The long wait is over. The Madness is finally here. Today we have the First Four play-in games to get down on. We also have 6 NBA games and 10 NHL games on the docket. For an updated breakdown of Thursday's betting action, be sure to tune in to the VSiN Market Insights Podcast with Josh Appelbaum. It will be posted at 12:30 p.m. ET. I'll also be joining The Lombardi Line with Michael Lombardi and Patrick Meagher at 1:30 p.m. ET to offer a market update.
In the meantime, let's discuss where the money is flowing for tonight's four March Madness play-in games...
5:10 p.m. ET: Texas Southern vs Mount St. Mary's
This East Region matchup features a pair of 16-seeds vying for the honor to advance and play 1-seed Michigan. Texas Southern (16-8) won the SWAC championship, upsetting Prairie View 80-61 in the title game as a 3-point dog. On the flip side, Mount St. Mary's (12-10) won the NEC, shocking Bryant 73-68 in the championship game and winning outright as 6.5-point dogs. This line opened with Texas Southern listed as a 2-point favorite. The public is all over Texas Southern due to their superior won-loss record. But wiseguys have steamed Mount St. Mary's, flipping the Mountaineers from + 2 to -1. This sharp reverse line movement signals "dog-to-favorite" smart money on Mount St. Mary's. Ken Pom has Mount St. Mary's winning by one point. He also has the Mountaineers ranked slightly higher (219 vs 229).
6:27 p.m. ET: Drake vs Wichita State
This West Region showdown features a pair of 11-seeds looking to advance and face 6-seed USC in the Round of 64. Drake (25-4) reached the MVC championship game but fell to Loyola Chicago 75-65, failing to cover as 8.5-point dogs. Meanwhile, Wichita State (16-5) was the 1-seed in the AAC tournament but suffered an early semifinal exit, falling to Cincinnati 60-59 and losing straight up as 4-point favorites. This line opened with Wichita State listed as a 2.5-point favorite. The public is backing the Shockers, yet we've seen a significant sharp move toward Drake, pushing the Bulldogs from + 2 to -2. Instead of laying the points, bettors backing Drake might prefer a moneyline play at this point (-130). One reason for this big line move to Drake is the fact that the Bulldogs' best player ShanQuan Hemphill (14.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG) is making his return from a broken foot. Ken Pom has Drake winning by two points. He also has Drake ranked higher (53 vs 74). Respected money has also favored the over in this one, driving the total up from 139.5 to 141.
8:40 p.m. ET: Norfolk State vs Appalachian State
This West Region grudge match features a pair of 16-seeds looking to face Gonzaga in the next round. Norfolk State (17-11) is riding a 7-game win streak and just beat Morgan State 71-63 to capture the MEAC title, covering as 2.5-point favorites. Now they face App State (17-11), who has four straight and is coming off an upset over Georgia State 80-73 in the Sun Belt championship game, winning outright as 7-point dogs. This line opened with App State listed as a consensus 3-point favorite (some shops opened closer to App State -1.5). We've seen this line nudge up to App State -3.5, signaling some support in their favor. The interesting thing here is that Kem Pom has Norfolk State winning by one point. He also has Norfolk State ranked slightly higher (200 vs 208). If you trust Ken Pom's advanced analytics, Norfolk State + 3.5 provides an actionable edge in addition to being a dog with an inflated line. Pros also seem to expect a lower scoring game. We've seen the under get hit, dropping the total from 135.5 to 133.5.
9:57 p.m. ET: UCLA vs Michigan State
This East Region matchup features a pair of 11-seeds looking to face 6-seed BYU in the Round of 64. UCLA (17-9) finished their season on a down note, dropping their last four games and falling to Oregon State 83-79 in the Pac-12 quarterfinals, losing straight up as 5.5-point favorites. Meanwhile, Michigan State (15-12) also struggled down the stretch, going 2-3 in their last five games including a 68-57 loss to Maryland in the second round of the Big Ten tournament, failing to cover as 1.5-point dogs. Michigan State opened at a pick'em or a 1-point favorite depending on the book. The public sees Tom Izzo and is biased toward Sparty as they've watched Michigan State make countless deep NCAA Tournament runs in the past. As a result, it's a pretty easy decision for recreational bettors to back Sparty and fade a UCLA team who has lost four straight. This lopsided support has pushed Michigan State up to -2. At this point, UCLA provides heightened value as an inflated contrarian dog in a heavily bet late game. UCLA also offers a notable Ken Pom edge, as he projects UCLA to win this game by one point. He also has UCLA ranked as the better team (44 vs 56). We've also seen some under money show up, dropping the total from 136.5 to 135.