College Basketball: Men’s NCAA Tournament First Round Betting Tips

The 2023 NCAA Tournament brackets were released Sunday, with 68 of the nation’s best teams set to battle for a trip to the Final Four in Houston.

According to American Gaming Association surveys, March Madness also represents one of the biggest betting seasons on the calendar, as nearly $15.5 billion is wagered on the men’s tournament. Our ESPN sports betting analysts have you covered with their best betting tips for the first round of the tournament.

All odds are from Caesars Sportsbook.

Which team in the field has the top betting value to win the tournament?

Alabama Crimson Tide (+700)

Borjello: I’m picking Alabama to win it all, so while +700 isn’t incredible value (second favorite), the Crimson Tide would be my best bet to have a legitimate chance at a comeback. Deeper down the list, Marquette offers stealth value at +2000 The Golden Eagles just ran through the Big East Tournament, have a favorable bottom half of the bracket, and have the weakest 1-seed, Purdue, at the top of their region. I think they’ll make it to the Final Four outside of the East.

Cough: I agree with Jeff — Bama loves to win everything I do. I think the Tide is the most dynamic team on both sides of the ball. At +700, the value isn’t bad, but Houston is the shortest favorite at +600, and the longest odds for the title since 1994. For more value, I think Texas is a tough game at +1200 The Longhorns have a great path to the Elite Eight and if they go that far, they could come up against a wounded Houston team.

Watching Thursday’s and Friday’s first round games, which is your favorite play?

Borjello: The whole in Missouri-Utah State opens at 155, and I love the under there. Missouri plays at a high-average pace and is very efficient offensively, but the Tigers tend to play in low-scoring games against competitive opponents. In their past 12 games against NCAA Tournament competition, they’ve gone down nine times. Utah State is favored and plays at a slower pace than Missouri, so this seems like a game that won’t be played in the mid-to-high 70s.

Borjello: 152 over at Auburn-Iowa Another favorite. This should be a competitive game and both teams tend to play fast in games against non-conference opponents. Auburn has finished the season in four of its last five games and 11 of its last 17 games, while Iowa has finished in three of its last four games and eight of its last 12.

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Ken Dalen Cuff has No. 12 VCU upset No. 5 St. Mary’s

Dallen Cuff explains why he has No. 12 VCU taking down No. 5 St. Mary’s among his favorite bets in the first round.

Cough: VCU ML (+162) St. Mary’s. The Gaels struggle with athleticism on both ends, and their offense could become rather pedestrian if star freshman point guard Aidan Mahaney is taken out of the game. I’ve covered a lot of A-10 games this year, and VCU’s Ace Baldwin relishes opportunities to show he’s the best point guard on the floor. The Rams are an elite defensive team that will disrupt and frustrate the slow Gaels offense.

Cough: SDSU-5 vs. Charleston. The Cougars are a moderate favorite and very good, but they’ve played very few high-major opponents, especially those who were ranked highly defensively. The Aztecs would control the pace of the game and grind the Cougars like they hadn’t seen all season.

Flowers: i like Missouri ML (+105) in its matchup with Utah State. I know computers and algorithms haven’t thought much of Mizzou this season, but the Tigers won. A team that finished fourth in the SEC is an underdog as a 7-seed in the first round against a team that finished second in the Mountain West? does not add Missouri is full of tough, tough and old upperclassmen.

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Ken Tyler Fulljum likes to take points with Louisiana

Tyler Fulghum explains why he prefers to bet Louisiana against the spread vs. the spread. Tennessee.

i like too Louisiana +11 vs. Tennessee. For one, Tennessee likes to play low-scoring games, so catching 11 points is very attractive. The Vols will be without Jakai Ziegler for the tournament, and that’s a big loss. Also, Rick Barnes has a history of struggling in tournaments. He is 16-25-1 ATS as the tournament favorite.

Finally, I’ll take it Arkansas-2 vs. Illinois. I don’t know what happened to Brad Underwood’s team this season after they lost the Braggin’ Rights game to Mizzou, but it was a disaster. If they weren’t a Big Ten team, they might not be on the field. I know the Razorbacks were also disappointing, but the SEC provided better competition and they’re just a more talented team.

Fortenbaugh: Drake +2.5 in Miami. Having won 13 of their past 14 outings, the Bulldogs are white-hot thanks to an offense that ranks top-50 in 3-point shooting and top-20 in free throw shooting. Furthermore, Drake boasts one of the most experienced lineups in the entire tournament.

Furman (+185) at Moneyline in Virginia. The Paladins enter the dance having won 14 of their past 15 contests and are built to beat a team like Virginia, thanks to their love of the 3-pointer (top-10 in 3-point attempts per game). Furman’s weakness is its rebounding, which I don’t see the Cavaliers exploiting.

