Welcome to the madness.
The first week of the NCAA men's tournament is a betting holiday. Super Bowl Sunday has one game. From Thursday through Sunday on the first weekend of March Madness, we get 48 games. It's hard to beat that.
Here are picks for all 16 first-round games on Thursday, with all point spreads from BetMGM:
West Virginia (-2.5) over Maryland
There's nothing wrong with Maryland, but it's not an exciting team to back. The Terrapins aren't particularly great at anything, they were a miserable 2-9 on the road this season and they're from the Big Ten. If the Big Ten has a great tournament, plenty of these picks will lose. I just don't trust the conference after repeated tourney disappointments and a mediocre 2022-23 season. West Virginia isn't great either, but they're the better team in this matchup.
Furman (+5.5) over Virginia
Furman getting points is the most-bet side among the first-round games. Presumably, it's people betting against Virginia, not a rally around a SoCon program that most people haven't seen play. Furman is a good offensive team and while they could get locked up by Virginia's defense, this is a first-round upset pick.
Utah State (-1.5) over Missouri
Utah State can't beat San Diego State. They were 0-3 against the Aztecs. However, in all other games since Jan. 13, Utah State is 12-1. The Aggies can shoot the 3, and this should be a fun, high-scoring game against another good offensive team. It's hard to take a Mountain West team over an SEC team in the tournament, but I think Utah State will hit more shots against a bad Missouri defense.
Kansas (-21.5) over Howard
When the spread gets to 20 points for a No. 1 seed, it's practically a coin flip. Via Matt Eisenberg's thorough Tournament Guide, No. 1 seeds favored by 20 or more points are 24-25 against the spread dating back to the 2007 tournament. I'll lean Kansas in this one. It's the last easy game they'll get this tournament.
Texas A&M Corpus Christi (+24.5) over Alabama
The Crimson Tide is the top overall seed in the tournament after looking great in the SEC tournament. They're the most popular pick in Yahoo Men's Tourney Pick 'Em to win it all, at 22.2%. They'll win here, but not by 25.
Charleston (+5.5) over San Diego State
This isn't an easy pick. San Diego State's defense is excellent. The Mountain West's history in the tournament (13-23 ATS in the first round going back to 2007) and Charleston's fantastic season pushed me to take the underdog in what should be a close game.
Arizona (-14.5) over Princeton
I don't love the matchup for Princeton. They're not a good 3-point shooting team and Arizona's size won't allow many easy shots inside. It's not out of the question that Princeton keeps it closer than the spread. It's just a slight lean to the Wildcats.
It's possible we see Good Illinois against Bad Arkansas. Both teams are hard to predict. But Arkansas was a top 10 team in the preseason for a reason. Injuries affected the Razorbacks and I'd have liked to see better play down the stretch after star freshman Nick Smith Jr. returned, but I still trust Arkansas more than Illinois. Another Big Ten fade.
Auburn (-1.5) over Iowa
Auburn is bad offensively, Iowa is bad defensively, so something has to give. I'm committed to the Big Ten slander at this point.
Oral Roberts (+6.5) over Duke
It happens every Selection Sunday: Two teams I'm excited to pick in the first round get matched against each other. Oral Roberts was going to be an easy first-round upset pick for me ... until they drew Duke, one of the hottest teams in the field. I'm picking Duke to win and Oral Roberts to cover, which is a narrow runway to land on.
Colgate (+13.5) over Texas
Similarly, I wish Colgate got a better draw. Texas looks like a national title contender after a pair of impressive wins over Kansas late in the season, including a dominant Big 12 championship win. But Colgate is the best 3-point shooting team in the nation, and that will help them cover a big spread.
Boise State (+1.5) over Northwestern
Unlike some of my other picks against Big Ten teams, this one was difficult. Northwestern is a solid team with a good backcourt. Boise State lost three of five down the stretch, including two double-digit losses to Utah State. It's not a confident pick in the third-best team out of the Mountain West.
Houston (-18.5) over Northern Kentucky
Houston thrives off offensive rebounds. Northern Kentucky is terrible on the glass — 333rd in the nation in offensive rebound percentage allowed according to KenPom. Northern Kentucky's defense is predicated on turning opponents over. Houston is pretty good protecting the ball, with a turnover percentage that is a respectable 27th in college basketball. This is going to be a long day for NKU.
Sure, this is a pick against Rick Barnes, who has a bad history against the spread in the NCAA tournament. Tennessee also didn't look great down the stretch, and the offense isn't going to be great without point guard Zakai Zeigler, who suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Texas A&M (-2.5) over Penn State
Another SEC vs. Big Ten game! It's a pick I struggled with. Penn State is playing well. They're capable of beating quality teams. But Texas A&M is clearly better than its No. 7 seed, though their early season issues were the reason they weren't placed higher. I wouldn't be shocked if the Nittany Lions win. It's a lukewarm pick of a team that played very well in a tough SEC.
UNC Asheville (+17.5) over UCLA
UCLA has played very well since Jaylen Clark's injury, so maybe concern about them taking a step back was unjustified. UNC Asheville has won 18 of its last 19, albeit in a weak conference, so it's not a typical low seed that backed in by pulling upsets in the conference tourney. The spread feels about right, so it's a tepid pick on the underdog.
First Four record: 1-3