March Madness First Round Best Bets: Three Picks for Friday’s Games

Three predictions against the spread for day two of the 2023 NCAA Men’s Tournament.

Day 2 of the NCAA Tournament brings 16 more games and plenty of exciting Round of 64 matchups.

Which top seeds will dominate? And which underdogs will emerge? Only time will tell.

Just like Thursday, the games get underway just after noon ET on Friday and continue almost all day. SI Betting has three more game breakdowns and a best bet for each below.

You can find the rest of our March Madness betting coverage here.

March Madness odds: No. 12 VCU vs. No. 5 Saint Mary’s

Time: 2 p.m. ET | TBS

Spreading: VCU +4 (-118) | Saint Mary’s -4 (-110)

Money Line: VCU (+150) | SMC (-188)

Give or take: 122.5 – Above (-110) | Under (-118)

The Rams and Gaels they’ve met just once before in the 2017 tournament, a first-round game won by Saint Mary’s, 85-77. The second meeting between the two programs is more of a defensive matchup than an offensive shootout. VCU’s defense ranks in the top 20, per KenPom, and is a constant threat to cut off passing lanes and create turnovers. Randy Bennett’s team ranks in the top 10 by the same metric and No. 5 nationally in points allowed per game (60.1).

The Gaels have more power on offense, led by Logan Johnson (14.7 ppg) and Aidan Mahaney (14.5 ppg). However, they operate at the fifth-slowest tempo in DI, and while they shoot the three well, they don’t attempt as many. Adrian Baldwin Jr. (12.7 ppg) is the leading scorer for the Rams, who get up and down the floor faster than their opponent, but aren’t as efficient on offense.

The under has hit in 59 percent of VCU’s games this season, including three of its last four, and has been a 50-50 proposition for Saint Mary’s on the year. This is the lowest over/under of the day, and if these teams push the pace, it could be in jeopardy early on. But if those defenses perform, this is sure to be a low-scoring game.

VCU vs. Saint Mary’s Best Bet: Under 122.5 (-110)

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March Madness Odds: No. 11 Pittsburgh vs. No. 6 Iowa State

Time: 3:10 p.m. ET | truTV

Spreading: Pittsburgh +4 (-110) | Iowa State -4 (-118)

Money Line: PITT (+150) | ISU (-188)

Give or take: 130.5 – Above (-118) | Under (-110)

The Panthers scored a victory over Mississippi State on Tuesday in the First Four to set up this matchup with the Cyclones, which will be a battle between two conflicting play styles. Pitt relies on its offense, specifically its three-point shot, and Iowa State is giving away games with its top-10 defense at a slow pace. That makes it three wins against No. 3 Baylor this season, including two in the last two weeks.

Jaren Holmes (13.4) and Gabe Kalscheur (12.9 ppg) are the top two scorers for the Cyclones and the only players on the team averaging double figures. They are not a strong shooting team from the free throw or three-point line, which contributes to their sub-70 point average. The defense will have to account for the Panthers’ Blake Hinson (15.5 ppg), the team’s leading rebounder who is also a threat from deep. Pittsburgh is a knockdown team from the foul line (76.1%), which could pose a problem for Iowa State, who fouls often.

The Cyclones have the 10th highest hitting percentage (65.6%) in the NCAA and the under is 7–3 in their last 10 games. Pittsburgh favors the over and only 38.2% of its games have hit the under this season, including just three of its last 10. Something has to give, and I think Iowa State can dictate the tempo and slow down the Panthers, similar to what Mississippi State did.

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Pittsburgh vs. Iowa State Best bet: Below 130.5 (-110)

March Madness Odds: No. 14 Grand Canyon vs. No. 3 Gonzaga

Year: 7:35 p.m. ET | truTV

Spreading: Grand Canyon +15.5 (-118) | Gonzaga -15.5 (-110)

Money Line: GCU (+800) | GONZ (-1613)

Give or take: 156 – Up (-118) | Under (-110)

The expectation when the Antelopes and Bulldog take the field are offensive fireworks and it’s easy to see why. Gonzaga leads the nation in scoring (87.5 ppg) and is the No. 1 offense in KenPom. Grand Canyon is one of the top three-point shooting teams in the country (38.3%) and has the highest shooting percentage (75.4%) in DI.

The Bulldogs are led by Drew Thiem (20.9 ppg), one of the nation’s leading scorers, and has three other teammates averaging double figures. Gonzaga’s defense got stronger in the WCC tournament and allowed just 73 points to San Francisco in the semifinal and 51 in the championship game against Saint Mary’s. However, the over hit in their previous eight games and they broke 90 four times during that run.

Rayshon Harrison (17.7 ppg) is the top scoring threat for GCU, a team that is loaded with capable shooters. The Antelopes operate at a much slower pace than the Bulldogs, but their defense can and has been exploited and the over has hit in each of their last four games.

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Best Bet Grand Canyon vs. Gonzaga: Over 156 (-110)


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