This article is part of our DFS College Basketball series.
The NCAA Tournament is finally here, and for college basketball DFS players, there's finally some real money up for grabs. For the opening round Thursday, DraftKings is offering a $100k Tourney Tip-Off, which is shelling out $25k to first place. FanDuel is even setting a season record in its All-American with a $35k prize pool and $10k top prize. With a gigantic slate of 16 games, I'll also extend this preview a little longer to include more than the regular six-pack of recommendations.
We've been playing CBB DFS all season at RotoWire, but if you're new here, I'll offer a quick rundown of the tools available in this introduction. The home base for most of our subscribers is the DFS Lineup Optimizer, but as any DFS player knows, an optimizer is only as good as how you use it. Sure, go ahead and give the default optimizer a spin, but if there's a play you're not sure of, we encourage using the red X to remove them from the lineup/pool. Think our formula might overvalue a mid-major player whose stats are built on lower competition? Boom, trust your gut and eliminate them from the pool. You can also "like" a player to increase their projection by 20 percent, or manually change a projection to whatever you like! If you agree with any of my recommendations below, use the padlock button to make sure they are featured in your lineup.
Some of my other favorite tools include the DFS Matchup Info page, where you can sort the games by implied total, as well as offensive/defensive efficiency stats calculated by our our developers behind the scenes. It's the perfect place to get started, as it will help you find out which games to target. Here's a look at what that page says for the full day, but head directly to the page if you wish to split it up by specific slates:
Next, our Advanced CBB Lineups page is a resource that's second to none. Here, you'll be able to view recent starters for each team in the player pool alongside salaries, with stats like minutes, usage and fantasy PPG included. It's perfect for researching mid-majors that are often underpriced, but watch out – use too many of these players in the NCAA Tournament and you might get stuck with some of their worst fantasy games of the year. Anyway, from this page, you can also click on any team logo to navigate to a team-specific page, which shows usage from last year among other stats.
If you like what you see or just want to give these tools a try, head to rotowire.com/free for a free 10-day trial. We won't ask for a credit card, and the trial simply expires at its conclusion. That also covers every other sport on the site.
Without further delay, let's jump into my favorite plays on the NCAA Tournament opening-round college basketball slate.
Armando Bacot, F, North Carolina ($9,500 DK, $8,600 FD)
The matchup against Marquette is one of the highest over/unders (152) on the entire Thursday set of games, and Bacot sits in perfect position for a massive afternoon. Marquette is outside the top-300 in both offensive and defensive rebounding rate, and Bacot happens to be averaging 14.0 rpg over his last seven games entering the dance. According to KenPom, 6-7 power forward Justin Lewis has played the majority of center minutes over the last five games, but the Golden Eagles will need him to focus on offense if they wish to have a chance in this one. Marquette has a lot of bodies to throw at him in Kur Kuath, Oso Ighodaro and O-Max Prosper, but none of them will slow Bacot down.
Keegan Murray, F, Iowa ($10,100 DK, $9,400 DK FD)
I can't write this column without mentioning Murray and fellow $10k Club member Oscar Tshiebwe, but DraftKings has some tight pricing on this slate that makes it incredibly difficult to squeeze either of them in together, or one in with the aforementioned Bacot. I'll feature Murray here because the Hawkeyes are more likely to be in a close game, plus the over/under on this game is 20 points higher than Kentucky's at time of post. On top of that, St. Peter's ranks more than 70 spots higher than Richmond in KenPom's defensive efficiency rating. Richmond also ranks No. 219 in opponent 3-point FG percentage. So while mass-entry players surely need some Tshiebwe due to his 20-20 upside, I'm leaning Murray (or Bacot) here if forced to make a call.
JD Notae, G, Arkansas ($8,400 DK, $8,000 FD)
While I don't like Arkansas for a deep run, and even like the Vermont Catamounts to potentially pull the upset, that doesn't diminish a potential big game from Notae. He's one of less than five players on this gigantic slate with a usage rate north of 30 percent, and unlike the Gonzaga and Kentucky studs, Notae might actually find himself in a close game. Vermont's biggest strength is on the defensive glass, but that's not where Notae's points come from. He's a three-point shooter and volume scorer through and through, even if he's hit a cold patch of late. Notae has struggled to the tune of 20.6 percent on nearly seven attempts per game over his last five contests, but the fact he's averaging 17.2 ppg despite that is a sign he's nowhere close to his ceiling. A matchup against Vermont, who ranks No. 229 in 3-point FG defense, could be just what the doctor ordered, as well as a chance to zig when the rest of the field zags.
