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March Madness 2024: Betting Breakdown for Tuesday’s First Four Games

No. 16 Howard is favored over No. 16 Wagner and No. 10 Colorado State is giving points to No. 10 Virginia in Tuesday’s doubleheader in Dayton.

The men’s NCAA Tournament officially begins Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio, when the first two games of the First Four get underway. Wagner and Howard are playing for the No. 16 seed in the West Region in the early slot and later on, Colorado State takes on Virginia for the No. 10 seed in the Midwest.

In the 2023 tournament, two First Four teams pulled off opening-round upsets after having to play their way into the Round of 64: No. 11 Pittsburgh beat No. 6 Iowa State and No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson took down No. 1 Purdue.

(Odds via FanDuel.)

No. 16 Wagner Seahawks vs. No. 16 Howard Bisons

Game Info: 6:40 p.m. ET | truTV
Spread: Wagner +2.5 (-102) | Howard -2.5 (-120)
Moneyline: WAG (+128) | HOW (-154)
Total: 128.5 — Over (-115) | Under (-105)

Wagner and Howard both had losing records heading into their conference tournaments. The Seahawks rattled off three straight wins — all on the road, no less — to clinch the Northeast tournament title and their second NCAA Tournament appearance in program history. Similarly, the Bison, with their backs against the wall, won three straight in the Mid-Eastern Athletic tournament to punch their ticket to the Big Dance for the second straight year.

Wagner (16–15) is the lowest-ranked team in the field of 68 by KenPom (293) and NET rankings (290) and Howard (18–16) isn’t much better in KenPom (276) or NET (273). The winner of Tuesday’s game in Dayton will advance to the Round of 64 to play No. 1 North Carolina on Thursday.

The Seahawks have one of the lowest-scoring averages in DI at 63.5 points per game. They shoot just 39.2% from the field as a team and 32.2% from beyond the arc. The guard trio of Melvin Council Jr. (14.6 ppg), Tahron Allen (10.8 ppg) and Julian Brown (9.6 pgg) account for the bulk of Wagner’s offense. Allen stepped up in the NEC title game to score a game-high 22 points in the 54–47 win over Merrimack. The Seahawks boast the No. 6 scoring defense in the country (62.1 ppg), which can partially be attributed to their tempo, which is second-to-last nationally. As a result, the under is 19–10 in Wagner games this year.

The Bison have a very different team profile than their First Four foe. They average 75.1 points per game and get up and down the floor much quicker than the Seahawks. However, Howard is no tough out on defense, allowing 74.4 points per game. Accordingly, the over is 19–12–1 for the Bison this season. Their leading scorer is Bryce Harris (16.6 ppg), but they have other options that defenses need to respect, such as Seth Towns (14.2 ppg) and Marcus Dockery (13.7 ppg, 41.2% from three).

Though this is a low total for Howard, it’s in line with expectations for Wagner, which has seen the under hit in six straight games. The Seahawks don’t seem capable of taking advantage of a suspect Bison defense and they’re strong enough on defense to keep Howard’s offense in check. Notably, Wagner has a top-10 three-point defense (29.5%), which will come into play against a team like the Bison.

Bet: Under 128.5 (-105)

No. 10 Colorado State Rams vs. No. 10 Virginia Cavaliers

Game Info: 9:10 p.m. ET | truTV
Spread: Colorado State -2.5 (-110) | Virginia +2.5 (-110)
Moneyline: CSU (-140) | UVA (+116)
Total: 120.5 — Over (-110) | Under (-110)

Isaiah Stevens leads Colorado State in scoring and assists.

Isaiah Stevens leads Colorado State in scoring and assists.

Colorado State earned a spot in Dayton after its run in the Mountain West tournament ended against eventual champion New Mexico. Virginia, somewhat controversially, earned an at-large spot as well after falling to N.C. State, the winner of the ACC Tournament.

The Rams (24–10) enter the Big Dance with a much stronger resume than the Cavaliers (23–10). Niko Medved’s team is 38th in KenPom and 36th in NET rankings with a 6–7 record in Quad 1 games. Tony Bennett’s team ranks 69th in KenPom, 54th in NET and went just 2–7 against Quad 1 opponents. Still, UVA is making its second consecutive tournament appearance as it matches its lowest seed under Bennett. The winner will face No. 7 Texas on Thursday in the Round of 64.

Simply put, Colorado State is adept at putting the ball in the basket. The team shoots 48.8% from the field, 18th best in the country, and 75.4% from the stripe, a top-50 mark. The Rams don’t light it up from beyond the arc (34.1%), but they take good care of the ball (10.1 turnovers per game) and have one of the best distributors in the country in Isaiah Stevens, who averages seven assists per game and also leads the team in scoring (16.5 ppg). Joel Scott (12.9 ppg), Nique Clifford (12.2 ppg) and Patrick Cartier (10.5 ppg) all average double digits as well and they get it done on both ends as Colorado State allows just 68.4 points per game, a top-75 mark.

The Cavaliers make every game a grind. Their 64.6 points per game average is a bottom-10 mark in DI but they make up for it with a stifling defense that surrenders just 59.5 points per game, the third-fewest in the nation. Only two UVA players — Reece Beekman (14.3 ppg) and Isaac McKneely (12.5 ppg) — average double digits and the team only shoots 63.7% from the free throw line. The Cavaliers take even better care of the ball than the Rams as they average just 8.2 giveaways per game and have one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios in the country.

Even with the loss to New Mexico, Colorado State has been playing better basketball over the last few weeks than Virginia. The Rams upset Nevada, 85–78, in the quarterfinals of the MWC tournament while the Cavaliers needed overtime to get past Boston College, 66–60, in the ACC quarters. UVA, which has been held under 50 six times this season, just doesn’t have the offensive firepower to get past CSU.

Bet: Colorado State -2.5 (-110)

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