The invitations have been sent, the stage is set, and the 2024 NCAA Tournament teams are headed to their perspective regions to get ready for what we call"The Big Dance." Although the Round of 64 does not tip off until Thursday, fans will get to enjoy some pre-tournament action on Tuesday and Wednesday nights in the First Four round. Eight teams will be looking to grab four remaining spots in the Round of 64, which would put them one step closer to a national championship. So, while Thursday is right around the corner, let’s dive in and take a closer look at these First Four games.

Best March Madness First Four Round Upset Predictions and Bets Today

Wagner vs. Howard Prediction and Pick

Wagner and Howard will open up the Big Dance with the first of four games in the 2024 NCAA Tournament’s First Four play-in round. Both teams fought their way through their conference tournaments to secure their NCAA spots, and they will command center stage when win-or-go-home play begins on Tuesday night. Each school played in some noteworthy non-conference games this season against teams such as Providence, Seton Hall, Rutgers, and James Madison, but neither of them won any of those higher-profile matchups. In fact, they weren’t even competitive in those games.

Of the two, Howard fared much better in non-conference play by keeping it close against Georgia Tech and going to overtime against Cincinnati – a team I was very high on prior to the season. Howard plays in the stronger conference, has more consistent scorers in guards Bryce Harris and Marcus Dockery, and has the advantage in the rebounding category. Give me Howard on the moneyline to kick off the 2024 NCAA Tournament.

The Pick: Howard ML (-170)

Colorado State vs. Virginia Prediction and Pick

The Mountain West Conference was finally rewarded this season by having six of its teams selected for the NCAA Tournament. While the conference got the respect it deserved, it was also a bit of a snub for the selection committee to put two Mountain West teams in the First Four play-in round. In addition, conference tournament champion New Mexico was only awarded a No. 11 seed.

However, we’re fine with the committee making mistakes like these, since we can reap the benefits – which we’re going to do in this First Four matchup between Colorado State and Virginia. Yes, Virginia is a bigger-name draw for this matchup, and the Cavaliers’ defense is a true test for many opponents, because UVA slows down the pace and defends well. Of course, that style of play didn’t work out well for the Cavaliers this season because their offense disappeared in a lot of games, and losses resulted from a complete inability to score.

Scoring is one thing that Colorado State doesn’t struggle with, and the Rams, who average 75.1 points per game, will test this Virginia defense on Tuesday night. Many people will be inclined to pick Virginia to win this game strictly because the Cavaliers play in a high-profile conference, but do not sleep on this Colorado State team, which beat Creighton by 21 points earlier this season on the road.

The Rams’ Isaiah Stevens is a matchup nightmare for Virginia, and Joel Scott and Patrick Cartier will control the paint for Colorado State. I like two plays in this matchup here, Colorado State on the moneyline and an alternate total in this game, because I think it can get into the 130s or low 140s.

The Pick: Colorado State ML (-150) and Alternate over 125.5 points (+140)

Grambling State vs. Montana State Prediction and Pick

Apart from Grambling’s first-round game in the SWAC Tournament, both the Tigers and Montana State cruised through their conference tournaments to secure their spots in the Big Dance. Grambling State did it with defense, while Montana State did it on the strength of a red-hot offense that averaged 83.3 points per game during the Big Sky Tournament. This shapes up as a game of offense vs. defense on Wednesday – the second night of the First Four play-in round.

While Montana State’s offense has been on fire of late, it has disappeared at times during this season. And while the statistical averages might not indicate that Grambling State plays great defense, that’s mostly because the team was exposed against a group of superior non-conference opponents that included Iowa State, Dayton, Drake, Washington State, and Florida, Make no mistake about it, however, because this Grambling State defense is for real and is experienced.

Grambling senior guard Tra’Michael Moton, who recorded double-digit point totals in nearly every SWAC game this season, is also a lockdown defender that will cause nightmares for Montana State’s backcourt. The Tigers also have the size advantage in this matchup with senior Jonathan Aku and 6-foot-7 guard Jourdan Smith able to do a lot of their team’s rim protection.

The team that wins this game will face Purdue in the Round of 64, so its tournament run will likely end there. It is highly unlikely that Purdue, which lost to Fairleigh Dickinson a year ago, would fall to a No. 16 seed in back-to-back seasons. In any case, the Tigers’ defense can cause headaches for opponents, and that won’t allow Purdue to feel particularly safe. Give me Grambling State on the moneyline as the biggest underdog to win one of these First Four games.

The Pick: Grambling State ML (+150)

Colorado vs. Boise State Prediction and Pick

As mentioned here earlier, the Mountain West Conference got plenty of respect from the NCAA selection committee this year, but it also got the short end of the stick in terms of actual seeding. Putting two Mountain West teams into the First Four play-in round was quite disrespectful, because the committee is essentially telling this conference that it still must prove its worth despite having been loaded with talent this season. Indeed, I would have liked to see another Mountain West team, UNLV, qualify for the First Four. I thought the Rebels were snubbed this year -- but I’ll save that argument for a different day.

I have been hyping the Mountain West Conference for much of this article, but I am going to go against that conference with this pick. The fact is that I just love Colorado in this matchup.

In the same way that Colorado State and Boise State had to feel slighted by being placed in the First Four, I think it was also an insult to Colorado, and the Buffaloes are going to show why they didn’t need a play-in game on Wednesday night. Colorado finished third in the Pac-12, which was competitive this season. Buffs guard KJ Simpson is so much fun to watch -- a lethal scorer who also locks opponents down defensively because he plays both sides of the ball well.

The Mountain West Conference will make some noise at this year’s NCAA Tournament, but they won’t do it on Wednesday night because Tristan da Silva, Cody Williams, Simpson, and the rest of this Colorado team will lock down Boise State defensively and capitalize at the other end of the court in winning this game.

The Pick: Colorado ML (-150)

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