March Madness 2023: Betting Tips for the First Round of the Men’s NCAA Tournament

The 2023 NCAA Tournament bracket was released on Sunday, with the nation’s 68 best teams ready to battle for a trip to the Final Four in Houston.

March Madness represents one of the biggest betting seasons on the calendar, as some $15.5 billion will be wagered on the men’s tournament according to a survey by the American Gaming Association. Our ESPN sports betting analysts have you covered with their best betting tips for the first round of the tournament.

All odds are from Caesars Sportsbook.

Which team in the field has the top betting value to win the tournament?

Alabama Crimson Tide (+700)

Borzello: I’m picking Alabama to win it all, so while +700 isn’t incredible value (2nd favorite), the Crimson Tide will be my best bet to have a legitimate chance at a comeback. Deeper down the list, Marquette offers sneaky value at +2000. The Golden Eagles went through the Big East Tournament, a favorable bottom half of the bracket and also had the weakest 1-seed, Purdue, at the top of their region. I think they will reach the last four from the east.

Phlegm: I agree with Jeff – Bama is my pick to win it all. I think the Tide is the most dynamic team on both sides of the ball. At +700, the value isn’t that bad, but Houston is the short favorite at +600, and they’ve been the longest favorite since 1994 for the title. For more value, I think Texas is a solid play at +1200. The Longhorns have a great road to the Elite Eight and could come up against a bruised Houston team if they get that far.

Looking back on Thursday and Friday’s first round games, what are your favorite plays?

Borzello: total in Missouri-Utah State open on 155, and I love the under there, Missouri plays at an above-average pace and is highly efficient offensively, but the Tigers play in low-scoring games against competitive opponents. In their last 12 games against NCAA tournament competition, they have gone under nine times. Utah State is the favorite and plays at a slower pace than Missouri, so this seems like a game that wouldn’t be played in the mid-70s.

Borzello: Over 152 in Auburn-Iowa Another favourite. It should be a competitive game and both teams play fast in games against non-conference opponents. Auburn ended the season losing four of its last five games and 11 of its last 17 games, while Iowa finished three of its last four games and eight of its last 12.


Why Dallen Cuffe Has No. 12 VCU Upsetting No. 5 St. Mary’s

Dalen Cuffe explains why he has No. 12 VCU taking on No. 5 Saint Mary’s in the first round as one of his favorite bets.

Phlegm: VCU ML (+162) over St. Mary’s., Gayle struggles with athleticism on both ends and their offense could become pedestrian when star freshman point guard Aiden Mahne is ruled out of games. I’ve covered a lot of A-10 games this year, and VCU’s Ace Baldwin loves opportunities to show that he’s the best point guard on the floor. The Rams are an elite defensive team that will stifle and frustrate the slow Gail offense.

Phlegm: SDSU-5 vs Charleston, The Cougars are a media darling and very good, but they played very few high-key opponents, especially ones that were highly ranked defensively. The Aztecs would control the pace of the game and grind down the Cougars like they haven’t seen all season.

Fulgham: I love Missouri ML (+105) In its matchup with Utah State. I know computers and algos haven’t thought much of Mizzou this season, but the Tigers keep winning. Is the fourth-ranked team in the SEC an underdog as a 7-seed in the first round against the second-ranked team in the Mountain West? Does not connect Missouri is full of tough, determined and experienced upperclassmen.


Why Tyler Fulghum Loves To Score Points With Louisiana

Tyler Fulghum explains why he likes to bet on Louisiana against the Spread vs. Tennessee.

I also like Louisiana +11 vs. Tennessee, For one, Tennessee likes to play in low-scoring games, so scoring 11 points is very tempting. The Vols will be without Jakai Ziegler for the tournament, and that’s a big loss. Also, Rick Barnes has a history of struggle in tournaments. He is 16-25-1 ATS as the favorite in the tournament.

Finally, I will Arkansas-2 vs Illinois, I don’t know what happened to Brad Underwood’s team this season when they lost the Braggin’ Rights game to Mizzou, but it was a disaster. If they weren’t a Big Ten team, they probably wouldn’t be in this region. I know the Razorbacks were disappointing too, but the SEC provided better competition, and they’re just a more talented team.

Fortenbach: Drake +2.5 over Miami, Having won 13 of their last 14 contests, the Bulldogs are white-hot thanks to an offense that ranks top-50 in 3-point shooting and top-20 in free throw shooting. Furthermore, Drake is one of the most experienced lineups in the entire tournament.

Furman (+185) on the moneyline over Virginia. The Paladins enter the dance winning 14 of their last 15 contests and are built to beat a team like Virginia, thanks to their love of the 3-pointer (top-10 in 3-point attempts per game). Furman’s weakness is his rebounding, which I don’t see the Cavaliers exploiting.

