“Bear Bets” are real wagers that Chris “The Bear” Fallica is actually making.
The first round of the NCAA Men’s Tournament is one of the most thrilling times of the tournament. Every team is excited to prove they’re supposed to be there, and every bettor is ready to win some cash.
So I’ve done some legwork for my betting buddies who are ready to throw some bucks on college ball.
While I do have several favorites advancing out of this round, I am giving a couple of underdogs a look. Let’s dive into it, have fun and make some money!
(1) Houston -19 vs (16) Northern Kentucky
With or without Marcus Sasser, this should be an easy, ugly win for the Cougars. For comparison’s sake, Northern Kentucky lost by 15 to FAU and 21 to Washington State. The Norse possess one of the worst 2-pt FG% in the country, and that means a lot of rebounds and transition baskets for the Cougars. Oh, Northern Kentucky also allows a ton of offensive rebounds — as if Houston needs the help here.
After losing to Memphis Sunday, this should be an opportunity for the Cougars to get right in a big way.
PICK: Houston (-19 at FOX Bet) to win by more than 19 points
(4) Tennessee -11 vs (13) Louisiana
I’m not bullish on the Vols making a long run, but there’s a difference between that and being able to put the defensive clamps on a team from the Sun Belt. The problem is that even if the whistle is tight, the Ragin’ Cajuns do not shoot free throws well and may be settling for a point when they get to the line. Even without Zakai Zeigler, the Vols should pull away late from Jordan Brown and crew.
The best team ULL played this year was Texas and that was in a non-competitive game that the Longhorns won by 28 in Austin. Drake also beat the Cajuns by 12.
PICK: Tennessee (-11 at FOX Bet) to win by more than 11 points
(10) Boise State +1.5 vs (7) Northwestern
I’m well aware that Boise State has not won a tournament game and the Mountain West has been dreadful in the Big Dance, but I like the matchup for the Broncos here.
Northwestern is one of the worst shooting teams in the country and Boise plays great defense.
Yes, Northwestern is a good defensive team in its own right, and Boo Buie might be the best player on the floor, but I like the supporting cast for Marcus Shaver on Boise better and think the Broncos have more answers on offense.
PICK: Boise State (+1.5 at FOX Bet) to lose by fewer than 1.5 points (or win outright)
I’m taking a leap of faith that the Canes will have Norchad Omier in the lineup. The game tips at 7:25 Friday night, so that means he will have had about the max rehab time possible. Even if he can’t go, the Canes guards should have success against Drake, a team whose best win this year was over Mississippi State.
Maybe the Miami defense will struggle, and I’m reading this wrong. But I will go with the contrarian five-seed here.
PICK: Miami (-2 at FOX Bet) to win by more than 2 points
(14) Montana State +8.5, +330 ML vs (3) Kansas State
Going out on a bit of a limb here with an upset possibility that hasn’t been mentioned much. The Bobcats lost in the first round last year to a Big 12 opponent but are a better defensive team this year and get to the free throw line often. K-State overachieved off a losing season a year ago and is the weakest of the three seeds. Don’t be surprised if this is close.
PICK: Montana State (+8.5 at FOX Bet) to lose by fewer than 8.5 points (or win outright)
PICK: Montana State (+330 moneyline at FOX Bet) to win outright
(5) San Diego State -5 vs (12) Charleston
I don’t like the matchup here at all for Charleston. San Diego State should slow this pace down and since Charleston shoots a lot of threes — and not at a high percentage (33%) — what happens when they have fewer possessions and fewer attempts? The Aztecs have a top-10 3-point defense, and I like them here against the likely trendiest 12 seed upset pick.
PICK: San Diego State (-5 at FOX Bet) to win by more than 5 points
(12) Oral Roberts +6, +240 ML vs (5) Duke
I planned on being in a position to bet against Oral Roberts in the first round as I expected them to be a trendy pick. However, since the Golden Eagles have to face a red-hot Blue Devils team — one that a lot of people have advancing to the Final Four — I have reassessed my thinking.
This is an experienced Oral Roberts team, with quite a few contributors from the 2021 Sweet 16 squad. Duke turns the ball over often, doesn’t shoot the three well and is going to have to work on defense to keep Oral Roberts from getting good looks.
The Blue Devils should absolutely be on upset alert here.
PICK: Oral Roberts (+6 at FOX Bet) to lose by fewer than 6 points (or win outright)
PICK: Oral Roberts (+240 moneyline at FOX Bet) to win outright
(9) Illinois +2 vs (8) Arkansas
When you consider how Illinois snagged wins over UCLA and Texas — a pair of two seeds — you’re left wondering how the Illini are stuck on the 8-9 line. But then you look at how poorly they shoot the three and free throws.
However, the Illini did have five losses that were by five points or fewer.
Arkansas has predictably played like a young team with injuries throughout the year. At times the Razorbacks look great, at other times they are blowing leads and can’t buy a basket. Arkansas is going to be a problem next year in the SEC, but right now I think Illinois is a bit more of a known commodity with Terrence Shannon, Matthew Mayer and the allure of what we know the Illini can look like vs elite competition.
PICK: Illinois (+2 at FOX Bet) to lose by fewer than 2 points (or win outright)
(13) Kent State +4, +160 ML vs (4) Indiana
I know this isn’t the best number, but I think Kent State is the right side anyway. The Golden Flashes have punched above their level in the non–conference, throwing big scares at Houston and Gonzaga earlier this year. The senior duo of Sincere Carry and Malique Jacobs certainly isn’t going to have any fear here. Obviously, former Indiana assistant Rob Senderhoff would love to knock the Hoosiers off, so there has to be a ton of additional juice there.
Maybe Trayce Jackson-Davis just takes over and carries IU to a win, but I’m not so sure.
PICK: Kent State (+4 at FOX Bet) to lose by fewer than 4 points (or win outright)
PICK: Kent State (+160 moneyline at FOX Bet) to win outright
Chris “The Bear” Fallica has covered sports for nearly three decades. While college football has been his focus, he also enjoys the NFL, Soccer, Golf, Tennis, MLB, NHL and Horse Racing, with an “occasional” wager on such events. Chris recently won the inaugural Circa Football Invitational and finished in the Top 10 of the Golden Nugget Football Contest. He’s a multiple-time qualifier for the NHC Handicapping Championship. Remember, “The less you bet, the more you lose when you win!” Follow him on Twitter @chrisfallica.
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