Friday NCAA News and Notes

Friday NCAA News and Notes

Friday's Afternoon Action
By Brian Edwards

**Davidson vs. Gonzaga**

--This is a 7-10 matchup in the Midwest region with the winner advancing to face the Georgetown-UMBC survivor. Tip-off is scheduled for 12:25 p.m. Eastern at RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C.

--Las Vegas Sports Consultants opened the game at pick ‘em with a total of 140. As of Wednesday afternoon, most sports books had Davidson (26-6 straight up, 19-11 against the spread) listed as a two-point favorite.

--Davidson hasn’t tasted defeat since losing 66-65 at N.C. St. on Dec. 21. The Wildcats have won 22 consecutive games, posting a 14-8 spread record in the process. They dropped Elon by a 65-49 count in the So-Con Tournament finals, but failed to cover the number as 17-point favorites.

--Gonzaga (25-7 SU, 17-15 ATS) is in the NCAA Tournament for the 10th consecutive season, although Mark Few’s team had to go the at-large route this season. That’s because San Diego knocked off the ‘Zags 69-62 as a 7 ½-point underdog in the WCC Tourney finals. In the interest of full disclosure, let’s remind bettors that USD did have the benefit of hosting the tournament at home.

--As always, the Bulldogs played a brutal non-conference schedule that took them across the country. They faced eight teams in the field in their non-conference slate alone, posting a 4-4 record. The ‘Zags beat Georgia, St. Joseph’s, Western Kentucky and UConn. Counting St. Mary’s and San Diego, two fellow WCC squads that made the Tournament, Gonzaga has a 7-6 SU record but a 4-9 ATS mark against teams in the field.

--Davidson has one of the best backcourts in America, featuring senior point guard Jason Richards and sophomore Stephen Curry. Richards leads the nation in assists, dishing out 8.0 per game, while Curry if fifth in the country in scoring with a 25.1 points per game average.

--Richards will have his hands full getting Davidson into its offense because of the presence of Gonzaga junior point guard Jeremy Pargo, who is one of the best on-the-ball-perimeter defenders in college basketball.

--Curry, who has scored in double figures in 59 consecutive games, is the son of Dell Curry, one of the NBA’s best all-time 3-point shooters who had an outstanding collegiate career at Virginia Tech.

--Davidson led for most of its first-round NCAA Tournament game against Maryland last year, but the Wildcats went cold shooting in the last six minutes and lost 82-70 as six-point underdogs.

--Gonzaga lost a 70-57 decision to Indiana as a 1½-point underdog in last year’s Big Dance.

--Davidson is 7-2 ATS as a single-digit ‘chalk.’ Meanwhile, Gonzaga is 3-2 ATS as an underdog, but both non-covers were of the heartbreaking variety for ‘Zag backers. They lost by four in OT at St. Mary’s as three-point ‘dogs and lost by four at Oklahoma as 3 1/2-point ‘dogs.

--The ‘under’ is on a 7-1 run for the Wildcats.

**American vs. Tennessee**

--This East region showdown will start at 12:15 p.m. ET in Birmingham. The winner will get the Butler-South Alabama winner.

--LVSC opened Tennessee (29-4 SU, 16-13 ATS) as a 20-point ‘chalk’ with a total of 140. As of Wednesday afternoon, those numbers remained the same except for a few books that had adjusted the total to 140 ½ or 141.

--Bruce Pearl’s team got knocked off by Arkansas in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament in Atlanta. The Razorbacks captured a 92-91 victory as six-point underdogs. Chris Lofton scored 25 points and Tyler Smith added 24 in the losing effort.

--American (21-11 SU, 0-1 ATS) beat Colgate 52-46 to win the Patriot League’s automatic berth, but the Eagles failed to take the cash as seven-point favorites. Garrison Carr scored 17 points to pace the winners.

--For bettors unfamiliar with American, let’s discuss three games it played against big-time foes. The Eagles went into College Park and stunned Maryland, 67-59. They lost 63-56 at Dayton and 78-51 at Georgetown.

--Tennessee owns a 7-5 spread record as a double-digit favorite. The Vols have seen the ‘under’ go 16-13 overall.

**Western Kentucky vs. Drake**

--LVSC opened the Missouri Valley champs as three-point favorites with a total of 137. Since then, Drake (28-4 SU, 20-7 ATS) has been moved to a four-point ‘chalk,’ while the total has moved to 140. Gamblers can back the Sun Belt tourney champs to win outright for a plus 180 return.

--Drake is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1971. Keno Davis, the son of “Dr. Tom” who was the long-time coach at Iowa, is everybody’s choice for ‘Coach of the Year’ honors after leading the Bulldogs to the MVC regular-season title and tournament championship. They were picked ninth in the MVC back in October.

--Drake has won four in a row, going 3-1 versus the number. The Bulldogs crushed Illinois State in the MVC Tourney finals by a 79-49 count as 2½-point ‘chalk.’ Jonathan Cox had 20 points and seven rebounds, while Adam Emmenecker finished with 16 points and six assists.

--Western Kentucky (27-6 SU, 17-12 ATS) won the Sun Belt’s automatic berth thanks to a 67-57 win over Middle Tennessee as an 8½-point favorite in the league tournament finals. Jeremy Evans was the catalyst for the Hilltoppers, scoring 20 points and 14 rebounds.

--Darrin Horn’s team is led by senior guard Courtney Lee, who averages 20.4 PPG. Lee is one of the more underrated shooting guards in the country.

--Drake likes to spread the floor offensively with Emmenecker penetrating off the dribble and dishing to spot-up shooters like Josh Young and Klayton Korver. Young leads the Bulldogs in scoring with a 15.8 PPG average, while Korver scores 10.0 PPG and, like his older brother Kyle, has deep range from beyond the arc.

--Drake is 10-5 ATS as a single-digit favorite, while Western Kentucky is 2-1-1 ATS as an underdog.

--Western Kentucky beat a couple of quasi-decent teams (Nebraska and Michigan) from power conferences, but the Hilltoppers lost all four of their games against teams in the field. They lost by three to Gonzaga on a neutral court, by six at Tennessee and dropped a pair of games to the Sun Belt regular-season champs, the South Alabama Jaguars.

--Western Kentucky is back in the Tournament for the first time since making three straight appearances from 2001-2003. The Hilltoppers haven’t won a first-round game since beating Michigan 82-76 in overtime in 1995.

--The ‘under’ is 15-13 overall for Drake, but the ‘over’ is on a remarkable 11-2 run. The ‘under’ is 17-12 overall for Western Ky.

--This is a 5/12 matchup that’ll tip at 12:30 p.m. ET. in St. Petersburg.

**St. Mary’s vs. Miami**

--LVSC opened Miami (22-10 SU, 15-7 ATS) as a 1½-point favorite with a 135-point tally. There’s been little-to-no movement for the side, but the total is now in the 137-138 range.

--St. Mary’s (25-6 SU, 15-12 ATS) received an at-large bid after losing to San Diego in double overtime in the WCC Tourney semifinals. The Gaels were certainly deserving, beating teams like Drake, Oregon, Seton Hall and San Diego St. in non-conference play.

--Frank Haith has the Hurricanes back in the Tournament for the first time since 2002. They won seven of their last 10 games to garner the at-large invite, compiling a 6-3-1 spread record over that stretch.

--St. Mary’s is 1-3 ATS in four underdog spots this year. As for the ‘Canes, they are 6-3 ATS as single-digit ‘chalk.’

--This showdown between seventh-seeded UM and No. 10 seed St. Mary’s will tip at 12:30 in Little Rock. The winner will most likely face Texas.

Texas vs. Austin Peay**

--LVSC opened Texas (28-6 SU, 15-12 ATS) as an 18-point favorite with a total of 139. The public has been hammering the books with bets on the Ohio Valley champs, forcing most spots to list the Longhorns as 16-point ‘chalk’ as of late Wednesday.

--Austin Peay (24-10 SU, 11-17 ATS) has won six consecutive games and is 5-1 ATS during that spree. The Governors won the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament thanks to an 82-64 victory over Tennessee St. as 3 ½-point favorites. Todd Babington led the way with a game-high 24 points, burying 6-of-8 shots from 3-point land.

--Austin Peay made noise in the 1987 NCAA Tournament as a No. 14 seed. The Governors beat Illinois 68-67 in the first round, forcing ESPN’s Dick Vitale to stand on his head afterwards because he promised to do so when they led the Illini at intermission. The Governors lost in Round 2 but not before taking Providence to overtime and losing a 90-87 decision. That Friars squad, coached by Rick Pitino and led by a backcourt of Billy Donovan and Delray Brooks, eventually made the Final Four before losing to the eventual champion, Indiana.

--Austin Peay has played four games against teams in the field. The Governors swept a pair of non-lined contests against Belmont, but they lost 81-67 at Vandy and 104-82 at Memphis. They were 0-1-1 ATS, failing to cover against the Commodores as 11 ½-point ‘dogs, while managing a push as 22-point ‘dogs against John Calipari’s team.

--In a game closer than the final score indicated, Texas lost 84-74 to Kansas as a 5½-point underdog in the finals of the Big 12 Tournament. D.J. Augustin scored 20 points and dished out nine assists to just one turnover.

--Although its depth – or lack thereof – is a concern, I have Texas coming out of the South Region by beating Pitt in the Elite Eight. The Longhorns won 12 of 16 games against teams in the field and, remember, they beat a pair of top seeds (UCLA and Kansas) and a No. 2 (Tennessee).

--Texas owns a 3-5 spread record as a double-digit favorite.

--The ‘under’ is 16-12 overall for the ‘Horns, but the ‘over’ is 17-15 overall for the Governors.

**Georgetown vs. Maryland-Baltimore**

--LVSC opened Georgetown (27-5 SU, 13-16 ATS) as a 17-point favorite with a total of 125. As of Wednesday afternoon, most spots had the Hoyas at 16½, but the total had been bet up into the 130-132 range.

--Along with UCLA, North Carolina and Memphis, this Georgetown squad is loaded with personnel that has plenty of Tournament experience. The Hoyas advanced to the Final Four last year before losing to Ohio St., and they gave Florida its best game of the 2006 tourney before losing a nail-biter at the Sweet 16.

--My main concern with John Thompson III’s team is its inability to get buckets at times. On nights when Jessie Sapp and Jonathan Wallace get into a rhythm offensively (think the Hoyas’ blowout win over ‘Nova in Big East Tourney quarterfinals), I don’t know if any team can beat Georgetown. But the Hoyas are prone to go into lulls offensively, and that could get them bitten as early as Davidson in a second-round matchup.

--Maryland-Baltimore (24-10 SU, 1-0 ATS) (aka: UMBC) is dancing for the first time in school history after beating Hartford 82-65 as an eight-point favorite to win the America East Tournament.

--The ‘under’ is 18-11 overall for the Hoyas, but the ‘over’ has cashed in each of their last three assignments.

--Georgetown has struggled to cover big numbers, going 4-9 ATS as a double-digit favorite.

**South Alabama vs. Butler**


--LVSC opened Butler (29-3 SU, 16-13 ATS) as a 3 ½-point ‘chalk’ with a 124-point tally. As of Wednesday, most spots had the Bulldogs at four with the total moved to 125½.

--South Alabama (26-6 SU, 17-9 ATS) garnered a rare at-large bid for the Sun Belt after winning the regular-season title, only to fall to Middle Tennessee in the league tourney semifinals.

--Both teams have outstanding backcourts. Butler is led by guards A.J. Graves (13.1 PPG) and Mike Green, who averages 14.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game. The Jaguars have Demetric Bennett, who scores at a 20.1 PPG clip and pulls down 5.9 RPG.

--James Manos, a VegasInsider.com handicapper who has been the college basketball money leader at VI virtually the entire season, had this take on Butler-USA: “I was real disappointed to see these two teams matched up together because I would’ve been looking to play either team against squads from power conferences. The committee did the same thing with Davidson-Gonzaga and Drake-Western Kentucky, and that’s disappointing from a gaming perspective. Butler got a raw deal with a seven seed. I think [the Bulldogs] will advance and I’ll be looking for Butler to cover and possibly upset Tennessee in the second round.”

--Butler advanced to the Sweet 16 last year before losing to the eventual champion, Florida. As for the Jags, they made the Tourney in 2006 and also lost to the Gators, albeit in the first round.

--South Alabama went 4-1 in five games against teams in the field. The Jags beat Western Kentucky (twice), San Diego, Mississippi St. and lost 91-88 at Vandy in overtime. The Jags are 3-1 ATS in four spots as underdogs.

--The ‘over’ is 14-12 overall for Butler, while the ‘under’ went 16-15 for USA.

**San Diego vs. UConn**

--Most books are listing UConn (24-8 SU, 13-14 ATS) as an 11½-point favorite with a total of 130. The Toreros are plus 600 on the money line.

--San Diego (21-13 SU, 21-9 ATS) beat St. Mary’s and Gonzaga in the span of 24 hours to take the WCC’s automatic berth. The Toreros are led by Brandon Johnson, who is a physical guard that likes to take the ball to the rim. Johnson averages 16.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game.

--Jim Calhoun’s team will be well rested after getting jettisoned from the Big East Tournament by West Virginia, 78-72. The Huskies lost outright to the Mountaineers in the quarterfinals as 2½-point favorites.

--San Diego posted an incredible 14-4 spread record in 18 games as an underdog. Even better, the Toreros are a perfect 5-0 ATS as double-digit ‘dogs. They went 4-7 SU in games against teams in the field.

--UConn is 3-5 ATS as a double-digit ‘chalk.’

--The ‘over’ has hit in five straight games for the Huskies, who saw the ‘over’ go 16-12 overall.

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Re: Friday NCAA News and Notes

Friday's Late Action
By Judd Hall

The first round of the NCAA Tournament wraps up with another set of eight games that will take us late into the night on Friday.

Let’s break down the final session that will determine who will live to play on Sunday.

No. 11 St. Joseph’s vs. No. 6 Oklahoma (East – Birmingham, Alabama, 7:10 pm EDT)

Hawks head coach Phil Martelli knew he had to rally his team in order to make the field of 65. Especially after St. Joseph’s finished the season by losing three of its final five games. Martelli told his club that if they didn’t perform well in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, he’d be collecting jerseys. The Hawks responded by making it to the A-10 Final, falling to Temple.

