March Madness First Round: Odds, Best Bets, Predictions

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TCU forward JaKobe Coles works to the basket against Baylor's Ja'Kobe Walter (4) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Fort Worth, Texas, Monday, Feb. 26, 2024.
(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Chase Kiddy @chaseakiddy Mar 22, 2024, 8:53 AM
  • March Madness first-round odds are live now at BetMGM.
  • No. 6 Clemson and No. 11 New Mexico are trending in totally opposite directions.
  • Nebraska is a major sleeper team with great guards and an efficient offense.

The games are underway, and March Madness 2024 has commenced. College basketball odds are available by the truckload from now through the end of the weekend.

I’m writing loads of good NCAA Tournament content and analysis here at the Roar. For those looking to get involved with the futures market, my college basketball national championship odds breakdown goes deep into both futures analysis and internal BetMGM data. It’s a must-read. 

As the first round of the NCAA Tournament continues, handicappers will be digging for all the best bets available in the college basketball betting marketplace. 

March Madness First Round Odds

Favorite (Spread/ML)Underdog (Spread/ML)Total
No. 8 Florida Atlantic (-3.5)No. 9 Northwestern (+3.5)142.5
No. 3 Baylor (-14.5)No. 14 Colgate (+13.5)137.5
No. 5 San Diego State (-6.5)No. 12 UAB (+6.5)139.5
No. 2 Marquette (-14.5)No. 15 W. Kentucky (+14.5)157.5
No. 1 UConn (-26.5)No. 16 Stetson (+26.5)145.5
No. 11 New Mexico (-2.5)No. 6 Clemson (+2.5)151.5
No. 4 Auburn (-12.5)No. 13 Yale (+12.5)140.5
No. 7 Florida (-120)No. 10 Colorado (+100)158.5
No. 8 Nebraska (-115)No. 9 Texas A&M (-105)146.5
No. 4 Duke (-12.5)No. 13 Vermont (+12.5)132.5
No. 1 Purdue (-27.5)No. 16 Grambling (+27.5)138.5
No. 4 Alabama (-9.5)No. 13 Charleston (+9.5)172.5
No. 1 Houston (-24.5)No. 16 Longwood (+24.5)128.5
No. 5 Wisconsin (-5.5)No. 12 James Madison (+5.5)145.5
No. 9 TCU (-3.5)No. 8 Utah State (+3.5)150.5
No. 5 Saint Mary's (-5.5)No. 12 Grand Canyon (+5.5)131.5

NCAA Tournament First Round Predictions

Below, I’ve listed my favorite bets & predictions for the first round of the NCAA Tournament, as well as some details outlining why I like each bet. Check back next week for Sweet 16 odds & best bets!

Best Bets March Madness First Round

  • Clemson +1.5
  • Nebraska -115
  • JMU-Wisconsin Over 145.5
  • TCU -3.5
  • Oregon +1.5
  • Nevada -120
  • Drake -1.5

March Madness First Round Picks: Clemson +2.5 vs. New Mexico

It’s time to crank up the Mountain West fade machine. New Mexico is fresh off a conference tournament title and is being afforded some real darling status here as a short favorite. Like Oregon, the Lobos are a No. 11 seed that is currently laying points.

But unlike Oregon, which has a great coach and a fair amount of institutional respect, my sense is that New Mexico is being priced as a hot commodity, which is always a dangerous assumption for bettors to make during NCAA Tournament time. The hot hand theory has plenty of bad misses in March.

The other element playing into this number is Clemson’s rough form in the back half of the season. The Tigers scored several impressive wins in the nonconference portion of the schedule – UAB, Boise State, Alabama, South Carolina, and TCU are all tournament teams – but mostly beat up on cellar dwellers during their ACC schedule. They were blown out by No. 11 seed Boston College in the first round of the conference tournament. 

There’s also the snakebitten aspect of Clemson’s resume, which close observers will find hard to ignore. Clemson lost 11 games this year, but look how hard the ball bounced against them sometimes: 

  • Jan 16: a three-point loss in double overtime to Georgia Tech
  • Jan. 27: a 72-71 loss to Duke at Cameron Indoor
  • Feb. 3: a 66-65 home loss to Virginia
  • Feb. 17: a 78-77 home loss to eventual ACC Tournament champion NC State

If Friday’s game is a function of how these teams have played over the last few weeks, then yes, New Mexico will be the obvious winner. That’s why about two-thirds of early tickets at BetMGM are backing the Lobos.

It’s a gut call, and I could be absolutely wrong. But something tells me Clemson shows up for this game and looks more like the strong tournament team we saw in December rather than the poor-shooting, unlucky doormat we saw over the last few weeks. 

March Madness First Round Picks: Nebraska -115 vs. Texas A&M

Nebraska is a team I had circled before the bracket even dropped as a potential betting target. The Cornhuskers own home wins over both Wisconsin and Purdue and finished the season on a 7-1 run before losing to eventual champion Illinois in the Big Ten tournament. I really like how they play. The guard play is good, and the offense is hyper-efficient. 

