NCAA Tournament Round 1 Odds (And How They Help Your Bracket)

Time to sharpen your pencils


March 13

The big dance is set, and we are just a few days away from tipoff in the 2023 NCAA Tournament.

It’s truly a wonderful time of the year for those of us who watch little to no college basketball all season only to turn around and pretend we know what will happen in March Madness. But it’s not completely unwarranted, as there’s no shortage of information and analysis to digest in the days leading up to the tournament.

There are plenty of trends, involved systems and advanced analytics that can guide you. The key to winning your bracket pool is certainly to pick the winner and as many teams deep into the dance as you can. But you can clean up in the early rounds, too, and some of the best information for those games is readily available: the point spreads.

If you haven’t watched much — or any — college hoops this season, you can maneuver your way through the first round largely by looking at the odds. For example: You might look at the South region and see the Missouri-Utah State matchup and be inclined to just roll with the chalk and take No. 7 Missouri. However, if you just pulled up the betting odds at FanDuel Sportsbook, you’d see Utah State is actually a 2.5-point favorite. It’s no guarantee, of course, but it does help guide you.

So, let’s dive into the betting board to get an idea of where we might want to go when picking our bracket.

No. 1 Alabama vs. play-in winner (no line)
(-13.5) No. 2 Arizona vs. Charleston
(-9.5) No. 3 Baylor vs. No. 14 UCSB
(-5.5) No. 4 Virginia vs. No. 13 Furman
(-4.5) No. 5 San Diego State vs. No. 12 Charleston
(-5.5) No. 6 Creighton vs. No. 11 NC State
No. 7 Missouri vs. (-2.5) No. 10 Utah State
No. 8 Maryland vs. (-2.5) No. 9 West Virginia

Notes: We already talked about that 7-10 matchup with the underseeded Utah State laying points. The 5-12 cliche is real, for a reason, and Charleston should be a popular pick to upend San Diego State as just 4.5-point underdogs.

No. 1 Purdue vs. play-in winner
(-10.5) No. 2 Marquette vs. No. 15 Vermont
(-8.5) No. 3 Kansas State vs. No. 14 Montana State
(-10.5) No. 4 Tennessee vs. No. 13 Louisiana
(-6.5) No. 5 Duke vs. No. 12 Oral Roberts
(-3.5) No. 6 Kentucky vs. No. 11 Providence
(-1.5) No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 10 USC
(-2.5) No. 8 Memphis vs. No. 9 Florida Atlantic

Notes: The Kentucky-Providence game could be one of the best in the first round, as the Friars — a team some believe could make a deep run — draws John Calipari’s club in the first round. As just 3.5-point dogs, PC could be a trendy pick. Other than that, it might be a lot of chalk, although the Duke haters who remember Oral Roberts’ run to the Sweet 16 in 2021 will be eager to take the Golden Eagles.

(-19.5) No. 1 Houston vs. No. 16 Northern Kentucky
(-13.5) No. 2 Texas vs. No. 15 Colgate
(-10.5) No. 3 Xavier vs. No. 14 Kennesaw State
(-4.5) No. 4 Indiana vs. No. 13 Kent State
(-2.5) No. 5 Miami vs. No. 12 Drake
No. 6 Iowa State vs. No. 11 Miss St./Pitt (play-in)
(-2.5) No. 7 Texas A&M vs. No. 10 Penn State
(-0.5) No. 8 Iowa vs. No. 9 Auburn

Notes: If you’re looking to get some double-digit seeds through to the second round, the Midwest might be the spot. Drake has the sort of defensive prowess that makes them an upset consideration, even against an elite offense like Miami; the 2.5-point spread indicates as much. Indiana could be on upset alert, too, against Kent State. Both teams play at glacial paces with great defense. In a one-game rock fight, the underdog is very much live.

(-21.5) No. 1. Kansas vs. No. 16 Howard
(-17.5) No. 2 UCLA vs. N. 15 UNC Asheville
(-15.5) No. 3 Gonzaga vs. No. 14 Grand Canyon
(-9.5) No. 4 UConn vs. No. 13 Iona
(-3.5) No. 5 St. Mary’s vs. No. 12 VCU
No. 6 TCU vs. No. 11 Arizona St./Nevada (play-in)
(-0.5) No. 7 Northwestern vs. No. 10 Boise State
(-2.5) No. 8 Arkansas vs. No. 9 Illinois

Notes: Given the number of bluebloods in this conference, you’re almost hoping it goes straight chalk, with the idea of Kansas, UCLA, Gonzaga and UConn all in the Sweet 16 being very appealing even for the most casual fan. Based solely on betting lines, none of those teams look ripe for a first-round exit. If there is risk of a first-round upset, it’s probably that St. Mary’s-VCU tilt. That’s another game featuring two slow-moving, defensive-minded teams with a total currently set at 122.5, one of the lowest in the entire tournament. Both teams are horrendous free-throw shooters, too, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see this go either way.

Thumbnail photo via Alex Hicks Jr./Spartanburg Herald-Journal/USA TODAY Network

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