March Madness bracket betting: Spread picks for all 16 first-round games on Friday
When the NCAA men's tournament bracket was revealed on Sunday, it seemed like the committee put most of the best first-round matchups on the Friday slate.
That likely wasn't by design, but it sets up for a great wall-to-wall Friday of college basketball as the field shrinks to 32 teams before the weekend.
Here are picks for all 16 first-round games on Friday, with all point spreads from BetMGM:
Michigan State (-1.5) over USC
Travel is an underrated factor in picking NCAA tournament games. The situation couldn't be much worse for USC. First, they had to travel to Columbus, Ohio, which isn't far for Michigan State (the Spartans are familiar with Columbus, as well). And then, USC got stuck with the earliest tip time: 9:15 a.m. on the West Coast. Michigan State is usually good in the tournament — Tom Izzo is one of the coaches to trust against the spread — and the situational advantages give the Spartans a nice edge.
Kennesaw State (+12.5) over Xavier
Xavier plays at a fast pace and hits a lot of shots, and I can't rule out a big blowout here. But Kennesaw had a very good season and is good enough from behind the 3-point line to be in play for a backdoor cover if they fall far behind.
UC Santa Barbara (+10.5) over Baylor
Baylor will be happy to face a non-Big 12 team. Baylor, with its strong backcourt, looked like it was peaking, and then it went 2-4 down the stretch. The Bears' defense is bad and will keep them from a deep tournament run. I don't think UCSB wins, but they are good enough offensively to cover against a defense that will give up points.
Saint Mary's (-4.5) over VCU
This will be a popular 12 over 5 upset pick, due to the Gaels' ugly showing against Gonzaga in the WCC tournament. Maybe they just have a Gonzaga problem; the Gaels were 20-2 against everyone else since a respectable five-point loss to Houston on Dec. 3. The two non-Gonzaga losses in that stretch were a two-point loss to Colorado State and a four-point loss in overtime to Loyola Marymount. VCU is a good defensive team but so is Saint Mary's (the under could hit, even at a low total of 122.5) and the Gaels were the better team this season.
Marquette (-10.5) over Vermont
Marquette had a very good season. The Golden Eagles had just six losses. Five were to tournament teams and the sixth was to Wisconsin, which was on the bubble. They lost just once by more than five points. Two of the losses came in overtime. They're on a nine-game winning streak, including a Big East tournament title. Vermont is a fantastic America East program, but I see them getting overwhelmed here. Marquette is really good and could make a long run.
Pitt (+4.5) over Iowa State
From Jan. 14 on, Iowa State was 6-11. They went 2-5 down the stretch with two wins over Baylor (is Baylor actually a lot worse than we realize?). It's hard to trust the Cyclones when they haven't played well for two months. Pitt didn't look great down the stretch either, but maybe Tuesday's First Four win gives the Panthers some momentum.
Creighton (-5.5) over NC State
Creighton was overrated last offseason after a good tournament run. Now, as a No. 6 seed after a middling regular season, the Bluejays might be a little underrated. They have all the ingredients you need to make a deep run. NC State has some excellent guards, but I think Creighton is on another level from the Wolfpack.
Iona (+9.5) over UConn
I was ready to take Iona to win a game in the tournament, but UConn was a rough draw. UConn is a popular Final Four pick due to their great metrics and excellent play early in the season. I'll take Iona to cover, but not as confidently as I would have against just about any other team in this seed range.
Purdue (-23.5) over Fairleigh Dickinson
I didn't pick Purdue to reach the Final Four, but any team with a 7-foot-4 national player of the year shouldn't have many problems in the first round. Zach Edey is a fantastic college player. I get that FDU's coach wants to keep his team's confidence high by saying he thinks they can beat Purdue, but no.
Providence (+4.5) over Kentucky
I don't love Providence after the Friars stumbled late in the season. But Kentucky has been disappointing all season. I'll take the points against a Wildcats team that doesn't look like it's enjoying this season.
Drake (+1.5) over Miami
This is a popular upset pick, and I'm hopping aboard. Drake does everything well and had a good season out of the Missouri Valley Conference. No disrespect to Miami, which has a good coach in Jim Larrañaga and a strong backcourt, but this was an easy 12 over 5 upset pick.
Grand Canyon (+15.5) over Gonzaga
Gonzaga has been really good from mid-January to now. Good enough, at least offensively, to win a national title. Still, this is a big spread for a 3 vs. 14 game. Grand Canyon can score and the Bulldogs don't have a great defense. Gonzaga could put up a huge score on Grand Canyon and that'll be enough to cover a big spread, but I think there's some value on the Antelopes.
Memphis (-1.5) over Florida Atlantic
On the bright side, this might be one of the best 8 vs. 9 games we've seen. But these two teams shouldn't be playing each other. FAU got jobbed with a No. 9 seed and the committee made it worse by matching them up with a Memphis team that is good enough to win multiple games this tournament. I don't want to pick against Florida Atlantic, but it's hard to deny how good Memphis looked late in the season.
Montana State (+7.5) over Kansas State
The Wildcats being a No. 3 seed snuck up on me. It's not a team I trust much away from home. I can't envision it winning a national title, and if you're on the top three lines there should be some expectation you can compete for a championship. Perhaps I'm being too harsh on the Wildcats, but I'll happily take Montana State and the points, and I'll grab a little of that +300 moneyline too.
Kent State (+4.5) over Indiana
The only worry here is that Kent State isn't a big team and Indiana's Trayce Jackson-Davis is a fantastic big man. Even with that, the Golden Flashes might be my favorite bet in the first round. It's a good team that can win straight up. My Big Ten slander continues.
Arizona State (+5.5) over TCU
The Horned Frogs have been very inconsistent, and center Eddie Lampkin left the team this month. And what more could you want from Arizona State than what they showed in Wednesday's dominant First Four win?
Thursday first-round record: 6-10
Tournament record to date: 7-13