First Four Odds: NCAA March Madness Tournament Preview

Selection Sunday is in the books and the 2021 March Madness Tournament is just days away. The first stop on the experience is the First Four qualifying round. On March 18, the four lowest automatic qualifies and bottom four at-large teams will play for four spots in the national championship tournament.

The First Four was introduced in the 2010-11 NCAAB Season, which saw No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth University advance through the First Four and make it to the Final Four. While a First Four team has never won March Madness, it goes to show that a long run is possible.

The First Four offers sports bettors their first chance to wager on March Madness games. Read on to see who Bovada has advancing from this year’s opening games.

First Four: Drake (#11) vs. Wichita State (#11)

Odds via Bovada as of Monday, March 15

  • Drake (#11): +105
  • Wichita State (#11): -125
  • Spread: Drake +2 (-115), Wichita State -2 (-105)
  • Total: Over 141 (-110), Under 141 (-110)

Wichita State (16-5) and Drake (25-4) will face-off on March 18 in the First Four to see who will face No. 6 University of Southern California in the first round of the March Madness tournament. While rosters can overturn quickly in the NCAA, Wichita State has dominated Drake as of late. They’ve won the last 11 games in a row between the two schools.

Drake will also be at a disadvantage as Roman Penn will be out of the lineup. While Penn is a First-Team All-Conference guard, he suffered a season-ending foot injury back in February. Meanwhile, Wichita State guard Tyson Etienne has looked electric this season, averaging 17.0/3.5/2.6. A big performance by him in the First Four could be too much for Drake to deal with.

UCLA (#11) vs. Michigan State (#11)

Odds via Bovada as of Monday, March 15

  • UCLA (#11): +115
  • Michigan State (#11): -135
  • Spread: UCLA +2.5 (-110), Michigan State -2.5 (-110)
  • Total: Over 135.5 (-110), Under 135.5 (-110)

The next match-up for the First Four is between UCLA (17-9) and Michigan State (15-12). While UCLA has the most NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship wins with 11, they haven’t won the tournament since 1995. Meanwhile, Michigan State is looking for their first March Madness win since 2000.

Some Michigan State supporters are unhappy about the matchup. The team beat teams like Michigan and Illinois towards the end of the season, yet they’re playing in the First Four round. At -135, Michigan State is favored to beat UCLA and advance to play BYU (#6).

First Four: Mount St. Mary’s (#16) vs. Texas Southern (#16)

Odds via Bovada as of Monday, March 15

  • Mount St. Mary’s (#16): +115
  • Texas Southern (#16): -135
  • Spread: Mount St. Mary’s +1 (-115), Texas Southern -1 (-105)
  • Total: Over 131.5 (-110), Under 131.5 (-110)

Texas Southern (16-8) is the -135 favorite to win their matchup against Mount St. Mary’s (12-10). Offense can be an issue for Mount St. Mary’s. They’re only averaging 62.3 points per game heading into the First Four. That ranks 317th in the NCAA. Meanwhile, Texas Southern is averaging 73.6. Unfortunately, the winner of this match-up is probably in trouble no matter who wins.

The winner between Texas Southern and Mount St. Mary’s will advance to play #1 Michigan. On the other hand, Michigan has lost three of their last five games, including a 68-67 loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten Semifinals last weekend. Perhaps the winner of this First Four match-up can take advantage of Michigan’s late play.

Norfolk State (#16) vs. Appalachian State (#16)

Odds via Bovada as of Monday, March 15

  • Norfolk State (#16): +130
  • Appalachian State (#16): -150
  • Spread: Norfolk State +3 (-115), Appalachian State -3 (-105)
  • Total: Over 134.5 (-110), Under 134.5 (-110)

Appalachian State (17-11) will be making their first March Madness tournament appearance since 2000. They’ll face Norfolk State (16-7) in the First Four for an opportunity to play No. 1 Gonzaga. Both teams are on hot streaks. Norfolk State has won five games in a row, including a 71-63 victory over Morgan State in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament championship game. On the other hand, Appalachian State has won four straight, but two of those were overtime victories. With both teams entering the tournament on a roll, it should be interesting to see whose momentum carries on.

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Devon Platana
After graduating with a Masters degree in Journalism, Devon joined USGS to improve his sports writing skills. As a lifelong sports fan, one of Devon’s favorite things to do is analyze statistics across all sports.