While the biggest upsets of the first round often come from the top seeds going up against the lower seeds, many fans and bettors prefer the more even matchups that come in the heart of the bracket.
Correctly handicapping these games often separates the winning and losing brackets as well as the profitable college basketball bettors from the unprofitable. Here’s a look at Thursday’s more evenly seeded games. [ $50,000 bracket contest with guaranteed prize pools - visit Sportsbook ]
The SEC champion No. 5 Vanderbilt Commodores are a 5-point favorite at Sportsbook over No. 12 Harvard, who finished the regular season with a 26-4 straight up record to earn their first NCAA Tournament invite since 1946. Vanderbilt’s 71-64 win over Kentucky in the SEC Tournament gave them plenty of positive momentum heading into the dance.
But the No. 12 seeds are 10-4 ATS in the past 14 games vs No. 5 seeds and Harvard got more ink this year because of a suddenly famous alum - New York Knick guard Jeremy Lin.
The No. 5 New Mexico Lobos drew a tough first-round bid and are a 4-point favorite against the No. 12 Long Beach State 49ers. The final No. 5 seed in action on Thursday is Wichita State at -6.5 over No. 12 Virginia Commonwealth.
VCU is of course coming off of a Final Four run as an 11-seed last season and is one of the most dominant tournament betting teams of the past decade (9-1 ATS in 10 Madness games).
Both of Colorado’s big schools earned 11-seeds into the NCAA Tournament. The No. 11 Colorado State Rams are a 4-point underdog against the No. 6 Murray State Racers, while the Pac-12 champion No. 11 Colorado Buffaloes are a 5-point underdog against the UNLV Runnin' Rebels, both lines at Sportsbook.
Colorado upset Oregon, Cal, and Arizona to earn this bid.
In the closest matchup of the day by the spread on Thursday, the No. 7 Gonzaga Bulldogs are a slight 1-point favorite at Sportsbook over the West Virginia Mountaineers. Gonzaga was 25-6 this season while West Virginia was 19-13 in the brutal Big East.
Gonzaga is just 2-7 ATS past 9 tournament games.
The 9-seed versus 8-seed matchup is often considered a coin flip in college basketball betting, and one of Thursday’s games looks to be more of a coin flip than the other. But beware - in the past 18 games between 8s and 9s, the underdog is 14-4 ATS.
After Sportsbook as a pick’em, the defending champion No. 9 Connecticut Huskies are now a slight favorite at -2.0 at Sportsbook over the No. 8 Iowa State Cyclones.
Meanwhile, also at Sportsbook, the No. 8 Kansas State Wildcats are a 5-point favorite against the No. 9 Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles.