The 2021 March Madness is finally here, so I’ve prepared the best betting pick for the First Four showdown at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington where the Appalachian State Mountaineers meet the Norfolk State Spartans for the first time ever.
The Mountaineers are listed as 3-point favorites on DraftKings Sportsbook. The Spartans are +140 moneyline underdogs, while the totals sit at 133.5 points.
The Mountaineers aim for their fifth consecutive win
The Appalachian State Mountaineers finished the regular season with a 7-8 record in the Sun Belt Conference after suffering a 65-57 defeat at Georgia Southern in their final game. However, the Mountaineers put on a strong performance in the championship tournament and won four straight contests to lift the Sun Belt trophy and clinch their place in the Big Dance.
During their tremendous run, the Mountaineers won a couple of games in overtime while outlasting Georgia State 80-73 in the Sun Belt championship game. Senior guard Michael Almonacy dropped 32 points on the Panthers, and he’s one of the key players in App State’s dynamic backcourt.
The Mountaineers enter the Big Dance as No. 210 in the NCAA NET Rankings and No. 209 in the KenPom rankings. They score 99.4 points per 100 possessions (227th in the nation) on 41.5% shooting from the field (295th) and surrender 103.7 points per 100 possessions (205th) on 42.1% shooting from the field (109th).
The Spartans search for their eighth straight victory
The Norfolk State Spartans went 16-7 overall and 8-4 in the conference play to finish atop of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference North Division. They clinched the March Madness ticket by beating the Morgan State Bears 71-63 in the championship tournament final.
The Spartans completely shut down the Bears, allowing them to make just 38.6% of their field goals and 17.6% of their 3-pointers. Junior guard Joe Bryant Jr. accounted for 17 points, four rebounds, and three steals, while sophomore guard DeVante Carter added 12 points and five assists. These two guys are leading the way for Norfolk State, combining for 27.1 points a night.
Norfolk State is No. 170 in the NCAA NET Rankings and No. 200 in the KenPom rankings. The Spartans are tallying 100.6 points per 100 possessions (204th) on 43.6% shooting from the field (206th). On the other side of the ball, they are yielding 104.4 points per 100 possessions (219th) on a 40.4 FG% (29th).
- 5-1 ATS in the last six games overall
- 6-1 ATS in the last seven games played in March
- 4-7 ATS in the last 11 outings as underdogs
Both App State and Norfolk State lean heavily on a stout defense, so I’m looking for a close contest that will be decided by a few possessions down the stretch. Also, both teams lack height, so I’m going with the Mountaineers to cover, as their backcourt is loaded with four guys who all average points in double figures.
Remember that these two schools have never met before, so there will be a lot of tactical surprises on both sides of the court. In a matchup like this one, even a 3-point spread could be too much for the eventual winner, but I’m hoping the Mountaineers will find a way to score down the stretch. App State is 78th in the country in free throw percentage (73.7%), while Norfolk State is 186th (70.6%).
Pick: Take Appalachian State -3.0 at -110
Neither side prefers to push the tempo, and the Mountaineers average only 65.7 possessions per 40 minutes (310th in the nation). On the other side, the Spartans record 67.7 (221st), so I’m backing the under.
Five of Norfolk State’s last six games went in the under. Also, the under has hit in four of the Mountaineers’ last five showings as favorites.
Pick: Go under 133.5 points at -110