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March Madness Round 1 Predictions & Best Bets 2024

Last Updated: Mar 18, 2024

It’s the best time of the year to be a basketball fan. The men’s NCAA Tournament bracket has been revealed, and with time to kill until the first round begins on Thursday, I’ve been going through each Round 1 matchup to find the best value.

Here are my best bets for the first round of March Madness.

All NCAAB odds are current as of Monday, March 18, at 10 a.m. ET.

March Madness Round 1 Best Bets

New Mexico -1.5 ()

11 New Mexico vs 6 Clemson • FanDuel Sportsbook (1 Unit)

New Mexico comes into this matchup with Clemson as a much lower seed, but don’t let that fool you. The Lobos rank No. 23 in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin — the highest for a double-digit seed — and come into the tourney on a four-game winning streak after knocking off San Diego State for the MWC title.

The Tigers had a strong start to the year, but they stumbled into the tournament by losing three of their last four. Their defense also isn’t anything to write home about, while New Mexico is one of the best at limiting opponent three-point percentage.

This doesn’t qualify as an upset by Vegas’ standards, but the Lobos look as strong as any double-digit seed in the field. Look for them to cover as 1.5-point favorites over Clemson and make this one of your top college basketball bets.

Grand Canyon +5.5 ()

12 Grand Canyon vs 5 Saint Mary’s • DraftKings Sportsbook (1 Unit)

Saint Mary’s loves to employ a slow, grind-it-out style of play — it posted the fifth-slowest adjusted tempo this season — which makes it a potentially vulnerable target for Grand Canyon. The Antelopes don’t jack up a ton of threes, but they get to the free-throw line at an elite rate, earning the seventh-most attempts in the nation.

This is projected to be one of the lowest-scoring matchups of the first round, and given how difficult the Gaels aim to make each possession, a knack for generating those easy points could come in handy — particularly if this one goes down to the wire.

Grand Canyon already knocked off San Diego State this season, and the Aztecs rank inside the top 10 in adjusted defensive efficiency. The blueprint is there for the Lopes to at least keep this one within a few buckets.

Colgate +14.5 (-)

14 Colgate vs 3 Baylor • Caesars Sportsbook (1 Unit)

Baylor has an elite offense — it ranks sixth in adjusted offensive efficiency — but it also plays at one of the slower tempos in the country, which plays well into Colgate’s hands.

Nearly 40% of the Raiders’ field goal attempts come from beyond the arc, and they sank them at a 36.1% rate this year, which was good for 61st overall. Colgate also committed the fifth-fewest fouls per game, which could become a problem for the Bears.

I’m not expecting an upset, but the Raiders kept things interesting against No. 3 Wisconsin in 2022 and No. 2 Tennessee in 2019. Both teams were coached by Matt Langel, who just led the program to its fifth conference tournament title in the last six seasons.

Western Kentucky ()

15 Western Kentucky vs 2 Marquette • FanDuel Sportsbook (0.5 Units)

A 15 seed has upset a 2 in each of the last three years. Should that pattern continue in this year’s tournament, Western Kentucky looks like the most likely candidate to pull it off over Marquette.

The Golden Eagles are expected to return senior guard Tyler Kolek, who hasn’t played since Feb. 28 due to an oblique injury. Marquette has gone 3-3 since then, and there’s no guarantee that the efficient playmaker will be at 100% if he’s inserted back into the lineup against the Hilltoppers this Friday.

Western Kentucky is unproven, but it plays at the No. 1 adjusted tempo in the nation, which could be an equalizer. If they can limit turnovers — a big ask — and win in transition, an upset could be in the cards.

I’ve seen this line set as low as (+650), so grabbing it at (+810) to pair with FanDuel’s March Madness promos is a steal.

March Madness Round 1 Betting Odds

Find odds for this year’s NCAA Tournament games at the best March Madness betting apps.

Author

Garrett Chorpenning

Garrett Chorpenning is the Lead NBA Editor for The Game Day. His previous work includes covering the LA Clippers for Sports Illustrated and FanSided. He graduated from Ball State University in 2021.

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