It wasn’t the finish that Martelli wanted, league wise, but it helped ensure their fifth NCAA bid since 1997.

St. Joe’s will be getting to square off against a middle-of-the-road program from the Big XII in the Sooners. Oklahoma finished in tied for fourth place in its league, which is impressive considering it has shot 44.2 percent from the field this season. The Sooners didn’t even reach that number in a 77-49 pimp slapping at the hands of Texas on March 15, where they made just 32.8 percent of their shots.

The sportsbooks have made Oklahoma an one-point favorite, with the total holding steady at 127.

Be sure to take a long look at St. Joseph’s before placing your bet. The Hawks are 8-11 SU, but 12-6-1 ATS when listed as underdogs in the last two years. Also, the ‘over’ has gone 13-6 during those 19 matches.

No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 16 Mount St. Mary’s (East - Raleigh, North Carolina, 7:10 pm EDT)

If you’re looking for one of the biggest favorites on the board on Friday, then look no further than the Tar Heels. No. 1 seed North Carolina (-25) is expected to blow out opening round winner, Mount St. Mary’s. That’s what sportsbooks will count on when you have the second best scoring offense in the nation, averaging 88.7 points per game.

“The Mount” should consider itself lucky by getting into the dance in the first place. The Mountaineers can’t score against their own league by scoring 69.1 PPG. Mount St. Mary’s does have a 1-2 SU record over tournament teams this season, with the lone win over Winthrop. However, that was against an Eagles squad that had dropped three of their last four.

As long as Carolina clicks on all cylinders, it’ll be a free ride into the second round.

Just to give you a little more fuel to back the Heels, they’ve gone 12-0 SU and 10-2 ATS when favored by more than 20 points in the past two seasons. Bettors have also been successful by taking the ‘over’ in these tilts, watching it post an 8-4 record.

No. 4 Vanderbilt vs. No. 13 Siena (Midwest – Tampa, Florida, 7:20 pm EDT)

This matchup has been one of the more popular picks for an upset amongst the public and experts alike. Statistically, I can’t really argue. Sienna scores 76.8 PPG, while Vandy puts in 80.6 every night. The Saints also hold their own defensively, giving up just 71.1 PPG to the Commodores’ 74.4 PPG (which is dead last in the SEC).

A win here could very well hinge on whether the Saints can steal the ball as effectively as they have all season. Sienna ranks ninth in the nation by picking off the ball 9.4 times a tilt. The ‘Dores are last in their league with 6 steals per game. The turnover battle also favors the Saints, 11.1 to 14.5.

The Saints has gone 2-3 SU and ATS against programs that have made this season’s tourney. Vanderbilt is 7-4 SU and 6-5 ATS when squaring off against tournament clubs. The Commodores saw the ‘over’ 7-4 in those games as well.

No. 8 Mississippi State vs. No. 9 Oregon (South – Little Rock, Arkansas, 7:25 pm EDT)

This matchup might look a little lopsided at first glance for an eight versus nine tilt, but looks can be deceiving. The Bulldogs took care of their own business by winning the SEC West this season with a 12-4 in-conference mark. Big reason for them winning their division is a league leading defense that allowed just 65.1 PPG. It also helps to have four players scoring in the double-digits: Jamont Gordon (17.3), Charles Rhodes (16.9), Barry Stewart (11.6) and Ben Hansbrough (10.4).

Oregon got a few head scratches because of finishing fifth in the Pac-10 at 9-9. Yet the Ducks have one of the best offenses in their league, scoring 76.8 PPG. Look for Malik Hairston to pace the Ducks in this one as he’s averaging 16.1 PPG in his senior season.

The sportsbooks have made Mississippi State a three-point favorite, with the total hovering around 142.

Take a hard look at fading the Ducks with the ‘over’ in this contest. Oregon is 6-8 SU and ATS when made an underdog of five points or less in the past two years. And the ‘over’ has gone 9-5 during that time.

No. 3 Louisville vs. No. 14 Boise State (East – Birmingham, Alabama, 9:30 pm EDT)

Here’s another blowout waiting to happen.

The Cardinals may have choked away both the Big East regular season and tourney championships in their past two games. Now Rick Pitino’s squad will get to the shot at righting the ship against a Boise State squad that leads the WAC in scoring (82.0).

Louisville has four players posting double-digits with David Padgett (11.7), Terrence Williams (11.2), Earl Clark (10.7) and Jerry Smith (10.4).

The Broncos have seen the ‘over’ cash in four straight matches.

The Cards have gone 16-2 SU and 9-8-1 ATS when favored by more than 10 points in the last two seasons. The ‘under’ went 11-7 in that stretch.

No. 8 Indiana vs. No. 9 Arkansas (East – Raleigh, North Carolina, 9:30 pm EDT)

Things looked better for the Hoosiers about a month ago. When Kelvin Sampson was its coach, Indiana had a 22-4 record. Then Sampson got busted for texting recruits a little too much and was subsequently shown the door. IU hasn’t found any sort of consistency since Dan Dakich took control of the program, going 3-3 in his six contests.

Despite the drama, Indiana has the best offense in the Big Ten by scoring 75.1 PPG. Freshman phenom Eric Gordon leads the way by tallying 21.3 PPG. A problem that could definitely rear its ugly head for the Hoosiers is defense apathy…they allow 64.7 PPG in a league that isn’t exactly known high scores.

Arkansas excels where the Hoosiers are found lacking, defense. The Hogs give up 67.0 PPG this season in a league that is home to three of the Top 20 scoring offenses in the nation. In particular, the Razorbacks will make you earn those baskets by forcing opponents to shoot 41.7 percent for the season. Indiana makes 46.3 percent of its attempts right now, so that could be a major issue.

Indiana is a small two-point favorite for this battle, with the total sticking close to 140 around the sportsbooks.

The Hoosiers are 15-13 SU and ATS when favored by five-points or less in the last three years. However, bettors have watched the ‘under’ go 16-12 during that time.

No. 5 Clemson vs. No. 12 Villanova (Midwest – Tampa, Florida, 9:40 pm EDT)

Clemson is another trendy pick for some experts out there and the mindless minions that love to follow them. The Tigers garnered that love thanks to a strong run in the ACC Tournament that almost saw them upend North Carolina. Of course, anytime you have an offense that can post 79.5 points a night, you should be able to hang with the likes of the Tar Heels.

The Wildcats are a tricky team to back right now. Perhaps it’s because Villanova seems to live and die with the stroke of Scottie Reynolds. The sophomore from Herndon, VA is currently averaging 15.6 PPG with 3.3 assists per game.

Clemson is 8-6 SU and 7-5-1 ATS when playing away from home this season. Meanwhile, the ‘over’ is just a slight play, going 7-6 this year.

No. 1 Memphis vs. No. 16 Texas-Arlington (South – Little Rock, Arkansas, 9:40 pm EDT)

Memphis will get to play a little warm up on Friday night when they face the Mavericks. The Tigers lead Conference USA in scoring offense (79.7) and defense (60.6). Texas-Arlington, on the other hand, leads in field goal percentage (47.8) in the lesser Southland Conference.

The Tigers are a lock to win obviously, going 21-0 SU when favored by more than 20-points. However, they’re just 8-12-1 ATS in this spot. The ‘under’ is also solid here as evidenced by its 12-8 record.

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Upset special? Vanderbilt looking to prove Siena-backers wrong
March 20, 2008

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -Over the past few days, the Siena Saints have been constantly hearing that they're a popular pick to pull off a monumental first round NCAA tournament upset.

The Saints find it flattering.

Vanderbilt, um, not so much.

For the second straight year, all the Commodores did was win twenty-something games, finish among the best teams in the Southeastern Conference and earn a high NCAA seed. And once again, fourth-seeded Vanderbilt (26-7) is being tabbed by bracketeers as a possible first-round upset victim. The Commodores face the 13th-seeded Saints (22-10) on Friday night.

``I think, last year and this year to some degree, we've been made to feel like we're the underdog in this game,'' Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. ``And that's OK. If people want to pick other teams - and they did so last year - that's OK. None of that matters. What matters is how we play.''

The slights, perceived or otherwise, fueled Vanderbilt last year to a 77-44 first-round romp over George Washington.

Siena, the champions of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, can only hope it doesn't meet the same fate.

``Our players are smart,'' Siena coach Fran McCaffery said. ``They're going to be able to watch the film and see how good Vanderbilt is. But we're coming into this game feeling like we have a legitimate chance to win.''

If Siena is going to actually pull this off, it needs an answer for guard Shan Foster, the SEC player of the year.

Foster spent most of his season shredding just about every defense the rugged SEC could throw his way. He was the league's unanimous pick for top-player honors. He scored 32 points to lead his team past Tennessee when the Vols were ranked No. 1 in the country.

When he hears this Vandy's-ripe-for-an-upset talk, he just shakes his head in disbelief.

``We've won 26 games. We're not a 4 seed by a miracle, you know?'' Foster said. ``We're confident that we're going to go in and execute our game plan and give it all we've got and come out with a victory. Really, that's all that matters. We say every day in practice, the only thing that matters is those guys on the court and our coaching staff.''

At Siena, though, huge upsets are part of the tiny school's lore.

It was 19 years ago when the Saints beat Stanford 80-78 in the first round of the NCAAs, and to this day, when you mention ``the Stanford win'' to anyone associated with Siena's program, they know you're not talking about when the Cardinal came into Albany earlier this season and got beat 79-67.

``That's the novelty of a small school,'' said Siena radio commentator Tom Huerter, who played on that '89 team. ``We're the second-smallest school in this tournament by enrollment. We're the quintessential underdog, like we were that year. But what made that story is the fact that we won.''

Beating Vanderbilt would surely classify as another defining moment.

``This is an opportunity that's not guaranteed,'' Siena guard Tay Fisher said. ``We work hard to get here. Not many people know about us. Many people can't even spell Siena. Many people don't even know where it's at.''

A win here would show people where Siena - that's Siena, not Sienna - is, for certain.

But Vanderbilt feels like it has something significant to prove, too.

Vanderbilt went all the way to the round of 16 last year and felt like it should have advanced even farther. The Commodores led Georgetown by one in the final seconds before Jeff Green got a controversial layup - most Vandy fans insist he traveled - and capped the Hoyas' 66-65 win.

``That's been a motivation of ours all season,'' Vanderbilt forward Ross Neltner said. ``We feel like we let our seniors down last year and it wasn't just one call. There were multiple plays throughout the game where we could have made up a few points, hit a few free throws, gotten an extra stop or two and it wouldn't have come down to that.''

Only one Siena player - Josh Duell, who played for Vermont when the 13th-seeded Catamounts upset No. 4 Syracuse three years ago - has been to the NCAAs.

But McCaffery, who inherited a 6-24 team three years ago, has plenty of tournament experience.

He's the 31st coach to take three schools to the NCAA tournament; he got there with Lehigh in 1988 as a 28-year-old, and took UNC-Greensboro there in 2001. He also played in the NCAAs three times, and the Siena hope is that somehow his experience will lead to making those upset plans a reality.

``I can't emphasize enough how special it is, how thrilling an accomplishment it is,'' McCaffery said, ``to play in the greatest sports extravaganza in this country.''

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Villanova hopes to avoid letdown, get another NCAA tournament upset
March 20, 2008

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -Villanova coach Jay Wright spent the last three days talking to his team about avoiding a letdown following the emotional high of getting into the NCAA tournament.

He won't know if it sank in until Friday night, when the 12th-seeded Wildcats take the court against No. 5 seed Clemson (24-9) in the opening round of the tournament's Midwest Regional.

``We want them to understand these opportunities in life only come up once in a while,'' Wright said. ``Nothing else is guaranteed. They've got to take advantage of it right now.''

The Wildcats (20-12) were one of the last teams to get into the tournament. They won six of their final nine games, including what amounted to an elimination game against Syracuse in the opening round of the Big East tournament.

But they followed that with a 19-point loss to Georgetown that put the Wildcats back on the bubble and left them waiting anxiously for the selection show.

When the brackets were revealed, the players were relieved. Wright, though, started looking for ways to get them focused on the Tigers.

Even though the Wildcats have played in the last three NCAA tournaments and reached a regional final two years ago before losing to eventual champion Florida, Wright was concerned his young team would be content with just getting in and already looking toward next season.

No chance.

``We feel privileged to be in this position right now,'' guard and leading scorer Scottie Reynolds said. ``The great teams that go on to win and be champions are the ones that are not satisfied. ... We've got more to go.''

History might agree.

No program has recorded more upsets in the NCAA tournament than Villanova, which has 12 wins as a lower-seeded team since 1979.

``The basketball program means a lot, but also the kind of guys you get when you get to the NCAA tournament,'' Wright said. ``They know there's a lot expected of them and they take pride in that tradition. I hope we can keep that up in this tournament.''

Clemson would prefer not to be another victim.

In the NCAA field for the first time since 1998, the Tigers are hoping to build on their late-season push.

They won seven of their last 10 games and advanced to the championship game of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament before losing to top-seeded North Carolina 86-81.

Nonetheless, none of Clemson's players knows what it's like to play in the NCAA's premier basketball event.

``I don't think we're concerned about a lack of experience in the NCAA tournament because we've played tournament-worthy teams and teams that are in the tournament,'' said senior guard Cliff Hammonds, who pointed to last year's NIT run. ``We've been in tournament atmospheres and tournament situations. ... We're just as tournament-experienced as any team in the country because of that.''

Teammate K.C. Rivers agreed, saying the only ACC-Big East matchup in the opening round should come down to something much less tangible than experience.

``At this point in time in the season, there are no records,'' he said. ``The seeds play no factor. It's just a matter of who wants it more. Who wants to win and advance. It's not about how long or how many years you've been to the tournament or how many times you've made it. It's about who wants it the most. That's what it comes down to.''

For Wright and the Wildcats, though, it might come down to making sure they can avoid a letdown.

``I think what affects your team the most is the mind-set,'' Wright said. ``It's not their seed. It's how they're playing coming into the tournament. I think our guys feel like we're playing well.''

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Re: Friday NCAA News and Notes

Veteran Klayton Korver key in shaping Drake's mental toughness
March 20, 2008

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -Drake isn't having fun because it's winning. The Bulldogs are winning because they're having so much fun.

