March Madness Lines & Popular Underdog Bets: Upset Potential

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March Madness Lines & Popular Underdog Bets: Upset Potential

The NCAA Tournament tips off with first-round action on Thursday. As always, upsets are going to be a crucial storyline during the early rounds of March Madness, and sportsbooks are even indicating that some teams are more likely than not to take down a higher seed. 

Finding the underdogs with the best chance to win their first-round games can help in building March Madness brackets or can provide a chance to place early wagers at sportsbooks. Below, we look at a few of the underdogs with the biggest upset potential. 

Popular underdog bets

(10) Drake vs. (7) Washington State

Drake is a slight favorite over Washington State with a relatively low total of 137.5 points as the line for this matchup. While Washington State hasn’t won a first-round tournament game since 2008, Drake hasn’t won a tournament game since 1971. Drake won the Missouri Valley Conference on the back of Tucker DeVries, a 6-foot-7 forward who is averaging 21.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game. Drake took down top-seeded Indiana State in the MVC Tournament championship and has flipped from a short underdog to a favorite. 

According to BetMGM, Drake is receiving significant interest in both the number of bets and the total amount of money. At BetMGM, Drake (-1.5) is the fourth most popular wager in all first-round games by money.

(9) Michigan State vs. (8) Mississippi State

Tom Izzo has led Michigan State to the dance in 26 straight seasons, and he’s 19-5 in first-round matchups. On coaching reputation alone, the Spartans may deserve to be slight favorites over Mississippi State, which lost in the first round in 2022 under new coach Chris Jans and failed to make the tournament last year. However, Mississippi State took down top-seeded Tennessee in the SEC Tournament, and Michigan State has dealt with injuries to key players all season. 

According to DraftKings, this game has piqued the interest of bettors, as it is the most bet game today by the handle. Michigan State on the spread is the most popular wager by handle today as well.

(11) Oregon vs. (6) South Carolina

While they are a lower seed, the Oregon Ducks are slight favorites at some books and short underdogs at others, after winning three games in three days to clinch the Pac-12 championship. Oregon took down Arizona, a No. 2 seed, behind a strong performance from 6-foot-11 senior center N’Faly Dante. Books don’t hold South Carolina in high regard given a lack of tournament experience and some blowout losses to top-tier SEC competition this season. This is by no means a sure upset, but sportsbooks are handicapping it as a closer matchup than the seeds would indicate.  

At DraftKings Sportsbook, the Oregon moneyline is the second-most-bet wager by handle. They are currently on the moneyline.

Most likely upsets based on odds

(11) New Mexico vs. (6) Clemson

Like Oregon and NC State, New Mexico went on a surprising run in its conference tournament to grab an automatic bid. Books are giving those teams credit for the momentum of those wins, and New Mexico is a short favorite against Clemson, which went 11-9 in ACC play and lost in the second round of the conference tournament. As the No. 6 seed in the ACC Tournament, Clemson suffered a 76-55 defeat at the hands of No. 11 Boston College. New Mexico won the Mountain West Tournament as the No. 6 seed. 

(10) Nevada vs. (7) Dayton

Nevada is a slight favorite over Dayton, which lost in the quarterfinals of the A-10 Tournament to Duquesne. Nevada, meanwhile, fell in the Mountain West quarterfinals to Colorado State, so both teams are on equal rest. The game is in Salt Lake City, which could give Nevada a slight edge in terms of fan support. Dayton last appeared in the NCAA Tournament in 2017. Nevada might get the nod from books due to its experienced backcourt of seniors Kenan Blackshear and Jarod Lucas

(9) TCU vs. (8) Utah State

TCU is a relatively big favorite against No. 8 Utah State in a first-round Midwest Region matchup. Books might be looking to capitalize on a lack of confidence in the Mountain West after Utah State won the regular season title in that rising conference. TCU went 9-9 in the tough Big 12 Conference and is playing in March Madness for the third straight year under Jamie Dixon. Star TCU forward Emanuel Miller suffered an ankle injury against Houston in the Big 12 Tournament. 

History of underdogs winning in the first round

YearFirst round upsetsHighest seeded upset