2022 NCAA Tournament Round 1 Best Bets (Bet Underdogs on Thursday's First Round Games)

North Carolina Tar Heels forward Armando Bacot.
North Carolina Tar Heels forward Armando Bacot. / Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

We have arrived. March Madness is here and the fellas are getting set for three of the best weeks on the sports betting calendar.

Here are a handful of best bets for the NCAA Tournament first round games that I've placed over the last week. This will be a running tally of games that I will update throughout the day. If you want to check out some more bets that I placed right after Selection Sunday, see here, and if you want all my bets in real time, here's my betstamp.

Let's rock.

Odds courtesy of WynnBET Sportsbook.

Column Record: 102-102-4 (-3.6 Units)

Colorado State (+105) vs. Michigan

This game has moved through +2 to +1 on the news that guard Devante' Jones will miss Thursday's first round game due to a concussion. I bet this early in the week which was posted on Monday, but the news of Jones is enough to keep value on the underdog Rams.

Jones is in the 96th percentile in the country in assist rate, per CBBanalytics.com and will be sorely missed as the Wolverines try to keep up with the high powered offense of Colorado State.

Here's what I wrote from Monday:

I have been trying to stay on the Michigan bandwagon all season. They have an elite big man in Hunter Dickinson, who can take over games both inside and now out, but this team is too up and down for my liking. If you have followed the team, they seem ripe for a first round exit.

The Big Ten at large bid Wolverines are the No. 11 seed, but are favored by over a bucket against Mountain West stalwarts Colorado State. I have this game as a pick (before the news of Jones being out, I adjusted a point and a half for Jones being out) but believe the Rams as the right side.

The team may have issues against Dickinson down low, but the Rams have a compact defense that is 19th in near-proximity percentage, meaning that only 18 teams force teams to take their shots further from the hoop, per Halsemetrics.

On the other side of the floor, Michigan's defense has been vulnerable all season and 6'6" David Roddy and company can bust them up, especially in the pick-and-roll. Overall, the Rams post a top 20 effective field goal percentage and are an elite free throw shooting team and also have the superior outside shot making.

I don't want to overreact to one game, but it was very concerning to see Michigan, who got head coach Juwan Howard back from a suspension, blow a 17-point lead in the second half to Indiana in his first game back on the sidelines after an incident at Wisconsin where he punched an assistant.

I'm going to trust the potent offense and the better coach, CSU's Niko Medved, to stay close and likely win.

PICK: Colorado State ML +105

Longwood +18 vs. Tennessee

I'm betting on some variance in this one after Tennessee ran through the SEC Tournament.

Yes, the Vols defense is elite, No. 3 in adjusted defensive efficiency per KenPom, but they also benefitted from insanely poor 3-point shooting in Tampa Bay as their three opponents shot 12-for-56 from beyond the arc.

Now they get a Longwood team that is top three in the country in 3-point percentage and is adept at drawing fouls and getting to the free throw stripe. Maybe some of that is inflated against the Big South competition this season, but Longwood has the guard play with a pair of seniors in DeShaun Wade and Isaiah Wilkins to be relied upon to protect the ball and keep the offense operational.

Tennessee can get hot from deep and shoot the Lancers compact defense (bottom 30 in 3-point rate allowed nationally), but I'm going to take a shot against Rick Barnes' team, who hasn't covered since 2018 in the NCAA Tournament.

PICK: Longwood +18, play to +16.5,

San Diego State (-2) vs. Creighton, Under 119.5

I bet the under first and the market moved against me, but I project this total at 115 between two elite defenses that struggle on offense. I also found myself leaning more towards San Diego State

Both SDSU and Creighton lost in their conference tournament title games behind sterling defensive efforts, but I lean towards Brian Dutcher's pack line defense with the Aztecs overwhelming the Bluejays. Creighton made a run in the Big East Tournament despite being without their lead guard Ryan Nembhard and I think they are a bit overvalued after that run.

SDSU has the second best adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom, and will be able to shut off any driving lanes for Creighton that has been running more and more pick-and-roll with big man Ryan Kalkbrenner without Nembhard.

The Aztecs struggle on offense mightly, but the Creighton defense is defined by their elite rim protection with Kalkbrenner (both teams are fantastic defending the rim, both top 15 in the country, according to Haslemetrics).

However, the team is outside the top 300 in forcing turnovers this season and I find Matt Bradley the most trustworthy ball handler on the floor. Bradley can attack Creighton's defense and live in the mid-range, where he can pull up and create for the Aztecs 3-point shooting that is 63rd in the country in 3P% (35.8%).

I like SDSU to win a grind in a game that is played in the high 50's with limited possessions, leading me to the small favorite and the under.

PICK: SDSU -2, Under 119.5, play to 118

Akron (+13.5) vs. UCLA

I ended up coming around on the Zips mainly due to the matchup against UCLA.

Both teams play slow, UCLA is 260th in adjusted tempo per KenPom while Akron checks in at the seventh lowest rate in the nation, so the possessions will be limited, adding some variance to this one.

Further, the Zips are playing their best ball at the right time, ripping off eight wins to close out the season (albeit against MAC competition), and are playing fantastic offense, posting a near-56% effective field goal percentage over the last month, good for 26th in the country.

Akron has a high end, face up big in Ali Ali who is shooting over 40% from deep this season and has played tough against high end competition this season, nearly upsetting Ohio State in November.

Again, this is a matchup based bet as the Zips have an avenue to stunning a formidable UCLA club given the limited amount of possessions and their perimeter prowess.

PICK: Akron +13.5 (2U), 0.5 Units ML +750

NCAA Tournament First Round Best Bets

  • South Dakota State +2
  • Georgia State +23.5
  • North Carolina: -2.5 (Bet Monday)
  • North Carolina/Davidson ML +205
  • Indiana +2.5
  • Kentucky Under 132
  • Arkansas/Loyola Chicago ML +175
  • Murray State ML