NCAA Tournament Predictions for Friday’s First-Round Games

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(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
BetMGM Staff @BETMGM Mar 17, 2022, 3:11 PM

The NCAA tournament is officially underway, which is the best time of the year for college basketball betting.

There are a number of great matchups Friday, which means the college basketball betting lines are tight.

Here’s a full breakdown of all the games, along with some college basketball betting picks.

#7 Ohio State vs. #10 Loyola Chicago

Could we see Ohio State go out in upset fashion in the first round of the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season? That’s where my money is headed.

This Loyola Chicago team isn’t quite as good as last year’s, but they make life difficult on the offensive end for their opponents. Eight different times this season the Ramblers held their opponent to 50 points or fewer, while they rank 16th in field goal percentage and tenth in 3-point percentage in the country.

They’re efficient with the ball and are always able to find the right shot, something that will frustrate the hell out of Ohio State’s 10th-ranked defense in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes will be sent packing early in March once again.

#2 Auburn vs. #15 Jacksonville State

I am about as low on Auburn as you can get for a No. 2 seed and it has to do with their incredibly erratic guard play.

The Tigers love to let the 3-pointers fly which isn’t exactly the best option for a team that shoots just 32.1% from beyond the arc on the season. The inconsistency of this offense is a concern to me, alas Auburn shouldn’t have any issues with Jacksonville State here.

The Gamecocks are a top-10 3-point shooting team in the nation and truly rely on that as their primary offense, but it would take an unbelievable shooting performance for them to overcome the size and athleticism discrepancies between these two rosters.

#3 Texas Tech vs. #14 Montana State

There hasn’t been much hubbub about Texas Tech and I love that they are just waiting for their chance to pounce.

The Red Raiders have the best defense in the nation according to KenPom and it’s noticeable when you watch them consistently stifle the Big 12’s most efficient offenses on a nightly basis.

Meanwhile, Montana State doesn’t even possess a top-3 offense within the Big Sky, which makes it tough to picture them capable of pulling this win off. Back Tech here as a team in the West region that isn’t quite getting the love it should be.

#3 Purdue vs. #14 Yale

What an awesome win by Yale in its conference championship over a Princeton team with serious star power that was the favorite to make it out of the Ivy League.

Azar Swain was a superstar in the championship game and should put up a strong performance here as well. Against a suspect Purdue defense, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him light it up and Yale to potentially keep it close, but the Boilermaker offense is not one you want to go shot-for-shot with.

They rank third in the nation in offensive efficiency while the Bulldogs don’t even crack the top 200. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Yale keep this close up until the early stages of the second half, but I think Purdue pulls away down the stretch with their superior talent.

#2 Villanova vs. #15 Delaware

Villanova ranks 38th in experience, first in free-throw percentage, is finally healthy, has a fifth-year senior All-American at point guard, and has won ten of their last 11 games. And yet, I haven’t seen much buzz on them to be a Final Four contender out of the South region.

While this is further down the road, of course, I like the Wildcats to get things done here.

Delaware will struggle to guard the longer, capable wings in Jermaine Samuels and Brandon Slater, while I can just picture Collin Gillespie absolutely shredding this defense for 40 minutes straight.

Keep this one simple and back Nova.

#7 USC vs. #10 Miami (FL)

One team’s strength is the other team’s weakness.

A team made up of USC’s frontcourt and Miami’s backcourt would probably give Auburn fits in the Round of 32 but unfortunately, that’s not quite how March Madness works. I’ll have to give an edge to the Trojans in their frontcourt mismatch.

Isaiah Mobley is a serious disruption on both ends of the court in the paint while Chevez Goodwin is a perfect frontcourt complement in the starting lineup. At 6-foot-9, Drew Peterson is a stretch big that can light it up from beyond the arc, shooting 41% from 3-point range on the season which makes him potentially the toughest defensive assignment on the team.

There’s just too much talent from USC’s bigs for Miami to handle, which is why the Trojans fight on to the weekend.

#6 Alabama vs. #11 Notre Dame

A win like the one Notre Dame had over No. 11 Rutgers in the First Four just might be the type of victory to give this team some momentum heading into the bracket.

Many forget that last season, during No. 11 UCLA’s dream run to a Final Four, they went to overtime in the First Four with Michigan State. Some may see it as 10 extra minutes to tire out the Fighting Irish’s legs for a fresh Alabama team, but I’ll take the contrarian approach.

Freshman star Blake Wesley had just eight points on the night and Notre Dame still got it done. The Crimson Tide is a reeling team coming off three straight losses, struggling to play defense, and can’t shoot a lick from beyond the arc.

A First Four team has gone on to win in the field of 64 nine out of ten times since it was implemented in 2011 and I’ll be all over the Irish in this one.

#6 Texas vs. #11 Virginia Tech

Texas was a team I vowed to pick against prior to the release of the bracket as long as it was a good spot to fade them and this isn’t a good spot…it’s a perfect spot.

Virginia Tech is one of the hottest teams in the country and will be the unit playing with the most confidence in this matchup on Friday. The Hokies cruised in the ACC tournament championship over favorites Duke and are a team I have making it to the second weekend.

The X-factor here will be point guard Storm Murphy. Murphy is one of the million Wofford transfers on this roster who carved up the Duke defense in that game and has the steady hands of a senior that you want running the offense in the NCAA tournament.

