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Saturday NCAA News and Notes

Saturday NCAA News and Notes

Saturday's Action
By Chris David

If you’re a gambler that leans to the favorites, then Thursday’s first round treated you very nicely. The ‘chalk’ posted an eye opening 14-2 straight up mark, plus an amazing 13-3 ledger against the spread. In Thursday’s first session alone, favorites posted a 7-1 mark both SU and ATS. The ‘over’ went 9-7, including 5-3 in the afternoon tilts.

Fast forward to Saturday and we’ll break down the four games that saw teams advance in the early action on Thursday, including a pair of Big Ten schools.

**No. 6 Purdue vs. No. 3 Xavier**

Purdue cruised past Baylor 90-79, opening up a 19-point (46-27) lead at the break. The Boilermakers shot 49 percent from the field, including 9-of-20 from beyond the arc and 15-of-18 (83%) from the free throw line. The combined 169 points easily went ‘over’ the closing total of 147.

Xavier came out flat in the first round but rallied past Georgia for a 73-61 win and cover (-9). The Musketeers trailed by nine points after 20 minutes but outscored the Bulldogs 47-26 in the second half for the win. Xavier attempted 33 shots from the free throw line compared to just five attempts for Georgia.

Oddsmakers are expecting this game to be tight and played in the sixties, listing Xavier as a 3-point favorite and the total at 130. The Boilermakers (56) and Musketeers (53) both like to slow it down and play half-court ball, evidenced by their attempts per game.

Including yesterday’s victory, Purdue is 5-3 SU and 7-1 ATS versus teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

The Boilermakers or Musketeers will meet the winner of Duke-West Virginia in the Sweet Sixteen.

Tip-off for this contest is slated for 4:40 p.m. EST.

**No. 6 Marquette vs. No. 3 Stanford**

Marquette held off Kentucky 74-66 in the first round, barely covering as a seven-point favorite. The combined 140 points jumped ‘over’ the closing number of 128. The backcourt of Jerel McNeal (20) and Dominic James (15) combined for 35 points. The Golden Eagles connected on 23-of-29 shots from the free throw line.

Stanford blasted Cornell 77-53 on Thursday as a 15½-point favorite, which was the school’s fourth straight cover. The Cardinal’s defense stifled the Big Red to 30 percent from the field and posted five steals and seven blocks.

Both Marquette (64.3 PPG) and Stanford (60.4 PPG) have the ability to shut downs team on the defensive end. The Cardinals have seen the ‘under’ go 18-15, while the Eagles have watched the ‘over’ go 16-12.

This battle is expected to come down to Marquette’s aforementioned backcourt and the 7-foot Lopez twins of Stanford. Brook (18.6 PPG) and Robin (10.1 PPG) both compliment one another well and open up the outside for the Cardinals’ shooters.

You can expect a lot of red in the audience for this contest being played at Honda Center from Anaheim, California. Tip-off is set at 6:45 p.m. EDT.

**No. 8 UNLV vs. No. 1 Kansas**

Last year, UNLV knocked off second-seed Wisconsin in the second round in the NCAA Tournament before losing to Oregon in the Sweet Sixteen. The Runnin’ Rebels have an opportunity to knock off another giant on Saturday with a battle against top-seeded Kansas.

The Rebels blasted Kent State 71-58, covering as two-point underdogs. The game was never in doubt as UNLV opened up a 31-10 lead and were never threatened by the Golden Flashes miserable attack (35%). Forward Joe Darger led three players in double digits with 18 points.

Just like UNLV, Kansas came out of the gates hot and never looked back in its 85-61 blowout victory over Portland State. The Jayhawks shot a blistering 54 percent from the field, including 12 3-pointers. Brandon Rush (18) and Mario Chalmers (16) paced the KU offense.

Kansas is listed as a 13-point favorite at most books, which is the largest line in the second round. Money-line backers looking for the upset can purchase UNLV at a comeback of plus-840 (Bet $100 to win $840).

The key to this game will be the tempo and if Lon Kruger’s UNLV squad can slow down a Jayhawks’ attack that is averaging 81.6 points per game.

