Gonzaga, Providence Headline Early NCAA Tournament Best Bets

The Zags should name their score


Mar 15, 2023

Are you ready to bet the NCAA Tournament?

Firing first-round wagers is one of my favorite pastimes and we’ve gone on a pretty solid run over the past two tournaments at NESN. I absolutely love the challenge of balancing perception and reality during the first Thursday and Friday of college basketball’s biggest event.

And let’s hope our Texas future bet from November has life and that the Longhorns are in a great position to cut down the final nets at NRG Stadium in Houston. Wouldn’t that be something?

Here are my best first-round bets for the NCAA Tournament:

Furman +5.5 vs. Virginia (Thursday)
Furman has the methodical offense to combat Virginia’s slow style. The Paladins are the nation’s No. 1 team in two-point offense because they constantly have four shooters on the floor and rarely turn the ball over. Making the extra pass is crucial for Furman, and as long as it keeps rotating the rock, it’ll have every chance to hang around.

Mizzou-Utah State Over 155 (Thursday)
Former Villanova head coach Jay Wright said this game might reach the 90s on CBS’ “Selection Sunday” show. I’m not quite that high, but these two teams could settle in the 80s on a bad day. The Tigers and Aggies are both top-15 in offensive efficiency and they’re far from sensational defensively. This is one of the higher first-round totals for a reason.

Oral Roberts +6.5 vs. Duke (Thursday)
The Golden Eagles busted a bunch of brackets two years ago when they upset Ohio State in the first round. A huge chunk of that core is still intact, including senior Max Abmas, who averages over 20 points per contest. Oral Roberts makes its twos and threes and shoots almost 80% from the foul line. You’re also getting an extra point or so because the masses love betting Duke.

Northwestern -125 vs. Boise State (Thursday)
I’m not a Northwestern fan by any stretch of the imagination, but Chris Collins has two very solid senior guards in Boo Buie and Chase Audige. The Cats also are very stingy on defense, ranking in the top 25 in several advanced metrics. I’m choosing to lay the moneyline here instead of 1.5 points. The last thing I want is NU to escape with a one-point win and I lose my bet. No thanks.

Penn State +3 vs. Texas A&M (Thursday)
The Nittany Lions made a monster run to the Big Ten championship and I’m a huge fan of versatile guard Jalen Pickett’s game. There’s no question Penn State has a better offense and they can flat out fling it from downtown. Micah Shrewsberry’s squad shoots almost 40% from three, good for the ninth-best mark in the nation. I’m happy to take the points in what I believe is a toss-up.

Michigan State -130 vs. USC (Friday)
This line is anywhere from -1.5 to -2, and much like the Northwestern game above, I’m not messing around with a little spread with a Big Ten team. That conference tends to win the ugliest ways in the NCAA Tournament and I’m not going to be surprised for one second if Sparty wins by a point or two. Michigan State is great on the glass, and it doesn’t hurt having Tom Izzo instead of Andy Enfield.

St. Mary’s -4 vs. VCU (Friday)
VCU is shaping up to be a very public underdog in Las Vegas. More tickets are showing for VCU, yet the line has moved from St. Mary’s -3 to -3.5 to -4. Hmmm. The Gaels shot an extremely uncharacteristic 33% from the floor in the WCC title game against Gonzaga and I’m betting that regresses the right way here. And if the Rams can’t turn defense into offense, they’re cooked.

Providence +4 vs. Kentucky (Friday)
Speaking of public sides, Kentucky is another first-round monster. Obviously, that doesn’t mean the Wildcats can’t and won’t cover, but I love going against teams laying inflated numbers. Westgate SuperBook vice president of risk management Ed Salmons told me “all the cool kids” are on Kentucky, yet respected play is holding this line steady. I’ll take the points with undervalued Providence.

Miami -2 vs. Drake (Friday)
We think Miami big man Norchad Omier (ankle) is going to play. I’ve been told it’s a big deal that the Hurricanes are playing one of the latest games on Friday night instead of playing early Thursday. Never underestimate that extra 24 to 36 hours for recovery purposes. Drake is getting a ton of respect from oddsmakers, and while it’s valid, this feels like a great buy-low spot on Miami’s explosive offense.

Gonzaga -15 vs. Grand Canyon (Friday)
Everything Grand Canyon can do, Gonzaga does better. Ken Pomeroy says the Zags are the nation’s most efficient offense and you won’t get any arguments from me. Grand Canyon is awful defensively and conventional wisdom says Gonzaga should basically get whatever it wants from the floor. And if the Antelopes are sloppy with the basketball, this is a blowout by the 30-minute mark.

Kent State +4.5 vs. Indiana (Friday)
This is a pretty trendy underdog, which makes me a little nervous, but it’s impossible to ignore the way Kent State tested itself in the non-conference. Close road losses to Houston, Gonzaga and Charleston will only help the Golden Flashes in their push for a first-round upset. Sincere Carry is a special guard, and if Kent State’s defense can limit Trayce Jackson-Davis’ touches, look out.

Sam’s NCAA Tournament best bets:
Furman +5.5
Mizzou Utah State O155
Oral Roberts +6.5
Northwestern -125
Penn State +3
Michigan State -130
St. Mary’s -4
Providence +4
Miami -2
Gonzaga -15
Kent State +4.5

RECORD: (124-135, +16.2)

Thumbnail photo via Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports Images

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