Read The Game Day’s 2021 First Four Betting Tips & Predictions For March Madness Brackets.
March Madness begins Thursday with the “First Four.” We have four games on the schedule, with the tip-off for the first game coming at 5:10 p.m. ET:
2021 March Madness: First Four
- EAST: (16) Texas Southern vs. (16) Mount St. Mary’s — 5:10 p.m. ET tipoff
- WEST: (11) Drake vs. (11) Wichita State — 6:27 p.m. ET tipoff
- WEST: (16) Appalachian State vs. (16) Norfolk State — 8:40 p.m. ET tipoff
- EAST: (11) UCLA vs. (11) Michigan State — 9:57 p.m. ET tipoff
These games are typically overlooked and thought of as unimportant to the rest of your bracket. However, this First Four is different. These four games feature strong basketball programs, including Michigan State, UCLA and Wichita State. Not only should we see some good basketball; the winners also could be dangerous in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament.
To assist with your First Four betting picks today, here are a few tips to help you be more successful in these four games and beyond in the NCAA Tournament.
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2021 First Four Betting Tips & Predictions For March Madness Brackets
KenPom is Popular For a Reason
If you begin to do any research for the NCAA Tournament, the name KenPom will appear very quickly. The notoriety of KenPom is both earned and deserved. The stats and rankings given are more accurate than simply looking at raw points, so it should be a tool every college basketball bettor uses.
Unfortunately, EVERYONE knows about KenPom and uses it, including oddsmakers.
We used to see point spreads differ, at times, up to 10 points from the projected spread created by the KenPom data. However, they are more often in line nowadays.
Still, there are edges to be found and interesting data to consider.
Take the first game, for example, between Texas Southern and Mount St. Mary’s (MSM). These two teams couldn’t play any more differently. Texas Southern has the 41st-ranked tempo, while MSM ranks 356th. This could help you predict the winner. This, while compared to raw points given up as well, could point to the under also hitting if MSM wins, and vice versa.
Experience Matters in March
Once teams get to March, they are put under high-stress situations in which they must perform. This has been taken to an entirely new level this year, with COVID protocols also in place. Experienced players that have already been asked to perform under pressure in the past are more likely to have success overcoming these new obstacles. We see it every year in the “Big Dance.”
On top of that, experience can bring with it a sense of desperation that lifts the team’s level of play. For the majority of senior college basketball players, this tournament is not “win or go home.” It’s “win or your basketball career is over.” It may be sad to say, but only the select few become professional athletes. Many seniors play their best basketball in March, and that’s because they don’t want this chapter of their life to end.
Solid Guard Play Matters
Along with experience, teams with strong guards also are more likely to have success in March. Again, there are multiple reasons for this.
First, the guards are touching the ball the most. Whether it be dribbling, setting up teammates or taking jump shots, guards have a higher usage rate than post players. So, if your team’s point guard is the best player on the floor and his usage is the highest on the team, then the number of successful plays you have will likely be high.
Guards are also typically the best shooters on the team. This time is called “March Madness” for many reasons, and a big one is the number of game-winning shots that occur. If your guard is an elite scorer, then you will likely feel better when the game is close in the waning minutes.
If you have strong, experienced guard play, then you’re at an advantage:
- Michael Weathers leads Texas Southern, with 16.5 points on 48.8% shooting.
- Jalen Gibbs leads MSM in scoring (16.5).
- Devante Carter leads Norfolk State in scoring (15.5).
All three players are senior guards. Michigan State is another team with juniors and seniors that have plenty of tournament experience.
Don’t Forget About These Winners Next Round
As stated in the intro, the First Four games are often overlooked when filling out the rest of the bracket or betting on next round’s games.
However, since 2011 (when the NCAA implemented the First Four), one of these winners progressed to the Round of 32 every year until 2019.
With well-respected programs like UCLA and Michigan State, and schools that crank the tempo either up or down like Texas Southern and Mount St. Mary’s, they could cause headaches in the First Round.
2021 NCAA Tournament First Four Predictions
Texas Southern vs. Mount St. Mary’s Prediction
As stated above, Texas Southern plays extremely fast, while MSM has an incredibly slow pace. However, MSM connects on more three-pointers per game (6.6) and hits them at a higher percentage than the Tigers (4.6% difference).
If Texas Southern controls the tempo, MSM will see more possession and be able to connect on more threes. If MSM controls the pace, the already inefficient Tigers could waste too many possessions and be at a severe disadvantage.
In other words, Mount St. Mary’s is at the advantage no matter what the tempo is. Should they get up, they also should be able to slow things down to halfcourt basketball and play their game.
For this reason, the Mountaineers, and the Under looks like the best bet.
Texas Southern vs. Mount St. Mary’s Bet Picks
Mount St. Mary’s -1 (-112) on BetRivers/SugarHouse
Mount St. Mary’s-Texas Southern: UNDER 131.5 (-109) on PointsBet
UCLA vs. Michigan State Prediction
It feels weird seeing Tom Izzo in a play-in game when we are more accustomed to seeing his teams in the Final Four. The Spartans have the experience advantage in this game, and they know how to win in March. They are also battle-tested, have been in Indiana since the start of the Big Ten Tournament, and they are the hotter team heading into this game.
Over the past month, Michigan State has wins over ranked teams Michigan, Illinois and Ohio State. On the other side, UCLA has lost four straight games. Look for the Izzo-coached team to win and cover.
UCLA vs. Michigan State Bets
Prediction & Bet: Michigan State -2, UNDER 135 (BetRivers)
Here’s Adam Kramer’s prediction for Wichita State vs. Drake:
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After you’ve read our 2021 First Four Betting Tips & Predictions For March Madness Brackets, use our 2021 March Madness Bracket Predictions Guide to fill out your winning teams.