, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Washington Post, Daily News-Record, and HERO Sports. His first novel, Cave Paintings, is in development.