After being robbed of it last year due to the pandemic, we have finally arrived to college basketball’s most exiting time of year. Our journey begins Thursday with the First Four. The opening day of March Madness features intriguing match-ups and plenty of betting opportunities. Read on for our complete guide to Thursday’s action.
Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers vs. Texas Southern Tigers
Thursday, March 18, 2021 – 05:10 PM EDT at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall
Texas Southern has just one loss since January 23rd and that was against top-seeded Prairie View A&M by just two points. Then, in the SWAC Tournament, Texas Southern won by 19 against Prairie View A&M to show just how much better they’ve got throughout the season.
Texas Southern will take on a slow tempo and defensive minded Mount St. Mary’s team that needed just two wins in the NEC Tournament to advance to the Madness. But beating Wagner and Bryant wasn’t supposed to be as easy as they made it seem.
Texas Southern is a fast paced offense going up against Mount St. Mary’s that’s a very slow paced offense. It’ll be likely that Mount St. Mary dictates the tempo in this game as Texas Southern has struggled from three this year, shooting 27.7 percent from long range.
The Tigers would rather pound inside against Mt. St. Mary’s, a team that has allowed just 45.6 percent inside all year. They also defend the three very well. Anything that Texas Southern does, Mount St. Mary’s can do on defense, so keep that in mind for your online sports betting. The Tigers are a solid offensive rebounding team and get to the line plenty. The Mountaineers dominate the defensive glass and limit fouls.
On the other hand, Mount St. Mary’s doesn't have the best offense but against Texas Southern, they’ll likely find their way using the offensive glass where they’re 59th in the country.
This team doesn’t have depth but all of their starters outside of Josh Reaves are capable scorers as the team had four scorers in double figures in their championship win. If Mount St. Mary’s controls the tempo and wins the offensive glass, I would expected the Mountaineers to win this game.
CBB Pick: (visit our Sportsbook Review)
Drake Bulldogs vs. Wichita State Shockers
Thursday, March 18, 2021 - 06:27 PM EDT at Mackey Arena
The Drake Bulldogs and Wichita State Shockers sneaked into the tournament as 11-seeds playing in a play-in game. Drake lost some key players throughout the year but they’re expected to get back Shanquan Hemphill, although will still miss Roman Penn with a left foot injury.
Although it may not be showing on the NCAAB odds, Drake still had one of the best offenses in the nation this season and rarely turned the ball over. They should dominate Wichita State on the glass and while they don’t get to the line very often, they’ll shoot at a high percentage and get quality looks.
The Bulldogs should also be able to limit damage on the defensive end behind their fantastic rebounding. Wichita State also has a poor effective field goal percentage of 47.6 percent, shooting 44.7 percent form inside.
The Shockers are more of a threat from outside and score just under 35 percent of their points from three point land. While they’re shooting 34.5 percent from three, Drake has limited teams to 30.8 percent from three this season.
If Wichita State is limited on their first attempt, it’s going to be hard to get second chances. Drake runs their offense at a slower than average pace and will likely dictate the tempo here with better shot selection and just overall better defense.
Expect Drake to dominate inside on offense. The only way for Wichita State to win this game is if they shoot at a ridiculous pace from long range and against Drake, I would doubt that happens.
Norfolk State Spartans vs. Appalachian State Mountaineers
Thursday, March 18, 2021 - 08:40 PM EDT at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall
The Appalachian State Mountaineers shocked the Sun Belt Conference and won their way into the NCAA Tournament. They’ll take on the MEAC champion in Norfolk State. The Spartans defended at a high rate but offenses really try to beat them to the rim on offense, as they’re allowing an average possession length of 16.2 seconds on defense, good for 20th in the nation.
Appalachian State doesn’t take the highest quality of shots but they’ve become better when it matters the most. They’ve played in overtime in three of their last six games and have won overtime in all three of those games. Two of those were in the Sun Belt Tournament. When the pressure is on, Appalachian State doesn’t panic. That’s good to know in the NCAA Tournament.
They’re not going to be the best shooting team on Thursday but they might get to the line at a premier rate with Norfolk State being one of the highest fouling teams in the country. Appalachian State shoots above average from the line which could help them gain about a quarter of their points from the line.
It’s a big deal because Appalachian State rarely sends teams to the line. They’re a top 25 team in limiting fouls while Norfolk State gets to the line at a very high rate as well. SWAC defenses don’t match with the Sun Belt conferences.
Norfolk State is shooting 37.4 percent from long range this season but have been awful inside, scoring just 46.1 percent. That’s worse than Appalachian State at 46.7 percent.
Appalachian State will shoot a ton of threes and they’re shooting just 32.6 percent from long range. That’s ugly but they’ve done better recently in tournament play. Three equals more than two. I like my chances with App State, so back them at your favorite sportsbook.
UCLA Bruins vs. Michigan State Spartans
Thursday, March 18, 2021 - 09:57 PM EDT at Mackey Arena
I don’t think many expected we’d get this match-up on Sunday. I don’t think any expected we’d get this match-up back in November. But we’ve got two powerhouse college basketball teams fighting for their chance to be in the next round of the NCAA Tournament through the first four play-in game.
UCLA lost their last four games on the season, losing to eventual Pac-12 Champions in Oregon state. Before that loss, they had lost to USC, Oregon and Colorado, three tournament teams, but still, it would’ve been nice to win one of those games.
UCLA is the 26th bet offense according to KenPom. They won’t turn the ball over against Michigan State, who are underwhelming when it comes to turnovers on defense. They also might see the foul line more often against Michigan State where they shoot 72.1 percent on the year. UCLA is shooting 36.7 percent from three and 50.6 percent from inside. UCLA won’t take many threes and will rely on their inside games against Michigan State.
The rebounding battle will be close but Michigan State certainly has the better defense in this game. However, UCLA easily has the better offense.
But if Michigan State can get out of the gate hitting shots, things will start to favor Michigan State. UCLA isn’t defending at a high level right now other than doing well with defensive rebounding. The Bruins allow teams to shoot 35.1 percent from long range and 49.4 percent from inside. Michigan State is below average with their shooting but they’ve had their moments this season.
However, those moments have simply come at home and not on the road. Still, they’re playing in a more familiar arena in the Mackey Arena, home of the Purdue Boilermakers, who are also in the Big Ten.
On the road against the Boilermakers, Michigan State lost 75-65 while shooting 43 percent from three and also won the rebounding battle in that game. It’s a comfortable building and UCLA isn’t the best defensive team. If Michigan State is able to win the rebounding game here and hit their open shots, they’ll win this game. Remember. It’s Tom Izzo in March.
*The pick reflects the line at the moment the writer made the play, the odds at the beginning of this article show the live line movement. Since the lines might vary, don’t forget to refer back to our live odds.