On Thursday, we officially begin our descent into Madness…
The crescendo of the college basketball season is upon us as the opening round of the NCAA Tournament tips off at 12:15 pm ET on Thursday. As usual, we’ve got you covered with a main slate breakdown, offering top and value plays for the early action.
These contests feature the highest totals of the opening round, which should yield some of the best fantasy performances in the round of 64.
Be sure to check out some of our features, like our Lineup Optimizer allows you to create 300 lineups in seconds. You can also create an abundance of lineup-building rules to suit your playing style for the slates you’re playing.
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Now, let’s get into the slate!
March Madness CBB Guard Picks
Top Play: D’Moi Hodge ($7,700)
Defense will be an afterthought when the Utah State Aggies take on the Missouri Tigers in the first round. Both squads rate as top offensive teams, and D’Moi Hodge is part of the three-headed monster that controls the Tigers’ tempo.
The senior ball-handler ranks second on the team in scoring but went berserk in the SEC Conference tournament. Hodge eclipsed 20 points in three of his last four outings, helping Mizzou get to the tourney final. His three-point shooting has set him apart late in the season, with Hodge draining 44.2% of his shots from distance since February 7. As such, he’s managed the best three-point shooting percentage of his career since joining the Tigers in 2020.
Utah State has struggled to defend from beyond the arc all season. The Aggies rank 211th in the nation with a 34.3% opponent three-point percentage, giving up 20.5 points per game. Those issues will be exacerbated by a Missouri team that attempts the 25th-most three-pointers against Div-1 opponents.
Hodge’s current play has afforded him 24.4 fantasy points or more in seven straight. More impressively, he’s totaled 37.3 or more in three of his last four.
We’re expecting that to continue against the defensively irresponsible Aggies.
Top Value: Matt Bradley ($5,400)
The San Diego State Aztecs enter this year’s tournament as a #5 seed thanks to their 27-6 record and Mountain West title. Matt Bradley has been a big part of their success and is undervalued on Thursday’s docket.
Bradley does a little bit of everything right for the Aztecs. The senior guard ranks first in scoring, averaging 12.9 points per game. However, he adds fantasy value with his rebounding and assists totals while rounding out his game with steals and blocks.
We also can’t look past Bradley’s consistency. The California native has averaged 20.9 fantasy points throughout the season, improving that total modestly to 22.1 over his previous ten. Additionally, he won’t crack under the pressure of the bright lights, as this will be his second straight trip to the big dance. Bradley put up 16 points, eight rebounds, three assists, and a block in an overtime loss to the Creighton Bluejays last year.
San Diego State is in the dreaded #5 vs. #12 seed matchup, but as we’ve seen all season, that won’t stop Bradley from putting his best foot forward. The guard remains one of the top fantasy-producing players for the Aztecs.
March Madness CBB Forward Picks
Top Play: Azuolas Tubelis ($8,800)
It takes a special person with a unique skill set to get into Princeton — none of which could prepare them for stopping Azuolas Tubelis. TWildcatsa Wildcats’ big man projects as a top-rated player and will shoulder the burden in the round of 64.
Tubelis is a threat on both ends of the court. The junior leads the team in scoring and rebounding while ranking second in steals and blocks. He’s put it all together over his recent sample, recording 33.8 fantasy points or more in four of his last five. Not surprisingly, Tubelis has recorded a double-double in three of those outings.
The Princeton Tigers don’t have the defensive wherewithal to limit Tubelis and the Wildcats. Princeton ranks 137th in the KenPom Defensive Efficiency ratings and 245th in opponents’ points from two-pointers. Consequently, this #2 vs. #15 matchup features the third-highest total of the day, and Tubelis will do his part to send this one over the total.
Surely, securing the Wildcats forward will be the key to a winning lineup on the main slate.
Top Value: Taylor Funk ($6,600)
As noted, we’re expecting no shortage of offense when Utah State takes on Mizzou on Thursday. Although he cooled off in the latter part of the conference tourney, Aggies forward Taylor Funk could easily surpass the implied value of his $6,600 salary; Funk is still a relevant fantasy com even when he’s not scoring.
The Pennsylvania native has recorded seven points or fewer in each of his last two games but still managed an impressive 46.9 fantasy points across both outings. When he does find his scoring touch, Funk is an unstoppable menace, as evidenced by his 66 points and 72.0 fantasy tally in the two games prior.
The Tigers don’t have a great track record of slowing down opponents’ big men. Opponent forwards have led the way in scoring in three of Missouri’s last four games, recording an average of 21.3 points. Moreover, they’ve allowed forwards to collect double-doubles ill of those contests.
This is a nightmare matchup for the Mizzou. Funk will have ample opportunity in the interior and make his presence felt on the scoresheet. Don’t pass up Funk’s value.
March Madness CBB Flag Plant
Ricky Council ($5,500)
I will stake my credibility on Ricky Council outperforming expectations in this year’s tourney — however long that may be for the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Council has been a solid role player for the Razorbacks, rotating in and out of the starting lineup all season. Despite the inconsistent usage, the junior has thrived, leading the team in scoring while putting up the best shooting percentage of his career at 44.5%.
Like all of our top picks, Council brings a well-rounded element every time he steps onto the court. He’s got decent complementary stats, totaling 3.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists, chipping in with 1.2 steals and the occasional block. All told, Council has hit double-digit fantasy points in 14 straight.
The Razorbacks have their work cut out against the Illinois Fighting Illini, but a few factors are working in Arkansas’ favor. First, Illinois defense is falling apart to end the season. Opponents are averaging 78.5 points per game over their last four, with the Fighting Illini dropping three of those decisions. Second, starting guards are leading the charge, averaging 15.7 points per game over that stretch.
Council comes at a discounted rate thanks to his usage concerns, but that won’t deter us from including him in our lineups—woo pig sooie.
Don’t let Arkansas down, Council.