If the game is tight late and the referees are calling a tight game, UNLV does own the edge at the free throw line (74%) over Kansas (68%). On Thursday, the Jayhawks were just 7-of-15 (47%) from the stripe.

Tip-off is set for 6:50 p.m. EDT in front of the pro-Kansas crowd from Omaha, Nebraska.

**No.5 Michigan State vs. No. 4 Pittsburgh**

The Spartans and Panthers meet in an expected slugfest on Saturday, as both schools stress defense first. Oddsmakers listed the Panthers as short favorites (-2), with the ‘over/under’ hovering around 131 points.

Michigan State showed its stifling defense in a 72-61 first round victory against Temple. The Spartans held the Owls to 37.5 percent shooting from the field and created 11 turnovers.

Tom Izzo’s club earned the win and cover (-7) despite a poor effort from its best player Drew Neitzel, who was just 2-of-11 from the field, including a dismal 1-of-8 spot from 3-point land. Fortunately, Raymar Morgan scored 15 points, four boards and three assists.

The Spartans’ offense and defense will be tested tonight against Pittsburgh, who routed Oral Roberts 82-63 as an eight-point favorite. The victory for the Panthers was their fifth straight win. The club has gone 4-1 ATS during this red-hot run.

Pittsburgh owns a solid 11-7 SU and 10-8 ATS mark away from home.

The Pepsi Center will host this battle at 9:10 p.m. EST.

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Saturday's Tip Sheet
By Brad Young

There was very little madness to the first day of the NCAA Tournament, with only two higher seeded teams winning. One of those matchups was between ninth-seeded Texas A&M and eight-seed Brigham Young, and the Aggies were a slight ‘chalk’ in the contest.

Thursday’s lone upset according to the odds was 11th-seed Kansas State sending sixth-seeded Southern Cal packing as a three-point underdog. However as Friday has shown, there are plenty of upsets to make this one of the greatest sporting events unless you’re a ‘chalk’ eater.

Without further adieu, let’s break down some of Saturday’s key contests for the right to advance to the Sweet 16.

**West Virginia (7) versus Duke (2)**

-Caesars Palace installed Duke as a 3½-point ‘chalk’ over West Virginia, with the total set at 147. CBS Sports will provide coverage of this second-round contest from Verizon Center in Washington, DC beginning at 2:10 p.m. ET.

-West Virginia (25-10 straight up, 15-13 against the spread) advanced to this round by dumping 10th-seeded Arizona Thursday as a two-point favorite, 75-65. The combined 140 points slithered ‘over’ the 139 ½-point closing total, helping the ‘over’ improve to 7-1 the past eight games.

-The Mountaineers shot a blistering 51 percent (28-of-55) from the field, including 11-of-19 from behind the arc. Guard Alex Ruoff paced the offense with 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting, while forward Joe Alexander added 14 and eight rebounds.

-West Virginia is now 11-7 SU and 9-8 ATS on the road, winning those contests by an average score of 71-65.

-Duke (28-5 SU, 17-14 ATS) survived a first-round scare from 15th-seed Belmont before prevailing as a 20-point ‘chalk,’ 71-70. The Blue Devils are now just 1-3 ATS their last four games.

-Duke won the rebounding battle, 38-30, while shooting 43 percent (25-of-58) from the field. Guard/forward Gerald Henderson led all scorers with 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting while also grabbing seven rebounds.

-The Blue Devils are 13-4 SU but 7-10 ATS on the road, winning those affairs by an average score of 80-73.

**Kansas State (11) versus Wisconsin (3)**

-Caesars Palace opened Wisconsin as a five-point favorite over Kansas State, with the total set 133. CBS Sports starts its coverage of this contest from Qwest Center at 4:20 p.m. ET.

-Kansas State (21-11 SU, 12-14 ATS) upended sixth-seed Southern Cal Thursday as a three-point underdog, 80-67. The Wildcats had failed to cover their last seven games before facing the Trojans.

