NCAA Tournament First Round Day 1 best bets from college basketball expert John Martin: Drake downs Washington State

Drake Bulldogs guard Tucker DeVries (12) celebrates with teammates after Drake defeated the Indiana State Sycamores to win the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Championship at Enterprise Center.
Photo of John Martin

John Martin


Show Bio

NFL handicapper for Pickswise.
Read more about John Martin

The single greatest sports betting event of the year is upon us — March Madness. Games start early and end late, starting with the first round of the NCAA Tournament later today. It’s where teams that want to drain the shot clock down to zero meet teams that want to play at 85 miles per hour. It’s where teams full of NBA players meet teams with none that are just happy to be playing this late into the season. For many reasons, this is the most fun and unique time of the year. With so many lined games, it can be overwhelming to pick a few that stand out, but that’s where I come in. I’ve done just that. For Thursday’s first round, I’ve picked out a couple of best bets that I’ll be playing that we can dive into below. You also check out our college basketball picks for EVERY game throughout March Madness.

South Carolina Gamecocks -1 over Oregon Ducks (-110)

Odds available at BetMGM at time of publishing.

Maybe we’re fading an overrated Pac-12 and that could be a theme of the day. But this South Carolina team, which was picked to finish dead last in the SEC, is real. They beat Kentucky without one of their better players in Myles Stute. Once he returned, they went into Knoxville as huge underdogs and knocked off Tennessee outright. LaMont Paris has done a fantastic job with the Gamecocks this year and deserves National Coach of the Year praise.

South Carolina also has a rest advantage over Oregon; Oregon had to win the Pac-12 championship game to get in, which was Saturday. The Gamecocks have been off since Friday, and the game is on the East Coast in Pittsburgh. It’s a lot to ask of Oregon, having played so much basketball this week and now having to go cross-country to see a good South Carolina team. Oregon is healthy, and Dana Altman is a fine coach, but we’ll take the Gamecocks to keep their magical season alive.

Shoot for the moon with our 16-leg March Madness parlay at HUGE +85250 odds!

Drake Bulldogs -1 over Washington State Cougars (-110)

Odds courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook at the time of publishing

Most won’t remember this, but a year ago, Drake was on the verge of beating a Miami team that wound up going all the way to the Final Four. Even though the Bulldogs’ best player was 1-of-13 on the night, Drake led by 8 points with less than 6 minutes left. Imagine if back-to-back Larry Bird MVC Player of the Year Tucker DeVries had an average game. Drake moves on and the Miami Final Four run never happens. Either way, Drake is back again this year and the proper favorite in a meeting against Washington State.

Drake isn’t some lucky Cinderella team; they’re 4-1 in Quad 1 games. This game is just a few hours from Drake’s campus while Washington State didn’t do much of anything out of its conference, and the Cougars are down one of their best guards. Their point guard, Myles Rice, shoots just 27 percent from three. Drake should be able to do what they could not last year against Miami and move on after the first round.

Read our expert’s March Madness underdog picks for Day 1 of the NCAA Tournament

By signing up you agree to our terms and privacy policy