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NCAA Tournament | First Four Odds


Thomas Snodgrass

Updated: Mar 18, 2024

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Before getting into the big dance, four teams will have to prove that they can dance in the NCAA’s First Four play-in games.

The First Four will get started on Tuesday night when the Wagner Seahawks tango with the Howard Bison.

The winner of the Wagner-Howard matchup will be the #16 seed that will face the #1 North Carolina Tar Heels in the first round.

Later on Tuesday, the Virginia Cavaliers and Colorado State Rams will square up to be the official #10 seed against the #7 Texas Longhorns in the round of 64.

Then, on Wednesday, two more teams will try to enter.

The Grambling Tigers and Montana State Bobcats will go toe-to-toe to find out which team will have Zach Edey and the #1 Purdue Boilermakers as a dance partner in the first round.

And for the final #10 seed spot against the #7 Florida Gators in the round of 64, the Colorado Buffaloes and Boise State Broncos will have to waltz through the play-in.

Which First Four teams will get down and prove that they’re ready to bust a move on the big stage?

Let’s boogie.

Wagner (+3.5, +140 ML) vs. Howard (-3, -162 ML)

Wagner and Howard are not powerhouse programs by any stretch, with each team finishing just above .500 each (Wagner: 16-15, Howard: 18-16), and not looking too great in the KenPom rankings.

Howard is ranked 277th in KenPom, while Wagner is ranked 293rd.

This is what winning the MEAC and NEC conferences looks like, people.

For this contest, I’m putting my focus on the total.

In all 31 games for Wagner this season, 21 games finished with a total of less than 130 points (68%), and the total is currently set at 128.5 on FanDuel, with the under sitting at -105.

Howard is not very good defensively, ranking 334th in adjusted defense on KenPom, but Wagner’s 334th-ranked offense shouldn’t help offensive matters all that much.

Howard’s offense could ultimately wreck the under, as they’ve scored an average of 75.1 points per game, but I expect the tortoise-like tempo of Wagner to kill the clock and dwindle Howard’s point total.

I have a feeling this game could be wildly boring, but when betting the under, I’m all for it.

Pick: UNDER 128.5

Best Odds: (-105) FanDuel

Colorado State (-2.5, -140 ML) vs. Virginia (+2.5, +120 ML)

Both the Colorado State Rams and Virginia Cavaliers lost their respective conference championships in their previous outings, so both clubs will be gunning to make the final 64.

Virginia’s offense has been a concern lately, scoring less than 50 points in four of their last eight games.

But, the Cavaliers’ defense makes up for their defensive shortcomings.

Virginia has the seventh-ranked adjusted defense at KenPom and their 59.6 points allowed per game is third-best in the country.

Colorado State’s offense, led by guard Isaiah Stevens (16.5 ppg), sits 32nd in effective field goal percentage and 42nd in adjusted offense.

Although Virginia has the better defense on paper, the Rams defense ain’t too shabby either.

Colorado State is 38th in adjusted defense, which played up well in a very difficult Mountain West conference.

One thing that the Rams and Cavaliers share is a slow-tempoed offense; with Colorado State’s offense being ranked 270th in adjusted tempo and Virginia sitting 362 in adjusted tempo.

This game has the makings of another under.

I believe the Rams will win this game, largely because I don’t see the Cavaliers’ offense cracking 50 points again.

Even with a low total of 121.5, I’m backing the under.

Pick: UNDER 121.5

Best Odds: (-115) BetMGM

Grambling (+4, +150 ML) vs. Montana State (-3.5, -164 ML)

The Grambling Tigers have won nine of their last 10 games, and have made the NCAA Tournament picture for the first time in school history.

Grambling will need to make it past the Montana State Bobcats to make it to the round of 64 and make it official as no one will really remember a play-in game.

Montana State has won just six of their last 10, but they won the games that mattered most, taking the Big Sky conference over their rival Montana Grizzlies.

The Bobcats are the favorite in this one, but being the favorite has not suited Montana State well on the spread this season, with only a record of 3-8 ATS when favored.

That’s good news for a Grambling squad that was 10-8 ATS as an underdog.

But, after all, Grambling faced the 316th-hardest schedule this season. So, maybe their ATS record as underdogs isn’t all that impressive?

The Bobcats’ offense moves at a quicker pace, they have a much better shooting percentage, and they have a better record in non-conference games.

Plus, this game opened at five points on the spread and it has since moved down to four or less, so I like Montana State to cover.

Pick: Montana State (-3.5)

Best Odds: (-110) Fanduel

Colorado (-2.5, -137 ML) vs. Boise State (+2.5, +122 ML)

Of the First Four play-in games, this one should provide the most entertainment.

A really solid Colorado Buffaloes’ offense will take on a formidable Boise State Broncos’ defense.

Colorado’s offense is 25th in the KenPom rankings for adjusted offense, and Boise State’s defense is 29th in adjusted defense.

Similar to Boise State’s previous loss to New Mexico in the Mountain West championship, a solid two-way club has the ability to overwhelm the Broncos’ defense and stifle their offense.

Colorado has an impressive pairing in guard KJ Simpson (19.6 ppg) and forward Tristan De Silva (15.8 ppg) that should make things difficult for Boise State’s defense inside the paint and beyond the arc.

The Buffaloes are fifth in the nation in three point shooting percentage (39.4%), and if they can find the open space for long-range shots, the Broncos may get stuck in a hole they can’t climb out of.

Also, Colorado is a 77.8% shooting team from the free throw line (16th in NCAA), compared to Boise State’s 73.5% shooting mark from the charity stripe (102nd in NCAA), and with the Broncos committing nearly 17 fouls per game, the Buffaloes could be looking at a lot of easy points.

Pick: Colorado (-2.5)

Best Odds: (-105) FanDuel


About the author

A fan of both the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers, which is rare! Thomas provides sports betting content with the intent to educate and enter...

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