And a lot of them are doing that because of Klayton Korver, whose happy-go-lucky persona in the face of repeated knee surgery has rubbed off on his teammates.

``I learned a lot of patience. I've learned you've got to enjoy it,'' Korver said. ``You don't know when it's going to be your last day. You might blow out your knee tomorrow. You never know. So enjoy your teammates, enjoy the whole experience and don't take anything for granted.''

Now he's about to play in the NCAA tournament.

The Bulldogs, fresh off the most surprising regular season in school history, will play their first NCAA game since 1971 on Friday when they face Western Kentucky in Tampa, Fla.

``It's pretty sweet,'' Korver said. ``To be here when we weren't very good, the Knapp Center wasn't very full ... and to be here now when we've had this great year, and to be able to play under Coach (Keno Davis), it's been a great season.''

Korver started 32 games this season despite having two knee operations since 2005 because of a microfracture on his knee the size of a dime. Even now, Korver's ability to work out his lower body and jump in practice is limited and he still gets treatment on it every day.

Ironically, Korver came to Drake in 2003 as one of the few big-name recruits the school has ever had. That's thanks to his older brother Kyle, who twice won league Player of the Year honors at rival Creighton.

This season, Korver hit 77 3s and shot 87.8 percent from the line, helping Drake (28-4) overcome a brief February swoon that followed a 21-game winning streak and go on to dominate the Missouri Valley conference tournament.

``You're talking about somebody that only cares about the team. He's going to make the pass, even though he's known for shooting some of the really long 3s. He just as well will make a pass into the interior to score, or make the big rebound late in games,'' Davis said. ``When you look at somebody who's come back and fought through his knee injuries and worked as hard as he's had, you cheer for that kind of story.''

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Upset-minded Governors face bigger challenge than 1987 squad that beat Illinois
March 20, 2008

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -When Austin Peay coach Dave Loos popped in a tape of the Governors' last win in the NCAA tournament over the weekend, his players couldn't believe what they were seeing.
No, not that the little school from the Ohio Valley Conference was upending one of the big boys, beating third-seeded Illinois on a pair of free throws with 2 seconds left. But those uniforms! The shorts the guys were wearing back in 1987 were barely legal.

``I told them, this is living proof that anything can happen in this tournament. It depends on whether you believe it can happen or not,'' Loos said Thursday. ``After we got over the initial shock of the difference in the way people wear their uniforms, they responded. We had a great practice that day, I know that.''

The Governors (24-10) would like nothing more than to star in their own version of ``What Not to Wear'' someday. But their task is even tougher than what that 1987 squad faced, with the Governors playing second-seeded Texas on Friday in the first round of the South Region.

Only four No. 15 seeds have pulled off a first-round upset since 1985 - Hampton was the last to do it, in 2001 - and Texas is a team many are expecting to make a deep, deep run in the tournament.

``I think they understand ... there can be no letdown, mentally as well as physically,'' said Texas coach Rick Barnes, whose team lost to Southern California in the first round last year. ``I can only hope that they've learned from it, and they realize you've worked hard and put yourself in this position. You don't want to waste it.''

The Longhorns (28-6) have lost just two games since the start of February - one of those a close one to Kansas in last weekend's Big 12 tournament - and are the only team in the country that can boast of wins against three teams that finished the year in the top five.

They have three players averaging in double figures, including D.J. Augustin, one of the best point guards in the country.

``Well, I haven't slept much lately,'' Loos said when asked his impressions of Augustin. ``I continually hear (Bob Knight) talk about Augustin being the toughest guard in the country and that makes you worry a little bit. He's a terrific player.''

Austin Peay, meanwhile, is lucky to even claim mid-mid-major status. The Ohio Valley is lugging a 19-game losing streak into the NCAA tournament, and when the Governors played at Memphis earlier this year, they got blown out 104-82.

Worse, they are, to put it nicely, on the small side. They don't start anyone taller than 6-foot-5, and they don't even try to pretend they have someone who qualifies as a big man.

``We know what the voters say,'' said Drake Reed, who leads the Governors with 14.6 points a game and is second with 5.7 rebounds. ``We're like 99-to-1, I believe. This is why we play the games. It's March and anything - something crazy happens every year. We just hope we can be the crazy team this year.''

If they are, it will be because of their trademark defense. Austin Peay has limited six of its last seven opponents to less than 40 percent shooting, and held four of the last five to 64 points or less. And while Reed may only be 6-5, his size actually creates some mismatches and forces bigger teams out of their usual game.

But it's not as if Texas hasn't seen this before. Baylor and Oklahoma State are on the smallish size, too, and the Longhorns held their own against them. Plus, Reed plays an awful lot like P.J. Tucker, the burly 6-5 forward who led the Longhorns in scoring and rebounding in 2006 and was the Big 12 player of the year.

``They'll have some quickness advantages, so we'll just have to play our defensive roles,'' Texas guard A.J. Abrams said. ``I think we can play big and small. So we just have to go out there and, like I said, compete and play hard.''

Few people would have expected Texas to be this good when the year began. Though the Longhorns returned four starters, they'd lost the national player of the year, Kevin Durant, and it's no simple feat to replace 26 points and 11 rebounds per game.

Rather than being intimidated by Durant's absence, the Longhorns embraced the opportunity it gave everybody else. Augustin and Abrams have become one of the most formidable backcourts in the country, with opponents unable to relax against either one.

They've also grown defensively. While the Texas offense gets most of the attention, the Longhorns are holding opponents to 39 percent shooting overall. Over the last 14 games, that number has dipped to 37 percent.

``We want to go out and prove to ourselves that we can win without Kevin Durant,'' Abrams said. ``Everybody worked hard. We built up a lot of chemistry throughout the summer, and I think it's paying off for us right now.''

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UConn's Thabeet presents big challenge for San Diego in NCAA tourney
March 20, 2008

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -San Diego coach Bill Grier came up with a couple of ways to prepare for 7-foot-3 Hasheem Thabeet.

``We had one of our kids get on the shoulders of another one of our kids and practice all week, then we held brooms up all around,'' Grier said Thursday.

He was joking.

But his ideas may not have been too far fetched. The 13th-seeded Toreros (21-13) haven't faced anyone with Thabeet's size and shot-blocking ability - a major concern heading into Friday's first-round NCAA tournament game against No. 4 seeded Connecticut (24-8) in the West Region.

Thabeet ranks second in the nation with 143 blocks. Averaging 4.5 blocks a game this season, the 263-pound sophomore from Tanzania broke Alonzo Mourning's single-season Big East record of 93 blocks set in 1992 and was named the conference's defensive player of the year.

When he accepted the award at the Big East banquet, clips of his blocks played on a big screen - a glaring flashback for all his victims sitting in the room. Thabeet's ensuing speech included a line thanking his teammates for allowing opponents to penetrate so he could swat so many shots.

``That's part of what I do,'' Thabeet said. ``But it's not like I have to block everything for the team to win. I'm a small part of the team defense.''

Most would disagree. Even coach Jim Calhoun lauded his post player for UConn's success.

``We would not be sitting here today with 24 wins without him,'' Calhoun said. ``He's a factor even if he doesn't block his shot. If he gets there and blocks a couple, you're going to be very careful. If you try to shoot a second one, then you're very competitive. You try to shoot the third one, then (you're) very stupid. ... He can change a game.''

Big men have made a big impact in the NCAA tournament the last two years.

Florida's Al Horford and Joakim Noah swatted some shots and altered many others at one end, then forced teams to collapse so much that it often created wide-open 3-pointers for their teammates. With Horford and Noah leading the way, the Gators became the first team in 15 years to repeat as national champions.

Throw in Ohio State's Greg Oden and Georgetown's Roy Hibbert, and centers were the center of attention in last year's Final Four.

Thabeet took notice.

``It does change the game a lot, when centers can block shots, run the floor, pass the ball, rebound and score,'' he said.

Thabeet is averaging 10.4 points and 7.9 rebounds, and shooting 60 percent from the field and 70 percent from the free throw line.

Not bad for someone who's been playing basketball for just five years. He grew up playing soccer in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, then turned to hoops at age 15. At 6-8 and still growing, friends suggested he try basketball, which would allow him to get a college education in the United States.

He searched the Internet, contacted a few small colleges and ended up at Cypress Christian School in Houston.

Although he was considered a project coming out of high school, he had offers from Louisville, Cincinnati and UConn. He chose the Huskies in hopes of following in the footsteps of some of the school's top shot-blockers like Donyell Marshall, Emeka Okafor, Josh Boone and Hilton Armstrong.

Thabeet averaged 6.2 points and 6.4 rebounds as a freshman and probably could have entered the NBA draft a year ago. But he decided to return for at least another year - and another shot at getting the Huskies back to the NCAA tournament.

They're there now - and creating matchup problems for San Diego, an 11 1/2-point underdog whose tallest starter is 7 inches shorter than Thabeet.

``He's a great shot blocker,'' Grier said. ``You see some teams on film keep trying to challenge him, and he keeps blocking shots. ... We have to be smart about it, but at the same time, we can't play in fear of him.''

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Tournament experience no prerequisite when Miami faces Saint Mary's
March 20, 2008

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -Patrick Mills is from Australia, where bracket pools aren't quite as commonplace.

``To be honest, I had no idea what the NCAA tournament was until a couple years ago,'' the Saint Mary's freshman said. ``I'm still kind of learning the rules and regulations of what happens in the tournament. It's all very, very new to me. ... I'm just going along with the ride.''

Take heart, Patrick. You aren't alone. When the 10th-seeded Gaels face seventh-seeded Miami in the South Regional on Friday, everyone who takes the court will be playing in his first NCAA tournament game.

In fact, that's about all these teams have in common in this matchup between schools separated by an entire country.

``I caught a couple of their games,'' Miami guard Jack McClinton said of his opponents from California. ``They come on late night when we're at midnight, but I caught a couple of them.''

Saint Mary's (25-6) is in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005. Guard Todd Golden was on that team, but didn't play in the Gaels' first-round loss to Southern Illinois. Miami (22-10) is in the field for the first time since 2002.

If nerves are a factor, they should affect both teams.

``That will definitely play a role, just because we aren't used to playing on this type of stage in terms of being in the tournament,'' Golden said. ``But we've played games on our schedule this year that have definitely prepared us for it.''

Saint Mary's beat Drake and Oregon in November, lost big at Texas in January and split two games with Gonzaga during the West Coast Conference regular season. Miami, of course, plays in the Atlantic Coast Conference and is used to difficult competition.

The Hurricanes were predicted to be the ACC's worst team this season, and they did little to silence their critics while starting 2-6 in conference play. But Miami rallied to an 8-8 record in the league, including a win over Duke on Feb. 20.

``The basketball tradition we took over at Miami was not where, say, other ACC teams are,'' said coach Frank Haith, in his fourth year with the Hurricanes. ``But that night after we beat Duke and we're walking off that floor, it was a tremendous feeling in that gym, and that was something I envisioned us being able to do and hopefully something we can build on.''

McClinton leads Miami with 17 points per game, and he shoots 43 percent from 3-point range. The Hurricanes have won 7 of 10 and hope their appearance in the NCAA tournament will earn them some recognition after being overshadowed by the school's football program and the city of Miami's pro teams.

``There's so many other things to do in Miami,'' McClinton said. ``We had a pretty successful season this year, and I believe if we keep doing that, I think Miami basketball will be on the rise.''

Saint Mary's lost to San Diego in the semifinals of the WCC tournament. Mills, the Gaels' leading scorer at 14.5 points per game, has struggled with his shooting lately. The 5-foot-11 guard is 15-of-57 from 3-point range over the last dozen games.

Forward Diamon Simpson (13.6 ppg) also contributes to a balanced offense.

Mills is one of four players on the roster from Australia, where first-year assistant coach David Patrick used to play.

``It's a family setting there at Saint Mary's. Sometimes when you're an Australian kid and you go to a big institution, you can kind of get lost,'' Patrick said. ``From Saint Mary's, everyone's brought them in and it's a family atmosphere.''

In addition to learning about an unfamiliar opponent, Saint Mary's has had to prepare for an unusual starting time. The Gaels and Hurricanes are scheduled to tip off around 11:30 a.m. local time - or 9:30 a.m. back in California.

``This week we were pretty smart and prepared for it,'' Golden said. ``The day before we came down here we practiced at 9:30 our time just so we could get our body clocks ready for the game.''

That's just one of several adjustments the Gaels and Hurricanes have had to make as they enter unfamiliar territory, but the players sound more eager than worried. Mills, for one, has played in big games before - for Australia at the international level.

``Having 25,000 Turks screaming at you the whole game - I feel that it's not a whole lot different in that sense,'' Mills said. ``But then again, this is the NCAA tournament. It's one of the biggest events in the world - as I've come to learn.''

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Tar Heels know being close to home doesn't guarantee anything in NCAAs
March 20, 2008

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -Deon Thompson and his North Carolina teammates looked at home in their RBC Center locker room, so much so that it almost felt more like an Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season game than the start of the NCAA tournament.

The Tar Heels merely had to hop on a bus for a short ride east on Interstate 40 to an arena where they play every season against one of their biggest rivals.

But don't expect the tournament's overall No. 1 seed to get too comfy in the familiar surroundings for Friday's first-round game against Mount St. Mary's - not with that massive NCAA logo staring at them at midcourt as a reminder that a season's worth of success can end with one bad performance.

``There's a different symbol on the court,'' Thompson said Thursday, ``so you're going to take it as something different.''

That's not to say the Tar Heels (32-2) don't feel they have earned an advantage by playing their way here, the home arena for rival North Carolina State. They ran down Duke for the ACC regular-season title after trailing the Blue Devils by two games in February, then survived a tough three-game run through the league tournament in Charlotte last week.

If they beat the Mountaineers (19-14) and the Indiana-Arkansas winner in Sunday's second round, they can get back there for next weekend's regionals and a chance to go to the Final Four. North Carolina is 21-1 in NCAA tournament games played in its home state.

But while they fought all season for that coveted draw, the Tar Heels don't act as though they believe they have an easy path to San Antonio. They're walking the line between being happy to have a blue-tinged home crowd and treating the tournament the same way they would if they were playing hours from home.

