March Madness First Round Best Bets

We love this time of year in the Tuley’s Takes home. Yeah, I know I say that at a lot of other times of year, but I really mean it this time (and will mean it the next time I say it, too!). In fact, we just came out of one of my other favorite times of the year with the NCAA conference tournaments. The interest turns up with the “real” March Madness starting. This week, we ramp up our bets as well as filling out all our brackets (don’t miss my article on those in the VSiN March Madness Betting Guide) and entering a bunch of contests. Heck, I even have “squares” that pay out on every game of the NCAA Tournament, so I already have a ton of action and looking to add more.

Here are my early takes on the most live underdogs in the first-round games on Thursday and Friday. As an overview, Thursday is a little chalkier than usual and has just two “dog-or-pass” plays, but I’m expecting a lot more outright upsets (or at least dogs covering) on Friday. After the first round is over, I’ll be back on the home page at with my takes on Saturday and Sunday’s second-round games.



Oregon Ducks (+1) vs. South Carolina Gamecocks

Last Saturday night, I went to the Pac-12 Championship Game (the final one in the conference’s history, which was so surreal) at T-Mobile Arena here in Las Vegas. I’m aware that it can cloud one’s judgment to be impressed by seeing a team in person (especially since I watch 99.9% of all my sports action at home or in a sportsbook). But when handicapping this game, I feel I’m being objective enough to fire on the Ducks as short underdogs. Besides, the fact that this is a No. 6 vs. No. 11 matchup, yet most books opened it at pick ’em shows me that the oddsmakers see Oregon as very live, too. The Ducks beat Colorado as short dogs to take the Pac-12’s automatic bid. Still, they were even more impressive in knocking off Arizona in the semifinals, and you know coach Dana Altman will have them prepared vs. the undersized Gamecocks, who don’t impress me much despite their record. 

March Madness Best Bet: Oregon +1

Oakland Golden Grizzlies +13.5 vs. Kentucky Wildcats

At the National Horseplayers Championship (#NHC2024) at the Horseshoe Vegas this past weekend, I talked with many true blue-blood Kentucky fans that I’ve known from all my years covering horse racing for the Daily Racing Form and other publications/websites, especially from when I lived in Lexington in 1993-94 (geez, has it been 30 years?!?!). Anyway, they all are cautiously optimistic about their Wildcats, with everyone worried about the defense, which is ranked only No. 108 in adjusted defensive efficiency at at 102.7 (points allowed per 100 possessions). Oakland doesn’t get much defensive opposition in the Horizon League, where it was the class of this season. They should turn this into a track meet. Kentucky is one of the top offensive teams in the country (No. 5 at and will probably prevail, but double-digit points are too many to pass up on this live underdog. The better bet might actually be to take the Golden Grizzlies in the first half in case they stick around but then get run over in the second half.

March Madness Best Bet: Oakland +13.5


Texas A&M Aggies +1.5 vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Unsurprisingly, this game is close to pick ’em as it’s a No. 8 vs. matchup. I have the Aggies favored as they play defense and hit the boards. Granted, the same can be said for the Cornhuskers, but they look like another overrated Big Ten team that won’t live up to expectations in the tournament. I also like Texas A&M’s top player, Wade Taylor IV (18.9 points per game), better than Nebraska’s Keisei Tominaga (14.9 ppg), as it’s obviously preferable in March to have the best player on the floor working for you.

March Madness Best Bet: Texas A&M +1.5

Charleston Cougars +9.5 vs. Alabama Crimson Tide

The South Point opened Alabama as just a 6.5-point favorite, so their oddsmakers obviously saw Charleston as a live dog here. And we see why as Charleston is No. 58 in adjusted offensive efficiency at and ranked No. 59 in adjusted tempo (possessions per 40 minutes. That should be improved by facing this Alabama team that also pushes the pace (No. 9 in AdjT at 72.6). Like so many of these mid-major upset attempts, it will come down to who makes their 3-pointers, and there might be more attempts in this game than any other first-round matchup. I like my chances with that, either with Charleston matching Bama shot for shot all game long or if we need them to get us a back-door cover at this inflated line.

March Madness Best Bet: Charleston +9.5

Grand Canyon Antelopes +5.5 vs. Saint Mary’s Gaels

Grand Canyon is another team I saw in person last Saturday night. After watching Oregon upset Colorado in the Pac-12 title game, my friend Ivetta and I Ubered over to the Orleans Arena to watch Grand Canyon win the WAC title and earn the conference’s automatic bid. We’re not thrilled when the selection committee pits mid-major teams against each other, as we would have loved to see Grand Canyon getting more points vs. an overrated power conference also-ran. However, we’ll still take the points here even though the spread comes up a little light, with added fuel, with this being a No. 5 vs. 12 matchup. I made a big point in the VSiN March Madness Betting Guide that 5-seeds went 4-0 SU and ATS in the first round last year, so you shouldn’t be betting these 12-seeds blindly. But we will in this case, as the Antelopes can run with the Gaels, even though Saint Mary’s will probably slow the pace. But Grand Canyon beat San Diego State, which I see as very similar.

March Madness Best Bet: Grand Canyon +5.5