They have been called the Play-In games and the First Four games, but regardless of what you call them, four games Tuesday and Wednesday in Dayton will complete the March Madness field. And in each case, the point spread is very tight as everyone knows it’s a one-and-done situation – win and you get a road trip against higher seed, lose and you crawl home.
Mississippi Valley State vs Western Kentucky
How does a 15-18 team even have a shot at playing in the NCAA tournament?
If you’re Western Kentucky, you simply enter your conference tournament as the No. 7 seed and pull off three successive upsets to win the Sun Belt title to earn your way in. They are one of the hottest against-the-spread teams in the tournament, riding a 13-2 ATS streak in their final 15 games.
The Hilltoppers are favored by 4.5 points against the Delta Devils, winners of the Southwestern Athletic Conference Tournament as the No. 1 seed.
The winner of this matchup will be the No. 16 seed in the South Region and will take on No. 1 Kentucky in second-round NCAA Tournament action.
WKU was a winning proposition during the year in the Sun Belt, going 18-14 ATS overall. MVSU is 20-1 SU in their past 21 games.
Iona vs. BYU
How did mid-major darling Iona go from being a Cinderella hopeful to First Four game fodder?
The Gaels were the top seed in their MAAC Tournament but were beaten by Fairfield in the semifinal, effectively busting Cinderella’s slipper before she even tried it on.
Now Iona needs to beat BYU, semifinal losers in the West Coast Conference, just for a chance to earn a low 14 seed. And they are an underdog after riding a 10-1 streak into their lost to the Stags.
BYU has been a drain on the bankroll for their backers, going 1-5 ATS down the stretch. But Iona has been no friend to bettors when playing the role of underdog. They are just 4-14 SU in 18 games as a dog of 4 or fewer points.
The winner of this matchup will take on No. 3 Marquette in the West NCAA Tournament bracket. [ Matchup Report ]
Vermont vs. Lamar
Lamar may be peaking at the right time, blasting their way through the Southland Conference and favored in the third Play-in game over Vermont.
But the Catamounts have more March Madness cache than the Lamar (losing to Syracuse in the first round two years ago), having made the Round of 64 several times in recent years.
But Lamar does have experience on the big stage, playing Ohio State and Kentucky earlier in the season. They lost each game, but covered the spread.
Vermont upset top-seeded Stony Brook at the America East Tournament last weekend. And they have come a long way since losing five straight December, riding a current 15-1 SU streak in their past 16 games overall.
They will face a Cardinals team that was the No. 3 seed in the Southland Tournament, before smacking No. 2 Stephen F. Austin 55-44 in the semifinals and hammering McNeese State 70-49 in the title game.
The winner of this matchup will be the No. 16 seed in the Midwest Region and will take on No. 1 North Carolina in second-round NCAA Tournament action. [ Matchup Report ]
South Florida vs. California
A pair of disappointing teams from big conferences get a shot at earning a 12 seed Tuesday as South Florida battles Cal. The winner gets a shot at Temple in the Midwest.
Cal blew its chance at a Pac 12 crown by losing to eventual champion Colorado, while SFU gagged against Notre Dame in the Big East. Cal opened as small favorites, but face a team that has been tough as an underdog.
The Bulls rank as one of the nation’s best defensive teams and they are even better away from home. Not surprisingly, the UNDER has been a profitable play when the Bulls are in action (9-1 past 10 games).
They are also a solid 10-4 ATS in their past 14 games as an underdog. Cal meanwhile has lost three of their past four games as a favorite.
The Golden Bears have superior numbers, albeit in a weaker conference, but still disappointed supporters with a 70-59 loss to No. 6-seeded Colorado in the Pac 12 semifinal.
The winner of this matchup will be the No. 12 seed in the Midwest Region and will take on No. 5 Temple in second-round NCAA Tournament action. [ Matchup Report ]