The 2023 First Four tips off in Dayton, Ohio from March 14-15. It represents the start of the March Madness, typically on the first Tuesday and Wednesday of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The championship game takes place on Monday, April 3. Check out First Four odds for each team in the betting market below. Click on any of the odds to place a bet.
First Four Odds
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders vs. Southeast Missouri State Redhawks
At first glance, you may be wondering why an Ohio Valley Conference program is apart of the play-in game for a No. 16 seed. Well, the league took a significant step back after both Murray State and Belmont departed for the Missouri Valley Conference. In particular, Morehead State, which fell in the semifinals to Southeast Missouri State, ranked No. 3 in KenPom’s “luck” factor. This department represents the deviation in winning percentage, regarding their actual record and their expected record. It incorporates the correlated gaussian method.
The Redhawks’ resume isn’t stellar, presenting a bottom-120 adjusted offensive (AdjO) and defensive (AdjD) efficiency, respectively. Meanwhile, the Islanders deliver an uptempo attack that should exploit their Brad Korn’s vulnerable transition defense. But Corpus Christi won’t have 6-foot-1 Terrion Murdix (knee), who’s tallying the fifth-highest assist rate across D-I, at its disposal. Hence, the total may be a tad bit inflated — even with Southeast Missouri State’s seventh-ranked adjusted tempo in mind.
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Mississippi State Bulldogs vs. Pittsburgh Panthers
These teams are essentially the antithesis of one another. For starters, Chris Jans’ bunch possesses a clear-cut size advantage, led by the 6-foot-11 Tolu Smith. Couple that with the Bulldogs producing the 15th-highest offensive rebounding percentage nationally, and they’ll certainly have an opportunity to impose their will in the paint. The Panthers’ showcase ShotQuality’s 225th-ranked post-up defense to boot.
On the flip side, Pitt likely won’t be flustered by Mississippi State’s ball pressure. Keep in mind, Panthers point guard Nelly Cummings is a fifth-grad transfer, already playing in each of the last two NCAA tournaments. Jeff Capel’s offense is also perimeter-oriented, which bodes well against a Bulldogs defense that allows the 31st-highest 3-point scoring rate. They’re most susceptible against catch-and-shoot looks from that vicinity, playing right into the hands of Blake Hinson & Co.
Texas Southern Tigers vs. Fairleigh Dickinson Knights
In the play-in game for the other No. 16 seed, the NEC champs are positioned for potential chaos. If the Knights advance past the Tigers, they’ll square off against Purdue — arguably the most vulnerable one-seed in the bracket. Although Fairleigh Dickinson’s AdjD rating ranks No. 361 across all of college basketball, the Knights press at the highest rate among any team in the country. Not only will that create havoc against Texas Southern’s leaky ball handlers, but it would also pose an issue for the Boilermakers in the Round of 64. Matt Painter’s crew notched the second-highest turnover rate in Big Ten play, as his freshman-laden backcourt struggled mightily against any sort of ball pressure.
Arizona State Sun Devils vs. Nevada Wolfpack
The finale of the First Four contests boils down to a high-variance Arizona State squad. Despite the Sun Devils’ 3-point efficiency ranking No. 315 in D-I (31.4%), Bobby Hurley’s personnel still manufactures a top-115 attempt rate from behind the arc. If Desmond Cambridge, Jr. and his teammates are “on” from that vicinity, they’ll cash in on a Wolfpack defense that surrenders the 68th-highest perimeter scoring rate. Should that notion fail to come to fruition, Nevada will inevitably generate its fair share of fast-break points — given both its advantage on the glass and ASU’s inability to hinder opponents in transition. The 6-foot-6 Kennan Blackshear is a key variable in that regard, but he could easily fall victim to the Sun Devils’ pressure defense in half-court sets as well.
Teams that find themselves outside of the field are Oklahoma State, Rutgers, North Carolina, and Clemson. The Heels opened the season as the favorite to cut down the nets after representing the runner-up in 2022. You can price shop March Madness odds, which is especially useful if you’re eyeing the best Final Four odds in the betting market. More college basketball odds are available to sift through as well.
First Four Format
How The First Four Came To Be
The Mountain West Conference was added to Division I in the 1999-2000 campaign. The following season, it began receiving an automatic ticket into March Madness. This decision altered the total number of automatic qualifiers in the Big Dance to 31, shifting the total number of teams to 65 in the process.
Initially, the additional program was dealt with on the Tuesday following Selection Sunday. It was considered the first official game of the NCAA tournament, as the two worst-seeded teams squared off.