Are you noticing any betting upsets?

Borjello: I see two 13-seeds: Furman (+6.5, +185 ML) vs. Virginia and Kent State (+4, +158 ML) vs. Indiana. I won both teams outright. Virginia hasn’t looked his best in recent weeks and lost Ben Vander Plass for the season, while Furman has two legitimate high-major-caliber players in Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slauson. Meanwhile, Kent State should be able to limit Jalen Hood-Schifino along with elite defender Malik Jacobs, and the earnest carry is as tough to come by on the offensive end. Trayce Jackson-Davis will get her, but she will need help.

i like too Penn State (+3) as the underdog against Texas A&M. The way to beat the Nittany Lions is to win the 3-point battle: make your own 3s and limit their 3s. A&M ranks near the bottom of the SEC in 3-point attempts and in percentage from 3, while also ranking dead last in the league in 3-point attempts allowed.

Cough: I really like Furman and Kent State, as Borzello mentioned. I like Creighton, though NC State (+5.5) Can easily win that game. I think the winner of that game beats Baylor and goes to the Sweet 16. The Wolfpack have a top-20 pick in the NBA draft in Tarkavion Smith and another dynamic bucket getter in Jerkel Joyner. With DJ Burns Jr. inside, other shooters on the floor and the ability to turn teams around and play quickly, the pack is dangerous.

Flowers: to see Furman (+6.5) Going to be really popular. VCU (+4) and Iona (+9) Also stands out to me as two teams that we could see upset and meet in Round 2… put at least a 12- or 13-seed in the Sweet Sixteen.

The 12-seed is 8-4 ATS (4-4 straight up) vs. the 5-seed in the last three tournaments. Is there someone like you here?

Borjello: i like VCU (+162) Beat St. Mary’s outright. Both teams perform at a high level defensively and are comfortable in a half-court setting, so don’t expect offensive fireworks. The difference for me is VCU’s quickness and tenacity on the perimeter defensively. Ace Baldwin was the best defensive player in the Atlantic 10, while Jayden Nunn and Nick Kern Jr. love to trouble opposing guards. Their size and length will make life difficult for Aidan Mahaney and Logan Johnson.

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Why sports bettors shouldn’t sleep on Oral Roberts

Joe Fortenbaugh explains why getting Oral Roberts points is one of his favorite bets of the week.

Cough: I love Oral Roberts, but their draw with Duke is a bad matchup. As I said before I’m in ML with No. 5 SDSU over No. 12 Charleston and No. 12 VCU over No. 5 St. Mary’s. That leaves No. 5 Miami Vs. No. 12 Drake. If Norchad Omier doesn’t get healthy for Miami, Drake could pull off an upset. Tucker DeVries is legit and Roman Penn and Darnell Brody were key players on the 2021 team that defeated Wichita State in their first-round matchup. As much as I love Miami and their great guards, this is a tough matchup, as evidenced by the 2.5 line in Cane’s favor.

Flowers: VCU (+162) The 12-seed is the furthest I’ve advanced in my bracket. They’re only 4.5-point underdogs in the first round against St. Mary’s, and with some metrics that indicate the opposite, I’ve never been all that impressed with St. Mary’s this season.

Fortenbaugh: Oral Roberts (+240) vs. Duke. I think the Blue Devils are overrated after a mediocre ACC run. Oral Roberts plays fast (38th in adjusted tempo), shoots the lights out and does an excellent job defending the basketball (first in the NCAA in turnover percentage).

Anything else you’re looking to bet before the tournament tips off?

Borjello: Kansas State-8 vs. Montana State. Here are Montana State’s past three games against major conference competition: a 21-point loss to Arizona, a 30-point loss to Oregon and then a 35-point loss to Texas Tech in last season’s NCAA Tournament. I like Kansas State by double digits.

It’s also worth a shot Duke to make Final Four at +850. The Blue Devils’ region should open up nicely for them, especially if 1-seed Purdue gets bounced by Memphis in the second round. The Boilermakers look weak, with 4-seed Tennessee no longer without Zakai Zeigler and 3-seed Kansas State having lost two in a row and are 8-8 in their last 16 games. Duke will play regionals at Madison Square Garden, which is often a pseudo-home environment for the Blue Devils, and they will also be feeling optimistic against Marquette.

Two sweet 16 bets I also like: Furman at +790 and Memphis at +425

Cough: I’m with Jeff; Memphis +425 to the Sweet 16 is one of my favorite plays in the bracket. I’m all over Purdue and their freshman guard. The Tigers’ defensive chaos and Kendrick Davis are too much … if they can get past Florida Atlantic first. Duke +180 and UConn -115 to the Sweet 16 almost seems too good to be true. Huskies’ love the draw.

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