The players started by deciding not to sleep in their own beds, opting instead to stay in a hotel in nearby Cary when given a choice by coach Roy Williams.

``We're just hoping to keep everybody's head right here in Raleigh, not have friends and things like that we'd have to worry about in Chapel Hill,'' junior Marcus Ginyard said. ``It's just get everybody here, everybody continue to stay focused and be ready to play.''

Williams has been the same way, routinely dismissing questions in recent weeks about the importance of playing close to home by saying that a building has never won a game for him. He even has cited an example several times: Virginia upset his top-seeded Kansas team in an NCAA round-of-16 game played in Kansas City, Mo., in 1995.

Of course, Mount St. Mary's - which beat Coppin State in Tuesday's play-in game to earn the No. 16 seed in the East Regional - figures it's just another disadvantage to overcome in what looks to be a daunting matchup.

``It's going to take a tremendous effort, no question about that,'' Mountaineers coach Milan Brown said. ``We're going to put our best foot forward and believe in the dream that we can get it done.

``We'll show up with a rock and a slingshot, man.''

If anything, the Tar Heels can look back on the start of last year's tournament run, played in similar circumstances, as a reminder of what not to do. The top-seeded Tar Heels romped to a 27-point first-half lead against No. 16 seed Eastern Kentucky in Winston-Salem before the Colonels rallied to within four points early after the break.

The Tar Heels, playing in front of a crowd where most fans wore light blue and cheered their every move, eventually took an 86-65 win.

All-American Tyler Hansbrough figured it would catch him ``off-guard at first'' to see blue-clad fans Friday night in the seats normally filled with rowdy and obnoxious fans wearing red and spewing insults at them, as in their visit here last month.

Then again, it beats leaving the state.

``It's going to be weird being in a State gym and seeing Carolina blue,'' junior Danny Green said. ``We're going to try to use every advantage we have possible, and I feel like this is an advantage for us.''

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St. Joe's, Oklahoma starting new postseason streaks in return to NCAA tournament
March 20, 2008

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -Remember Saint Joseph's? The team that was a No. 1 NCAA tournament seed four years ago. Even made it to the regional final.

Well, the Hawks are back - but with an extra ``1'' in the seed. The 11th-seeded Hawks (21-12) return to the NCAA field Friday against No. 6 seed Oklahoma in their first trip since grabbing a spot atop the bracket.

Since then, St. Joseph's coach Phil Martelli figures his team has been plagued by the ``out of sight, out of mind'' syndrome.

``What can happen when you're in a non-BCS conference is, (people wonder) where have you gone and what have you done?'' Martelli said. ``We've had terrific years since that '04 team played in the regional final.''

The Hawks even had postseason success, making it to the NIT final in 2005. But the short-lived NCAA glory faded into a memory.

This group is more Ordinary St. Joe's than the last NCAA team that went 27-0 in the regular season and had two NBA first-round draft picks. The Hawks squeezed into the field with an at-large berth after losing to Temple in the Atlantic 10 championship game.

Both the Hawks and Sooners (22-11) have enjoyed turnarounds since having postseason streaks end last season. For the Hawks, it was the end of a six-year string, a paltry thing compared to Oklahoma's 25-year streak that was the nation's longest.

The painful memory of staying home in March lingers for the Sooners, even those who weren't around to endure it.

``We remember how it was last year,'' said freshman forward Blake Griffin, an All-Big 12 Conference selection. ``That feeling was so close, watching games on TV and seeing teams losing and you see the seniors in the last game they play on the college level.

``For me, it just kind of puts things in perspective and gives you more excitement to play.''

If that doesn't do it, a much longer look back might. The Sooners made it to the national championship game following their last tournament visit to Birmingham two decades ago. Plus, they made it to the Final Four in '02 and a regional final the following season.

And if that fails to motivate? Oklahoma players can just listen to coach Jeff Capel, who logged plenty of tourney time as a Duke guard and played in the 1994 national title game.

``He tells us stories, a lot of stories about his former teams and what it takes to win games at this level and what it means to be in the NCAA tournament,'' center Longar Longar said. ``He helps us in so many different ways to focus and understand that every game is win or go home from this point on.''

Capel's advice: Have fun and have a ``sense of urgency,'' a hard-to-achieve blend of emotions.

``All year long you try to get your guys to believe this, but when you get to this point every game really could be the last for this group,'' he said. ``You really want to try to savor each moment and really try to lay everything on the line to try to extend your season.''

The Hawks have only two players with NCAA tournament experience. Fifth-year senior Arvydas Lidzius, a little-used reserve, was on the team in 2004 and starting point guard Tasheed Carr made the tourney with Iowa State in 2005 - making him the most familiar player to his former Big 12 rivals.

Clearly, St. Joe's is embracing the underdog role.

``Throughout the whole season, we have been pretty much seen as the underdogs,'' forward Rob Ferguson said. ``We're kind of used to it. I think it kind of gives us a little extra chip on our shoulder.''

The Hawks also get to play a team from one of those BCS schools that get more TV time and headlines.

``It's just a wonderful feeling all around,'' center Ahmad Nivins said. ``You watch those big schools all year long and wonder how you'd match up with a team like that, and now you get the chance.''

Plus, that '04 run ended with a 64-62 loss to Oklahoma State.

Remember, St. Joe's?

``I have a twitch every time I hear Oklahoma, to be honest with you, but that's just me,'' Martelli said.

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Oregon will try to spread floor against Mississippi State in NCAA opener
March 20, 2008

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -Jarvis Varnado won't block what he can't reach, which is why Oregon's 3-point shooting might be the biggest factor in the Ducks' first-round game against Mississippi State.

``It's not the best matchup for Jarvis because they're going to spread the floor,'' Bulldogs coach Rick Stansbury said. ``They're going to initiate their offense with him out on the perimeter. Naturally it takes away some of Jarvis' shot-blocking ability.''

Varnado has blocked 148 shots this season for eighth-seeded Mississippi State, which faces ninth-seeded Oregon (18-13) in the South Regional on Friday night. The 6-foot-9 sophomore blocked 10 shots in a game three times.

It's no coincidence that opponents are shooting 37 percent against the Bulldogs. The question is whether they've met their match.

``We've heard all the numbers in terms of the shot blocking and all of that,'' Oregon coach Ernie Kent said. ``We're not necessarily an inside-oriented, post-them-up basketball team. We can put five guys on the floor that can shoot the 3.''

Oregon guard Malik Hairston averages 16.1 points per game and is shooting 44 percent from 3-point range. Maarty Leunen, a 6-foot-9 forward, shoots 51 percent from long distance. As a team, the Ducks are at 40 percent.

``We shoot a pretty high percentage at it,'' guard Bryce Taylor said. ``It's something that we don't like to rely on too much because if you have an off night, then it can kind of take you out of the game. ... We're still going to go in there and try to challenge the shot blocker and put some pressure on the defense.''

There's only so much a team can do against Mississippi State's defense. At Thursday's news conference, Bulldogs forward Charles Rhodes compared Oregon's offense to Florida's because of the spacing the teams use.

Mississippi State beat Florida earlier this month. Varnado blocked seven shots in that game.

The Bulldogs (22-10) don't rely on Varnado for offense. Jamont Gordon averages 17.3 points, and Rhodes averages 16.9. Stansbury described the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Gordon as ``a point guard in a fullback's body.''

Oregon guard Tajuan Porter is 5-foot-6, but the rest of the Ducks' likely starters are at least 6-foot-4.

Mississippi State won the SEC West by three games, but lost to Georgia in the conference tournament. Mississippi State was outrebounded 46-33 in that game by a Georgia team that was playing its second game of the day because a tornado had interrupted the schedule.

``We did get a little out-toughed because they beat us on the backboards,'' Gordon said. ``We still played hard. We're going to come out and play even harder against Oregon.''

Mississippi State is in the NCAA tournament for the fifth time in Stansbury's 10 seasons. The Bulldogs haven't made it out of the second round under him, and their odds aren't great this year either. The Mississippi State-Oregon winner faces a probable matchup with top-seeded Memphis in round two.

The Bulldogs are confident about the opener against Oregon, though.

``We match up with them very well,'' Rhodes said. ``We've got to bring our `A' game. We can't bring the game we brought in the SEC tournament.''

Oregon reached the regional finals last year and in 2002. The Ducks' path back looks difficult, however. They went .500 during the regular season in Pac-10 play, and although they earned an at-large bid to this NCAA tournament, they had to travel all the way to Arkansas to play.

Mississippi State, on the other hand, was able to stay in Southeastern Conference country.

``I'm sure we'll have as many Bulldog fans as we can that can buy tickets here,'' Stansbury said. ``That's a plus.''

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South Alabama hopes to steal mid-major magic from Butler in NCAA first round
March 20, 2008

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -South Alabama wants what No. 11 Butler has - a reputation for success in March.

The only way to earn it begins Friday with a win in one of the more intriguing first-round NCAA tournament matchups.

``I think that's something that every mid-major would want, (to be in) the top 10, top 15 in the country,'' South Alabama guard Demetric Bennett said. ``They work hard, they earned their credibility, and that's something we're trying to do now with the University of South Alabama.''

The Bulldogs (29-3) have advanced beyond the first round in their last three tournament trips, dispelling the myth that mid-majors are merely mulch for big conference schools with designs on a national title.

Last year, Butler upset Maryland in the first round before falling to eventual national champion Florida. In 2003, the Bulldogs advanced to the regional semifinals with wins against Mississippi State and Louisville but was beat by Oklahoma. And in 2001, Butler knocked off Wake Forest before losing to Arizona.

Butler might be even better this year under first-year coach Brad Stevens. The Bulldogs can set a school record for victories with a win over South Alabama in the East Regional.

Only Memphis (33), North Carolina (32), UCLA (31) and Kansas (31) - all top seeds in the tournament - have more wins than Butler, a 4,400-student college in Indianapolis.

South Alabama (26-6) has been busy building its own tradition in Mobile. This is the Jaguars' third straight trip to the postseason. Their nonconference schedule was designed to prepare them for the tournament and catch the attention of the selection committee.

``I think we're establishing our own identity,'' South Alabama's Daon Merritt said. ``We're not trying to be like none of the other mid-majors, and we really don't consider ourselves a mid-major. We have been in the postseason for the last three years. I think with the group of guys we have coming back next year that's something that we will continue to have, that same kind of success.''

The Jaguars, who lost in the Sun Belt Conference tournament semifinals, beat tournament teams Mississippi State, San Diego and Western Kentucky. And South Alabama lost on the road by just three points each to Vanderbilt and Mississippi.

Though some questioned the Jaguars' inclusion in the tournament, Butler coach Brad Stevens was not among them.

``There is no question in my mind that they're one of the best teams in the country,'' he said. ``And I don't know how seeding works, I don't know how all that stuff happens, but they're certainly deserving of being in the NCAA tournament.''

Every time the Jaguars suit up for a home game, they are reminded how success at the NCAA tournament can become a hallmark for a team, a school and thousands of fans. Before lineups are announced, South Alabama plays a clip of the 3-point shot that helped the Jaguars knock off Alabama in the first round of the 1989 tournament.

Coach Ronnie Arrow, then in his first stint in Mobile, jumps for joy in the clip. That leap has been replayed hundreds of times, and now South Alabama players hope they can inspire another jump for joy.

``It may not be quite as high,'' Arrow said. ``That was a couple years ago, but I just want to be given the opportunity to. That jump has gone a long way.''

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MIDWEST REGION

(10) Davidson (26-6, 19-11 ATS) vs. (7) Gonzaga (25-7, 17-15 ATS)


Gonzaga won the West Coast Conference regular-season championship, but the Bulldogs were stunned in the conference tournament final, losing to tourney host San Diego 69-62 as a 7½-point favorite. That defeat snapped the Bulldogs’ seven-game winning streak, and they have followed a 6-1 ATS run with consecutive non-covers.

Gonzaga, which is in the Tournament for the 10th straight year, lost to Indiana 70-57 as a 1½-point underdog in the first round of last year’s event, its first opening-round exit since 2002.

Davidson, the champion of the Big South Conference, carries the nation’s longest active winning streak into the Tournament, having won 22 in a row (14-8 ATS). The Wildcats, who are back in the Big Dance for the third straight year, rolled through their conference tournament, winning three games by margins of 33, 30 and 16 points. They come into this contest having won six straight by double digits.

Gonzaga is stuck in ATS ruts of 2-5 in the NCAA Tournament, 2-5 at neutral sites, 1-5 in non-conference action and 1-4 on Fridays. However, the Bulldogs are 9-3 ATS in their last 12 as an underdog.

The Wildcats boast a bunch of positive ATS trends, including 40-19-1 overall, 5-1 at neutral sites, 4-1 in non-conference play, 7-3 as a favorite, 39-15-1 as a favorite of less than seven points, 23-9-1 against winning teams and 45-14-2 after a non-cover.

No. 7 seeds swept No. 10 seeds in last year’s NCAA Tournament, going 4-0 ATS in the process.

Favorites went 13-3 ATS in Thursday’s opening-round games, this after the chalks dominated first-round play in 2007, going 21-10-1 ATS.

For Davison, the under is on streaks of 7-1 overall, 7-1 at neutral sites and 4-0 as a neutral-site favorite. Conversely, for Gonzaga, the over is on runs of 10-4 in the NCAA Tournament, 21-8 as an underdog, 14-5 as a neutral-site underdog and 6-1 on Fridays.

ATS ADVANTAGE: DAVIDSON


(15) MD-Baltimore County (24-8, 1-0 ATS) vs. (2) Georgetown (27-5, 13-16 ATS)


Georgetown had a seven-game winning streak (5-2 ATS) snapped in Saturday’s 74-65 loss to Pitt in the Big East championship game, failing as a five-point chalk. The Hoyas, who won the Big East regular-season title for the second straight season, are in the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year and are looking for back-to-back trips to the Final Four for the first time since 1982-83.

Maryland-Baltimore County captured both the regular-season and conference-tournament titles in the America East conference to earn its first-ever trip to the Big Dance. The Retrievers enter this contest having won three in a row and 12 of their last 13.

