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


It's time for the first round of the NCAA Tournament as 64 teams enter the fray hopeful to be the last one standing. There are several things to consider when looking at these matchups. First off, a lot of these games are on neutral courts with some of the better seeds getting the advantage of being closer to home. For the most part the crowds won't be a factor, but travel could be depending on how far they came.

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Secondly, when handicapping these games, throw out the little numbers next to their name and look at the spreads because they mean a lot more. Vegas doesn't care about the seeds so sometimes the higher seed will be a favorite. Handicap the teams based on their profiles and trends and not what one committee thinks of them. I also like to see how conferences are doing in the tourney. Granted, the early games won't have anything to compare to, but as we go along, I like to back a conference depending on how the other teams are doing in it. With that, let's take a look at Thursday and Friday's offerings.

Note: All start times are ET and some are approximate.

Alabama vs. Virginia Tech Over 141.5

East Region (Pittsburgh) – Thursday, 9:20 p.m.

This is one of the most intriguing matchups in the first round as the Hokies are a fun team to watch and Crimson Tide point guard Collin Sexton is absolutely killing it as of late. Virginia Tech is averaging almost 80 points per game while shooting 49.8 percent from the field. Justin Robinson has a bunch of shooters around him and very little size as well. The team's defense has been hot and cold as evidenced by the great first half against Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament followed by a horrible second half. The Hokies are in the midst of a stretch of nine straight unders so I think we're getting a value in terms of the total. Alabama goes as Sexton goes. The heralded freshman is averaging 19 points per game while Donta Hall and John Petty also chip in with more than 10 per contest. The Crimson Tide have lost six of their last eight entering this one. Their offense is capable of scoring and their defense certainly has struggled down the stretch. I think we're getting a close game and an over on the total.

Davidson +5.5 vs. Kentucky

South Region (Boise, Idaho) – Thursday, 7:10 p.m.

I'm going to take the chance with the Wildcats out of the A-10 in this one. Davidson has won four straight and eight of its last nine and it's because of an improving defense and the likes of Kellan Grady and Peyton Aldridge. Grady may be one of the more underrated freshmen in the country seeing as though he's coming out of the A-10. Coach Bob McKillop also deserves a lot of credit and you know he'll have his team ready. Kentucky is the youngest team in the country and these Wildcats are hard to figure out. Yes, they just ran through the SEC, but can we depend upon them to be consistent? They'll have the athletic edge in this one but the loss of Jarred Vanderbilt will hurt a bit. They won three straight at the end of January, but then lost four straight before righting the ship again. Kentucky is 12-12 against the spread as a favorite this season. I'll take a chance with the upstart team to punch the favorite in the mouth.

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Buffalo vs. Arizona Over 157.5

South Region (Boise, Idaho) – Thursday, 9:40 p.m.

Buffalo takes a major step up in competition in this matchup with the Pac-12 regular-season and tournament champions. The Bulls have been strong on offense this season, scoring at least 70 points in every game but two (St. Bonaventure, Cincinnati). Buffalo has four double-digit scorers and will want to push the pace. The problem is that they really don't have anyone to match up with Wildcats freshman phenom Deandre Ayton. That means they'll probably try to double him which should lead to open shots and easy scoring opportunities for his teammates. Arizona has a nice under stretch as of late because of its defense. When the Wildcats have played some of the faster-paced conference games, the team didn't mind running step for step with their opponent. I think we can pencil them in for 80-90 points which means Buffalo doesn't have to do as much heavy lifting. This one should go over the total.

South Dakota State +8 vs. Ohio State

West Region (Boise, Idaho) – Thursday, 4 p.m.

I think the Jackrabbits are a really scary team. They have won 11 straight and are playing some incredible basketball right now. Mike Daum is averaging a double-double with 23.8 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. He can beat you in so many ways and is not a bad from the free-throw line either. David Jenkins Jr. and Reed Tellinghuisen are other double-digit scorers with several other threats as well. Early on in the season, they lost by only 10 points at Wichita State and picked up wins away from home against Ole Miss and Buffalo. Ohio State has lost three of its last five with two of those defeats courtesy of Penn State. The Buckeyes have plenty of talent of their own, but they've also struggled with small forwards this season. They've only covered 11 of their 24 contests this season against teams with a winning record. I just think this could be a closer game with the potential for an upset.

College of Charleston +9.5 vs. Auburn

Midwest Region (San Diego) – Friday, 7:25 p.m.

Auburn has lost four of six and five of its last nine games entering the tournament. The Tigers just haven't been the same team without Anfernee McLemore, who represented a lot of the team's size. Now this is not to discount their guards because the group is fantastic, but a lot of times size is where the differences are between the major and the mid-major teams. The defense has been horrible down the stretch and that's not good against a Charleston team that can score. Now, it's a concern that the Cougars have had their issues defensively and I don't know if they can keep up in a higher-scoring game. Still, with a spread this large, I think we're getting a bit of a cushion. I really like Grant Riller, Joe Chealey and Jarrell Brantley as a trio. I like the underdogs in this one.

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— 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.

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