College basketball odds and betting picks for the NCAA Tournament first round


The best part of the college basketball season is finally here, as March Madness Opening Weekend is set to begin. The opening round is packed with great matchups that are always full of drama and potential Cinderella stories. Below is my analysis and favorite bets for the first day of March Madness.


(All lines from DraftKings Sportsbook.)

Georgia State vs. Gonzaga

(Line: Gonzaga -25.5)

The Zags did enough during the regular season to earn the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament. Although many dub Gonzaga as “pretenders” (lazy take), this is as complete of a team as there is in the country, and this could be their best shot at cutting down the nets. That said, their first-round matchup with 16th seeded Georgia State may not be a total walk in the park. Talent-wise, the Panthers could be one of the best 16 seeds in the last decade and realistically grade out more like a 14. They battled injuries in the backcourt early in the season, which led to a stretch where they lost eight games in a row against D1 competition, yet got fully healthy in February and finished out the season winning 10 straight. Matchup wise, Georgia State can do some things that can at least make the Zags a bit uncomfortable. They press at the 15th-highest rate in the country, which may not cause turnovers but will at least slow Gonzaga’s high pace continuity offense down a bit. They also defend the post very well, grading out as the 27th best team in the country in 2pt FG% defense. Lastly, Georgia State ranks third nationally in transition defensive efficiency which is where Gonzaga wants to live. By all means, I am not saying Georgia State will pull out the impossible upset, but they have the tools to compete and getting over 20 points on the spread is too much.

The Pick: Georgia State +25.5


Akron vs. UCLA

(Line: UCLA -14.5)

UCLA was last year’s Cinderella darling after their magical Final Four run from the play-in 11 seed. They came into this season with massive expectations after returning their entire roster, and although they underperformed in many people’s eyes, they enter this year’s tournament as a dangerous 4 seed. The Bruins are matched up with the MAC conference tournament champions Akron, who really played well down the stretch, winners of eight straight. Akron will try to completely dictate the pace in this one, ranking 351st in adjusted tempo per KenPom, and run their offense through the post at the 14th-highest frequency nationally. In what should primarily be a halfcourt game, Akron does have the length to disrupt the iso-heavy UCLA offense, especially behind 6-foot-8 Swiss Army knife Ali Ali and big man Enrique Freeman, who sports a 7-1 wingspan. We’ve seen UCLA fall in love with contested mid-range jumpers on many occasions and although UCLA will be the much more talented team, the Zips should be able to hit enough shots (point guard Xavier Castaneda has scored over 15 points in five straight games) to keep this low possession game competitive. With the high-level experience coach John Groce has, this sort of has the makings of the Purdue/North Texas matchup from a year ago. I like getting the points here.

The Pick: Akron +14.5

Boise State vs. Memphis

(Total: 133.5)

With the top overall recruiting class coming into the season, the Memphis Tigers faced extremely high expectations in the preseason, and it’s fair to say they did not live up to them. A combination of injuries, youth and poor team chemistry are what set Memphis on multiple losing streaks throughout the season. As they became healthier through conference play, Memphis was able to string together two wins against regular season conference champs Houston, which was enough to earn them a tournament bid. The young Tigers are matched up with a Boise State team that possesses the same length and athleticism that the Tigers do. Both of these teams are long, switchable and wreak havoc defensively with Boise State grading out 17th nationally in defensive efficiency and Memphis not far behind at 32nd. The biggest difference between these two teams is the pace in which they play and I expect Boise State to completely dictate the pace and make this a halfcourt game as they rank 306th nationally in tempo, while Memphis wants to speed the game up, ranking 34th. Boise has been extremely successful limiting opposing teams in transition, ranking in the top 25 in that regard. The Memphis offense is not built to play in the halfcourt, and we’ve seen them struggle mightily at times generated any half court offense outside of offensive rebounds, in which Boise does not allow, ranking fifth nationally in rebounding percentage. On the other side, Memphis will pressure the shaky Boise backcourt and completely wall off the paint and force the Broncos to hit three pointers, which they have struggled to do all season. This game has all them makings to be a defensive struggle and I don’t expect Memphis to be well prepped by Penny.

The Pick: Under 133.5


Colorado State vs. Michigan

(Total: 139.5)

The Wolverines are another team that came into the season with lofty expectations after landing themselves a 1 seed a season ago and returning a solid core. Things haven’t gone so well in Ann Arbor this year, as Michigan limped into the tournament with an 11 seed. The problems with Michigan stem from their lack of continuity but it mostly is present in their defense, which ranks 90th nationally. In steps 6-seeded Colorado State, an offensive juggernaut that can create mismatches all over the court with swingman David Roddy but do have defensive issues of their own ranking 86th nationally. Both teams struggle mightily defending the pick and roll and dribble drive. The long-awaited emergence of point guard DeVante Jones toward the end of the season gives the Wolverines ball screen attack a boost against the porous Rams defense along with the fact that there is no one on their roster who can matchup with Hunter Dickinson (Michigan is in the 92nd percentile in post-up frequency). This may force the Rams to frequently double the post and Dickinson is a fully capable passer out of the double team. On the Colorado State side, crafty point guard Isaiah Stevens and the fore mentioned Roddy will be able to put the weak Michigan defense in tough positions as both Moussa Diabaté and Dickinson don’t have the lateral quickness to stay in front of him. With mismatch issues all over and Colorado State poor transition defense (second percentile in transition defensive efficiency), this has the makings to be a shootout and there should be a ton of easy buckets scored in this one.

The Pick: Over 139.5

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