Which betting are you having trouble with?

Borzello: I’m looking at two 13-seeds: Furman (+6.5, +185 ML) vs. Virginia and Kent State (+4, +158 ML) vs. Indiana, I have both teams winning outright. Virginia hasn’t looked its best in recent weeks and has lost Ben Vander Plas for the season, while Fuhrman has two legitimate high-major-caliber players in Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slauson. Meanwhile, Kent State should be able to limit Jalen Hood-Schiffino with elite defender Malik Jacobs, and honest carries are as tough as they come on the offensive end. Trace Jackson-Davis should get hers, but she’s going to need help.

I also like Penn State (+3) as an underdog against Texas A&M, The way to beat the Nittany Lions is to win the 3-point battle: make your own 3s and limit their 3s. A&M ranked near the bottom of the SEC in 3-point attempts and 3-point percentage, while also ranking last in the league in 3-point attempts allowed.

Phlegm: As Borzello pointed out, I really like Furman and Kent State. I like Creighton, but NC State (+5.5) Could have easily won that game. I think the winner of that game beats Baylor and is going to the Sweet 16. The Wolfpack have a top-20 pick in the NBA draft in Tervion Smith and another dynamic bucket getter in Jarkel Joiner. With DJ Burns Jr. on the interior, other shooters on the floor and the teams ability to flip and play fast, the packs are dangerous.

Fulgham: sounds like Ferman (+6.5) is going to be really popular. VCU (+4) and Iona (+9) Also stand me as two teams we could see ups and downs and meet in Round 2 … to put at least one 12- or 13-seed in the Sweet Sixteen.

The 12-seed is 8-4 ATS (4-4 outright) versus the 5-seed the last three tournaments. Is there anyone here you like?

Borzello: I love VCU (+162) To outright defeat St. Mary’s. Both teams perform at a high level defensively and are comfortable in a half-court setting, so don’t expect offensive fireworks. The difference to me defensively is VCU’s quickness and solidity on the perimeter. Ace Baldwin was the best defensive player in the Atlantic 10, while Jaden Nunn and Nick Kern Jr. love to harass opposing guards. His size and height will make life difficult for Aiden Mahne and Logan Johnson.


Why sports bettors shouldn’t sleep on Oral Roberts

Joe Fortenbaugh explains why the injury to Oral Roberts is one of his favorite bets of the week.

Phlegm: I like Oral Roberts, but his draw with Duke is a bad matchup. I said earlier that I am No. 12 Charleston on No. 5 SDSU and No. 5 St. Mary’s on No. 12 VCU ML. That leaves No. 5 Miami versus No. 12 Drake. If Norchad Omier is not healthy for Miami, Drake could be upset. Tucker Davis is legit and Roman Penn and Darnell Brody were both key players on the 2021 team that defeated Wichita State in their first-round matchup. As much as I love Miami and their great defenders, this is a tough matchup, as evidenced by the 2.5 line in Cain’s favor.

Fulgham: VCU (+162) 12-seed so I’m moving into the top of my bracket. They’re only a 4.5-point underdog in the first round against St. Mary’s, and despite some metrics that seem to indicate the opposite, I haven’t been impressed with St. Mary’s this season.

Fortenbach: Oral Roberts (+240) over Duke., I think the Blue Devils are overrated after an average ACC run through. Oral Roberts plays fast (38th in adjusted speed), shoots shots and does an excellent job defending the basketball (first in the NCAA in turnover percentage).

What else do you want to bet on before the tournament starts?

Borzello: Kansas State -8 vs. Montana State, Here are Montana State’s last three games against major conference competition: a 21-point loss to Arizona, a 30-point loss to Oregon and then a 35-point loss to Texas Tech in last season’s NCAA tournament. I like Kansas State by two points.

it’s also worth taking a shot Duke at +850 to make the Final Four. The Blue Devils’ field should open up pretty well for them, especially if 1-seed Purdue gets bounced by Memphis in the second round. The Boilermakers look vulnerable, 4-seed Tennessee no longer has Jakai Ziegler and 3-seed Kansas State has lost two in a row and is 8-8 in its last 16 games. Throw in the fact that Duke will play regionals at Madison Square Garden, which is often a pseudo-home environment for the Blue Devils, and they’ll feel optimistic against Marquette as well.

Two Sweet 16 bets I also like: Furman at +790 and Memphis at +425

Phlegm: I’m with Jeff; Memphis +425 to the Sweet 16 is one of my favorite plays in the bracket. I’m rooting for Purdue and their freshman guards. The Tigers’ defensive chaos and Kendrick Davis are too much… if they can get past Florida Atlantic first. Duke +180 and UConn -115 to Sweet 16 almost sound too good to be true. Love the draw of the Huskies.

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