Your Best First Round March Madness Odds & Picks

With March Madness tipping off on Thursday, take a look at some basic tips for constructing the best brackets before moving to bets. You'll find four first-round picks against the spread, a couple upset specials on the moneyline, and even some futures to keep you occupied through the whole tournament!

Best Bets

Yesterday evening, just after 6 p.m. eastern time, the 2022 March Madness brackets were set, and first round odds were revealed. This event, while scheduled years in advance, always sends the gambling world into a frenzy. Unlike the Super Bowl or a big fight, March Madness plays out over the course of a few weeks. There are various methods of betting, from individual game lines to survivor pools to the world-famous brackets.

For 2022, the first round March Madness tips off on Thursday, March 17 at 12:15 p.m. eastern on CBS with Michigan facing Colorado State. The last first round game, between TCU and Seton Hall, doesn’t start until 9:57 p.m. on Friday the 18th.

Clear your schedule, figure out what channel truTV is on your cable or streaming, and begin hydrating now. Most importantly, be sure to prepare for the best college basketball betting experience of the year!

How to Study Teams to Make the Best Bracket for March Madness?

Players who are the best at mobile sports betting know that the more information they have before placing a wager, the better. However, March Madness bracket construction can definitely lead to overthinking and poor strategy.

Luckily, there are a few methods and tools that will help even novices construct a bracket with a chance of landing in the money. Remember, there are 63 games to select on each March Madness bracket (the four games of the First Four are excluded), and variance and sheer luck will come into play. No one has ever recorded a completely perfect bracket. You’re going to miss on a few picks but don’t let it keep you down or cause you to deliberate for hours over an 8 versus 9 matchup when it is most likely the winner will be annihilated in the next round by a 1-seed.

For more in-depth analysis of how to build your best bracket, check out last year’s bracket preview. But a short synopsis of bracket building focuses on the following two points:

  • Know Your Bracket Pool
  • Do A Little Research

Keep these two points in mind when constructing the best bracket you can.

Understanding the Size and Rules of Your Bracket Pool

When you were in school, you may have had a teacher who always harped on reading all the instructions before starting a project or test. Though it may have annoyed you then, this teacher was trying to save you from headaches down the road.

Each bracket pool is different, and the differences affect the strategy for selecting the best bracket For most pools, the points awarded for choosing the right winner of a game doubles each round. So, choosing each of the 32 first round games correctly nets you 32 points. But choosing the winner of the championship game alone is worth 32 points.

Therefore, in brackets with these rules, it is important to advance teams with a realistic chance of going far. Even if your careful deliberations result in a perfect first round, you won’t be collecting any real money winnings if your Final Four picks are all knocked out in the second round.

Secondly, the size of your pool matters. If you are competing against 10 friends or coworkers, there is no need to select wild, unlikely Cinderellas to make it past the Sweet Sixteen. But if you want to win a pool with 500 or 2,000 competitors, you will likely need to hit some real upsets to stand out. Still, either way, picking the champion is most important.

Advanced Team Rankings Can Help

The gold standard for advanced college basketball analytics remains KenPom. Peruse his rankings (which conveniently list the team’s seed next to their name) to find outliers that stand a better chance of advancing. There is one team that stands out like a sore thumb and will be discussed below. But then, look at San Francisco. As a 10-seed, they are ranked ahead of a couple 6-seeds, a few 7-seeds, and even a 3-seed (hello, Wisconsin).

You may think this gives them a great chance to advance, but the draw was unkind to Bill Russell’s alma-mater. The Dons face a strong 7-seed in Murray State in the first round, and would need to get past Kentucky, the strongest 2-seed according to KenPom, in the second round.

Other analytic-heavy rankings include the NCAA’s own NET system. Somehow, KenPom hasn’t yet sued the NCAA for copying his formulas with NET. Also, FiveThirtyEight’s bracket predictor is a nice tool for seeing teams that may have a better than typical shot of going far.

What to Do About Houston?

Speaking of teams with a chance to go far, meet the Houston Cougars. If you read any other March Madness previews, you will likely hear more about how the Selection Committee did a disservice to the 2021 Final Four squad led by Kelvin Sampson. KenPom ranks them fourth overall, while NET has them as the third best team in the country.

Yet, the Cougars only received a fifth seed from the Selection Committee. Yes, Houston did not play the strongest schedule. Still, it was stronger than Committee darling Gonzaga by some measures. The Cougars will be a trendy pick to make a deep run, with their possible Sweet Sixteen matchup against top-seeded Arizona a possible inflection point in a lot of bracket pools.

However, their likely second round opponent, Illinois, is no slouch themselves, a Top-20 KenPom squad. And you may have heard about the bad luck five-seeds have in the March Madness First Round. If you make multiple brackets, Houston may be a team to have go far in one and go out in the second round in another, for strategic purposes.

First Round Picks Against the Spread

When you are searching your favorite sports betting sites for first round March Madness bets against the spread, you can use KenPom or other advanced analytics, but understand these numbers are usually already accounted for in the point spread.

Still, a few first round matchups stand out, with odds that provide value for a little wager. Make sure to check closer to tip-off to see if any injuries, suspensions, or other problems have affected the spread.

Creighton v. SAN DIEGO STATE (-2.5) Thursday, 7:27 p.m. eastern, truTV*

San Diego State is a top-25 team in both KenPom and NET. Creighton doesn’t crack the top-50 in either. The Aztecs just lost a heartbreaking Mountain West championship game to Boise State by a single point. Expect them to come out with focus and determination to not lose back-to-back games to end their season.

