NCAA Tournament Picks: Syracuse, Wisconsin Among First Round Best Bets

Here are seven best bets for the tournament's first round


We’ve broken down the NCAA Tournament every which way over the last few days.

Now it’s time to pay it off with seven best bets for the first round. I’ve circled four barking underdogs, one undervalued favorite, an “Under” and a team total “Over.”

Let’s go to work.

Colgate vs. Arkansas (-8.5, O/U 161)
Arkansas team total Over 85 points

This game is going to be an absolute track meet.

Both Arkansas and Colgate play at a furious tempo, which is why the total in the game was bet all the way up from 157 to 163 on Selection Sunday. Eventually, there was buyback ?Under? 163 to the current total of 161.5.

I would much rather cut the total in half and play the Razorbacks ?Over? their individual team total. Colgate isn?t a very athletic basketball and they?re not going to be able to slow Arkansas in transition. Both teams have an average possession length of 16 seconds, so prepare for tons of shots and possessions.

If the Razorbacks hit their threes, they could reach 95 points. And that?s not hyperbole at all.

Wisconsin vs. North Carolina (-1.5, O/U 137.5)
Wisconsin +1.5

I?ll be rooting with the sportsbooks on this one.

I?ve already spoken to a couple Vegas bookmakers who said they expect to be rooting pretty heavily for Wisconsin by tipoff. The market opened North Carolina -1 and was immediately bet to -2. It has pretty much settled at -1.5 across the board, but that late ?blue blood? push will come on Carolina as we get closer to tip.

Wisconsin is one of those teams that I love to bet in the NCAA tournament because nobody ever thinks they?re any good — well, aside from those two Final Four runs in 2014 and 2015 with Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. Sports bettors adored those teams.

The Badgers rarely beat themselves and they take care of the rock. Their slow, deliberate style is going to frustrate the hell out of Carolina. Roy Williams? bunch is very inexperienced and most of their ball handlers are freshman.

Wisconsin wins the turnover battle and wins the game as a short pup.

Winthrop vs. Villanova (-6.5, O/U 143)
Winthrop +6.5

I absolutely hate how much love the Eagles are getting, but I?m bullish.  

Before the season, I wrote down three teams on a piece of paper under a line that read ?NCAA Tournament Sleepers.? Winthrop was first, Bryant was second and Loyola-Chicago was third.

Resiliency goes a long way in my book. Winthrop won the Big South conference tournament last year and was headed to the Big Dance. Then COVID-19 canceled the party. The Eagles didn?t sulk or make excuses — they came together, got better and punched another ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

Winthrop tore through its schedule this season and finished with a 23-1 record and another conference crown. And now they face a Villanova squad without its most important player. (Collin Gillespie tore his MCL earlier this month). I would love an upset, but 6.5 is too many points regardless.

Syracuse vs. San Diego State (-3, O/U 139)
Syracuse +3

Long live the 2-3 zone.

Jim Boeheim?s teams have busted brackets for decades with a long, rangy defensive blueprint that takes away the dribble drive and dares opponents to hoist long, contested jumpers. There?s absolutely no way for a team to prepare for Syracuse?s length and ability to rotate with responsibility.

And while the defense isn?t one of the strongest that Syracuse has had over the last decade, its offense is notably better with much better shooters spaced around the floor. The Orange are also shooting an insane 78 percent from the free-throw line, which is crucial late in games.

I?ve got this one coming down to the final shot, so I?ll gladly take the points.

Rutgers (-1.5, O/U 126.5) vs. Clemson
Under 126.5 points

This NCAA Tournament game could easily be the first to 60 points wins.

It?s the total opposite of the aforementioned Arkansas-Colgate tilt. Rutgers and Clemson are both Top 20 in defensive efficiency and they love to walk the ball up the floor on offense.

Both teams value possession and they prioritize good shots. And if the shots aren?t falling, this game won?t touch 117 let alone 127. Don?t be surprised to flip this game on and see 55-53 with three minutes left to go.

Respected money has already shown for the ?Under? at a couple of sportsbooks as we?re seeing 125.5 and 126 on the betting screen. Always shop around for the best number — every half-point counts.

We?re screwed if the game goes to overtime, but that?s life.

Iona vs. Alabama (-17, O/U 147.5)
Iona +17

Rick Pitino in the house!

I love Alabama to make a deep run in the tournament this year, but I also love Iona?s senior backcourt of Isiah Ross and Asante Gist. They are both fearless guards who ran wild in the MAAC. They will get theirs against the Tide.

It?s always dangerous when you bet a team that?s catching 17 or so because there?s a strong possibility that they?ll be down 20 at some point. But I?m counting on Pitino to piece together a solid defensive game plan that will help the Gaels stay inside the number.

Just make eight 3-pointers and get back on defense!

Prayers up.

Ohio vs. Virginia (-7, O/U 130.5)
Virginia -7

Does anybody like Virginia in this spot?

This point spread actually opened at Virginia -10.5 in Las Vegas shortly after the brackets were revealed. And that bad boy moved instantaneously. It went from -10.5 to -8 in about 10 minutes, then got as low as -7 by Tuesday.

Sports betting is all about the right team and the right price. This is the ultimate buy low spot on a Virginia team that is getting completely disrespected at the betting windows.

Ohio?s Jason Preston is a tremendous basketball player, but the Cavaliers are going to force the ball out of his hands and make others make plays. Virginia?s ability to slow the game to a crawl and execute teams to death is too important for me to ignore.

And you?re laying a great number.

Sam’s NCAA Tournament Picks
Arkansas team total Over 85 points
Wisconsin +1.5
Winthrop +6.5
Syracuse +3
Rutgers-Clemson Under 126.5 points
Iona +17
Virginia -7

RECORD: (22-12, +8.7)

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