Josh Hubbard is a big reason why we're backing Mississippi State over Michigan State on Thursday.
Josh Hubbard is a big reason why we're backing Mississippi State over Michigan State on Thursday.

2 NCAA Tournament Best Bets for Thursday, March 21

We take a closer look at Michigan State vs. Mississippi State and Akron vs. Creighton. Check out our best bets for each of these games below!

The best time of the sports calendar is upon us as the 2024 NCAA Tournament kicks off this Thursday. As everyone is busy filling out their brackets, we’ll look to find some value on the betting board for Day 1’s action.

Michigan St vs. Mississippi St

The first game of the tournament tips off at 12:15pm EST as the Michigan St. Spartans take on the Bulldogs in North Carolina. Sparty will likely be a media favorite as the “Tom Izzo in March” narrative will surely be heralded by the so-called “experts.”

While Izzo is one of college basketball’s legendary coaches, Michigan State’s entry into the tournament doesn’t always translate into an automatic deep run. Izzo has been bounced in the first round six times and has failed to make it past the first weekend an additional four times.

It hasn’t been an easy season for Michigan St. , as they've fallen way short of preseason expectations where they were ranked as the #5 team coming into the season. They do have the makeup of a team to make a run with veteran guards in AJ Hoggard and Tyson Walker leading the way.

That being said, I think Mississippi State will be a tough matchup for anyone in this tournament. They are a very physical team, led by Tolu Smith, who’s incredible on the offensive boards and is a physical presence most teams cannot contend with, much less Michigan St.

In previous year, Miss St. has been held back by subpar offense and lack of guard play, which might not be the case in 2024. Star Freshman Josh Hubbard doesn’t have the tournament pedigree of Michigan St.’s backcourt but he’s been an elite scoring guard in the SEC and should be able to find his spots in this game.

Michigan St. is a top ten team in defensive deficiency, but Mississippi St. is no slouch either, ranking 19th. We’ve already seen some money come in for the Bulldogs and I think this is the right side in this one.

Bet: Mississippi St. ML +105 (Caesar’s)

Akron vs. Creighton

Could we see the tournament’s first big upset as early as 1:30pm EST on Thursday? 13 seed Akron takes on Creighton in the Midwest region, with this game taking place in Pittsburgh.

To put it simply, I’m not a big believer in this Creighton team, despite the regular season success they found this season. I think Akron is a difficult matchup for Creighton for a handful of reasons. 

Firstly, Creighton’s 13th ranked adjusted offense per KenPom might be vulnerable in their round one matchup. Creighton is one of the better three point shooting teams in the country and getting up a ton of three pointers is part of their DNA (7th ranked in 3 point attempt rate).

A trend you’ll see in my write ups and in general in the tournament is that this level of three point shooting introduces a higher level of variance to the game. This could play to a team’s advantage or disadvantage, depending on the day, making them more susceptible to runs both positively and negatively. Against Akron they run into the 13th ranked defense in terms of 3-point defense.

Secondly, Akron has shot making forwards who aren’t afraid to shoot mid-range jumpers (and make them at a high rate.) While Creighton will win the analytics game that has pushed those shots out of the game, those looks will be open against a drop coverage Creighton team that relies on Ryan Kalkbrenner to defend the rim.

Creighton defends the three-point line very well and give up the shots that coaches want to give up. The issue in this game specifically, is Akron is ready and willing to make those shots.

Akron doesn’t have anyone who will be able to physically contend with Kalkbrenner down low, but their undersized big man Enrique Freeman is a high energy player that is great on both the offensive and defensive boards.

If Akron can defend the paint at an average level and continue to defend the three-point line as well as they have all year, I think a 13.5 point spread is way too large against Creighton. Consider Creighton on upset watch early this Thursday.

Bet: Akron +13.5 (Fanduel)

Related Stories

No stories found.
Bettors Insider