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March Madness betting, odds: Here are three underdogs we like in the first round

Let the madness begin. Last night, the 68 teams invited to the Big Dance were revealed along with the matchups for the first round. Everyone is examining the paths of the top seeds to see which teams are most likely to find a way to the Final Four. But let’s be honest for a minute. What makes the NCAA tournament so special is the one-and-done format that fuels the most thrilling and unpredictable upsets. Whether it’s nailing those underdogs and parading your prediction to everyone who will listen or hopelessly watching your tournament winner go down on Day 1, the shocking upsets are the rocket fuel that will leave us thirsting for more later this week.

For most of us, March Madness is much more than filling out brackets that will likely hit the paper shredder by the weekend. The beauty of wagering on the tournament is all the different futures markets that will open up as the week progresses. One of my favorites is targeting teams to make the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. Those best bets will be coming this week for sure. However, I wanted to start off by targeting some live underdogs in the first round. Whether using them for your bracket challenges or banking on a moneyline winner, these three are worth a look.

GREENSBORO, NC - MARCH 11: Armaan Franklin (4) of the Virginia Cavaliers drives to the basket during the ACC Championship against the Duke Blue Devils on March 11, 2023 at Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, NC. (Photo by David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Virginia and Armaan Franklin could be victims of an upset in Round 1. (Photo by David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Furman (+185) over Virginia

This isn’t the magical 5 vs. 12 matchup that gets treated like a portal for upsets, but Furman is the 13th seed that we will certainly hear a lot about in the next few days. The Paladins (27-7) are on a torrid 14-1 run, and they are doing it by getting buckets in bunches. Furman ranks eighth nationally in scoring at 82.1 points per game, and it will look to run on Virginia and push the tempo. It has four players who average double figures and can spread Virginia’s defense out with their excellent ball movement (22nd in assists-to-field goals made). If you haven’t seen Virginia play in the past month, Tony Bennett’s team has to move mountains to put the ball in the net.

Kent State (+165) over Indiana

Here is another 4 vs. 13 matchup where the underdog looks live. The Jekyll and Hyde Hoosiers are prime fade candidates despite having an absolute standout with Trayce Jackson-Davis. However, this is March, where guards make all the difference, and that’s where the Golden Flashes have an edge with an experienced point guard in Sincere Carry. Kent State will test Jalen Hood-Schifino with on-ball pressure and make the freshman uncomfortable in his first tournament action. Kent State already proved it can compete against college basketball’s elite in close losses at Houston and Gonzaga this season. Indiana has been up and down all season and couldn’t put Penn State away in the Big Ten tournament. Recent form isn’t kind to the Hoosiers either. Over the past month, Indiana ranked 82nd on Barttorvik, 15 spots below Kent St. At +180, I will take a shot on the Golden Flashes to advance.

Florida Atlantic (+130) over Memphis

Everybody is already licking their lips waiting to fade Purdue with Memphis in Round 2, but the Florida Atlantic Owls are far from a formality for the Tigers. I am happy to step in and fade the recent momentum with Memphis coming off a massive win versus Houston. The Owls (31-3) are coming off an impressive 22-point blowout over UAB that sent Jelly Walker packing for the NIT. They won 20 straight games during the season and have an array of versatile scorers who can hit from the perimeter. They rank 14th nationally in bench minutes, so they can play matchups without being overly concerned about foul trouble. They will need to step up on the offensive boards, but the metrics show they can match Memphis in most areas. Florida Atlantic is a top-35 team in efficiency on both ends of the floor, making it a prime candidate to pull off a first-round upset.

Stats provided by kenpom, barttorvik.com.