Nebraska’s first-round opponent is Texas A&M, which is drawing heavy public action at BetMGM after a run to the SEC tournament semifinals. The SEC got more run as a basketball conference than the Big Ten this year, so there’s a little bit of conference bias and general visibility bias creeping into this handicap.

This is priced as a virtual pick ‘em, with Nebraska the nominal -115 favorite. Give me the Huskers in a high-scoring game, and consider a parlay with the over. 

March Madness First Round Picks: JMU-Wisconsin Over 145.5

This is an easy over for me. This number is a little too low, perhaps because Wisconsin has a reputation for grindy offense and low-scoring games. 

It’s still true that Wisconsin plays at a slower pace relative to most college basketball, but they’re also very efficient on offense—No. 13 nationally in offensive adjusted efficiency, in fact. They also shoot 76% from the free throw line, which is going to come in handy because JMU plays sloppy defense at times and fouls quite a bit.

Speaking of the Dukes, they play fast and score a lot. They’ve scored at least 80 points in eight of their last nine games. They broke 90 in a hot-shooting Sun Belt championship game against Arkansas State. 

Give me the over on a soft number. 

March Madness First Round Picks: TCU -3.5 vs Utah State

My final pick is one of my favorite bets on the board. Regular readers of my college basketball daily picks column know that I love betting unranked favorites against underdogs currently ranked in the AP Poll. It’s one of the most powerful trends in college sports.

Once the NCAA Tournament bracket drops, most people aren’t paying much attention to the AP Poll. But technically, this game still qualifies under my unranked favorites trend. TCU is a 3.5-point unranked favorite playing against No. 22 Utah State, the regular-season champion of the Mountain West.

Of course, I just gave away another reason I’m interested in TCU here. Here’s another chance to fade the Mountain West. In 2023, No. 7 seed Utah State was a 1.5-point favorite against No. 10 seed Missouri. The Tigers won 76-65.

March Madness First Round Picks: Oregon +1.5 vs. South Carolina

Oregon is probably the most dangerous double-digit seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament, which is a real drag for a South Carolina team that’s been a good watch all year and a great ATS product. 

Don’t take my word for it, though. Head over to BetMGM’s futures page, and you’ll find Oregon at +450 to make the Sweet 16, +1400 to make the Elite Eight, and +5000 to make the Final Four. Seems a bit short for a No. 11 seed, no?

For context, check out McNeese – the No. 12 seed in the same region. The Cowboys are +700 to make the Sweet 16 and +8000 to make the Final Four. 

Or look at fellow No. 11 seed Duquesne, which is +900 to make the second week of the tournament and +10000 to make the Final Four. 

One key reason: Oregon is 14-7 in NCAA Tournament games under Dana Altman. He’s won at least one game in every NCAA Tournament the Ducks have appeared. In his four most recent appearances, he’s made the Sweet 16 twice, the Elite Eight once, and the Final Four once.

Lest you think those runs were a product of seeding, remember that Oregon has been a No. 1 seed only once under Altman. His other seeds: 7, 12, 3, 8, 7, 12. 

Altman is a really good NCAA Tournament coach, and his team is finally healthy – hence the Pac-12 Tournament championship. Both the futures prices and the single-game odds against South Carolina acknowledge that. I like Oregon +1.5, and I’ll buy some short-term futures as well. 

March Madness First Round Picks: Nevada -120 vs Dayton

Dayton has been dreadful away from home for months now. The Flyers have won just two games away from home since Feb. 1. That forgettable spell includes a one-and-done appearance at the Atlantic 10 basketball tournament, where they lost to No. 6 seed Duquesne. 

Generally speaking, I am pretty skeptical of the Mountain West coming into this tournament. But Nevada played like the best team in the MWC over the final six weeks of the season, earning road wins at Utah State, UNLV, Colorado State, and Boise State over that time period. 

I know what the seeding says here, but I just think the Wolf Pack are the better team. So does the sportsbook, evidently, since Nevada is a nominal -120 favorite in spite of the seeding inferiority.

March Madness First Round Picks: Drake -1.5 vs. Washington State

Here’s another example where the market prefers the inferior seed, and I tend to agree. Washington State played in a forgettable Pac-12 and supplemented its resume with one good win against tournament-bound Boise State. Final Quad 1 record: 6-4.

Drake played in a competitive mid-major (the MVC) and racked up several nonconference wins against tournament-bound teams, including Akron, Nevada, and Oakland. Final Quad 1 record: 4-1. 

I’ve watched both teams. I think Drake is better, and I have to lay virtually no advantage to buy the Bulldogs. I think there’s a reason the market agrees with me here and is moving the line toward Drake.

College Basketball Betting at BetMGM

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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.