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NCAA Tournament – First Four Odds and Picks - 2021

Written by:
Phil Simon
Published on:
Mar/16/2021

When the NCAA Tournament expanded to 68 teams in 2011, the concept of the First Four was created. The four-lowest seeded automatic qualifiers and the four lowest-seeded at-large teams square off to determine which schools advance to the first round of the Big Dance. Still dealing with the effects of the pandemic, the format was altered this year. All four games take place on Thursday, March 18. It will be a welcome sight to hoops fans that were denied the March Madness experience last year. And sportsbooks are eager to get back in the game with betting options available for every contest of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.  Bookmaker.eu offers a generous CASH welcome bonus for all your NCAA Tournament betting (max bonus $1600).

First Four Schedule

Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers (12-10) vs. Texas Southern Tigers (16-8), 5:10 p.m. ET truTV
Wichita State Shockers (16-5) vs. Drake Bulldogs (24-3), 6:27 p.m. ET TBS
Norfolk State Spartans (16-7) vs. Appalachian State Mountaineers (17-11), 8:40 p.m. ET truTV
Michigan State Spartans (15-12) vs. UCLA Bruins (17-9), 9:57 p.m. ET TBS

First Four Breakdown

Mount St. Mary’s +2
Texas Southern -2
Total 132.5

The Mountaineers got hot at the right time and they are dancing because of it. They were below .500 but won their final two regular season games and then upset the top two seeds in the Northeast Conference tournament while going 4-0 ATS in that stretch. They rely on a gritty defense that holds opponents to 62.2 points. Damian Chong Qui scored 21 points and Malik Jefferson had 10 points and 15 rebounds to beat Bryant 73-68 in the conference title game.

With wins in nine straight games and 14 of their last 15, the Tigers are streaking into the Tournament. They survived an overtime scare against Jackson State in the Southwestern Athletic Conference semifinals and took down top-seed Prairie View AM in the championship match. Michael Weathers scored 30 points in the semifinal win and leads the team averaging 16.5 points per game.

NCAA Tournament Prediction: Texas Southern 73, Mount St. Mary’s 62

Wichita State -2
Drake +2
Total 139

Is this another case of conference or brand name bias? It sure seems like it. Wichita State was positioned as a small favorite despite having nine fewer wins. That alone should be motivation for Drake. The Bulldogs might have a tough time keeping up with the Shockers with two of their top players out of the lineup. Roman Penn and ShanQuan Hemphill, two of five players averaging in double figures, are out. That’s a big blow for team that doesn’t have a lot of depth.

The door is open for the Shockers, who need to rebound from a disappointing 60-59 loss to Cincinnati in the AAC semifinals. They hold opponents to just over 40 percent shooting from the field, but the Shockers have been killed on the glass all season. I can see Drakes continuing its run with an upset victory.

NCAA Tournament Prediction: Drake 78, Wichita State 75

Norfolk State +3
Appalachian State -3
Total 135.5

It’s not how you start it’s how you finish. App State finished with a flurry to reach the Big Dance for the first time since 2000 winning four straight Sun Belt Conference tournament games. It was quite a turnaround for a club that lost six of its final seven regular season games and hadn’t won four in a row all season. Michael Almonacy hit six three-pointers for 32 points to upset Georgia State in the title game. Almonacy averaged 21.8 points during the tournament.

NCAA Tournament Prediction: Appalachian State 69, Norfolk State 63

Michigan State -1.5
UCLA +1.5
Total 135.5

The First Four gets a brand name presence in this Big Ten/Pac-12 matchup. There is a good argument that both teams shouldn’t even be in the Tournament, but since they are in they are probably where they belong. Michigan State finished 15-12 overall and had its first losing conference record under Tom Izzo. UCLA won 12 of its first 14 games before stumbling down the stretch. The Bruins lost their final three regular season games and were bounced in the first round of the conference tournament by Oregon State.

Sparty played in the toughest conference in America and posted a pair of shiny victories over Tournament No. 1 seeds Michigan and Illinois. They probably aren’t dancing if not for those wins because there were some clunkers in there as well. Just based on those wins I have to back the Spartans.

NCAA Tournament Prediction: Michigan State 84, UCLA 76

Access live betting lines from your mobile device at BookMaker sportsbook! Real-time spreads, totals, props and money line are all available so start betting with BookMaker today.

- Phil Simon, Gambling911.com

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