Georgetown has cashed in seven of its last eight games after a straight-up defeat. The Hoyas are also 14-6 AS in their last 20 games after a non-cover and 5-2 ATS in their last seven against winning teams. However, they’re 1-6 ATS as a favorite of 15 points or more this season.

UMBC’s only lined game this year was in Saturday’s America East tournament championship game, and it cashed as an eight-point chalk in an 82-65 rout of Hartford.

No. 2 seeds went 4-0 SU and 2-1-1 ATS in last year’s opening-round of the NCAA Tournament, including the Hoyas’ 80-55 rout of Belmont as a 16-point favorite. Also, over the last two years, double-digit favorites are an astounding 12-3-1 ATS (5-1 ATS on Thursday).

Going back to last year’s Tournament, the top five seeds have won 30 straight first-round games, going 24-4-1 ATS (10-0 SU, 9-1 ATS on Thursday).

The under is on runs for Georgetown of 13-6 in non-conference games, 9-2 in the NCAA Tournament, 47-21 as a favorite and 11-5 as a neutral-site favorite.

ATS ADVANTAGE: GEORGETOWN and UNDER


(13) Siena (22-10, 17-13 ATS) vs. (4) Vanderbilt (26-7, 16-16 ATS)

Vanderbilt has been inconsistent so far in March, following up a seven-game winning streak by alternating wins and losses in its past five contests. The Commodores topped Auburn 93-82 as an eight-point favorite in the opening round of the SEC tournament a week ago today, then lost to Arkansas on Friday 81-75 as a 1½-point underdog. On the bright side, Vandy is 7-4 ATS in its last 11 contests.

The Commodores advanced to the Sweet 16 of last year’s Tournament, losing a 66-56 heartbreaker to No. 2 seed Georgetown. Vandy cashed as a 7½-point underdog in the defeat, completing a 3-0 ATS run in last year’s tourney.

Siena, which won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament championship, enters this game on a six-game winning streak (4-2 ATS), with all four spread-covers coming in double-digit routs. This is the Saints’ fourth trip to the Big Dance in school history, and the first since 2002.

Siena is 1-6 ATS in its last seven neutral-site contests, but 26-10 ATS in its last 36 as an underdog (9-2 ATS as a ‘dog of 7 to 12½ points) and 4-1 ATS in its last five on Fridays. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt is on ATS runs of 7-1 in neutral-site games (4-0 as a favorite), 5-1 in the NCAA Tournament and 15-7 in non-conference action.

No. 4 seeds were 4-0 SU and ATS in opening-round Tournament games last March.

For the Commodores, the over is on streaks of 4-1 overall, 10-4 at neutral sites and 25-10 in non-league play. The over is also 8-3 in Siena’s last 11 neutral contests, 5-0 in its last five as an underdog and 10-3 in its last 13 on Fridays. However, the Saints enter this event on a 4-0 “under” streak.

ATS ADVANTAGE: OVER


(12) Villanova (20-12, 12-17 ATS) vs. (5) Clemson (24-9, 19-11 ATS)

Clemson came up just short in Sunday’s ACC tournament championship game against top-ranked North Carolina, falling 86-81 but cashing a 5½-point underdog. The Tigers, who are on a 9-4 SU and ATS roll, are in the Big Dance for the first time in 10 years.

Villanova received one of the final at-large bids after closing the season on a 6-3 run. However, the Wildcats did have a three-game winning streak snapped in an 82-63 Big East tournament quarterfinal loss to Georgetown, never coming close to covering as a 6½-point underdog. The Wildcats have made the Field of 65 for the fourth consecutive year, though they got bounced as a No. 9 seed in last year’s opening round, losing 67-58 to Kentucky as a one-point chalk.

The Tigers are on positive ATS runs of 10-4 in non-conference play, 4-1 at neutral sites and 4-1 on Fridays. However, they’ve failed to cash in six of their last eight when favored at a neutral venue.

Including last year’s loss to Kentucky, Villanova is mired in an 0-5 ATS slump in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats are also 1-4 ATS in their last five non-league games and 2-8 ATS in their last 10 after a SU defeat. On a positive note, Jay Wright’s squad is 13-4 ATS in its last 17 games as an underdog at neutral sites.

All four No. 5 seeds won their opening-round games last year (3-1 ATS), and the fifth seed was 9-3 SU over the last three Tournaments coming into this year.

Villanova has been a strong “under” team, staying low in 19 of its last 26 overall, five of its last six NCAA Tournament games, five of its last six non-conference outings and six of its last eight on Friday. Also, the under is 9-4-1 in Clemson’s last 14 overall and 9-2-1 in Clemson’s last 11 as a favorite. However, the Tigers have topped the total in 11 of their last 14 non-league games and each of their last six against the Big East.

ATS ADVANTAGE: NONE


WEST REGION

(12) Western Kentucky (27-6, 17-12 ATS) vs. (5) Drake (28-4, 20-7-1 ATS)


Drake was one of the biggest surprises in the nation this year, rolling to both the regular-season and league-tournament titles in the always-competitive Missouri Valley Conference, ending an NCAA Tournament drought that stretched back to 1971. The Bulldogs, who at one point in the season won 21 straight games, are riding a four-game winning streak, and they went 3-0 ATS in last week’s Missouri Valley tournament, which came on the heels of a 2-4-1 ATS slump.

Western Kentucky captured the Sun Belt Conference tournament championship 10 days ago, beating Middle Tennessee State 67-57 as an 8½-point favorite. The Hilltoppers, who are making their fourth NCAA Tournament appearance this decade, have won six in a row and 17 of their last 18, and they’ve cashed in each of their last five contests (all double-digit wins).

Drake has nothing but positive ATS streaks, including 20-7 in non-conference play, 13-6 as a favorite, 7-0 when coming off a win of 20 points or more, 4-1 at neutral sites and 8-1 on Fridays. Meanwhile, Western Kentucky is on pointspread runs of 36-15 in non-league play and 6-0 at neutral sites.

The under is 14-6 in Western Kentucky’s last 20 overall and 6-1 in Drake’s last seven non-conference games. However, the over is 6-1 in Drake’s last seven overall, 12-3-1 in the Hilltoppers’ last 16 neutral-site games, 9-3 in their last 12 non-conference contests and 4-1 in their last five versus the Missouri Valley Conference.

ATS ADVANTAGE: NONE


(13) San Diego (21-13, 21-9 ATS) vs. (4) UConn (24-8, 13-14-1 ATS)

UConn followed up a 10-game winning streak by splitting its last six games, including bowing out in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament, losing to West Virginia 78-72 as a 2½-point chalk. The Huskies are just 3-5 ATS in their last eight games.

UConn missed last year’s NCAA Tournament, with its most recent tourney game being memorable for all the wrong reasons, as it suffered an 86-84 overtime upset loss to George Mason in the 2006 Elite Eight. The Huskies, who failed as an eight-point favorite in that historic defeat, are in an 0-6 ATS slump in the NCAA Tournament (all as a favorite).

San Diego went 13-2 SU down the stretch, including back-to-back upsets of Top 25-ranked foes St. Mary’s and Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference tournament to reach the Big Dance for the fourth time in school history and first since 2003. The Toreros have also been a moneymaking machine, going 13-3 ATS in their last 16.

During their current 13-3 ATS run, the Toreros have cashed in six of their last seven road games and eight straight contests as an underdog. For the season, USD is 14-4 ATS as a pup. Going back further, the Toreros are on ATS streaks of 20-7 overall, 37-14 after a victory, 35-16 in non-conference action and 35-17 as an underdog.

In addition to being 0-6 ATS in its last six NCAA tourney games, UConn is mired in pointspread slumps of 3-10 in non-conference action, 5-16 at neutral sites, 3-14 as a neutral-site favorite and 1-4 on Fridays.

The over is on runs of 4-1 for USD overall, 5-0 for UConn overall, 7-2 for UConn in the NCAA Tournament, 8-0 for UConn at neutral sites and 4-0 for UConn on Fridays.

ATS ADVANTAGE:  SAN DIEGO and OVER


EAST REGION

(15) American (21-11, 0-1 ATS) vs. (2) Tennessee (29-4, 16-13 ATS)


Tennessee got bounced in the semifinals of last week’s SEC tournament, losing to Arkansas 92-91 as a six-point favorite, a defeat that snapped the Vols’ four-game winning streak. Tennessee, which hasn’t lost consecutive games all year, is still 14-2 SU in its last 16 games, but six of the last seven have been decided by four points or fewer.

The Vols, who are making their third consecutive Tournament appearance, came within a whisker of reaching the Elite Eight last year, blowing a big lead against top-seeded Ohio State in an 85-84 loss as a 4½-point underdog.

American knocked off Colgate 52-46, falling just short as a seven-point favorite, in Saturday’s Patriot League championship game to snatch its first-ever NCAA Tournament berth. The Eagles have won four in a row and 10 of their last 11 games, but their only lined contest of the season came against Colgate.

Tennessee is 14-6-1 ATS in its last 21 non-SEC contests and 6-2 ATS in its last eight when laying 13 points or more. However, the Vols are stuck in pointspread ruts of 7-20-1 at neutral sites, 4-17-1 as a neutral-site chalk and 1-5-1 as an NCAA Tournament favorite. Meanwhile, going back several years, the Eagles are 0-5 ATS in their last five as an underdog of 13 points or more.

The over is 3-1 in Tennessee’s last four overall, 4-1 in its last five at neutral venues and 5-2 in its last seven on Friday.

ATS ADVANTAGE: TENNESSEE and OVER


(10) South Alabama (26-6, 17-9 ATS) vs. (7) Butler (29-3, 16-13-2 ATS)

Butler dropped to a No. 7 seed despite being ranked in the Top 15 most of the season and despite winning 13 of its final 14 games, including a pair of victories en route to winning last week’s Horizon League tournament. The Bulldogs have cashed in each of their last three games, all as a double-digit favorite, after going 4-10-2 ATS in their previous 16 contests.

Butler, which is in the Tournament for the fourth time this decade, advanced all the way to the Sweet 16 last year, where they were eliminated by eventual national champion Florida in a 65-57 loss. The Bulldogs cashed as a 10½-point chalk against Florida, finishing the tourney 3-0 ATS.

South Alabama received a somewhat controversial NCAA Tournament bid after getting knocked out of the Sun Belt Conference tournament in the semifinal round, losing 82-73 to Middle Tennessee as an 11½-point favorite. Prior to that setback, the Jaguars had won five in a row and 21 of 23, and although they failed to cover in both Sun Belt tournament games, they’re still 11-6 ATS in their last 17 lined contests.

South Alabama went one-and-done in its most recent NCAA Tournament appearance in 2006, losing to eventual national champ Florida 76-50 as an 8½-point underdog in the opening round.

Butler is riding ATS streaks of 5-1 in the Tournament, 20-6 in non-conference games, 5-1 at neutral sites and 7-1 on Fridays. Meanwhile, South Alabama features ATS streaks of 9-1 as an underdog, 5-0 in non-conference play and 11-2 on Fridays.

The Bulldogs have stayed under the total in four straight NCAA Tournament contests. Otherwise, the over is on runs of 6-1 for Butler as a neutral-site favorite, 6-2 for Butler in non-conference play, 5-2 for the Jaguars overall and 6-2 for the Jaguars in non-conference play.

ATS ADVANTAGE: OVER


(11) St. Joe’s (21-12, 19-12 ATS) vs. (6) Oklahoma (22-11, 14-15 ATS)

After missing out on last year’s Big Dance, Oklahoma was awarded an at-large berth this season after winning seven of its final 10 games (5-5 ATS). However, the Sooners weren’t even competitive in Saturday’s 77-49 loss to Texas in the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament, getting crushed as a 5½-point underdog.

St. Joe’s came up just short of capturing the Atlantic 10 tournament championship and automatic bid on Saturday, losing 69-64 to Temple as a 2½-point favorite. Despite the defeat – which halted a three-game SU and ATS roll – the Hawks received their first Tournament invite since 2004, when they suffered a two-point loss to Oklahoma State in the Elite Eight

The Sooners are in the midst of ATS downturns of 1-4 in the Tournament (all as a favorite), 7-19 at neutral sites (2-8 as a neutral-site chalk), 3-7 as a favorite overall and 2-5 on Fridays. Conversely, St. Joe’s is on pointspread streaks of 7-0 in non-conference play, 6-1-1 on Fridays, 14-3 after a SU defeat, 4-1 at neutral sites and 7-2 as an underdog this year.

Coming into this year’s Tournament, No. 6 seeds were on a 14-6 SU run in the first round over a five-season stretch, though six-seeds went 2-2 SU and ATS in the opening round in 2007.

For St. Joe’s, the under is on runs of 6-2 overall, 7-2 at neutral sites and 4-0 as a ‘dog. For the Sooners, the under is on streaks of 7-0 overall and 5-1 at neutral sites.

ATS ADVANTAGE: ST. JOE’S and UNDER


(14) Boise State (25-8, 15-12 ATS) vs. (3) Louisville (24-8, 17-12-1 ATS)

Louisville tasted defeat in its final two games, suffering narrow losses to Georgetown (55-52 as a 3½-point underdog) in the regular-season finale, then falling to eventual Big East tournament champ Pitt eight days ago (76-69 in overtime as a 5½-point chalk). Still, the Cardinals were an easy choice for an at-large bid, as they preceded those two defeats with a nine-game winning streak. They’re also on a 14-4-2 ATS roll (9-2 ATS in the last 11).

Last year, Louisville blasted Stanford 78-58 as a 5½-point chalk in the opening round of the tourney, but got eliminated two days later, falling 72-69 to Texas A&M as a 2½-point ‘dog. This is the fifth time in the last six years that Rick Pitino has led his team into the Tournament.

Boise State, which finished in a four-way tie for first place in the Western Athletic Conference regular season, survived a triple-overtime thriller against New Mexico State in Saturday’s WAC championship game, pulling out a 107-102 upset win as a 7½-point road underdog. The victory gave the Broncos their first tourney berth since 1994, when they faced – ironically – Louisville in the first round, losing 67-58.

Boise comes into this game on a 13-3 run, going 6-3 ATS in its last nine lined outings. The Broncos are on additional pointspread streaks of 8-1 as an underdog and 5-2 as a neutral-site ‘dog. However, they’re just 3-7 ATS in their last 10 non-conference outings.