-Kansas State jumped out to a 10-point halftime advantage, and finished the game outrebounding USC, 40-27. The Wildcats shot a solid 48 percent (29-of-60) from the field, highlighted by freshman forward Michael Beasley’s 23 points and 11 rebounds.

-Kansas State has gone 6-9 SU and 4-11 ATS away from home, dropping those matchups by an average score of 76-74.

-Wisconsin (30-4 SU, 17-14 ATS) punched its ticket to the second round by disposing of Cal State Fullerton as a 12-point favorite, 71-56. The Badgers improved to 3-1 ATS their last four games.

-Wisconsin broke open a close contest by outscoring the Titans in the second half, 41-28. The Badgers dominated on the boards, 47-20, while shooting 42 percent (25-of-59) from the field. Forward Brian Butch paced the offense with 14 points and nine rebounds, while guard Jason Bohannon added 13 off the bench.

-Wisconsin is now 14-2 SU and 11-5 ATS away from home, winning those affairs by an average score of 64-55.

**Notre Dame (5) versus Washington State (4)**

-Caesars Palace lists Washington State as a two-point ‘chalk’ over Notre Dame, with the total set at 133. This matchup is slated to start at 6:40 p.m. ET from Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado, with CBS Sports providing coverage.

-Notre Dame (25-7 SU, 15-14 ATS) cruised past 12th-seed George Mason as a 6 ½-point favorite, 68-50. The combined 118 points never seriously threatened the 143-point closing total, helping the ‘under’ improve to 3-1 the past four games.

-The Fighting Irish won the rebounding battle, 42-31, while shooting 47 percent (26-of-57) from the field. Forward Luke Harangody stepped up with 18 points and 14 rebounds, while guard Kyle McAlarney added 15.

-Notre Dame is now 8-7 SU and ATS on the road, winning those games by an average score of 76-72.

-Washington State (25-8 SU, 15-15 ATS) throttled 13th-seed Winthrop as a 9 ½-point ‘chalk,’ 71-40. The combined 111 points slithered ‘under’ the 113-point closing total, ending a string of three consecutive ‘over’ outings.

-This contest was tied at halftime, 29-29, but the Cougars dominated the second half to the tune of 42-11. Wazzu outrebounded the Eagles, 35-20, while shooting an incredible 60 percent (29-of-49) from the field. Center Aron Baynes accounted for 19 points and eight rebounds in the victory, while guard Kyle Weaver added 14 and seven.

-The Cougars sport a 15-4 SU and 10-7 ATS road record, winning those contests by an average score of 67-58.

**Texas A&M (9) versus UCLA (1)**


-Caesars Palace installed UCLA as a 10½-point favorite over Texas A&M, with the total listed at 125. CBS Sports will begin its coverage from Anaheim’s Honda Center at 9:15 p.m. ET.

-Texas A&M (25-10 SU, 17-12 ATS) held off eight-seed Brigham Young in opening-round action as a one-point ‘chalk,’ 67-62. That marked the fourth game in a row that the Aggies covered.

-Texas A&M prevailed by outrebounding the Cougars, 36-23, while connecting at a solid 54-percent clip (25-of-46). Guard Josh Carter led all scorers with 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting, while forward Bryan Davis contributed 11 and seven rebounds.

-The Aggies maintain a 9-6 SU and 10-5 ATS record away from home, winning those affairs by an average score of 64-63.

-UCLA (32-3 SU, 20-12 ATS) steamrolled 16th-seed Mississippi Valley State as a 31 ½-point favorite, 70-29. The Bruins had failed to cover their previous two outings before routing the Delta Devils.

-UCLA jumped out to a 40-16 halftime advantage, dominating its opponents in every aspect of the contest. The Bruins outrebounded Mississippi Valley State, 50-29, while shooting 47 percent (27-of-57) and limiting the Delta Devils to just 20 percent (13-of-66). Freshman center Kevin Love had 20 points and nine rebounds in just 21 minutes of action.

-UCLA sports a 13-1 SU and 10-3 ATS road record, winning those matchups by an average score of 70-59. This game is taking place just 43 miles from its campus in Westwood.

