March Madness is here!
Filling out a bracket is the main attraction for most sports fans this time of year, but the fun doesn't have to stop there. It's also the perfect opportunity to place some bets at NCAAB odds.
The first round continues on Friday, with the first of 16 games tipping off at 12:15 pm ET and the last one beginning at 10:05 pm ET. Who has time for work?
Which games should draw our attention? Let's find out.
Please note that lines are subject to change throughout the day after this article is published. Please check here to make sure you're seeing the most updated information.
Kennesaw State (14) vs. Xavier (3)
Kennesaw State +12.5 (-106)
As the spread suggests, it's more than likely that the Xavier Musketeers advance to the second round over the Kennesaw State Owls. However, getting there by over a dozen points might be a tall order.
Not only is Xavier one of the weaker 3 seeds, but they're arguably one of the 10 most overrrated teams in the field. KenPom and BartTorvik have the Musketeers ranked as just the third-best 3 seed, and the latter is particularly bearish, placing them 22nd and just barely ahead of the worst 3 seed, Kansas State.
Furthermore, Xavier won't have Zach Freemantle, who was originally expected to return from a foot injury but needed to have surgery earlier this month. While Freemantle missed the final month of the season, he was a key piece when healthy, averaging 15.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.
On the other side, the Owls predictably sit far lower in the rankings, but they're still an above-average squad that falls within the top 130 on both KenPom and BartTorvik.
While they won't wow you in any one area, they're a respectable 137th in adjusted offense and 109th in adjusted defense, per BarTorvik. Offensively, they're 34th in three-point shooting percentage, which should go a long way toward them keeping things close, and on defense, they force turnovers at the 90th-best rate.
Perhaps the biggest concern for Kennesaw State will be containing Xavier's stellar offense. The Musketeers are eighth in adjusted offensive efficiency, and even without Freemantle, they have four other players who average double-digit points. That being said, even if they can't stop Xavier, the Owls should be able to score against the Musketeers' less formidable adjusted defense (82nd).
Given Xavier's significant advantage on offense, numberFire's model doesn't give Kennesaw State much of a chance to pull off the upset, but it's confident that they can stay within single digits. It gives the Owls and the points a 65.1% chance of hitting and projects the Musketeers to win by just 7.2 points.
Providence (11) vs. Kentucky (6)
Providence +4.5 (-120)
Prior to the tournament, I highlighted this matchup as a potential first-round upset for our brackets, and with the spread creeping up to 4.5 points, there could be value in backing the Providence Friars on FanDuel Sportsbook, too.
No doubt, there are plenty of reasons we see the Friars as underdogs here. Not only are they a double-digit seed, but they didn't exactly do themselves proud down the stretch, losing 6 of their last 10 games and 4 of the last 5.
While that isn't a good look, keep in mind that four of those losses came against quality opponents in Connecticut and Xavier, and they also had a win over Creighton during that stretch. Per KenPom and BartTorvik, UConn is the nation's fourth-best team despite being a 4 seed, and Creighton is a top-15 squad.
If we take a step back and look at their seasons as a whole, Kentucky may still have the better resume -- but it's pretty close. While KenPom and BartTorvik have Kentucky just inside the top 30, the Friars come in at ranks of 45 and 59. Both schools are excellent on offense (top 20), but neither one is elite defensively, with Kentucky ranking 75th in adjusted defense and Providence ranking 130th.
Our model is only giving a slight edge to the Wildcats, which is why it's really high on taking Providence at this spread, projecting a 62.2% probability of staying within 4.5 points.
Arizona State (11) vs. TCU (6)
Arizona State +5.5 (-102)
This is another game that I noted as a possible upset special, though Nevada seemed like the better team for the job. But the Arizona State Sun Devils had other ideas in the First Four, stomping the Wolf Pack 98-73 on Wednesday.
Although we probably shouldn't expect the Sun Devils to shoot 63.6% from the field and hit over half their threes again, the offensive outburst is a positive sign for a team more known for their defense. While Arizona State is a solid if unspectacular 105th in adjusted offense, they boast the 32nd-best adjusted defense.
The well-balanced TCU Horned Frogs are similar defensively (26th) but have more of a leg up on offense (51st). Overall, they're a borderline top-25 team, per KenPom and BartTorvik. While the sites are a little more split regarding the Sun Devils, ranking them 70th and 53rd, the other night showed how dangerous they can be when their offense doesn't let them down.
According to numberFire's model, there is a 55.8% likelihood that Arizona State +5.5 hits, and it sees TCU winning by a 3.7-point margin. BartTorvik projects an even closer game, giving the Horned Frogs just a 2.8-point margin of victory.