Al Durham, G, Providence ($5,800 DK, $6,100 FD)
It seems like the public's favorite upset pick is South Dakota State over Providence, but regardless of outcome, we should be looking to this game for DFS. Providence is only a two-point favorite in the 4 vs. 13 matchup, so we should at least have a close game. While the Jackrabbits can shoot the lights out, defense is a different story, as they have the second-worst KenPom defensive efficiency rating of any team in the tournament. In comes Durham, at a discount due to some injury troubles, but seemingly back. He logged 31.8 DK points in the Big East tournament exit to Creighton – a game where Providence only scored 58. He's already the team usage leader, and we don't know the status of fellow guard A.J. Reeves (undisclosed). Win or lose, Durham, or even center Nate Watson ($6,300 DK, $6,300 FD), should be in play.
Tony Perkins, G, Iowa ($5,700 DK, $5,600 FD)
We have to find a way to get into this high over/under game, but using Keegan Murray at $10.1k really cripples you elsewhere. In comes Perkins, who is third on the Hawkeyes in usage rate (just 0.1 percent out of second) and is averaging 24 DK points/game over his last nine, which includes a 42-fantasy point effort against Illinois. Richmond is nothing special on the defensive end despite its experience, plus checks in at No. 219 in 3-point FG defense. Sometimes it feels like Hawkeye roulette, but Perkins at least gives you a solid floor among other streaky options.
Eli Brooks, G, Michigan ($6,500 DK, $6,900 FD)
This is way too high of a price for me to pay for Brooks under normal circumstances, as his range of outcomes this season falls between 10 and 36 DK points. The fifth-year senior is coming off back-to-back games with 31.5+ DK points, however, and it was announced Wednesday that point guard DeVante Jones would miss the opening round due to a concussion. I'm skeptical Juwan Howard will hand the keys right to Frankie Collins, who plays less than 10 mpg. Instead, expect the usage bump and shot volume to go to Brooks. The CSU defense ranks No. 86 in efficiency (per KenPom), which would be below-average when compared to the entirety of the Big Ten, and this won't be considered an "up-tempo" matchup. Still, Brooks seems like a solid cash game play.
Khalil Shabazz, G, San Francisco ($6,700 DK, $6,700 FD)
I'm not in love with the matchup, but at this price point, the SF usage leader has hit 4x in seven of his last eight games. This includes a 40.8 DK points effort in a loss to Gonzaga in which he attempted 25 shots. That was, of course, without Yauhen Massalski available, and the senior forward is expected to return from a knee injury Thursday. Still, I like Shabazz as a GPP option, and the floor isn't bad either, as he has been under 20 points on DK once since the start of February.
Editor's Note: Massalski has been ruled out Thursday after re-injuring his knee in practice, which means plenty of shots to go around for the other San Francisco options.
Zakai Zeigler, G, Tennessee ($5,400 DK, $4,700 FD)
Despite serving as the sixth-man, Zeigler has taken the majority of point guard reps for the surging Vols of late. The shot volume wasn't necessarily there in the SEC tournament despite Kennedy Chandler playing through an undisclosed injury, but Zeigler did average 23.3 DK points through the 12 games leading up to the tournament, good for more than 4x at this price point. HIs opponent, Longwood, has defended the perimeter well against a weak Big South schedule, but did allow Georgetown and Iowa to shoot 43 percent or greater in their only notable non-conference games. On the whole, Longwood has the fifth-worst defensive efficiency rating among the tournament field (per KenPom).
Jalen Hawkins, G, Norfolk State ($4,800 DK, $6,000 FD)
Warning – it's definitely a trap sometimes to see these low-priced mid-major players, especially against a squad like Baylor that has a top-15 defensive efficiency ranking (per KenPom). I wouldn't touch him (or teammate Joe Bryant) at their FanDuel prices, but DraftKings lowers the bar just enough for me to take the bait. Part of what makes this OK is that Hawkins has recorded 33+ minutes in six of his last eight games, in addition to averaging 4.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.0 steals over his last 10. So we don't have to rely on him scoring a ton to get the 19.2 DK points required for 4x.
Anton Watson, F, Gonzaga ($4,000 DK, $5,400 FD)
Even the low-usage Gonzaga starters are priced at $5900 or greater, and you likely won't get a full game out of them given the Zags are favored by 23.5. In comes Watson, who started 17 games for last year's title-winning team but has served as the sixth-man this season, and could see more run if coach Mark Few wishes to preserve studs like Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren (or if either end up in foul trouble). Watson did see games of 25 and 24 minutes in the WCC Tournament, which resulted in performances of 27.0 and 16.3 DK points, respectively. The matchup also works in his favor, as the Panthers rank No. 281 in defensive rebounding rate, as well as 344 in two-point FG percentage. Point being, there should be plenty of rebounding opportunities available.
Ali Ali, F, Akron ($5,000 DK, $6,100 FD)
I'm a little less high on this one due to a matchup against a stout UCLA defense, but the numbers will likely end up recommending Ali any way you cut it. He leads the Zips in usage rate at 26.9 percent, plus has averaged 36.3 mpg over his last 10. That's been enough for 4x or greater in eight of his last nine games, so there's a good chance to hit value even if it's closer to a floor game.