Best Bets for Thursday’s Round of 64 NCAA Tournament Games

It's that time of year; when you search the channel guide for truTV ... when you vehemently defend the tournament chances of a small school you've only just heard of ... when you park yourself in front of a TV for 12 hours to catch 16 games in a single day. Sure, it's madness, but that's March for you.

The men's NCAA Tournament tips off Thursday afternoon and 32 teams are in action across the country. SI Betting broke down two of those matchups below, including the first game of the day and a prime-time matchup that's sure to be a shootout.

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(Odds via FanDuel.)

No. 9 Michigan State Spartans vs. No. 8 Mississippi State Bulldogs

Game Info: 12:15 p.m. ET | CBS
Spread: Michigan State -1.5 (-105) | Mississippi State +1.5 (-115)
Moneyline: MSU (-113) | MSST (-106)
Total: 130.5 — Over (-110) | Under (-100)

Senior guard Tyson Walker is Michigan State's leading scorer.

Junfu Han/USA TODAY Sports

Neither the Spartans nor Bulldogs are particularly hot heading into the Big Dance. Michigan State has lost five out of seven and was bounced by Purdue in the Big Ten quarterfinals. Mississippi State also only has two wins over its last seven games and lost in the SEC quarterfinals to Auburn. In the quarterfinals, though, the Bulldogs blew out Tennessee, 73–56, a dominant win that helped them earn an at-large spot in the field of 68.

Tom Izzo is leading the Spartans (19–14) into their 26th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, the third-longest streak in college hoops history. Michigan State's metrics allowed the selection committee to look past its middling record. The seasoned Spartans rank No. 18 in KenPom and No. 24 in the NET rankings despite a 3–9 record against Quad 1 teams. Seniors Tyson Walker (18.2 ppg), Malik Hall (12.6 ppg) and A.J. Hoggard (11 ppg) are the team's top scorers, and while MSU is solid on offense, Izzo's squad is a defensive juggernaut. The Spartans allow just 65.9 points per game, one of the lowest marks in DI.

Mississippi State is making its second straight March Madness trip after a First Four loss a season ago. The Bulldogs (21–13) also assembled a strong resume despite a losing record in conference play. They come in at No. 30 in KenPom and No. 31 in NET. Freshman Josh Hubbard (17.1 ppg) leads the team in scoring and he and senior Tolu Smith (15.2 ppg) are the only two Mississippi State players who average double digits. Hubbard is one of 21 players in the country who's made at least 100 three-pointers, though the Bulldogs are a poor shooting team overall as they're under 33% from deep and worse than 68% at the free throw line. Mississippi State is also a defense-first team, allowing only 69.1 points per game.

It's not often Michigan State gets sent home early. The Spartans went to the Sweet 16 a season ago, though they did fall in the Round of 32 in 2022 and First Four in 2021. More often than not, Izzo's teams are a good bet to be playing in the second week of the tournament. The same cannot be said for the Bulldogs, who have not won a game in their last three appearances.

Michigan State is 18–8 straight up as a favorite this year and Mississippi State is 3–7 as an underdog. Don't mess around with the points in what's bound to be a tight, defensive battle — just take the Spartans to win.

Bet: Michigan State Moneyline (-113)

No. 14 Oakland Golden Grizzlies vs. No. 4 Kentucky Wildcats

Game Info: 7:10 p.m. ET | CBS
Spread: Oakland State +13.5 (-104) | Kentucky -13.5 (-118)
Moneyline: OAK (+720) | UK (-1200)
Total: 162.5 — Over (-1115) | Under (-105)

Kentucky's Antonio Reeves averages 20 points per game.

Randy Sartin/USA TODAY Sports

The Golden Grizzlies are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011 after a dominant season. Trey Townsend scored a season-high 38 points in an 83–76 win over Milwaukee in the Horizon League title game to put an end to that postseason drought. Opposite Oakland are the Wildcats, a fixture in March Madness, though it's been several years since a John Calipari team made a deep run. Kentucky was one-and-done in the SEC tournament after a 97–87 loss to Texas A&M in the quarterfinals, though the game before the Wildcats upset Tennessee 85–81 in Knoxville.

Out of conference play, the Golden Grizzlies played a tough schedule that included four tournament teams: Illinois, Drake, Michigan State and Dayton. Though Oakland didn't pull off any upsets in those matchups, this is an offense that can get hot in a hurry. Townsend (16.9 ppg) leads the way on offense and he gets to the free throw line often. The Golden Grizzlies also have two knockdown shooters: Jack Gohlke (12.2 ppg) is second nationally with 121 made threes and Blake Lampman (13.2 ppg) has hit 83 threes on the year. Oakland cracked 100 points twice this season. Just like with Kentucky, defense is not a strong suit.

The Wildcats are better than just about any team in the country at putting the ball in the basket. They're No. 2 in scoring average (89.4 ppg), first in three-point percentage (41.1%) and fifth in field-goal percentage (49.7%). Kentucky has three capable scorers to call upon: Antonio Reeves (20 ppg), Rob Dillingham (15.4 ppg) and Reed Sheppard (12.8 ppg). Reeves and Dillingham both shoot 44% from beyond the arc and Sheppard connects on better than 52% of his three-point attempts. The Wildcats have six games with 100 or more points this season, but they allow their opponents to keep up with a defense that allows almost 80 points per game.

Unsurprisingly, overs are 23–9 in Kentucky games this season. Only three teams in DI have seen the over hit at a higher rate. Interestingly, overs are 21–13 in Golden Grizzlies games and with Townsend and Gohlke, they have scorers capable of taking advantage of the Wildcats' lackluster defense.

Oakland has only played one game all season with a total this high and the under hit, but over/unders sets in the 160s and even 170s are routine for Kentucky. In fact, more than 200 points were scored in two of their last six games. With the pace the Wildcats like to play at and the three-point shooters on both rosters, this game is bound to hit the over.

Bet: Over 162.5 (-115)

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