-The Bruins defeated Texas A&M back in 2006 as a four-point neutral-court ‘chalk,’ 65-62.

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Xavier, Purdue: No offense, but this one's about defense.
March 21, 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) -Fun time is over for Purdue. After ringing up a season-high 90 points in a rout of Baylor, the Boilermakers anticipate a gritty, deliberate affair against Xavier on Saturday.
   
Purdue's 10th straight opening-round win in the NCAA tournament was a frolic in which the sixth-seeded Boilermakers happily joined the Bears in a two-hour track meet on a 94-foot tract of hardwood. There will be none of that against No. 3 seed Xavier in the second round of the West Regional.

``No doubt about it, it's going to be a lot different,'' Purdue guard Tarrance Crump said Friday.

Warning: This game might induce drowsiness to those basketball fans who enjoy fast breaks, open jump shots and transition dunks.

``I think it's going to be real fun to watch, especially if you like defense and the grind-it-out style, like a Big Ten style of game,'' Purdue guard Chris Kramer said.

Xavier (28-6) ranked first in the Atlantic-10 in field goal percentage defense and is allowing only 62.3 points per game. Purdue (25-8) led the Big Ten in turnover margin, ranked second in steals and has yielded fewer than 63 points in 20 of 33 games.

Neither team has any intention of doing anything different Saturday.

``I don't think you can advance in tournament play unless you have a strong identity on defense,'' Musketeers coach Sean Miller said.

Xavier takes its lead from guard Stanley Burrell, who averages less than 10 points per game but makes his mark on the other end of the court. Covering the other team's best perimeter shooter is a thankless job that is not always evident in the box score, but Burrell's pride in playing defense has earned him the respect of his teammates, dozens of opponents and, of course, his coach.

``It takes a special person to take on the role of being a great defender,'' Miller said. ``Stan has relished that opportunity from Day 1 of this season. His enthusiasm for defense has a way of becoming contagious, especially for our younger players. Our identity defensively, and a lot of the success that we've had, much of it stems from that one person that has taken on that role.''

There's no question Purdue enjoyed opening up its offense and running with Baylor in a 90-76 win. But the Boilermakers know that playing defense is imperative if they're to avoid being dismissed in the second round for the fifth time in eight tries since 1994.

``You have to value every possession and try and take care of the ball the best you can,'' Purdue freshman Scott Martin said. ``I don't see it being any different (Saturday).''

Xavier advanced by rallying from a 10-point deficit in the second half against Georgia. A similar lapse against Purdue might be impossible to overcome.

``We obviously didn't play as well in the first half. We don't want that to haunt us,'' forward Derrick Brown said. ``We have to be more prepared to take that first blow.''

The solution is simple: Play better defense against a Purdue team that can be deadly accurate from beyond the arc. Robbie Hummel, Keaton Grant and E'Twaun Moore ranked 1, 2 and 4 in the Big Ten in 3-point shooting percentage.

``They really have a couple of good shooters that can knock it down at a high rate,'' Burrell said. ``Our level of intensity has to be the same as it was in the second half of our game (against Georgia). If we don't bring it, then we'll put ourselves in a hole. They're a much smarter team and won't allow us to get back in the game.''

The Musketeers are looking to the round of 16 for the first time since reaching the Final Four in 2004. Purdue, which hasn't won twice in the same NCAA tournament since 2000, lost to top-seeded Texas in the South Regional last year after defeating LSU.

``I think this team is real hungry. I'm not saying the team last year wasn't hungry, but I think we've got a little more drive in us this year, a little momentum going in to it,'' Grant said. ``We're not intimidated.''

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Re: Saturday NCAA News and Notes

NCAA TOURNAMENT

MIDWEST REGION

(8) UNLV (27-7, 18-11-2 ATS) vs. (1) Kansas (32-3, 19-14 ATS)


Kansas, in the opener of its 19th straight NCAA Tournament appearance, breezed past 16th-seeded Portland State 85-61 Thursday and just managed to cover as a 21-point chalk. The Jayhawks have now won eight straight, including seven by double digits, but they are just 6-9 ATS in their last 15, all as a favorite.