#4 Illinois vs. #13 Chattanooga

I had an upset on my bracket, but I just couldn’t go through with it. I have loved Chattanooga all season with their dynamic backcourt of Malachi Smith and David Jean-Baptiste along with their high-major talent in the frontcourt in Silvio De Sousa, but the inability to contain the mountain inside that is Illinois big man Kofi Cockburn is what keeps me from backing the Mocs.

I don’t see much of an answer here that can keep Cockburn from having a 25 points and 15 rebounds type of game and while I actually prefer Chattanooga’s guards over the inconsistency in the Illini backcourt, particularly in high-leverage scenarios (see their loss to Indiana in the Big Ten tournament), the frontcourt advantage will prove to be too much. This will be a close one, but it’s still Illinois’s to lose.

#2 Duke vs. #15 Cal State Fullerton

Size is a massive issue here for Cal State Fullerton.

The Titans did well to spur the upset over Long Beach State in the Big West championship and that was thanks to a strong 22-point outing from EJ Anosike. Unfortunately, I think Anosike’s game gets swallowed up here by Duke’s Mark Williams who has three inches of height on him.

The other concern comes from stopping Duke’s top-10 offense that can really get it going from beyond the arc while Cal State Fullerton allows teams to shoot a blazing 37.1% from three against them. Can’t see a path to victory here for the Titans.

#6 LSU vs. #11 Iowa State

Who would you rather back, the team that just lost their head coach due to a notice of allegations or one of the worst Power 6 offenses in the country? Gimme the Tigers sans Will Wade in what should be an incredibly ugly matchup.

Both teams have defenses that rank in the top-10 nationally in efficiency while they each rank in the bottom 60 in turnover rate on the offensive end. LSU has better talent at most positions and an offense that is capable enough to outscore an Iowa State offense that was the second-worst in the Big 12 this season. LSU should be able to get it done.

#1 Arizona vs. #16 Wright State

I did expect Wright State to make it out of the First Four, but their win over Bryant was more impressive than expected especially their offensive performance.

Arizona will undoubtedly win this game, but it wouldn’t be a massive shock to see the Raiders hang around for a bit. Tanner Holden put up a monstrous stat line of 37 points and 11 rebounds in the victory over Bryant and he’ll certainly command some attention from the Wildcat defense.

Arizona is the youngest team in the field and with a first-year head coach, I could see this one being close for a bit longer than it should.

#5 Houston vs. #12 UAB

Houston ranks fifth in Kenpom and third in the NET, yet they just notched their first Quadrant 1 win in their AAC Tournament championship game win over Memphis, their first win over the Tigers in three tries.

That worries me and I am a serious fan of this UAB offense. The Blazers can get hot from three, shooting 38.7%, and are led by one of the most electric players in the nation in Jordan Walker.

Walker takes up nearly a third of the team’s possessions and with good reason as he put up 40 points on Middle Tennesse in their triple-overtime win over the Blue Raiders en route to the Conference USA title.

He’s a name you’ll want to know heading into this game and there are enough parts around him in Quan Jackson, KJ Buffen, and Michael Ertel to give the Cougars a run here.

I like UAB in the patented 12 vs. 5 upset we see happen nearly every year.

#7 Michigan State vs. #10 Davidson

All you will see is people discussing Davidson’s efficient shooting and their five-out motion offense, but one of the most underrated characteristics of this team is how well they take care of the ball.

The Wildcats rank 15th in the country in offensive turnover percentage and that plays perfectly into Michigan State’s defense which sits at 328th in defensive turnover percentage.

Sparty is going to struggle to create turnovers and if you aren’t going to steal possessions from a team that has six players shooting 38% or better from 3-point range, it’ll be a long day trying to keep up with this Wildcat offense.

#3 Wisconsin vs. #14 Colgate

This is the biggest upset I see happening in the first round of the tournament.

Predictive metrics are not a fan of Wisconsin with the Badgers sitting at 33rd in KenPom despite having the most wins over tournament teams out of anybody in the entire field. An ankle injury to Johnny Davis made him look less than 100% in the Big Ten tournament and you fear that he may be playing through some sort of sprain that limits his ability.

The sophomore was 3-for-19 from the floor in their loss to Michigan State last Friday and if he isn’t able to contribute the way he has all season, a Colgate bunch that shoots over 40% from three as a team with one loss in 19 games since January 10 will make this close.

The spread has come down to +7.5 for the Raiders and that’s enough for me to hit the moneyline on Colgate and advance them in my bracket.

#8 Seton Hall vs. #9 TCU

The total points scored in this game may end up being less than 100.

Both teams have offenses that can fall asleep for an entire half and defenses that will make you work for every single point. I give the slight edge to TCU for their incredible determination on the offensive glass. The Horned Frogs grab offensive boards at the highest rate in the nation and those second-chance points will come at a premium in a game where both teams may shoot under 40% from the floor.

Mike Miles has emerged as a go-to guy over the last few weeks for TCU and their ceiling feels higher after their recent wins over both Kansas and Texas Tech.

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Our BetMGM authors are sports experts, with a wealth of knowledge of the sports betting industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news across players, teams and coaches, providing betting previews and predictions, fun facts and more.