First Four Betting: Model Prediction Favors Underdog Wagner Over Howard

Austan Kas
Austan Kas@AustanKas
First Four Betting: Model Prediction Favors Underdog Wagner Over Howard

Very few things on the sports calendar can match the excitement and unpredictability of the NCAA Tournament. So why not add betting to the mix via the college basketball odds at FanDuel Sportsbook?

The 2024 edition of the big dance has arrived, and here at FanDuel Research, we'll have you covered with a betting guide for each game.

Things get going with a pair of First Four matchups on Tuesday night, with a play-in clash between 16 seeds Wagner and Howard as the first 2024 tourney game to tip.

Let's dive into the Wagner-Howard game and see which bets make sense.

All college basketball odds come from FanDuel Sportsbook, and lines may change after this article is published.

NCAA Tournament Betting Picks

Wagner vs. Howard Betting Odds

Date and Time: Tuesday, March 19th at 6:40 p.m. ET

Spread: Howard -3.5 (-110)

Total: 128.5


  • Wagner: +136
  • Howard: -164

Wagner vs. Howard Statistical Breakdown

Advanced stats from KenPom, Bart Torvik and numberFire.

Wagner Seahawks

  • numberFire Ranking: 303rd
  • Bart Torvik Ranking: 295th
  • KenPom Ranking: 293rd
    • Adjusted Defensive Efficiency Ranking: 171st
    • Adjusted Offensive Efficiency Ranking: 334th
    • Adjusted Tempo Ranking: 361st

Howard Bison

  • numberFire Ranking: 274th
  • Bart Torvik Ranking: 268th
  • KenPom Ranking: 276th
    • Adjusted Defensive Efficiency Ranking: 334th
    • Adjusted Offensive Efficiency Ranking: 192nd
    • Adjusted Tempo Ranking: 163rd

Wagner vs. Howard Best Bet

Wagner +3.5 (-102)

As you'd expect for a pair of teams that are 16 seeds in a play-in game, Wagner and Howard are two of the worst squads in the tourney -- the two worst by KenPom's ratings.

When you dive into the numbers, not much separates these teams, which makes Wagner an appealing 3.5-point underdog.

These two are reciprocals of each other. Howard is poor defensively, checking in 334th by KenPom's adjusted defensive efficiency, while they're better on offense (192nd). Wagner is a bad offensive team (334th) but is stronger on the defensive side (171st).

Despite going just 7-9 in conference play during the regular season, Wagner claimed the Northeast Conference Tournament title thanks to its defense. The Seahawks ripped off three straight wins in the conference tourney and held their opponents to 57, 56 and 47 points across the three games. In the title game, Wagner defeated Merrimack, 54-47, and Merrimack rates out as by far the best team in the Northeast Conference, sitting at 224th overall by Bart Torvik.

Wagner boasts a balanced offensive attack, with five players scoring at least 8.7 points per game. Melvin Council Jr. leads the team in points (14.6) and rebounds (5.7) per game. In a testament to the Seahawks' balance, they were able to win in the first two rounds of the conference tourney despite Council netting only 14 combined points across the two games and playing only 19 minutes in the semis due to foul trouble.

Howard has a standout player in guard Bryce Harris, who paces the Bison in both points (16.6) and boards (7.6) per night while also shooting 39.1% from three. In general, the three-ball is a strength for Howard as they are hitting 37.4% of their looks from downtown -- much better than Wagner's 32.2% three-point clip. That could be a big advantage for Howard on Tuesday.

Wagner is 361st in adjusted tempo -- much slower than Howard (163rd) -- and proved in its conference tournament that it can grind out low-scoring Ws. numberFire's model forecasts that to happen again on Tuesday as it projects Wagner to win by a score of 65.3-64.7 in a nail-biter.

While you can make a case for Wagner's moneyline at +128, I'm opting to play it safer and take Wagner to cover as 3.5-point dogs.

If you’re betting on any NCAA action before March 21st, you can take advantage of FanDuel Sportsbook’s College Basketball No Sweat Bet. See the promotions page for more information.

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The above author is a FanDuel employee and is not eligible to compete in public daily fantasy contests or place sports betting wagers on FanDuel. The advice provided by the author does not necessarily represent the views of FanDuel. Taking the author's advice will not guarantee a successful outcome. You should use your own judgment when participating in daily fantasy contests or placing sports wagers.