21 Mar

NCAA bracket expert picks against the spread, odds in Thursday’s Round 1 games

March Madness has its a big day Thursday as the 2024 NCAA Tournament kicks into high gear with first-round action taking place across the nation beginning at 12:15 p.m. ET. Over a 48-hour span, the field will shrink from 64 teams to 32 with a sun-up to sun-down schedule that will not just consume the sport but the world in general.

No doubt your brackets have been filled out by now — or you’re probably putting the final touches on them — but there are other picks that can be made for the first-round games. Getting some extra skin in the game can certainly put you in the tournament spirit.

As such, our CBS Sports experts are here to help by providing insight into Thursday’s first-round games with picks straight up and against the spread. Our expert brackets may offer some help, too, especially if you’re considering seed-line upsets.

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The NCAA Tournament is all about surviving and advancing, but for those plunking down on their coach or pulling up to their desk to consume as much March Madness content as possible — especially over the next four days — which teams cover their spreads will be quite important as well. The CBS Sports college basketball experts have been covering the sport for years and certainly all season since November, and they are not shy with their picks for these games.

Be sure to stick with CBS Sports for the rest of the month as NCAA Tournament coverage continues through the end of the Final Four. Let’s take a look at our expert picks as first round games get underway Thursday.

Odds via SportsLine concensus | All times Eastern

2024 NCAA Tournament picks
(3) Creighton vs. (14) Akron
Thursday, 1:30 p.m. | TNT, March Madness Live: The balance of Creighton is too tempting to fade even with a big line here. It is one of only eight teams in this year’s field entering the tournament with a top 25 offense and defense in adjusted efficiency ratings. The matchup — against an Akron team that would not be in the field if not for a Kent State slip-up in the conference title game — sets up nicely. Ryan Kalkbrenner, Baylor Schierman and the length and size of this Bluejays roster should be enough to mow down the Zips in convincing fashion. Pick: Creighton -13 — Kyle Boone

(6) South Carolina vs. (11) Oregon
Thursday, 4 p.m. | TNT, March Madness Live: Dana Altman does not often have a talent advantage, but his Ducks have routinely become a difficult out in tournament play. Oregon can ride the momentum of a Pac-12 Tournament title all the way to a win in the first round. Meechie Johnson leads a South Carolina team that has better wins on the whole than what Oregon can boast, but I don’t see the Gamecocks having an answer inside for N’Faly Dante. South Carolina will likely have to shoot over Oregon’s defense to win because of the Ducks’ size, and as a 33.5% three-point shooting team, I’m not ready to rely on that for a first-round prediction. Pick: Oregon +1.5 — Chip Patterson

(7) Texas vs. (10) Colorado State
Thursday, 6:50 p.m. | TNT, March Madness Live: A team that played in the First Four makes a run virtually every season. Colorado State could be the school to do it this year after obliterating Virginia on Tuesday to reach the Round of 64. The Rams have an elite, veteran guard in Isaiah Stevens and are entering with ample confidence to play a middling Texas team. The Longhorns are entering off an eight-day layoff and haven’t won a game against an NCAA Tournament team since Feb. 27. Pick: Colorado State +2.5 — David Cobb

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(5) Gonzaga vs. (12) McNeese
Thursday, 7:25 p.m. | TBS, March Madness Live: McNeese is one of only four teams in this year’s field to win 30 or more games. The Cowboys dominated the Southland and have won 25 of their last 26 games entering the NCAA Tournament. They draw a good matchup against a Gonzaga team that isn’t quite on par with recent Mark Few-coached quads. McNeese has the athleticism and offensive firepower to at least keep this within the number. Pick: McNeese +6.5 — Kyle Boone

(4) Kansas vs. (13) Samford
Thursday, 9:55 p.m. | TBS, March Madness Live: With Kansas star wing Kevin McCullar Jr. out due to injury, a tough matchup for Kansas is going to be even tougher. The Jayhawks are sorely lacking depth and will be playing at altitude against a Samford team that ranks No. 3 nationally in bench usage. The Bulldogs get 44.8% of their minutes from players outside the starting five and press on virtually every possession. Samford may be able to wear the Jayhawks down in the second half. Pick: Samford +7 — David Cobb

(8) Mississippi State vs. (9) Michigan State
Thursday, 12:15 p.m. | CBS, March Madness Live: Chris Jans has done an excellent job getting Mississippi State into consecutive NCAA Tournaments, but there’s a notable coaching edge with Tom Izzo given the kind of game we’re expecting in the early tip of the afternoon session in Charlotte. Both teams are rock solid defensively, and it’s going to produce a bit of a rock fight — one where the Spartans are going to have more options in terms of offensive playmakers for those tense tournament possessions in the final minutes. Michigan State has that with Tyson Walker and AJ Hoggard, so as long as they can keep Tolu Smith off the glass, Michigan State advances to the weekend. Pick: Michigan State -1 — Chip Patterson

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