UNLV held ninth-seeded Kent State to a tournament record-tying 10 first-half points en route to an easy 71-58 victory Thursday as a 1½-point underdog. The Rebels, who reached the Sweet 16 in last year’s NCAA Tournament with a second-round upset of second-seeded Wisconsin, have won five in a row and eight of their last nine (6-2-1 ATS).

These two teams haven’t met since playing in back-to-back seasons in November 1997 and November 1998, with Kansas winning both at home, 92-68 and 78-50.

The Jayhawks, who advanced to the Elite Eight last year, are 7-4 ATS in their last 11 non-conference matchups (4-1 ATS in their last five), 5-2 ATS in their last seven outings and 17-8 ATS as a favorite of 13 points or more. But they are 2-6 ATS in their last eight Tournament games (all as a favorite) and 2-5 ATS in Saturday contests.

The Rebels carry several positive ATS trends, including 24-8-1 in non-conference play, 9-2 in postseason play (conference and NCAA tournaments), 43-20-3 against teams with a winning record, 4-1 at neutral sites and 6-1-1 as a neutral-site underdog. In addition, UNLV is a lengthy 37-17-3 ATS in its last 57 Saturday outings.

The favorites went 13-3 ATS in Thursday’s first-round games, then came back down to earth Friday, going an even 8-8 ATS.

In last year’s Tournament, No. 1 seeds went 4-0 SU but just 2-2 ATS in second-round games.

For Kansas, the under is 5-2 at neutral sites and 25-11-1 outside the Big 12, but the over is 12-4 as a favorite in the NCAA Tournament, 7-3 in its last 10 Tournament tilts and 13-6 after a SU win. For UNLV, the under is 7-3-2 overall, 16-5-2 catching points and 6-2-1 after a SU win, but the over is 5-2-1 against the Big 12.

ATS ADVANTAGE: NONE


(11) Kansas State (21-11, 12-14 ATS) vs. (3) Wisconsin (30-4, 18-13 ATS)

Wisconsin was clinging to a 30-28 halftime lead against upstart Cal State-Fullerton Thursday before finally wresting control of the game in the second half and winning 71-56 Thursday as an 11½-point favorite. The Badgers, who claimed the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles, have won 11 in a row and done nearly as well against the number, going 9-2 ATS.

Kansas State, which got one of the last at-large berths into the Tournament field, showed it belonged by wiping out Southern California 80-67 Thursday as a three-point underdog. The Wildcats ended an 0-5 SU Tournament skid (losing by an average of 11 points per contest), and they halted an 0-7 ATS slide overall.

The Badgers, who lost in the first round of the 2006 Tournament and in the second round last year as a No. 2 seed, are on an 8-1 ATS roll and are also 4-0 ATS against the Big 12, 7-1 ATS as a favorite, 6-1 ATS after a spread-cover and 6-2-1 ATS as a neutral-site chalk. The lone negative for Wisconsin is its 1-6 ATS mark on Saturdays.

The Wildcats are 10-3 ATS in their last 13 games as a neutral-site ‘dog, 4-1 ATS in their last five overall catching points and 37-14-1 ATS in Saturday games. However, despite Thursday’s effort, they are still 4-8 ATS in their last 12 non-conference contests, 2-5 ATS in their last six when catching less than seven points, 1-5 ATS against teams with a winning SU record and 0-4 ATS after a straight-up win.

Wisconsin leads the NCAA in points-allowed, surrendering just 53.8 ppg. The Badgers have held nine of their last 10 opponents to 57 points or fewer, giving up 48, 42, 41 and 34 in four of those contests.

Wisconsin is on a bevy of “under” runs, including 5-0 outside the Big Ten, 7-1 after a SU win, 8-2 on Saturday, 19-7 as a chalk and 19-7 in its last 26 starts overall. K-State, conversely, has “over” streaks of 7-0 on Saturday, 7-1 after a SU win, 8-2 in non-conference play and 20-7 in the Wildcats’ last 27 starts overall.