SAN FRANCISCO (+1.5) v. Murray State Thursday, 9:40 p.m. eastern, CBS

As shown above, the San Francisco Dons are a strong team, with a top-20 defense. Murray State has the balanced attack to keep this one close, but San Francisco is led by senior guards Jamaree Bouyea and Khalil Shabazz. This will be their first and only chance to play in March Madness. Expect them to lock down Murray State’s outside shooters just enough to pull off the slight upset.

Akron v. UCLA (-13.5) Thursday, 9:50 p.m. eastern, TBS

Akron arrives at the tournament fresh off an emotional MAC championship win over local rival Kent State. That matchup was tossed into chaos when four Kent players were suspended pre-game over a video featuring crude anti-Akron lyrics. The Zips likely fall into the “just happy to be here” category.

Meanwhile, UCLA made a run to the Final Four from all the way back in the First Four last year. It will be easier this year for Johnny Juzang and company to operate. However, they were still only slotted into a four-seed, well below their top-10 KenPom and NET rankings suggest they deserved. They should handle their business on Thursday evening easily enough to provide a little extra rest for Juzang’s balky ankle.

LOYOLA CHICAGO (+1) v. Ohio State, Friday, 12:15 p.m. eastern, CBS

You may want to wait to wager on this one until you know whether Ohio State will have Zed Key or, more importantly, Kyle Young, back from injury. This year, the Buckeyes have proven they can beat any team in the country but have recently been playing like they could lose to just about any team in the country.

Meanwhile, Loyola Chicago is back from last year’s Sweet Sixteen run (that easily could have been extended) with yet another solid squad. Better yet for this matchup, Loyola’s sharp-shooting guard Braden Norris is from the Columbus, Ohio suburbs. Maybe they don’t need extra-motivation to advance but it never hurts.

First Round Upset Specials

There are two moneyline bets that standout as potential money-makers in things break correctly. One may be very unlikely, but oh boy would it be fun if it hits.

COLGATE (+265) v. Wisconsin, Friday, 9:50 p.m. eastern, TBS

The Selection Committee drastically over-seeded Wisconsin. This is a team that is led by National Player of the Year candidate Johnny Davis and is coming off its first back-to-back losses of the season. But with a weak offense, the Badgers are more akin to an 8 or 9 seed according to the advanced metrics.

Wisconsin March Madness first round

Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis will try to help the Badgers avoid the first round upset. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

While Colgate is not a juggernaut by any stretch, they are the strongest 14-seed according to KenPom. Their defense isn’t very good, but Wisconsin doesn’t have the offensive firepower to take advantage. Toss a few dollars on the Raiders to pull the big upset at one of the best online sportsbooks.

CAL STATE FULLERTON (+1175) v. Duke, Friday, 7:10 p.m. eastern, CBS

Look, it probably won’t happen. But just imagine for a second if it did. Wouldn’t you like to cash in a +1175 moneyline ticket while soaking up the schadenfreude of Coach K losing his last game at Duke to an entirely overmatched squad? Especially since CBS is giving him the primest of prime slots on Friday night. Under Coach K, Duke has lost in the first round as a 2-seed before, with 2012’s team falling to legendary powerhouse Lehigh.

March Madness Futures Bets

Let’s finish up the March Madness first round preview with a couple futures bets to carry us through the future rounds.

AUBURN (+1200) to Win 2022 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament

The advanced metrics may not like Auburn as much as other trendy championship picks like Gonzaga or Kentucky. But that also leads to them receiving 12:1 odds, which is a nice price for a team led by potential NBA number one overall pick Jabari Smith. If Smith takes his play to the next level during March Madness, the Tigers could end up cutting down the nets in New Orleans on Monday, April 4.

DREW TIMME (+900) Most Outstanding Player

via GIPHY (Drew Timme is back for another chance to get his Gonzaga squad over the hump)

Gonzaga is listed at +300 to win the whole tournament. They are the top-seed overall and betting favorite to finally win a National Title after being a 1-seed in four of the last five March Madness tourneys. But Timme, already a college basketball legend, shares the spotlight (and Most Outstanding Player odds) with freshman phenom teammate Chet Holmgren. If the Zags finally win it all, Timme’s veteran presence may put them over the top. In that case, take the three times better odds of Timme being most outstanding player instead of simply betting Gonzaga to win outright.

LOYOLA CHICAGO +3500 South Regional Winner

Yes, we’re back to the Ramblers. Maybe because they easily could have made a Final Four run last year or maybe because they have the defense to smother more talented opponents, 35 to 1 odds are just too good to pass up. Plus, the South Region is a mess, with a whole host of good teams that boosts Loyola’s odds. It’s a longshot, so do it for Sister Jean!

Best of luck during the first round of 2022 March Madness. Hopefully, you’ll build out brackets that survive this coming first weekend. Remember to bet at the safest online sportsbooks and also remember, your bracket isn’t busted as long as most of your Final Four is still alive.

*All odds current on Bovada as of 4:00 p.m. eastern, Monday, March 14, 2022

Joseph Ellison

Joseph is a dedicated journalist and horse racing fanatic who has been writing about sports and casinos for over a decade. He has worked with some of the UK's top bookmakers and provides Premier League soccer tips on a regular basis. You'll likely find him watching horse racing or rugby when he isn't writing about sport.

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