However, the tournament committee changed things up again in 2011, as the number of participants swelled to 68 programs. The amount of automatic qualifiers remained the same, but three more automatic qualifiers were added into the mix. Hence, the First Four helped the tournament pool go from 68 to 64 teams for the first round. It can consist of No. 11-14 seeds, but there is always a quartet of 16 seeds.
What Teams Typically Play In the First Four?
As you’ll see below, top-tier brand names aren’t immune to the First Four. For one, UCLA and Michigan State squared off in 2021. That season, both teams were a part of the initial AP Top 25 poll, which goes to show its lack of significance in the betting market.
Nevertheless, the Bruins went on an improbable run to the Final Four, knocking off BYU, Abilene Christian, Alabama, and Michigan along the way. Granted, UCLA benefited from a talented roster that underperformed for much of the season. Johnny Juzang’s dominance was a key variable, and he was named to the 2021 All-Tournament Team as a result. The Bruins were also guided by an experience tournament coach in Mic Cronin.
Moreover, UCLA is one of two First Four teams to advance to the tournament’s semifinal. The 2011 VCU Rams accomplished the same feat, knocking off USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State, and Kansas. They eventually fell to Butler in the Final Four, which led to the Bulldogs’ second consecutive appearance in the title game.
We can’t forget about the No. 16 seeds, providing their fair share of excitement despite the low-major name tag. While Bryant fell to Wright State in one of last season’s First Four matchups, the Bulldogs were led by Peter Kiss — the nation’s leading scorer.
Which First Four Odds Are Best To Back?
The saying “bet numbers, not teams” holds true for every sport, including First Four odds. Take the other No. 11 seeds from 2021 as an example. Wichita State opened as a short favorite against Drake, yet the line quickly shifted towards the Bulldogs. They wound up closing -2/2.5 before overcoming a 12-point second-half deficit and winning by a single digit.
Ironically, both teams found themselves within KenPom’s top-25 “luck rating.” For the casual bettor, Drake’s 20-6 against-the-spread (ATS) record may have been enough of to back the Bulldogs at any number. However, this game is a prime instance as to why closing line value (CLV) is crucial.
Final scores don’t always indicate the “true” result of the game. Our friends over at ShotQuality do a tremendous job showing us why that’s the case. But in the end, Drake backers cashed in if they bet pick’em or better. Meanwhile, Shockers bettors took their tickets to the betting window at +2 or better, too.
Our very own Eli Hershkovich expands upon this thought process in his top-25 college basketball power rankings.
First Four History
Here is a list of the First Four teams since 2011.
|Year||No. 11 Seeds||No. 12 Seeds||No. 13 Seeds||No. 14 Seeds||No. 16 Seeds|
|2011||VCU, USC||Clemson, UAB||N/A||N/A||UNC Asheville, Arkansas-Little Rock, UTSA, Alabama State|
|2012||N/A||South Florida, Cal||N/A||BYU, Iona||Vermont, Lamar, Western Kentucky, Mississippi Valley State|
|2013||Saint Mary's, Middle Tennessee||N/A||La Salle, Boise State||N/A||James Madison, Long Island, North Carolina A&T, Liberty|
|2014||Tennessee, Iowa||N.C. State, Xavier||N/A||N/A||Albany, Mount St. Mary's, Cal Poly, Texas Southern|
|2015||Dayton, Boise State, Ole Miss, BYU||N/A||N/A||N/A||Hampton, Manhattan, Robert Morris, North Florida|
|2016||Michigan, Tulsa, Wichita State, Vanderbilt||N/A||N/A||N/A||Florida Golf Coast, Fairleigh Dickinson, Holy Cross, Southern|
|2017||Kansas State, Wake Forest, USC, Providence||N/A||N/A||N/A||Mount St. Mary's, New Orleans, U.C. Davis, North Carolina Central|
|2018||St. Bonaventure, UCLA, Syracuse, Arizona State||N/A||N/A||N/A||Radford, LIU Brooklyn, Texas Southern,|
|2019||Arizona State, St. John's, Belmont, Temple||N/A||N/A||N/A||Fairleigh Dickinson, Prairie View A&M, North Dakota State, North Carolina Central|
|2021||Drake, Wichita State, UCLA, Michigan State||N/A||N/A||N/A||Norfolk State, Appalachian State, Texas Southern, Mount St. Mary's|
|2022||Notre Dame, Rutgers||Indiana, Wyoming||N/A||N/A||Wright State, Bryant, Texas Southern, Texas A&M–Corpus Christi|
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