The moment that college basketball fans have long awaited has arrived. The 2021 NCAA Tournament is here.

A year after March Madness was canceled entirely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the tournament will make its triumphant return. All 68 teams chosen on Selection Sunday will square off in the state of Indiana and will put together a tournament like no other.

There will be blue blood victories, big-time bracket-busting buzzer beaters, and Cinderella stories of teams that will quickly earn the love of fans searching for a rooting interest.

Of course, there will also be plenty of opportunities to bet on games throughout the tournaments. There are always at least a few major upsets in every tournament, but there are also opportunities to make easy money on heavy favorites and create some intriguing parlays that should have a chance to pay off.

What are the best bets for the first round of March Madness, includng the First Four? Sporting News has you covered with some top trends, advice, and picks to take a chance on as the NCAA Tournament gets ready to tip off. 

MORE MARCH MADNESS: TV schedule | Printable bracket | Odds

March Madness odds for First Four, Round 1

Below are the opening March Madness odds for the First Four and Round 1, including point spreads, money lines and over-under totals for every game, according to the FanDuel sportsbook.

Mount Saint Mary’s vs. Texas Southern*TXSO -2TXSO -136132
Drake vs. Witchita State*WICH -2WICH -124139.5
Norfolk State vs. Appalachian State*APP -3APP -154135.5
UCLA vs. Michigan State*MSU -2MSU -136136.5
Virginia Tech vs. FloridaFLA -1FLA -112137.5
Colgate vs. ArkansasARK -9.5ARK -460162.5
Drexel vs. IllinoisILL -22.5N/a144
Utah State vs. Texas TechTTU -6TTU -200131.5
Oral Roberts vs. Ohio StateOSU -16.5OSU -2200155.5
Hartford vs. BaylorBAY -26N/a141
Georgia Tech vs. Loyola ChicagoLUC -2LUC -130124.5
Oregon State vs. TennesseeTEN -7.5TEN -355133
Liberty vs. Oklahoma StateOKST -9.5OKST -450142
Wisconsin vs. North CarolinaUNC -2UNC -130139.5
Cleveland State vs. HoustonHOU -20HOU -3000135
North Texas vs. PurduePUR -7.5PUR -330125
Syracuse vs. San Diego StateSDSU -3SDSU -154138.5
Morehead State vs. West VirginiaWVU -12.5WVU -850137.5
Winthrop vs. VillanovaNOVA -6NOVA -250141
Georgetown vs. ColoradoCOL -4.5COL -200138
UNC Greensboro vs. Florida StateFSU -11.5FSU -650145
Eastern Washington vs. KansasKU -11KU -720143
St. Bonaventure vs. LSULSU -2LSU -124144.5
UC Santa Barbara vs. CreightonCREI -6.5CREI -275139.5
Grand Canyon vs. IowaN/aN/aN/a
Maryland vs. UConnUCONN -2.5UCONN -142130
Ohio vs. VirginiaUVA -8UVA -420131.5
Missouri vs. OklahomaOU -2OU -130140.5
Abilene Christian vs. TexasTEX -9TEX -430140
VCU vs. OregonORE -6ORE -250137

*Denotes a First Four game

BRACKET PICKS: DeCourcy (Gonzaga) | Bender (Illinois) | Fagan (Gonzaga)

March Madness best bets for First Four, Round 1

North Carolina (-2) vs. Wisconsin

UNC was teetering on the brink as a bubble team until a strong final six games put them into the tournament field. The Tar Heels posted a 4-2 record in those contests and the two losses were by a combined five points to Syracuse, another tournament team, and Florida State, the No. 4 seed in the East region of the bracket. They managed to make the semifinals of the ACC Tournament and seem to be getting hot at the right time. Incredibly, in 29 NCAA Tournament appearances, head coach Roy Williams has never failed to win at least one game and get to the Round of 32. Thus, UNC seems like a good bet against a Wisconsin team that has dropped nine of its last 14 games (albeit against a tough Big 10 schedule).

Winthop (Moneyline, +215) vs. Villanova

Here’s the best upset bid that you can bet on in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Villanova is usually a March Madness darling and they have taken home two national championships under Jay Wright, but it may be hard for them to do that this year. They lost one of their best players, point guard Collin Gillespie, to a torn MCL on March 4. They lost both of their games without him and though the margin of defeat was just by three combined points, the combined records of the teams they lost to, Providence and Georgetown, was 26-25.

Meanwhile, Winthrop (22-1) cruised through the Big South with an experienced team that plays as many as 11 players in any given game. They have a great head coach in Pat Kelsey and won all of their Big South Tournament games by at least 21 points. They should be fresh after plenty of time off and will give Villanova a lot of trouble with their depth and versatility, especially with ‘Nova down one of their stars. If you’re less adventurous, you can take Winthrop (+6) in this game, but this one has the makings of a classic 12-5 upset.

Baylor (-26) vs. Hartford

The Bears have played eight non-conference games this year and they have won them all. Their average margin of victory in those games was 30.4 points per game, and that includes games against Washington, Auburn, and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Illinois. The Hawks are a great story, as they are making their first March Madness appearance in program history after winning their conference tournament as a No. 6 seed, but Baylor should be able to handle them even if the Bears haven’t been as sharp as they once were since a mid-February COVID layoff.


March Madness best parlays for First Four, Round 1

Illinois (-22.5) AND LSU vs. St. Bonaventure OVER (144.5)

Illinois has played three non-Power 5 teams this year. Their average margin of victory in those games was 41 points. The Drexel Dragons haven’t played in an NCAA Tournament game since 1996, so they will probably have a tough time competing with Illinois.

The more intriguing part of this parlay is the second leg. The Tigers and the Bonnies are complete opposites in terms of how they run their teams. LSU is a faster-paced offense that averages 74.4 possessions per game, good for 49th in the country, while St. Bonaventure averages 66.8 possessions per game, tied for 329th in the country. That said, if LSU can control the pace in this game, they should have a chance to hit the over in this one pretty easily, as the Tigers and their opponents have exceeded this point total in eight consecutive games. We’ll take a shot on that happening to push this wager to +264 odds.

West Virginia (-12.5) AND Michigan State (-2)

On paper, some may like the idea of Morehead State upsetting West Virginia since the Eagles have won 18 of their last 19 games. However, Morehead State played three Power 5 opponents this year and lost those contests by an average of 28 points. That included games against Kentucky and Clemson. Bob Huggins has won a tournament game in six of the nine seasons he has made the big dance with West Virginia, so they should have a chance to win this one handily.

Meanwhile, Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans have only failed to win an NCAA Tournament game once since the 2006-07 season. It’s usually safe to bet on great coaches come March, so we’ll pick Michigan State to advance out of the First Four and get solid value on these two bets at a mark of +274.

Syracuse (Moneyline) AND Winthrop (Moneyline)

Here’s an upset special parlay that could pay out big bucks. We already talked about what’s to like about Winthrop above, so we’ll stick to Syracuse here.

The Orange were considered to be on the bubble heading into the tournament, but they managed to get in and drew a matchup with San Diego State. While the Aztecs will be a tough opponent, Syracuse has won at least one game in eight of their last nine NCAA Tournament appearances under Jim Boeheim. That includes appearances as a double-digit seed in 2014 and 2016 in which Syracuse went to the Final Four as a 10 seed and the Sweet 16 as an 11 seed.

Parlaying these two games pushes the odds to +643. Obviously, it’s a risk, but it could be just crazy enough to work out.

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