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Friday's best 2019 NCAA tournament first-round bets

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Why isn't Duke a good bet right now? (1:56)

Michael Schwimer explains why it's a bad idea to bet Duke at -175 and details why Virginia Tech has value, while Chris Fallica has confidence in LSU. (1:56)

The American Gaming Association estimates that more than $8.5 billion will be wagered on the NCAA tournament this year. Forty million Americans will combine to fill out 149 million brackets this week, and 18 million adults will bet on the tournament with a bookmaker, the survey found.

Our college basketball experts -- Joe Fortenbaugh, Preston Johnson, Doug Kezirian and Jordan Schultz -- are here to help, giving their best bets for Friday's first-round games.

If you're looking for more analysis, be sure to check out PickCenter, which has projections on every NCAA tournament game.

Note: All odds are via Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, as of March 18.

Regions:
East | West
South | Midwest

East Region

No. 1 Duke Blue Devils (-27.5) vs. No. 16 North Dakota State Bison

Total: 149.5

BPI line: Duke -31.6

Friday at 7:10 p.m. in Columbia, South Carolina

Johnson: I wrote about the lack of defense in the NC Central-North Dakota State matchup and buying the over if it moved down to 131 or better at some point Wednesday. Well, the total was bet down to as low as 130.5 and we cashed without an issue after the 78-74 final. The biggest takeaway for me was that the Bison gave up 15 offensive rebounds. If they couldn't keep the Eagles off of the glass, how are they going to keep Zion Williamson and the Blue Devils away?

Duke has the eighth-best rebounding rate in the country. I don't see many stops happening for the Bison, and their strength is on the offensive end (117th in adjusted offensive efficiency), so they should be able to do enough to get this over the total. My projection is 152.4, so I show a discrepancy as it is.

Pick: Over 149.5

No. 8 VCU Rams vs. No. 9 UCF Knights (-1)

Total: 126.5

BPI line: VCU -1.6

Friday at 9:40 p.m. in Columbia, South Carolina

Johnson: My projection for the game line is exactly pick 'em, with the total slightly higher at 128.4 but nothing extreme enough to warrant a play on the over at the moment. I think the matchup edge here lies in UCF's height and ability to crash the offensive glass against a VCU defense that ranks 200th in defensive rebound rate. UCF scores efficiently down low and draws the most fouls in the country out of the post (over 28 percent of these possessions). VCU's style is aggressive, so foul trouble could ultimately become an issue for the Rams.

Pick: Pass

No. 5 Mississippi State Bulldogs (-7) vs. No. 12 Liberty Flames

Total: 137

BPI line: Mississippi State -7.2

Friday at 7:27 p.m. in San Jose, California

Johnson: Liberty was the third-slowest team in pace offensively this season, and Mississippi State ranked outside the top 200. Both schools also rank in the top 100 in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Bulldogs' biggest weakness is on the defensive glass, where opponents generate a good portion of their points via second chances, but Liberty rarely crashes for offensive rebounds and plays the majority of its minutes with rotations in which its tallest player is 6-foot-8. My projection for the total is 132.2, so everything lines up for a bet on an ugly game with limited scoring. Grab the under.

Play: Under 136.5

No. 4 Virginia Tech Hokies (-10.5) vs. No. 13 St. Louis Billikens