2023 NCAA Tournament: Best Round 1 Parlay Picks & Predictions

Mar 15, 2023 - 10:35 AM

The first two days of the NCAA Tournament are the equivalent of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for sports bettors. Nonstop action pretty much from noon to midnight. Patience and discipline are critical, as betting on basketball is also a game of runs.

But betting on the NCAA Tournament is supposed to be fun, after all. And there’s nothing more exhilarating than striking gold on a tournament parlay.

Before I get into my favorite parlay legs for the first round, I want to first preach the importance of being prudent with your parlays. These wagers are long shots for a reason. Treat them as such. I recommend making these bets smaller than your normal unit size. I also advise betting each of your parlay legs straight because there’s nothing worse than losing your parlay by one leg. By betting each leg separately, you can at least salvage a profit that’ll soothe the heartache of a near miss.

There’s my responsible gambling spiel. Now, let’s get into the parlay I’ll be rolling with during the first round.

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2023 NCAA Tournament First-Round Parlay 

All odds from DraftKings Sportsbook

Leg 1: Missouri-Utah State over 155

How about we start things off with some points! The first variable in this over formula is 3-point shooting. Both Missouri and Utah State shoot 3-pointers at a top-60 clip nationally. The Tigers make 36.1% of their threes (70th in the nation), and the Aggies make 38.5% of such shots (10th in the nation).

The next variable is 3-point defense, and neither of these teams defends the perimeter well. Missouri not only gives up a ton of threes, but they also rank 265th in opponent 3-point percentage, which is especially glaring considering they hail from the SEC, a terrible shooting conference. Utah State does a better job of limiting 3-point looks but still ranks 203rd in 3-point defense.

Both teams are also effective at scoring in the post and getting to the free-throw line. Missouri is also a miserable defensive team across the board, ranking 175th in adjusted efficiency. Utah State is more competent, especially in the post, but they aren’t a shutdown defense by any means.

Points should be aplenty in one of the first games of the 2023 dance.

Leg 2: Houston -12 first half

Houston was a team I was circling in their first-round matchup immediately after they lost to Memphis in the AAC title game. But after seeing the bracket reveal, I like Houston even more. Sure, leading scorer Marcus Sasser might not play with a groin injury. Frankly, I don’t think he should unless he’s 100% healed. But the Cougars probably won’t even need Sasser to cover this first-half spread. That’s how good this matchup with Northern Kentucky is.

The Norse play a 2-3 zone defense that’s exposed to two things: 3-point shots and offensive rebounds. The Cougars admittedly aren’t a great 3-point shooting team. But they should get everything they want off missed shots. Houston ranks fourth in offensive rebounding, and Northern Kentucky ranks 334th in defensive rebounding. And if Houston’s threes are going in, even better.

Houston could lay off the gas in the second half, leaving a potential backdoor cover in play on the full game spread. But they should come out with their air on fire, with or without Sasser. Back the Cougs to pounce out of the gates against an inferior Horizon League team.

Leg 3: Penn State +3

Both of these teams have been two of the best stories in college basketball this year. And I’m always a little nervous going against Buzz Williams and his hard-nosed bunch. But this is not the best matchup for an Aggies team that willingly allows teams to shoot threes.

Texas A&M ranks 362nd in 3-point rate defensively. That strategy worked in the SEC, which ranked dead last in 3-point shooting among all conferences. That helps explain why Texas A&M ranks 82nd in 3-point defense despite giving up a ton of shots from beyond the arc.

Penn State not only shoots threes at the 10th most frequent rate in the country, they also make them 38.5% of the time. That’s good for 11th in the country.

The Nittany Lions also match up well on the defensive end against Texas A&M. The Aggies are a poor shooting team that gets their points thanks to offensive rebounds (sixth nationally) and getting to the free throw line (second in free throw rate). Penn State ranks 45th in defensive rebounding and 39th in free throw rate defensively. To top it off, the Nittany Lions are one of the best teams in the field at taking care of the ball, which matters largely against an Aggies team that ranks 40th in turnover generation.

If you’ve been following me since championship week, you know I love this Penn State team. And this matchup works out great for them in all of the key areas.

Leg 4: Vermont +11

The Catamounts could be a tricky 15-seed for the Big East champion Marquette Golden Eagles. The Catamounts run a unique small-ball lineup, with no regular taller than 6-foot-7. Vermont shoots the lights out, ranking 21st in effective field goal percentage. They should be able to keep up with the high-flying Golden Eagles, who are vulnerable from 3-point range.

Most importantly, Vermont takes good care of the basketball, ranking 9th in turnover percentage. That’s vital against a Marquette defense that’s predicated on generating miscues. Vermont also plays at a sluggish pace, which is a plus for any big underdog.

I’m not saying Vermont is pulling off the outright upset. But they could keep this game within single digits.

Leg 5: Drake +2

Last but certainly not least, the Drake Bulldogs will be live underdogs against the Miami Hurricanes in this 5-12 matchup. The Bulldogs are the oldest team in college basketball and feature several players with tournament experience. Perhaps more interesting is the Bulldogs have played as the 15th-best team in the nation over their last 10 games, per Bart Torvik.

Drake features a top 75 offense and defense, ranks inside the top 55 in offensive and defensive effective field goal percentage, cleans up the defensive glass (third in defensive rebounding), and avoids putting opponents on the free throw line.

Miami is a wonderfully fun team to watch, and Isaiah Wong, Jordan Miller, and Nijel Pack are a capable trio. But the Canes are a bit too one-dimensional. They rank 11th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 136th in defensive efficiency. They’re vulnerable from deep and struggle to defend the interior. What’s worse is they could be without one of their top big men, Norchad Omier, after he hurt his ankle in the ACC Tournament. For a team that lacks a ton of front-court depth, this could be a devastating loss.

If you want to juice up this parlay a bit more and throw Drake in on the moneyline, I fully endorse that too.

Parlay Odds: +2335

Round 1 Betting Picks & Predictions





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