Louisville dropped to 1-4 ATS in its last five neutral-site games and is 0-4 ATS in its last four Friday contests. The Cardinals are also just 2-6 ATS in their last eight non-league games and 2-5 ATS in their last seven when laying 13 points or more.

All four No. 3 seeds won their opening-round games last year, going 3-1 ATS.

The over is on streaks of 4-1 for Louisville in the Tournament, 5-0 for Louisville after a loss, 25-8-1 for Boise overall, 42-18 for Boise as an underdog, 8-1 for Boise in neutral-site games and 9-0 for Boise on Friday.

ATS ADVANTAGE: BOISE STATE and OVER

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Re: Friday NCAA News and Notes

EAST REGION

(16) Mount St. Mary’s (19-14, 2-0 ATS) vs. (1) North Carolina (32-2, 20-11 ATS)


North Carolina raced to the finish line with 11 consecutive wins, beating Duke 76-68 as a 1½-point road underdog on March 8 to claim the regular-season ACC title, then winning three games in three days to claim the league’s tournament championship, holding off Clemson 86-81 on Sunday. The only downside for the Tar Heels: They come into today in a 1-5 ATS slump, including 0-5 ATS as a favorite

The Tar Heels have qualified for the Big Dance in all five of coach Roy Williams’ seasons on the bench, and they’ve won their opening-round game each of the previous four years (1-2-1 ATS). Last year, UNC made it all the way to the Elite Eight, getting eliminated by Georgetown 96-84 in overtime as a 3½-point chalk.

Mount St. Mary’s knocked off Coppin State 69-60 in Tuesday’s “play-in” game in Dayton, Ohio, holding on for the spread-cover as a seven-point favorite. The Mountaineers, who qualified for their third NCAA Tournament – and first since 1999 – by winning the Northeast Conference tournament title, have won five in a row and eight of their last nine.

Despite their recent 1-5 ATS slump, the Tar Heels are still 5-1 ATS in their last six on Fridays and 38-17-1 ATS in their last 56 non-conference outings, including 12-1 ATS in non-league affairs this season.

Mount St. Mary’s didn’t play a lined game all season until its conference tournament finale and has had just six games on the board going back to the 2003-04 campaign. Also, the Mountaineers hadn’t played at a neutral venue this year prior to Tuesday, though they have now won six of their last seven on the highway.

No. 16 seeds are 0-92 all-time in the Tournament, and last year, the four bottom seeds lost in the opening round by an average of 31.3 points per game, going 1-3 ATS.

The under is 4-2 in the Mountaineers’ last five lined games, but the over is 19-11-1 in North Carolina’s lined contests this year, including 5-2-1 in the last eight and 8-4 on the road. The over is also 5-2 in the Heels’ last seven non-conference contests.

ATS ADVANTAGE: NORTH CAROLINA


(9) Arkansas (22-11, 11-16-1 ATS) vs. (8) Indiana (25-7, 13-15-1 ATS)

Indiana started the season 24-4, but then the controversy surrounding former coach Kelvin Sampson hit, and the Hoosiers struggled to the finish line, losing three of their final four games while going 1-5 ATS in their last six. That includes a last-second 59-58 loss to Minnesota as a six-point favorite in last Friday’s quarterfinal Big Ten contest.

This is the Hoosiers’ third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, having bowed out in the second round each of the last two years.

Arkansas is playing in mid-March for the third straight year, despite the fact the Razorbacks are just 5-6 in their last 11 games (3-7-1 ATS). The Hogs did advance all the way to the SEC championship game, where they lost to upstart Georgia on Sunday, 66-57 as a 7½-point chalk. Arkansas’ stay in the Big Dance has been brief the last two years, losing to USC 77-60 as a two-point underdog last year and falling to Bucknell 59-55 as a five-point chalk in 2006.

Even though they’re mired in a current 1-5 ATS funk, the Hoosiers are on positive pointspread runs of 5-2 in the Tournament, 5-2 as a favorite of less than seven points and 14-6-1 as a chalk at neutral sites.

Arkansas brings nothing but negative ATS trends into this game, including 0-4 in the Tournament, 1-9 as an underdog, 1-4 on Fridays and 3-8-1 as an underdog at neutral venues.

The over is 7-2 in the Razorbacks’ last nine as an underdog and 7-3 in Indiana’s last 10 as a chalk. Otherwise, though, Indiana is on under streaks of 7-0 at neutral sites, 4-0 against SEC foes, 5-1 on Fridays and 4-1 in non-Big Ten contests.

ATS ADVANTAGE: INDIANA and UNDER


SOUTH REGION

(10) St. Mary’s (25-6, 15-12-1 ATS) vs. (7) Miami, Fla. (22-10, 15-7-3 ATS)


Miami (Fla.) ended a six-year NCAA Tournament drought despite finishing at just .500 (10-10) in ACC play this season, including splitting a pair of conference tournament games last week. The Hurricanes routed N.C. State 63-50 as a five-point favorite one day before getting eliminated in a 63-49 loss to Virginia Tech as a one-point chalk. The ‘Canes have split their last six (2-3-1 ATS) after going 4-0 SU and ATS in their previous four.

St. Mary’s has been idle since March 9, when it blew a double-digit second-half lead to San Diego in the semifinals of the West Coast Conference tournament, falling 75-69 in double overtime as a 5½-point favorite. The Gaels, who are dancing for the first time since 2005, went just 2-3 SU (1-4 ATS) in their final five contests after winning 11 of their previous 12 (9-3 ATS).

The Hurricanes boast ATS runs of 11-7-3 overall, 9-3 as a favorite, 5-1 at neutral sites, 7-1-2 after a non-cover and 8-0 in non-conference action. However, they’re just 12-25 ATS in their last 37 when laying less than seven points.

St. Mary’s is 1-4 ATS in its last five as an underdog, 0-8 ATS in its last eight as a neutral-site pup, 0-5 ATS in its last five against winning teams and 2-12-2 ATS in its last 16 at neutral venues. The only positive for the Gaels: They’ve cashed in four straight Friday contests.

The under is on runs of 7-1 for Miami in non-conference play, 4-0 for Miami at neutral sites (all as a favorite) and 26-9 as a chalk. Also, the Gaels have stayed low in nine of 13 overall and five of six at neutral sites.

ATS ADVANTAGE: MIAMI (Fla.) and UNDER


(15) Austin Peay (24-10, 11-17-4 ATS) vs. (2) Texas (28-6, 15-13 ATS)

Austin Peay secured its sixth NCAA Tournament bid in school history – and the first since 2003 – by trouncing Tennessee State 82-64 as a 3½-point favorite in the finals of the Ohio Valley conference tournament on March 8. The Governors enter play today on a six-game winning streak, and they’re 11-1 in their last 12 (8-4 ATS).

Texas’ bid for a Big 12 tournament championship came up short, as it lost to Kansas 84-74 as a 5½-point underdog in Sunday’s final. The Longhorns are still 12-2 SU in their last 14 games, but they’ve followed up an 8-0 ATS roll by going 1-5 ATS in their last six.

The ‘Horns, as a No. 4 seed, beat New Mexico State 79-67 as an eight-point favorite in last year’s opening round of the tournament, then got bounced two days later by USC, getting demolished 87-68 as 2½-point favorite. Texas has made it to the Big Dance each of the last 10 years, but is just 2-7 ATS in its last nine Tournament games.

Austin Peay is mired in ATS slumps of 17-37-5 as an underdog (1-4 this year), 15-36-5 in non-Ohio Valley games and 0-4-1 ATS as a pup of 13 points or more. On the bright side, the Govs have cashed in nine of their last 13 when catching points at a neutral site.

Texas is 6-2-1 ATS in its last nine neutral-site outings. However, the ‘Horns are 2-9 ATS in their last 11 following an outright defeat and 2-6 ATS in their last eight when laying 13 points or more.

For Austin Peay, the under is on runs of 4-1 overall and 7-1 at neutral venues. For Texas, the under is on hot streaks of 5-2 in the Tournament, 5-2 as a favorite, 4-1 on Fridays, 4-1 in non-conference games and 39-18-1 after a non-cover.

ATS ADVANTAGE: UNDER


(9) Oregon (18-13, 14-12-3 ATS) vs. (8) Mississippi State (22-10, 14-15 ATS)

Mississippi State made it to the SEC tournament semifinals last week, bowing out after losing to upstart Georgia 64-60 as a 10-point favorite on Saturday. Mississippi State failed to take advantage of the fact that Georgia was playing its second game of the day because of weather-related issues. Despite that setback, the Bulldogs come into this event on a 17-5 SU run, but they’ve failed to cash in their last three.

Mississippi State is in the Tournament for the first time since making it four straight years from 2002-05.

Oregon got invited to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year despite finishing in the middle of the pack in the Pac-10 conference. The Ducks did win three straight games to close the regular season, but went one-and-done in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament, losing 75-70 to Washington State as a four-point underdog.

Last year, Oregon ended a three-year Tournament drought and nearly advanced to the Final Four, falling to Florida 85-77 as a seven-point underdog in the Elite Eight.

Oregon is 9-4-1 ATS in its last 13 neutral-site games, but 1-5 ATS in its last six as a ‘dog of less than five points. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are 6-2 ATS in their last eight when favored by less than seven points, but 1-5 ATS in their last six at neutral sites and 0-4 ATS in their last four as a chalk overall.

The over is 4-1 in the Ducks’ last five at neutral sites and 6-1 in their last seven when catching points at a neutral site. However, the under is 4-1 in Mississippi State’s past five neutral contests.

ATS ADVANTAGE: NONE


(16) Texas-Arlington (21-11, 0-1 ATS) vs. (1) Memphis (33-1, 15-17-2 ATS)

Top-seeded Memphis finished with the best record in the nation this year, with its only blemish being a last-minute 66-62 home loss to Tennessee as a 6½-point home favorite on Feb. 23. Since that defeat, the Tigers – who went undefeated in Conference USA play – have won seven in a row, including Saturday’s 77-51 rout of Tulsa as an 18-point favorite in the league tournament title contest, played on Memphis’ home floor.

Memphis has played the bridesmaid role the last two seasons, advancing all the way to the Elite Eight but coming up just short of the Final Four. Last March, the Tigers were eliminated in a 92-76 loss to eventual runner-up Ohio State, a year after falling to UCLA 50-45. This marks their fourth NCAA tourney appearance in the past five years.

Texas-Arlington won three games in four days last weekend to claim its first-ever Southland conference championship and grab its first NCAA Tournament bid. Prior to the league tourney, which was capped by an 82-79 win over Northwestern State as a four-point favorite, the Mavericks had lost five of seven games.

Memphis has failed to cash in six of its last eight games overall, all as a chalk, and it is just 2-5 ATS as a favorite of 25 points or more this season. But the Tigers are 7-3 ATS in their last 10 on Fridays, 31-14-2 ATS in their last 47 when coming off a victory of 20 points or more, and 5-2 ATS in their last seven NCAA Tournament contests as a favorite – though they did fail to cash as a 19-point chalk in last year’s 73-58 first-round win over North Texas.

The under is 4-1 in Memphis’ last five overall, 6-1 in its last seven NCAA Tournament contests and 6-2 in its last eight neutral-site affairs.

ATS ADVANTAGE: MEMPHIS and UNDER

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Re: Friday NCAA News and Notes

NCAAB

Midwest Region
Opening Round
Tampa, Florida
Villanova vs. Clemson, 7:10 ET

Villanova:
5-15 ATS off a loss against a conference rival
3-11 ATS after covering 3 of their last 4

Clemson:
15-8 ATS as a favorite
7-0 OVER against Big East conference opponents


Midwest Region
Opening Round
Tampa, Fla
Siena vs. Vanderbilt, 7:20 ET

Siena:
8-0 ATS in road games on Friday nights
8-1 ATS after failing to cover 2 of their last 3

Vanderbilt:
16-6 OVER as a favorite
11-3 OVER in non-conference games


Midwest Region
Opening Round
Tampa, Fla
Western Kentucky vs. Drake, 12:30 ET

Western Kentucky:
6-0 ATS when playing on a neutral court
11-4 ATS in road games after playing a game as favorite

Drake:
17-7 OVER in road games after one or more consecutive overs
10-2 OVER after having won 15 or more of their last 20


Midwest Region
Opening Round
Tampa, Fla
San Diego vs. Connecticut, 3:00 ET

San Diego:
10-1 ATS as a DD underdog
8-0 ATS off a home win against a conference rival

Connecticut:
2-10 ATS in all neutral court lined games
1-9 ATS in road games in first round tournament games


East Region
Opening Round
Raleigh, NC
Mount St. Mary's vs. North Carolina, 7:10 ET

Mount St. Mary's:
5-0 ATS in all tournament games
4-1 ATS in all neutral court games

North Carolina:
2-4 ATS in a NCAA tournament games
10-2 OVER as a neutral court favorite of 12.5 or more


East Region
Opening Round
Raleigh, NC
Arkansas vs. Indiana, 9:40 ET

Arkansas:
8-1 OVER in road games after having won 3 of their last 4
5-1 OVER as an underdog

Indiana:
3-10 ATS after 1 or more consecutive unders
0-7 ATS after 2 or more consecutive losses


East Region
Opening Round
Raleigh, NC
MD-Baltimore County vs. Georgetown, 2:55 ET

MD-Baltimore County:
N/A
N/A

Georgetown:
10-2 UNDER in first round tournament games
12-4 ATS in first round tournament games


East Region
Opening Round
Raleigh, NC
Davidson vs. Gonzaga, 12:25 ET

Davidson:
5-1 ATS in all neutral court games
9-1 ATS after a game where they failed to cover the spread

Gonzaga:
36-18 OVER when playing on a neutral court
0-5 ATS when playing with 7 or more days rest


South Region
Opening Round
Little Rock, AR
TX-Arlington vs. Memphis, 9:55 ET

Texas Arlington:
3-0 UNDER in non-conference games
3-1 UNDER when playing on a neutral court

Memphis:
90-59 ATS off a home win
17-6 UNDER in March games


South Region
Opening Round
Little Rock, AR
Oregon vs. Mississippi State, 7:25 ET

Oregon:
8-2 ATS after having won 2 of their last 3
12-3 UNDER after having won 3 of their last 4

Mississippi State:
2-11 ATS in road games off an upset loss
7-1 UNDER in road games after having won 2 of their last 3


South Region
Opening Round
Little Rock, AR
Austin Peay vs. Texas, 3:00 ET

Austin Peay:
0-6 ATS as a DD underdog
4-12 ATS in non-conference games

Texas:
16-5 ATS after having won 15 or more of their last 20
13-6 UNDER as a favorite


South Region
Opening Round
Little Rock, AR
St. Mary's (CA) vs. Miami (FL), 12:30 ET

St. Mary's:
1-11 ATS after playing 3 consecutive road games
8-0 UNDER after one or more consecutive overs

Miami (FL):
7-0 ATS in non-conference games
9-2 ATS as a favorite


East Region
Opening Round
Birmingham, AL
American vs. Tennessee, 12:15 ET

American:
8-3 ATS after playing a game as favorite
2-0 ATS in first round tournament games

Tennessee:
11-25 ATS as a neutral court favorite
9-29 ATS in all tournament games


East Region
Opening Round
Birmingham, AL
South Alabama vs. Butler, 2:40 ET

South Alabama:
6-0 UNDER in road games after playing 2 consecutive games as a home favorite
4-9 ATS as a neutral court underdog

Butler:
10-3 UNDER off a home win
7-3 ATS in a NCAA tournament games


East Region
Opening Round
Birmingham, AL
Boise State vs. Louisville, 9:40 ET

Boise State:
8-2 ATS as an underdog
6-0 ATS in road games after a game where they covered

Louisville:
15-32 ATS in all neutral court games
8-1 OVER off a loss against a conference rival


East Region
Opening Round
Birmingham, AL
St. Joseph's vs. Oklahoma, 7:10 ET

St. Joseph's:
9-1 ATS after 1 or more consecutive losses
7-0 ATS after a loss by 6 points or less

Oklahoma:
1-9 ATS in all tournament games
1-8 ATS in road games in March

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Re: Friday NCAA News and Notes

Memphis has its doubters

The 33-1 Tigers have the longest odds among the top-seeded teams to reach the Final Four.

