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Betting Against the Spread: Best Bets for NCAA Tournament First Round Games

Malcolm Brogdon

Malcolm Brogdon

When it comes to this exercise, the NCAA Tournament is a different animal completely. Before we get to the picks, here are a few tips. The biggest thing you have to do is throw out the seeds when considering a play because they mean nothing to Vegas. You will see higher-seeded teams as a favorite and sometimes even bigger faves then you'd think despite the seed disparity. Styles of play and home-court advantages are big as well. Oklahoma will be playing in Oklahoma City so the Sooners will have the crowd behind them. With that, let's head to the picks for Thursday and Friday’s action.

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Note: Some start times may be approximate.

Thursday, March 17 Games

UNC Wilmington (+10.5) vs. Duke (West Region, 12:15 p.m. ET)

The Blue Devils have had an issue wearing down late in games due to a short bench and at times foul trouble. Duke’s first round opponent, UNC-Wilmington, will press you as soon as you leave the bus. The Seahawks like their games frantic, which could hurt the Blue Devils and their lack of a true point guard. My concerns here is that UNCW doesn't necessarily have the firepower to keep up and as always, officiating involving Duke games is sometimes suspect. Still, this is a lot of points involving a flawed team.

Virginia (-23.5) vs. Hampton (Midwest Region, 3:10 p.m. ET)

It's rarely a good idea to lay big numbers in these No. 1 vs. No. 16 games, but I'm going to do so here. The Pirates have been beaten up by any sort of team with a pulse, as evidenced by losses to William & Mary (86-67), SMU (105-72), Colorado (95-53) and Princeton (89-59). Virginia plays smothering defense and the Cavaliers will be highly motivated to prove they are worth their No. 1 seed. This one has the feel of a 70-something to 40-something game.

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Chattanooga (+12) vs. Indiana (East Region, 7:10 p.m. ET)

If you read the other articles I have written regarding this Tournament (like this one), you will note a common theme – I'm a fan of the Mocs. They have road wins at Georgia and Dayton to go with a "neutral court" win vs. Illinois. They play an intense style of defense which will either work well or barely faze the Hoosiers. Color me not a believer in Indiana, which benefited heavily in a Big Ten schedule that was heavy on the cupcakes. Yogi Ferrell is really good, but this one may be closer than the experts think.

Related: Top Eight Potential First Round Upsets to Watch for in the 2016 NCAA Tournament

Iona/Iowa State Over 166 (Midwest Region, 2 p.m. ET)

To say that a lot of points will be scored in this one is an understatement. Three times this year the Gaels have put up more than 100 points while the Cyclones have done so twice. Both teams don't mind playing with pace and both don't really want to play much defense. Normally I wouldn't touch a total this high, but I think it's close, so fouls and trips to the free throw line could come into play late.

Friday, March 18 Games

CSU Bakersfield/Oklahoma Over 139 (West Region, 4 p.m. ET)

CSU Bakersfield is new to this party, meaning a lot of people have no clue what they bring. The Roadrunners like to make things chaotic on the court. They feature five players that average 10 points per game or more. There haven’t played a lot of games against tourney-level teams, having only faced Fresno State (L, 76-68). I don't think they'll be able to slow down the Sooners. Oklahoma has played a few cupcakes so far this year and had no problems offensively. I think Buddy Hield and company put up at least 80 on the scoreboard.

Northern Iowa (+5) vs. Texas (West Region, 9:50 p.m. ET)

Northern Iowa is no stranger to this setting whereas this is a younger Texas team. The big question is how much Cameron Ridley will play and how conditioned he is after playing just two mins in the Big 12 Tournament. Shaka Smart always has his teams ready for the postseason, but so does Ben Jacobson. If you are daring enough, you could take the Panthers ML.

— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.