ATS ADVANTAGE: WISCONSIN


WEST REGION

(6) Purdue (25-8, 18-11-1 ATS) vs. (3) Xavier (28-6, 14-16 ATS)


Xavier got all it could handle from 14th-seeded Georgia on Thursday, trailing 35-26 at halftime before rallying for a 73-61 victory in the first round, covering as an 8½-point favorite. The Musketeers are a sterling 14-2 SU in their last 16 games, with both losses coming against St. Joe’s – including one in the Atlantic 10 tournament semifinals.

Purdue, coming off a one-and-done effort in the Big Ten tournament, bounced back Thursday with a 90-79 victory over 11th-seeded Baylor, easily cashing as a 2½-point favorite. Despite the victory, the Boilermakers are just 4-3 in their last seven outings (4-2-1 ATS) following an 11-game winning streak (10-1 ATS).

These two teams last met in November 2005, with Xavier blasting Purdue 74-55 as a 5½-point road chalk. The two squads have met five times since the 1997-98 season, with Xavier going 3-2 ATS (2-3 SU).

Xavier’s on-court success hasn’t translated into money off it, as the Musketeers are just 7-12 ATS in their last 19 games (6-12 ATS as a favorite), including 2-4 ATS in their last six. However, they are on positive pointspread runs of 24-7 at neutral sites, 14-5 as a neutral-site favorite, 4-0 in non-conference games, 5-0 against the Big Ten and 7-1 in NCAA Tournament contests.

Purdue sports several positive ATS trends, including 15-3-1 overall, 5-1 in the Tournament, 9-1-1 against winning teams, 6-1 as a neutral-site ‘dog, 11-3-1 following a SU win, 18-6-1 after a spread-cover, 8-3 in neutral-site contests and 25-9 in Saturday clashes. However, the Boilermakers are just 1-4 ATS in their last five non-conference outings.

The over for Xavier is 6-2 in its last eight at neutral venues, 4-0 in the NCAA Tournament and 5-1 in non-conference play, but the under is 5-1 after a SU win and 4-1 against the Big Ten. For Purdue, the over is 4-0 with the Boilermakers an underdog, 4-1 at neutral sites, 4-1 in non-conference play and 4-1 in the Tournament.

ATS ADVANTAGE: PURDUE


(7) West Virginia (25-10, 15-13-1 ATS) vs. (2) Duke (28-5, 16-14-2 ATS)

Duke got perhaps the biggest scare of opening-round play for such a high seed, needing a Gerald Henderson layup in the waning seconds to beat 15th-seeded Belmont 71-70 Thursday as a 20-point chalk. The Blue Devils have been favored in their last 12 games but have gone just 3-8-1 ATS in that span.

West Virginia held off 10th-seeded Arizona 75-65 Thursday laying two points to move to 5-1 SU in its last six games (3-3 ATS). The Mountaineers are a near-perfect 7-0-1 ATS in their last eight NCAA Tournament starts.

In addition to its current ATS slide, Duke is mired in pointspread funks of 1-5 in neutral-site games (all as a favorite), 1-7 in NCAA Tournament contests, 1-8 in NCAA Tournament games as a favorite, 7-19 in its last 26 neutral-site outings, 2-6 against the Big East, 1-6-1 after a SU win and 0-4 as a favorite of less than seven points.

The Mountaineers are on a lengthy positive ATS run of 43-20-1 in their last 63 non-conference games and are 14-6 ATS at neutral sites, 4-1 ATS against the ACC and 4-1 as a neutral-site pup. However, they are 2-4 ATS in their last six neutral-site matchups, 2-5 ATS on Saturday, 1-4 ATS after a SU win and 1-4 ATS after a pointspread victory.

In last year’s Tournament, No. 2 seeds went 3-1 SU but just 1-3 ATS in the second round.

For Duke, the under is on streaks of 5-0 overall, 6-0 in neutral-site games, 24-9 in non-conference action and 7-2 as an NCAA Tournament favorite. For West Virginia, the over is on runs of 7-1 overall, 12-5-1 at neutral sites, 10-3 as an underdog and 11-4 on Saturday.

