NCAA First Four Odds and Best Bets


March Madness is here. This is truly a bittersweet moment for me, as I’m obviously excited about the tournament but distraught that the season is almost over. It seems like the 2021-2022 season has just flown by. That said, we still have plenty of opportunities to make money and that starts with breaking down the First Four Odds. The team at FTN has you covered in a multitude of ways so make sure you’re checking out all of the available content for March Madness.

In this piece, I will be talking about the odds from the First Four opening-round games and breaking down those play-in games to help you start the tournament off right. I will give you my full thoughts on why I think a certain team will win as well as highlighting any relevant information so that you can make the best possible decision on your bets. Let’s dive in.


Game 1: Texas A&M Corpus Christi Islanders vs. Texas Southern Tigers

(Texas Southern -3.5, O/U 134.5, DraftKings Sportsbook)

Why Texas Southern Is Favored

Both teams had solid individual seasons, with Texas Southern finishing first in the SWAC while Corpus Christi snagged a first-place finish in the Southland. However, the Tigers played a better schedule, which included a Quad 1 win over Florida and a close Quad 1 loss to St Mary’s, a team that is in the tournament field. They also faced power conference teams such as Washington, Oregon and NC State, which gave them some valuable experience against tougher opponents. Texas A&M-CC did play two Quad 1 games against Texas A&M and Notre Dame, with a Quad 2 loss to Minnesota also on their schedule. It’s worth noting that they lost to the Irish by only 10 points and just 8 points against Minnesota so the Islanders can definitely compete. Ultimately, the Tigers boast an impressive amount of tournament experience with the majority of last year’s squad playing in two tournament games, winning a play-in against Mount St. Mary’s and losing a somewhat close affair with Michigan.

Why I Think Texas Southern Will Win

Both teams play at a relatively high tempo, with the Tigers ranking 128th in tempo and the Islanders 73rd. While they are similar in that regard, it’s the Tigers that are ranked 26th in defensive efficiency while the Islanders are 97th, so that advantage is quite large. Texas Southern’s defense should bother them from start to finish, and as I mentioned above, the tougher SOS for the Tigers will give them an important edge in this intense atmosphere. While I like the Tigers to win outright, I will also be putting some money on Texas A&M-CC and the points. The reason for this is the fact that the Islanders are making 75% of their free throws while the Tigers are making 67.1% from the line which ranks a disturbing 319th in the country. If this one stays close and comes down to the last few possessions, we could see the Islanders cover on their excellent free throw shooting.

The Pick

Texas Southern ML, Texas A&M-CC +3.5


Game 2: Indiana Hoosiers vs. Wyoming Cowboys

(Indiana -4, O/U 132, DraftKings Sportsbook)

Why Indiana Is Favored

The Hoosiers were stumbling in February but recovered to win two games in the Big 10 tournament against Michigan and Illinois, which ultimately catapulted them into the dance, albeit barely. On the other side, the Cowboys were a well-oiled machine for most of the season before dropping five of their last nine games. Obviously, there is a competitive difference between playing a Big 10 schedule and a MWC schedule which pushed the Hoosiers into a net ranking of 38. The Cowboys had a respectable net ranking of 50, though.

Why I think Indiana Will Win

Both teams feature some bona fide stars, with Hunter Maldonado (18.4 PPG/5.8 APG/6.3 APG) and Graham Ike (19.6 PPG/9.6 RPG) leading the Cowboys and Trayce Jackson-Davis (18.1 PPG/8.2 RPG/2.4 BPG), Race Thompson (11.5 PPG/7.6 RPG/1 SPG) as well as Xavier Johnson (12.3 PPG/5 APG/1.2 SPG) controlling things for the Hoosiers. This will come down to how much production the Cowboys can get from their role players, as Ike will have his hands full with the elite Hoosiers interior defense, and if Jackson-Davis gets him into foul trouble, they could be in real trouble. Xavier Johnson has been fantastic lately and could negate a lot of what Maldonado does if he can cure his recent foul issues as well. As I mentioned on a recent episode of the SuperShow, the Hoosiers rate very poorly defensively against catch and shoot triples so guys like Drake Jeffries or Brendan Wenzel will have to take advantage. I think the x-factor for the Hoosiers is our guy Race Thompson though and his versatility to guard multiple positions should keep the Cowboys’ shooters in check. At the end of the day, the Hoosiers are a battle tested team with more depth than Wyoming and the necessary talent to gut out a tough matchup like this.