For most of the regular season, Memphis was the last undefeated team in Division I college basketball.

But after winning 26 consecutive games and 47 in a row at home, the Tigers lost, 66-62, to Tennessee and they suddenly turned into the nation's most forgotten team.

That's why Memphis will play its first game of this year's NCAA tournament without much fanfare despite owning a No. 1 seeding and a 33-1 record.

But the Tigers are not considered a "sleeper" team to Las Vegas oddsmakers, who have them listed on most betting boards at 6-1 to win it all heading into their South Regional opening game against Texas Arlington today.

Texas Arlington -- playing in the NCAA tournament for the first time -- is not given much of a chance to pull off an upset.

The Mavericks are 24 1/2 -point underdogs against Memphis.

Like fellow top-seeded teams UCLA, Kansas and North Carolina, Memphis will enjoy a "home-court" type of advantage playing its first-round games in North Little Rock, Ark., which is a two-hour drive from campus.

Bodoglife.com, however, considers the Tigers a shakier bet to advance to the Final Four compared to the odds given to Kansas (1-1), UCLA and North Carolina (2-3). Memphis is listed at 3-2 to win the South Regional with enticing lines given to Texas (3-1), Stanford (4-1) and Pittsburgh (6-1).


There are a couple of interesting NCAA tournament proposition bets available at Sportsbetting.com. Total wins by Pacific 10 Conference teams: Over 9.5 (-130) or under 9.5 (even). Total wins by Big East Conference teams: Over 11.5 (-150) or under 11.5 (+120). Total wins by Atlantic Coast Conference teams: Over 9 (-120) or under 9 (-120).

There are other proposition tournament odds listed at Bodoglife.com. The player who will be named the 2008 tournament MVP: North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough (5-1), UCLA's Kevin Love (8-1), Memphis' Chris Douglas-Roberts (8-1), UCLA's Darren Collison (12-1). The player with the most total rebounds in the tournament: Hansbrough (4-1), Love (6-1), Memphis' Joey Dorsey (8-1), Stanford's Brook Lopez (18-1).

latimes.com

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Re: Friday NCAA News and Notes

Where is the smart money on Villanova vs. Clemson?
Covers.com

This is the matchup that caught a lot of people’s attention as soon as the NCAA Tournament bracket was released.

Clemson versus Villanova: a classic 5-12 pairing with a March Madness novice getting the chalk against a team that, although it struggled this year, has plenty of experience navigating the brackets.

If any pointspread was going to move, you’d think it would be this one. But surprisingly, the Villanova Wildcats have held steady as 6-point underdogs since this line opened on Monday.

The only movement you’ll find on this game is at a few offshore books that opened the game at 6 ½.

“Public consensus on this game is Clemson wins outright but doesn't cover the six points," says Randy Scott, sportsbook manager of BetEd.com. "We have good public action on the Clemson moneyline and Villanova pointspread. The pointspread has only slightly moved down since opening at -6 ½.”

The more you look at this matchup, the more you have to agree with that assessment. It looks like it has all the hallmarks of a game that will come down to a buzzer-beater or maybe even go to overtme. In other words, these teams appear as evenly matched as you can get.

You can’t take anything away from either team for the conferences they represent. The Big East and the ACC are two of the most competitive leagues in the NCAA. The defensive statistics are pretty much identical and both teams are well coached. They both get even marks in those categories.

The main difference is that Clemson has scored on average about six points per game more than Villanova and, of course, that Clemson won four more games than Villanova.

However, you have to consider the circumstances of Villanova’s season. A five-game losing streak in the middle of their Big East schedule nearly sank their hopes of making the tournament, but at the time, they were struggling with adversity and still trying to find chemistry in their lineup.

"That five-game [losing] streak is probably something this group will refer to throughout their careers," coach Jay Wright told the Philadelphia Daily News. "We went through everything in that stretch – an injury to our center [6-10 sophomore Casiem Drummond], an illness to one of our leaders, [6-7 junior forward] Shane Clark, young guys playing more minutes and making mistakes.

“To persevere throughout that situation, to come out on the other side and go on a run, I really think it gave our team confidence that we could overcome anything.”

After that losing streak, Villanova won seven of its last 11 games, including a blowout over Syracuse in the Big East tournament that essentially cemented their invitation to the Big Dance. They couldn’t stand up to Georgetown in the next round, but they had already proved that they were better than their 20-12 record suggested.

All this is not to say that Clemson isn’t a dangerous team. They have five players who can all score from different areas on the floor which makes them extremely tough to defend, but their pressure defense won’t be as effective against Villanova as it was against most teams. Villanova guards Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher are excellent ball handlers who should be able to break Clemson’s press – and when that happens, Clemson usually runs into trouble.

And then there’s the free throws. Clemson does almost everything else well, but they convert on just 62 percent of their free throws – 312th out of 328 Division I basketball teams. Villanova is one of the best teams at free throw line (72 percent) and that could be a major factor in this game.

Keep an eye on this pointspread because it’s one that could be adjusted before the game tips off Friday at 9:50 p.m. ET.

"Villanova is a good live dog in this matchup," Scott says. "They should grab the attention of the underdog bettors. The line should jump downward even further come closer to game time with some sharp money being bet on +6."

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Re: Friday NCAA News and Notes

NCAAB Tips and Trends

Midwest Region - RBC Center (Raleigh, NC)


#10 Davidson vs. #7 Gonzaga [

Davidson (-2, O/U 139.5): The Wildcats bring a nation-leading 19-game winning streak into the Big Dance and played a very tough non-conference slate that included meetings with Duke, North Carolina and UCLA. All 5 starters are back from last year's NCAA Tournament team, and they led the Southern Conference in free-throw shooting.

PROJECTED SCORE: 71

The UNDER is 8-2 in Davidson’s last 10 games overall.

Key Injuries - NONE

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs have become an annual staple in the Big Dance, making the NCAA Tournament in each of the last 10 years. However, this is not one of their best teams, which was proven again in a loss to San Diego in the West Coast Conference Tournament title game. Point guard Jeremy Pargo will face a lot of pressure defensively trying to keep up with Davidson's Stephen Curry (25.3 points per game), which could affect him on the offensive end.

PROJECTED SCORE: 69

Gonzaga is 2-4 ATS in 6 games on neutral courts this season.

Key Injuries - NONE


#15 UMBC vs. #2 Georgetown

UMBC: The Retrievers could be a dangerous 15 seed. They shoot 39 percent from 3-point range and have a number of players that can hoist the long ball. UMBC also hits its free throws, connecting on 73 percent of its attempts this season. The Retrievers only lost one game by double-digits all year, a 24-point defeat at West Virginia.

PROJECTED SCORE: 60 (OVER - Total Play of the Day)

Maryland-Baltimore County is 12-1 SU in its last 13 games overall.

Key Injuries - NONE

Georgetown (-16.5, O/U 130): The Hoyas shared a common opponent with Maryland-Baltimore County in West Virginia. While the Retrievers suffered their worst loss of the season at Morgantown, Georgetown beat the Mountaineers twice, including a 72-55 victory in the Big East Tournament semifinals. Even though Georgetown lost to Pitt in the tourney title game, this is a battle-tested team that played a very rugged Big East schedule and won the regular-season championship.

PROJECTED SCORE: 76

The OVER is 4-1 in Georgetown's last 5 games overall.
The UNDER is 9-2 in Georgetown's last 11 NCAA Tournament games.

Key Injuries - NONE


Midwest Region - St. Pete Times Forum (Tampa, FL)

#13 Siena vs. #4 Vanderbilt

Siena: The Saints are a trendy pick to upset Vanderbilt in the first round. Siena backers will point to the fact that the Saints upset Stanford earlier in the year but keep in mind Siena also lost to St. Joseph’s, Syracuse, Cornell and got blasted by 44 points at Memphis. Siena shoots a ton of three-pointers and we saw what can happen when they struggle from beyond the arc. Against Memphis, the Saints only hit 9-of-21 attempts from long range and got outrebounded by 18 in a 102-58 drubbing at the hands of the Tigers. If the three-ball isn’t falling on Friday for the Saints, Siena’s chances of sticking with Vandy are slim.

PROJECTED SCORE: 73

The UNDER is 4-0 in Siena’s last 4 games overall.

Key Injuries - NONE

Vanderbilt (-7, O/U 153.5): The Commodores were a mediocre 6-6 in regular-season road/neutral games, which does not bode well in the Big Dance. While they are a very talented team and can get up for any opponent (see their upset of #1 Tennessee earlier this season), they can fall flat just the same, proven in losing 2 of 3 games after that big win.

PROJECTED SCORE: 80

The OVER is 4-1 in Vanderbilt’s last 5 games overall.

Key Injuries - NONE


#12 Villanova vs. #5 Clemson

Villanova: The Wildcats underachieved most of the season until making a late run for the Big Dance. They got in thanks to a huge win over Syracuse in the Big East Tournament and are a very talented young team that figures to compete for the conference title next year. Turnovers have been a problem though due to having 3 freshmen and a sophomore in the backcourt.

PROJECTED SCORE: 70

Villanova is 7-3 ATS in its last 10 games overall.

Key Injuries - NONE

Clemson (-6, O/U 143.5): The Tigers return to the Big Dance for the first time in a decade after playing in the NIT each of the last 3 years. They are coming off their best finish in the ACC since 1990 and will need to overcome their status as the worst free-throw shooting team in the conference, which can be blamed for at least half of their losses this season.

PROJECTED SCORE: 75

Clemson is 5-2 ATS in its last 7 games overall.

Key Injuries - NONE


West Region - St. Pete Times Forums (Tampa, FL)

#12 Western Kentucky vs. #5 Drake

Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers were able to rally down the stretch despite losing one of their best players last month in 6-foot-7 senior Mike Walker. They were able to hang tough with the likes of Gonzaga and Tennesee (losing by a combined 9 points) and could possibly sping the upset due to their outstanding defense and veteran guard play.

PROJECTED SCORE: 68

Western Kentucky is 5-0 ATS in its last 5 games overall.

Key Injuries - NONE

Drake (-4, O/U 139.5): The Bulldogs rewarded their backers this season - going 21-7 ATS - the most profitable team in the country. Drake lives by the long ball, putting up 28 3-pointers a game. But amazingly, MVC Player of the Year Adam Emmenecker has never attempted a 3-point shot in his 4 years at Drake.

PROJECTED SCORE: 72

Drake is 8-1 ATS in its last 9 Friday games.

Key Injuries - NONE


#13 San Diego vs. #4 Connecticut

San Diego: The team's 2 best players - point guard Brandon Johnson and center Gyno Pomare - are also less talented than their UConn counterparts and face severe mismatches. The Toreros were able to win 13 of their last 15 games to get into the Big Dance, but 11 of those came at home, as they also hosted their conference tournament.

PROJECTED SCORE: 60

San Diego is 20-7 ATS in its last 27 games overall.

Key Injuries - NONE

UConn (-11.5, O/U 131): The Huskies outrebounded their opponents by nearly 7 per game and are anchored in the middle by 7-foot-3 Hasheem Thabeet, who was named Big East Defensive Player of the Year after blocking a conference-record 94 shots during the regular season. There's no doubt that their strength lies in the interior, but the key to their success could very well depend on the play of point guard A.J. Price, who led the league in assists.

PROJECTED SCORE: 71

The OVER is 7-3 in UConn’s last 10 games overall.

Key Injuries - NONE


East Region - BJCC Arena (Birmingham, AL)

#15 American vs. #2 Tennessee

American: This is the first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance for the Eagles, who rely heavily on the 3-point shot. They shoot over 41 percent from beyond the arc to rank fourth in the nation and make 8 treys a game. However, American did have more turnovers than its opponents this season, which could be problematic against the opportunistic Vols.

PROJECTED SCORE: 60

American is 10-1 SU in its last 11 games overall.

Key Injuries - NONE

Tennessee (-20, O/U 141): The key number for the Vols is 80. Tennessee was 21-1 SU & 13-5 ATS this season when it scored 80 points or more. When the Vols failed to reach 80, their record dipped to 8-3 straight up and 2-9 ATS. Tennessee may need to score that many points with the way its defense has played recently. The Vols gave up an average of 76 points in their last 5 games.

