Top Picks for Today’s NCAAB Tournament First Four Games: Back the Mississippi State Bulldogs vs. Pitt

Dashawn Davis #10 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs drives down the court against the Florida Gators in the first half during the second round of the 2023 SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament. Carly Mackler/Getty Images/AFP

It’s finally here. The NCAA Tournament bracket is set, and the chaos can now commence. March is a second Christmas for sports bettors, and it’s time to see what Santa brought us.  

Before the true craziness can begin, we have to look at the First Four. Eight teams will face off in four games to wrap up the Field of 64.  

Just because these are the four worst at-large and automatic qualifiers in the NCAA Tournament doesn’t mean that these teams aren’t capable of winning big games. In the past, teams like UCLA, VCU, and Tennessee have gone on runes. Last year, Notre Dame upset Alabama to reach the Round of 32.  

So, who can be the silver linings from this year’s group? We’ll start with two great games on Tuesday. Here are previews and NCAAB picks for Tuesday’s First Four matchups.  

Southeast Missouri State Redhawks vs. Texas A&M Corpus Christi Islanders

Tuesday, March 14, 2023 – 06:40 PM EDT at UD Arena

This game will be surprisingly fun. Both teams are in the top 50 scoring in D1, and they love to play fast. The Islanders have three players scoring 13+ points per game, and any individual player can step up when the moment matters most.  

Southeast Missouri State’s offense runs through Phillip Russell, an undersized guard averaging 18 points and 5 assists per game. If he shines, don’t be surprised if he’s in the transfer portal looking for a bigger school to give him a shot.  

Having one superstar who can take over a game is valuable, but it matters more to have depth in these kinds of games. Between injuries, foul trouble, and off nights, you can’t rely on one player to carry you to victory.  

Picks and Predictions 

The winner of this game gets the pleasure of playing Alabama, the best team in college basketball. Still, it means a lot to reach the Field of 64, so both teams will give it their all in this one.  

Southeast Missouri State was not seen as the best team in their conference, but they caught the hot hand late in the year. On the other side, Texas A&M-CC was consistent all year and won the conference tournament as the favorite.  

On paper, the Islanders are the better team. They are better at rebounding, and they foul less often. While they are undersized, so is Southeast Missouri State. Neither team has a distinct advantage that will matter in this particular matchup, so give me the team that has more talent and a slightly better offense. That’s Texas A&M-CC.  

NCAAB Pick: Texas A&M-CC -3.5 (-110) at BetMGM

Pittsburgh Panthers vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs 

Tuesday, March 14, 2023 – 09:10 PM EDT at UD Arena 

This matchup should be fun as well. The Bulldogs are coming off of a grueling SEC schedule that forced them to need a late win to reach the NCAA Tournament. They got that win in overtime against Florida before losing to Alabama in the next round.  

The Bulldogs play with a focus on defense. They want as few possessions as possible, which is the opposite of how Pittsburgh likes to play. This will be a battle of tempos, and it’s one I think Mississippi State can win.  

Defense travels in tournaments more than offense. You can rely on principles to get you through tough games more than you can rely on points. While Tolu Smith is the only consistent scorer for Mississippi State, I think he can perform well against this Pitt squad.  

Neither team looked good in the last games of their conference tournaments. The Bulldogs’ offense was invisible, and Pitt’s defense got run over by the Blue Devils. Still, at least Mississippi State limited Alabama’s ability to score. I see that mattering in this game.  

Picks and Predictions 

I like Mississippi State. They had a slow end to the year, but the defense is always ready to shine. Tolu Smith can take over at times, and he will need to do so. If they get him involved in the screen game, he will cook defenders consistently.  

Expect the Bulldogs to slow this game down. Pitt will struggle with the pace, and they are not good enough to hit contested shots consistently. I like the Bulldogs to win and cover.  

NCAAB Pick: Mississippi State -2.5 (-110) at BetMGM