March Madness First Round Predictions & Picks

Doug Bonjour
Last Updated: Mar 20, 2024

Shall we dance?

The 2024 NCAA Tournament is finally upon us, with the first round slated to tip off in its traditional Thursday slot.

To get ready for the enthralling March Madness action, here are five of our best bets for the Round of 64.

March Madness First Round Predictions

All college basketball odds used for these NCAA Tournament predictions are current as of Wednesday, March 20, and courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook.

UConn vs Stetson Prediction

Best Bet: UConn -26.5 (-112)

UConn — the tournament’s top overall seed and a +360 favorite to win back-to-back national championships — has beaten teams by an average of 16.1 points per game, the second-largest point differential in Division I.

The Huskies have covered six of their last seven games and are 22-12 ATS, including 5-4 when favored by 20 points or more.

Stetson can shoot, but it doesn’t defend well and certainly can’t hang with the Huskies, who have a plethora of scorers. Look for them to pick apart the Hatters’ 342nd-ranked defense as they kick off their quest to repeat.

[pick id="178843"]

Dayton vs Nevada Prediction

Best Bet: Nevada -1 (-112)

Nevada closed the regular season with seven straight wins and gets to play close to home in Salt Lake City. That may be all the advantage it needs to advance past seven-seed Dayton in this matchup.

The Wolfpack — one of five lower seeds favored in the Round of 64 — are 21-12 ATS compared to Dayton’s 15-15-1 mark.

Depth could be a factor, especially if Nevada can wear down Dayton — which essentially goes only six deep because of injuries — and get to the line early. The Wolfpack rank ninth in the country in free throws attempted (24.8 per game).

[pick id="178844"]

Kansas vs Samford Prediction

Best Bet: Samford +7 (-112)

After getting stomped by 30 points against Houston to close the regular season, Kansas lost its Big 12 Tournament opener to Cincinnati by 20.

Now the fourth-seeded Jayhawks turn their attention to the Big Dance, where they will be without leading scorer Kevin McCullar because of a knee injury. Hunter Dickinson (shoulder) is also banged up but should play.

Do the Jayhawks have enough gas in the tank to avoid an upset? I’m not sure.

Samford is not to be taken lightly. The No. 13 seed Bulldogs (29-5) blitzed the SoCon this year as one of the most proficient offenses in the country.

Led by Achor Achor, they rank fifth in scoring at 86 points per game and seventh in 3-point efficiency (39.3%). Not to mention they’re also 14th in tempo, meaning they like to run.

That’s a lot for any team to handle, especially one that’s shorthanded like Kansas.

[pick id="178845"]

Washington State vs Drake Prediction

Best Bet: Drake -1.5 (-108)

Missouri Valley Conference Tournament champion Drake returns to the Big Dance for the second straight season and third time in four years, this time as a No. 10 seed. Like Nevada, the Bulldogs are being treated to a quasi-home game in Omaha, Neb.

With Tucker DeVries, the two-time defending MVC Player of the Year, Drake possesses the high-level guard play and experience needed to win in March.

The Bulldogs have covered four straight and are 18-15 ATS. I’m taking them to outlast Washington State, which is just 3-3 since upsetting Arizona in late February.

[pick id="178846"]

Illinois vs Morehead State Prediction

Best Bet: Morehead State +11.5 (-110)

Morehead State has a legitimate go-to player in Riley Minix and a unique playing style, built on grinding down opponents in the half-court. The Eagles generally attempt a lot of threes, and they should hit their fair share against Illinois’ 92nd-ranked defense.

Illinois, on the other hand, will look to speed up the pace behind All-American Terrence Shannon Jr.

The third-seeded Fighting Illini are talented enough to avoid this upset, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they came out a bit sluggish after a grueling run in the Big Ten Tournament.

Look for Morehead State to turn this into a slog and stick around til the final buzzer.

[pick id="178848"]


Doug Bonjour

Doug covered college and prep sports in Connecticut for more than a decade, including stints as the UConn women’s basketball and UConn football beat reporter for Hearst Connecticut Media. During his time reporting on the 11-time national champion Huskies, he covered three NCAA Final Fours. He also has written for the Associated Press and New York Times.

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