The Pick

Indiana ML


Game 3: Wright State Raiders vs. Bryant Bulldogs

(Wright State -3.5, O/U 154.5, DraftKings Sportsbook)

Why Wright State Is Favored

With the play-in games taking place in Dayton, Ohio, this is a de facto home game for the Raiders, whose campus is located in the same city. I think this narrative is being overblown a bit, but if their fans fill the arena, it certainly won’t hurt to create a raucous environment on behalf of the Raiders. Wright State erased a 16-point deficit against NKU and leaned on their stars to push them over the top to win the Horizon bid as a 4 seed.

Why I think Bryant Will Win (Or At Least Cover)

These are two offensive-minded programs that have plenty of star power on each side. Tanner Holden (19.8 PPG/7.1 RPG/2.6 APG), Grant Basile (18.5 PPG/8.6 RPG/1.6 BPG) and Trey Calvin (14.3 PPG/3.3 RPG/1.6 SPG) do most of the damage for the Raiders, and perhaps the biggest knock on this team is the fact that their bench production is almost non-existent. Bryant has a walking bucket in Peter Kiss, a former Rutgers transfer that is averaging over 25 PPG and almost 6 RPG. They also boast a solid supporting cast in Charles Pride (18 PPG/8.6 RPG), Adham Eleeda (10.3 PPG/4.9 RPG), Hall Elisias (8.8 PPG/5.9 RPG) and George Mason transfer Greg Calixte (6.4 PPG/5.3 RPG). Bryant is going to take a plethora of threes and try to take advantage of Wright State’s lean bench by turning this into a track meet. The Bulldogs are especially strong on the offensive glass where they are 43rd in that category per KenPom while the Raiders are 253rd in defensive rebounding efficiency. A middling 3-point defense plus subpar defensive rebounding should equal disaster for the Raiders against a red-hot Bryant squad that has won 17 of its last 18 contests.

The Pick

Bryant +3.5


Game 4: Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

(Notre Dame -1, O/U 132, DraftKings Sportsbook)

Why Notre Dame Is Favored

This one has had all kinds of movement since the pairing was announced, as it started off with the Irish as 2-point dogs but is now currently sitting with them as 1-point favorites as of this writing. The game is mostly a pick ’em on paper, though. Notre Dame is a known commodity after finishing second in the ACC standings, and they have a great shot-maker in frosh Blake Wesley. ND is about as lethal as it gets from long range, which obviously is something you need to be successful in March. I’m all over Rutgers in this game but it makes sense why the public may be favoring the Irish. 

Why I think Rutgers Will Win

While the Irish can hit big shots and get hot on offense, they’re a fairly mediocre rebounding team especially on the offensive glass. If those shots aren’t falling, I could see Rutgers forcing them into a lot of one and done possessions which will quickly deflate their confidence. This sets up to be a monster Clifford Omoruyi game down low where he has a size advantage over the Notre Dame interior. He has an elite rebounding rate over 30% and will very likely post a monster double-double as long as he doesn’t find himself picking up ticky-tack fouls. The rest of the squad is just as potent with reigning Big 10 DPOY Caleb McConnell able to harass the freshman Blake Wesley along with veteran stalwarts Geo Baker and Ron Harper capable of hitting “ice water in his veins” type of shots late into the game. This was clearly a down year for the ACC and a lot of people (me) didn’t think the Irish even deserved a bid after falling out of the conference tournament early. The gritty Scarlet Knights should be able to control enough aspects of this matchup to come out on top and advance to face the Alabama Crimson Tide, another team I think they can beat, but we will cross that bridge when we get to it.

The Pick

Rutgers ML, Spread

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