When VCU went from the First Four to the Final Four in 2011 and UCLA did it again in 2021, it proved anything is possible. The competitive level of basketball is high with every team in the First Four, which is truly an integral part of March Madness.
Here’s where you’ll find live odds for all First Four games, which take place in Dayton, Ohio, and how you can bet on the games online in Ohio.
NCAA First Four game odds
Here’s where we will post all the game lines when the First Four is set on Selection Sunday. Until then, you can bet on your favorite schools making the NCAA Tournament through March Madness futures odds.
First Four prop bets
Once the First Four is set, you’ll have all the info you need to bet various props surrounding the teams and players involved. That might mean betting on whether any First Four team will make it to the Sweet Sixteen or, now that it has happened twice, to the Final Four.
You may also be able to bet on player props in Ohio at our recommended sportsbooks, such as FanDuel Sportsbook and DraftKings Sportsbook. This could include points, rebounds, assists, and three-pointers made totals for each of the players in the games.
First Four of the NCAA Tournament explained
The First Four made its debut in the 2011 NCAA Tournament. Essentially the field was expanded by four to 68 teams, with the four play-in games added ahead of the First Round. The NCAA Selection Committee now seeds all 68 teams in the field on Selection Sunday. Who plays in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament? Rather than the teams in the First Four being the eight lowest-ranking teams, it’s the four lowest-ranked at-large teams and four lowest-ranked automatic-bid teams.
The format originally saw the winners awarded the No. 16 seed in each region. Now, the matchups are set with equality in mind. The seed up for grabs is based on the original rankings. That said, the lowest-ranked automatic-bid teams normally play each other for No. 16 seeds and the lowest-ranked at-large teams play each other for No. 11 seeds.
The games are played earlier in the first week of the NCAA Tournament, between Selection Sunday and the start of the First Round. Two games are played on the Tuesday following Selection Sunday and the other two on Wednesday. The winners advance to First Round games on Thursday or Friday.
For more March Madness betting opportunities, check out our NCAA Tournament betting pages below:
Who decides on the First Four teams?
The 10-member NCAA Selection Committee does most of the heavy lifting regarding the First Four. The committee selects teams for the tournament, plus seeds and brackets, essentially setting the First Four participants through that process. Of course, the NCAA Tournament field comprises conference tournament champions from 32 Division I conferences, who receive automatic bids, and 36 at-large berths awarded by the committee.
Since the First Four games are contested by the four lowest-ranked at-large teams and four lowest-ranked automatic-bid teams, half the teams essentially play their way into the First Four through conference tournaments. The other half are selected by the committee.
Why is the First Four in Dayton?
The NCAA First Four has been in Dayton, Ohio every year since its inception. Of course, there were two years recently when there was no First Four in Dayton: 2020 when the entire NCAA Tournament was canceled; and 2021, when the entire NCAA Tournament was held in Indiana.
Why did the NCAA choose Dayton? Mostly because of its centralized location. Half of the people living in the U.S. are located within 600 miles of Dayton. Plus, despite the small-town feel, there’s an international airport in Dayton, making it easy to get to from all over the country and beyond. Interstates 70 and 75 pass right through town, making it just as easy to drive there. Also, Dayton is in the Eastern Time Zone, the preferred time zone for TV broadcasters in the U.S.
Add in the history of sellouts for University of Dayton games and everything else basketball-related in Dayton, and it’s easy to see why the NCAA chose the city. The fact that local fans have shown up for the First Four games yearly tells you why the NCAA continues to come back.
What is the best-ever First Four team?
The 2021 UCLA Bruins are the best Final Four Team ever. UCLA beat Michigan State 86-80 in overtime in the First Four to earn a No. 11 seed. Wins over No. 6 BYU (73-62) and No. 14 Abilene Christian (67-47) followed, sending UCLA through to the Sweet Sixteen. There, UCLA beat No. 2 Alabama 88-78 in overtime to advance to the Elite Eight.
The Bruins then beat the No. 1 seeded Michigan Wolverines by a bucket (51-49) to advance to the Final Four. But despite taking No. 1 Gonzaga to overtime in the semifinal game, UCLA’s magical run ended there with a 93-90 loss. VCU also went from the First Four to the Final Four in 2011, the first year First Four games were held. However, UCLA’s run was the more difficult one.
Has any First Four team won a National Championship?
Not yet. Both the aforementioned UCLA and VCU runs ended in the semifinals, but these teams remain the closest any First Four team has ever come to the National Championship.
Outside of 2019, at least one First Four team has gotten out of the First Round. Five First Four teams have advanced as far as the Sweet Sixteen, but only VCU and UCLA have advanced further.
What are the biggest First Four upsets?
Like we mentioned earlier, the NCAA Tournament First Four matchups are set with equality in mind. That means the games are more akin to No. 8 vs. No. 9 than No. 1 vs. No. 16 First Round matchups, and that the level of upset, no matter who wins, will never be considered that shocking. That said, when a traditional powerhouse college basketball program gets beat by a smaller school from a smaller conference it’s always noteworthy.
That’s what happened when VCU beat USC in 2011, South Florida beat California in 2012, St. Bonaventure beat UCLA in 2018 and Belmont beat Temple in 2019. It could be argued that any one of these games is the greatest upset in First Four history.
Who won the first NCAA First Four games?
Here’s a look at the first-ever First Four games in 2011:
- VCU beat USC 59-46 to earn a No. 11 seed. VCU advanced to the Final Four.
- Clemson beat UAB 70-52 to earn a No. 12 seed. Clemson lost in the First Round.
- UNC Asheville beat Arkansas-Little Rock 81-77 in OT to earn a No. 16 seed. UNC Asheville lost in the First Round.
- UTSA beat Alabama State 70-61 to earn a No. 16 seed. UTSA lost in the First Round.
What are the best places to watch and bet on the First Four in Dayton?
Dayton supports the First Four so much that it seems like the entire city revolves around the games come tournament time. With that in mind, Dayton’s best sports bars are clearly the best places to watch the games if you can’t get a seat inside the University of Dayton Arena. Plus, once online sports betting in Ohio goes live, you and your phone will turn these places into sportsbooks.
According to Dayton.com, Dayton’s best sports bars, aka Dayton’s best First Four bars, are:
- Address: 1820 Brown St., Dayton
- Phone Number: (937) 222-7072
- TVs everywhere. Square-cut pizza and subs.
- Address: 101 E. Stewart St., Dayton
- Phone Number: (937) 228-5776
- Irish bar filled with University of Dayton students.
Buffalo Wild Wings (University of Dayton)
- Address: 1900 Brown St., Dayton
- Phone Number: (937) 222-9464
- Wings and UD campus location
Fox & Hound (Beavercreek)
- Address: 2661 Fairfield Commons Blvd., Beavercreek
- Phone number: (937) 426-4145
- TV screens everywhere. Daily drink specials.
Bunkers Sports Bar & Grill (Vandalia)
- Address: 893 E. National Rd., Vandalia
- Phone Number: (937) 415-0185
- Great wings.