PROJECTED SCORE: 80

Tennessee is 1-5 ATS in 6 games on neutral courts this season.

Key Injuries - NONE


#10 South Alabama vs. #7 Butler

South Alabama: The Jaguars were the best team in the Sun Belt this season despite losing in the conference tournament semifinals. They beat SEC West champ Mississippi State and lost by just 3 points to both Vanderbilt and Ole Miss, finishing 26-6 overall. Fortunately, South Alabama was still rewarded with an invite to the Big Dance and could be a nice sleeper pick to win a couple games.

PROJECTED SCORE: 61

South Alabama is 11-2 ATS in its last 13 Friday games.

Key Injuries - NONE

Butler (-4, O/U 125.5): The Bulldogs have 4 senior starters and averaged 9.2 3-pointers per game during the regular season. That obviously means they have tremendous experience and are one of the best outside shooting teams in the country. What could be a big problem is that Butler had a negative rebounding margin of 0.9 while playing a Horizon League schedule, which will hurt the team if the shots aren't falling as expected.

PROJECTED SCORE: 65

Butler is 7-1 ATS in its last 8 Friday games.

Key Injuries - NONE


#11 St. Joseph's vs. #6 Oklahoma

St. Joe's: The Hawks can play with just about any team in the country, but they have trouble closing out games, which could again be an issue here. A lot of that has to do with a lack of depth, as head coach Phil Martelli has not used his bench much lately. Keep this in mind for second-half betting.

PROJECTED SCORE: 63

The UNDER is 6-2 in St. Joseph’s last 8 games overall.

Key Injuries - NONE

Oklahoma (-1.5, O/U 127.5): The Sooners have a favorable opponent, as both teams would prefer to keep the score in the 70s or less. Since they are not a good shooting team, pounding the ball inside to Blake Griffin and Longar Longar will be key. Oklahoma has a distinct size advantage and should be able to wear down St. Joe's, controlling the pace.

PROJECTED SCORE: 65

The UNDER is 7-0 in Oklahoma’s last 7 games overall.

Key Injuries - NONE


#14 Boise State vs. #3 Louisville

Boise State: The Broncos could be a live underdog against Louisville. Boise State is 14-3 SU & 10-4 ATS away from home this season. The Broncos are also the fourth-best shooting team in the country, hitting 50.2 percent from the field.

PROJECTED SCORE: 65

Boise State is 6-3 ATS in its last 9 lined games.
Boise State is 10-4 ATS away from home this season.

Key Injuries - NONE

Louisville (-13, O/U 143.5): Outside of a disappointing 2-game skid heading into the Big Dance, the Cardinals were one of the hottest teams in the country down the stretch. They are finally healthy after a rough start to the season and won 9 straight games before losing to Georgetown and Pitt, both teams they beat earlier in the year. Louisville ended up going 9-2 ATS in the last 11 games, and insiders believe the Cards could be as dangerous as any of the top seeds in the field.

PROJECTED SCORE: 78

Louisville is 9-2 ATS in its last 11 games overall.

Key Injuries - NONE


East Region - RBC Center (Birmingham, AL)

Mount St. Mary's vs. #1 North Carolina

Mount St. Mary's: The Mountaineers rallied back from an early 9-point deficit to not only win but cover against 20-loss Coppin State in the opening-round game on Tuesday. Now comes the challenging task of meeting overall top seed North Carolina, something guard Jeremy Goode has always dreamed of. “I envisioned playing against them when I was little,” said Goode, a Carolina native. “To play against them means a lot.”

PROJECTED SCORE: 62

Mount St. Mary's is 9-1 SU in its last 10 games overall.

Key Injuries - NONE

North Carolina (-24.5, O/U 150): The Tar Heels are loaded with talent and could be very tough to beat if they don't turn the ball over. However, they have proven to be beatable when that happens, committing a combined 30 turnovers in losses to Maryland and Duke during the regular season.

PROJECTED SCORE: 87

North Carolina is 1-5 ATS in its last 6 games overall.

Key Injuries - NONE


#9 Arkansas vs. #8 Indiana

Arkansas: The Razorbacks obviously have talent, which is one of the reasons they made it all the way to the SEC Tournament title game. However, they lack consistency and focus, which was proven in losing to Georgia as an 8-point favorite in that game. Arkansas is also a poor road team with a 2-7 mark during the regular season compared to 15-1 at home.

PROJECTED SCORE: 70

Arkansas is 3-6-1 ATS in its last 10 games overall.

Key Injuries - Leading scorer Sonny Weems (15 ppg; knee) has been upgraded to expected to play.

Indiana (-1, O/U 140.5): The Hoosiers have one of the best 1-2 scoring punches in the country in freshman guard Eric Gordon and senior center D.J. White. The duo averaged over 38 points per game and will be very difficult to match up with. The team's motivation down the stretch will be critical though, as Indiana was just 1-5 ATS in its last 6 games after Dan Dakich took over as head coach for the departed Kelvin Sampson.

PROJECTED SCORE: 71

Indiana is 1-5 ATS in its last 6 games overall.

Key Injuries - NONE


South Region - Alltel Arena (North Little Rock, AR)

#10 St. Mary's vs. #7 Miami (FL)

St. Mary's: The Gaels play outstanding pressure defense, holding 13 opponents under 60 points and forcing 15 turnovers per game. They also limit the opposition 30.4 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. However, the offense of St. Mary's could very well be the difference. The team is averaging 79.7 points per game in its 25 wins and 61.2 in its 5 losses.

PROJECTED SCORE: 69

St. Mary’s is 1-4 ATS in its last 5 games overall.

Key Injuries - NONE

Miami (-1, O/U 137.5): Hurricanes guard Jack McLinton led the ACC in 3-point field-goal percentage at 44 percent and also shoots 90 percent from the free-throw line. However, Miami sometimes becomes too dependent offensively on McLinton, which could be a major issue against a team as defensively sound as St. Mary's.

PROJECTED SCORE: 70

The UNDER is 26-9 in Miami-Florida’s last 35 games as a favorite.

Key Injuries - NONE


#15 Austin Peay vs. #2 Texas

Austin Peay: The Governors were competitive earlier in the year in losses against top-level tournament teams in Vanderbilt and Memphis and won 11 of 12 down the stretch to get into the Big Dance. However, they are very undersized, with all 5 starters standing 6-foot-5 or shorter. Center Drake Reed is one of them and should struggle going against a tough Texas frontcourt led by 6-10 Connor Atchley.

PROJECTED SCORE: 62

Austin Peay is 5-1 ATS in its last 6 games overall.

Key Injuries - NONE

Texas (-15.5, O/U 140): There are not 2 more dangerous guards in the country 6-foot or shorter than Longhorns D.J. Augustin and A.J. Abrams. Both are outstanding 3-point shooters and will have a surprising size advantage over Austin Peay's 5-foot-9 point guard Derek Wright. Out of all the first-round games, this one seems to have the biggest individual mismatches - all in Texas' favor.

PROJECTED SCORE: 78

Texas is 3-9-2 ATS in its last 14 Friday games.

Key Injuries - NONE


#9 Oregon vs. #8 Mississippi State

Oregon: This is a senior-laden team with 5 on the roster, led by starters Bryce Taylor, Malik Hairston and Maarty Leunen. The Ducks made it all the way to the Elite 8 a year ago, and those seniors will be looking for a successful end to their college careers.

PROJECTED SCORE: 72 (Side Play of the Day)

The OVER is 6-2 in Oregon’s last 8 Friday games.

Key Injuries - NONE

Mississippi State (-2.5, O/U 143): The Bulldogs enjoyed a fairly successful regular season, but they aren't a team that stands out or does anything remarkable. Their best outside shooter (Ben HanXXXough, the younger brother of North Carolina's Tyler) makes just 37 percent from beyond the 3-point arc, and they lack depth if they get into foul trouble.

PROJECTED SCORE: 70

Mississippi State is 1-3 ATS in 4 games on neutral courts this season.

Key Injuries - NONE


#16 Texas-Arlington vs. #1 Memphis

Texas-Arlington: The Mavericks are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance and may just be happy to be playing in the Big Dance. They do have some size inside with All-Southland selection Jermaine Griffin, but insiders believe they could be simply overwhelmed by the Tigers from the opening tip and end up on the wrong end of the biggest rout in the tourney.

PROJECTED SCORE: 58

Texas-Arlington is 3-0 SU on neutral Courts this season.

Key Injuries - G Ro'ger Guignard (13 ppg; ankle) is listed as questionable.

Memphis (-24.5, O/U 142): Fourteen of the Tigers 33 victories this season have been by 20 points or more, so their lackluster free throw shooting hasn’t been a problem. However, Memphis connects on just 59 percent of its free throw attempts. That’s a stat that won’t just hurt them in tight games, it could also be a factor in covering big spreads throughout the Tournament.

PROJECTED SCORE: 83

Memphis is 3-7 ATS in its last 10 games overall.

Key Injuries - NONE

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Jeff Haney talks with a longtime sports bettor who says he’s finally reached the place where he can give up his obsession

When Alan Boston talks about how he came to find “a good place,” he does not mean his well-appointed house on a Las Vegas golf course or his summer home in Maine.

Boston has spent the better part of two decades handicapping and betting college basketball in Las Vegas, earning a national reputation among gamblers and oddsmakers. Yet he has always analyzed his own psyche as deeply as any Canisius-Siena matchup.

For once, he likes what he sees.

“If you had asked me at almost any time over the years, I would have told you I hate myself, I’m miserable, I’m unhappy,” Boston says. “At a very young age, I started using gambling as an escape from life.

“There were times I was in a very bad place. Not anymore ... I finally have peace of mind away from gambling.”

As a result, Boston says, this year’s NCAA Tournament will be the last he bets as a pro. After the championship game April 7 in San Antonio, consider Boston retired.

“I’m done. This is it.”

Boston points across his living room to a couple of overstuffed loose-leaf binders on the floor, scribble-filled pages spilling out, looking like the accouterments of an eccentric but brilliant professor. These are the tools of an old-school gambler who came up in the game before computers, who proudly relies on “feel” in deciding which college basketball teams to bet on.

Boston knows his method — knows Alan Boston himself — is an anachronism in modern-day sports gambling.

“The computer programmers can’t do what I do,” he says. “I can supersede any number with my feel. Everything I need to know is in those notebooks, and now I’m not going to need them anymore.”

The realization he was through as a professional sports bettor did not come to Boston as an epiphany. It was gradual, emerging from five years of psychiatric therapy and a lifetime of hard self-analysis. But Boston can pinpoint when things began to turn around. It was when he began acting as a mentor to a young man in Maine who had a rough upbringing.

The kid

Boston will refer to him only as “Rob” or, more frequently, “the kid” — although he’s in his early 20s now, living in Florida, pursuing a career in golf.

They met about five years ago at a golf course in Maine, and as Boston tells it, both of their lives changed.

“He was the kid who greeted me and got my bag and loaded it into the cart,” Boston says. “He always kind of moped around.

“We played golf one day and he acted like a selfish little (jerk). I told him to learn some (expletive) etiquette or we ain’t playing again.”

The next time they played, Rob chided a friend for trying to take a mulligan on a missed putt. Boston thought to himself: This kid really listens.

Boston attended one of the kid’s high school golf matches, and a connection became clear.

“He looked over and saw me,” Boston says. “His whole aura changed. The mopey kid was no longer a mopey kid. There was a glow. He just stood proud.

“I learned everything at that moment.”

On the third hole, the golf coach introduced himself to Boston and said Rob was very happy he’d come. “ ‘No one’s ever come to watch him before.’ And I was like, whoa. Oh. Well. That sucks.”

Meanwhile, Boston was speaking with his psychiatrist about how he had always used gambling to run away from relationships, to avoid attachments to people. He asked his therapist why he cared so much about the kid, and the therapist said it was because that’s what fathers do.

“Now, late in life, when I finally let someone in, albeit in a paternal way, gambling is no longer relevant,” Boston says. “I actually felt love. Once you do that it’s a whole different world.”

The handicapper

Boston, who turns 50 in August, recalls watching an episode of “Maverick,” the Western starring James Garner, as a kid and loving it.

“What an amazing show,” Boston says. “And when the closing credits came up, I remember thinking, ‘Wow, when I die all this good memory is going to be gone.’

“Many of my therapy sessions have been driven by that. Why fall in love when you’re going to die?”

Growing up in Framingham, Mass., Boston lost himself watching the trotters and pacers at Foxboro and betting football, especially after his parents split up. “I found peace of mind at the racetrack,” says Boston, who today owns three harness racehorses.

While earning his degree in the biological basis of behavior at the University of Pennsylvania, Boston immersed himself in the culture of college basketball betting, attending doubleheaders as many as three times a week at the Palestra.

He read the betting column in the New York Daily News and a novel by Robert Kalich, titled “The Handicapper,” learning about semi-mythical figures called “wise guys” and vowing to become one.

“I would always wonder how anyone could predict a winner in William and Mary-Virginia Tech,” Boston says. “How do they do it? Well, now I know. I did become that guy.”

Boston came to Las Vegas for good in about 1988, honing his “feel” for how games played out against the spread at the Stardust sports book, then the gathering place for the city’s top bettors and oddsmakers.

“Alan was always one of the most respected bettors,” says Scott Schettler, who ran the Stardust book in the ’80s. “Alan was always smart, almost frighteningly smart.”

Last basketball season, Boston didn’t do well betting. He almost quit. He even threw his loose-leaf binders away.

Less than a month into this season, he hit another rough stretch and again considered hanging it up. The turning point came when he picked DePaul as a 4-point underdog against Vanderbilt. DePaul lost by 6 — but in overtime, and Boston felt in his heart he had the right team.

“That was a big ‘feel’ game,” Boston says. “Right side, bad beat. Starting from that game I got more confident.

“The last two weeks were some of the best I’ve ever had. I’m going to go out a winner with this tournament.”

He gestured again to the overstuffed binders on the floor.

“Last year, my roommate picked them out of the trash can and shipped them to me in Maine. That won’t happen again — because I’m going to burn them.”

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Re: Friday NCAA News and Notes

WHAT A SHOT BY W KENTUCKY TO WIN THE GAME  yikes

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