Along with the play-in games, the first two days of the NCAA Tournament might be the most exciting in sports. Thirty-six games are on the schedule, and it’s a near certainty that there will be upsets and close finishes.
The first round of March Madness is always interesting from a gambling perspective. Picking the best teams to advance in the bracket might not be that difficult, but deciding whether or not a top seed can cover a 25-point betting line can be tricky.
Below are picks against the spread for every opening-round and first-round games in the 2016 NCAA Tournament, as well as updated betting odds at Las Vegas casinos.
Fairleigh Dickinson (+6) vs. Florida Gulf Coast
FCGU has the name recognition because of their run to the Sweet 16 in 2013, but Fairleigh Dickinson is playing well with five straight wins. They are 5-2 against the spread as underdogs, via OddsShark, and the Knights should keep the game close, if not win it outright.
Prediction ATS: Fairleigh Dickinson
Vanderbilt (+3.5) vs. Wichita State
The Shockers have plenty of March Madness experience, with four straight trips to the NCAA Tournament, and they’ll be prepared for Vanderbilt Tuesday. The Commodores are just 1-5 in their last six tournament games.
Prediction ATS: Wichita State
Southern University (-2) vs. Holy Cross
Holy Cross defied the odds by winning the Patriot League Tournament, but their dream might end Wednesday after going 10-19 in the regular season.
Prediction ATS: Southern University
Tulsa (+4) vs. Michigan
Tulsa has a chip on their shoulder as a team that many experts believe shouldn’t have made the field, and they could manage a surprising victory, having won four of the seven games in which they were an underdog this season.
Prediction ATS: Tulsa
Buffalo (+14) vs. Miami
Buffalo is very well-coached, and they nearly pulled off a first-round upset as a No. 12 seed in last year’s tournament.
Prediction ATS: Buffalo
Yale (+5.5) vs. Baylor
Baylor has the potential to surprise in this tournament and make a deep run, starting with a big win over Yale.
Prediction ATS: Baylor
UNC Wilmington (+10.5) vs. Duke
The Blue Devils haven’t played as well as some experts expected them to, but they dominated several mid-majors in the early part of the season.
Prediction ATS: Duke
Providence (-2) vs. USC
Kris Dunn is one of the best players in the tournament, and he should help the Friars get at least one victory in the Big Dance.
Prediction ATS: Providence
Hampton (+23.5) vs. Virginia
Virginia won by just 11 points as a No. 1 seed in their 2014 first-round game, and they defeated a No. 15 seed by just 12 points a year ago.
Prediction ATS: Hampton
Butler (-4) vs. Texas Tech
It’s been over a decade since the Red Raiders won an NCAA Tournament game, but they’ve only lost four games to unranked opponents this season.
Prediction ATS: Texas Tech
Austin Peay (+26) vs. Kansas
The Jayhawks are the most likely team to win the national championship, but it’s hard to justify laying 26 points against anyone.
Prediction ATS: Austin Peay
UConn (-3) vs. Colorado
The Huskies always seem to come up big in March, and they are playing well with four straight wins. This game should come down to the final minute of play, and UConn should do enough to win by more than three points.
Prediction ATS: UConn
UT Chattanooga (+12) vs. Indiana
The Hoosiers have been underwhelming in the NCAA Tournament under Head Coach Tom Crean, and Chattanooga could be a tough out Thursday.
Prediction ATS: UT Chattanooga
Stony Brook (+14.5) vs. Kentucky
The Wildcats might be the best offensive team in the tournament, and they could run Stony Brook out of the building after Coach John Calipari seemed to be insulted that his team was only given a No. 4 seed.
Prediction ATS: Kentucky
Arkansas-Little Rock (+9) vs. Purdue
Only Wichita State allows fewer points per game than Little Rock, and they can stay with Purdue by slowing down the pace.
Prediction ATS: Arkansas-Little Rock
Iona (+8) vs. Iowa State
The Cyclones seem to disappoint in March Madness every year, failing to advance beyond the first weekend in three of the last four seasons, and they could be upset by an Iona team that’s led by one of the top scorers in the tournament.
