Skip to main content

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


Millions of people will be filling out NCAA Tournament brackets and still many others will be looking to bet on some individual games. I'm here to give you some winners and some tips as well. First off, throw out your bracket when it comes to handicapping games. Seeds don't matter and just because you think a team is going to win their matchup, doesn't mean that they will cover that contest as well.

Image placeholder title

East Tennessee State +10.5 vs. Florida

East Region (Orlando, Fla.) – Thursday, 3:10 p.m. ET

Florida limped down the stretch losing three of its last four including two straight against Vanderbilt. The Gators’ defense let them down and that's a bad thing for an offense that is massively inconsistent. They aren't as deep without John Egbunu, who is out due to injury. KeVaughn Allen and Canyon Barry lead the way along with Devin Robinson. East Tennessee State comes in with a potent backcourt and Hanner Mosquera-Perea, a transfer from Indiana who has helped solidify the interior. The Buccaneers enter on an offensive roll and have played good defense, holding their last five opponents to just 67.2 points per game. ETSU has covered in five of its six neutral court games this season and three of its last four against the SEC. I think this is a lot of points.

Middle Tennessee Pick vs. Minnesota

South Region (Milwaukee) – Thursday, 4 p.m. ET

Image placeholder title

This one figures to be a popular amongst the public who saw the Blue Raiders beat Michigan State in last year's Tournament. The stars are back for the most part led by Giddy Potts, Reggie Upshaw and JaCorey Williams. They've lost just four games this season. The team runs an efficient offense and is holding opponents to 63.3 points per game. Minnesota is highly mis-seeded as the Golden Gophers really didn't deserve a No. 5 seed, especially with Wisconsin getting a No. 8. Akeem Springs’ injury means this team is even younger without their biggest and best senior. MTSU has covered in 14 of its 19 games against teams with a winning record. This one's another Blue Raider victory.

Florida Gulf Coast +12.5 vs. Florida State

West Region (Orlando, Fla.) – Thursday, 9:20 p.m. ET

Image placeholder title

There are several reasons to like Florida Gulf Coast. The Eagles from the Atlantic Sun are pretty deep and have athletes to match up with the Seminoles. The problem is that the Eagles are not as big as FSU, but if they can get Demetris Morant going on the inside, they should be able to hang tough in this one. Both offenses are highly efficient as each are shooting around 50 percent from the field for the season. There's going to be a lot of motivation on the FGCU side to get a win over its in-state big brother. Plus, I’m not a big fan of Seminoles head coach Leonard Hamilton, who has not had too much success in the postseason.

Oklahoma State +2 vs. Michigan

Midwest Region (Indianapolis) – Friday, 12:15 p.m. ET

College Football Top 25: Oklahoma State

This one is playing a hunch. Michigan was the story of Champ Week winning four games in four days after a near-death experience on a plane. The Wolverines beat Purdue and Wisconsin along the way and are playing some great basketball. I feel like they are going to run out of gas and emotion just a bit on Friday against an Oklahoma State team with a really good backcourt led by Jawun Evans and Phil Forte. The Cowboys have solid shooters and drivers to go along with Jeffrey Carroll. OSU is 8-3 ATS as an underdog. I think the Pokes get the win as Michigan runs out of gas in the end. 

Texas Southern/North Carolina Over 154.5

South Region (Greenville, S.C.) – Friday, 4 p.m. ET

Texas Southern started out the year on an extended road trip that ran through Jan. 7. Over that span, the Tigers got crushed by Baylor (89-63), TCU (96-59), Cincinnati (96-58), Louisville (102-71) and Arizona (85-63). They just don't have the athletes to keep up with the likes of North Carolina. The Tar Heels have pounded the lesser teams on their schedule, putting up 100 points or more five times this season. I think they name their score and whatever it is will go over the total.

Marquette +1 vs. South Carolina

East Region (Greenville, S.C.) – Friday, 9:50 p.m. ET

Image placeholder title

South Carolina enters this one having lost six of its last nine games. The offense is very inconsistent as evidenced by the three straight sub-40 percent shooting performances entering this one. Luckily for the Gamecocks, their defense is pretty good or that losing streak would be a lot worse. Marquette has won four of its last six games and has no problems scoring, as evidenced by the five performances of 90 points or more. The Golden Eagles are a deep team with seven guys scoring at least eight points per game. They can beat you in many ways and if they get any sort of defense in this one, they'll win easily.

— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.

(Top photo courtesy of @OSUMBB)