Prediction ATS: Iona
Fresno State (+9) vs. Utah
Utah was one of the hottest teams in college basketball before losing to Oregon in the conference tournament, and they should get back on track against Fresno State.
Prediction ATS: Utah
Gonzaga (-1.5) vs. Seton Hall
Seton Hall came on strong to win the Big East Tournament, but they’ll have trouble stopping Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis, who combine to average more than 38 points per game.
Prediction ATS: Gonzaga
UNC Asheville (+17.5) vs. Villanova
The Wildcats have dominated mid-majors in the first round of recent NCAA Tournaments, and Friday should be no different.
Prediction ATS: Villanova
Temple (+7.5) vs. Iowa
The Hawkeyes have played poorly of late, but they were being considered for a No. 1 seed just a few weeks ago and are being undervalued against a team that barely made the tournament.
Prediction ATS: Iowa
Stephen F. Austin (+7.5) vs. West Virginia
Stephen F. Austin is always dangerous in the tournament, winning as a No. 12 seed in 2014 and playing No. 5 Utah close last year.
Prediction ATS: Stephen F. Austin
CS Bakersfield (+14) vs. Oklahoma
Buddy Hield could have a few 30-point games in the tournament, and this should be one. With the game in Oklahoma City, CSB doesn't have much of a chance.
Prediction ATS: Oklahoma
VCU (-4.5) vs. Oregon State
The committee was generous by making Oregon State a No. 7 seed, and they could have a lot of trouble with VCU.
Prediction ATS: VCU
UW Green Bay (+13) vs. Texas A&M
The Aggies have been terrific other than a rough patch in the middle of the season when they lost four games in a row, and they shouldn’t have any trouble getting to the second round.
Prediction ATS: Texas A&M
Northern Iowa (+4.5) vs. Texas
Northern Iowa isn’t as good as they were last year, but they’ve won six games in a row and they have the experience to pull off an upset.
Prediction ATS: Northern Iowa
Weber State (+13.5) vs. Xavier
Weber State played poorly outside of their conference, and they’re in for a rude awakening when they meet one of the highest-scoring teams in college basketball.
Prediction ATS: Xavier
Pittsburgh (+1) vs. Wisconsin
Wisconsin's tournament experience should help them advance to the second round.
Prediction ATS: Wisconsin
Middle Tennessee State (+18) vs. Michigan State
The Spartans will look to prove that they should have been a No. 1 seed. Expect the Spartans to jump out to a huge lead after halftime.
Prediction ATS: Michigan State
Syracuse (+1) vs. Dayton
The Orange can get hot from behind the arc, and Dayton has had trouble at times stopping the three-point shot.
Prediction ATS: Syracuse
South Dakota State (+9) vs. Maryland
Maryland has been inconsistent this year, but they are one of the most talented teams in the tournament and could have one of the biggest wins of the first round.
Prediction ATS: Maryland
Hawaii (+7.5) vs. California
Hawaii played Oklahoma and Texas Tech close earlier this season, and they could give California trouble for much of Friday night.
Prediction ATS: California
Cincinnati (-1.5) vs. St. Joseph’s
St. Joe's offense is playing well, and the Bearcats might not be able to keep pace with them.
Prediction ATS: St. Joseph’s
Florida Gulf Coast (+22) vs. North Carolina
The Tar Heels have beaten a few mid-majors by more than 20 points, and this game could be over by halftime.
Prediction ATS: North Carolina
Wichita State (+2) vs. Arizona
The Shockers made very well in the play-in game, but their journey ends here.
Prediction ATS: Arizona
Holy Cross (+23) vs. Oregon
The Crusaders have put together a nice winning streak, but going 10-19 in the regular season doesn't bode well for their chances to keep this game close.
Prediction ATS: Oregon
Michigan (+3) vs. Notre Dame
Michigan was lucky to make the field of 68, and Notre Dame could win somewhat comfortably.
Prediction ATS: Notre Dame