ATS ADVANTAGE: WEST VIRGINIA


WEST REGION

(9) Texas A&M (25-10, 16-13 ATS) vs. (1) UCLA (32-3, 20-12-2 ATS)


UCLA flattened 16th-seeded Mississippi Valley State 70-29 Thursday, easily covering despite being favored by 31½. The Bruins, who won the Pac-10 regular-season and tournament titles, have won 11 straight games and 16 of their last 17 (11-5-1 ATS), although they are just 4-5 ATS in their last nine starts.

Texas A&M built on its 3-0 ATS run in last week’s Big 12 tournament by besting BYU 67-62 Thursday as a one-point favorite. The Aggies improved to a solid 13-4 ATS in their last 17 postseason contests.

UCLA and Texas A&M met early in the 2006-07 season, with the Bruins hanging on for a 65-62 home win, but the Aggies got the cash as a 3½-point pup.

The Bruins are 7-3 ATS in their last 10 as an NCAA Tournament favorite, but they are just 1-5 ATS against the Big 12 and 0-4 ATS after a spread-cover. The Aggies are on pointspread surges of 14-3 at neutral sites, 6-0 as a neutral-site underdog, 5-1 in the NCAA Tournament, 6-2 outside the Big 12 and 7-3 after an ATS win. One negative for A&M is a 1-4 ATS mark in its last five Saturday starts.

UCLA, with one of the best defensive teams in the nation, has played to the under in five of its last six NCAA Tournament games overall and nine of its last 10 Tournament contests as a favorite. The under is also 12-5 in the Bruins’ last 16 non-conference tussles and is 4-1 against the Big 12, but the over is 6-1 on Saturdays.

For A&M, the under is 5-1 as an underdog, 4-1 after a SU win, 5-2 at neutral sites and 5-2 in its last seven starts overall.

ATS ADVANTAGE: TEXAS A&M and UNDER


EAST REGION

(5) Notre Dame (25-7, 15-14 ATS) vs. (4) Washington State (25-8, 17-15 ATS)


Washington State ripped 13th-seeded Winthrop 71-40 Thursday, easily besting the 10-point spread. The Cougars, who lost in the second round of last year’s Tournament, improved to 6-2 ATS in their last eight starts as a favorite.

Notre Dame breezed past 2006 Tournament darling George Mason, winning 68-50 as a 6½-point favorite. The Fighting Irish are on a 7-2 run (6-3 ATS), although they’ve alternated ATS wins and losses over their past five games.

Despite Thursday’s blowout, the Cougars are just 7-10 ATS in their last 17 games overall, 2-4 ATS at neutral venues, 6-11 ATS against winning teams and 2-6 ATS in Saturday contests. On the positive side, Wazu is 11-5 ATS in its last 16 non-conference starts.

The Fighting Irish carry positive ATS trends of 5-1 as a chalk, 4-1 against winning teams, 4-1 in non-conference action and a lengthy 22-10-1 getting points, but they are 2-5 ATS as a neutral-site pup and 1-4 ATS in their last five against the Pac-10.

In last year’s Tournament, No. 4 seeds went 1-3 SU and ATS in the second round.

The under is 29-12-1 in Washington State’s last 41 non-conference contests, including the win over Winthrop (total 114), but the over is 10-4 in the Cougars’ last 14 at neutral venues. For Notre Dame, the over is on runs of 14-4 overall, 19-7 as an underdog, 35-17-1 on Saturday and 11-2 after a SU win, but the under is on a 4-1 streak in Tournament play, including Thursday’s win (total 143½).

ATS ADVANTAGE: NOTRE DAME


(5) Michigan State (26-8, 14-14-2 ATS) vs. (4) Pitt (26-9, 18-13 ATS)

Pittsburgh drilled 13th-seeded Oral Roberts 82-63 Thursday, easily grabbing the cash as a 7½-point chalk. The Panthers, who won four games in four days to claim the Big East tournament title last week, have won six in a row and eight of nine, going 6-2 ATS in their last eight outings.

Michigan State topped 12th-seeded Temple 72-61 Thursday giving 6½ points, bouncing back from a last-second, 65-63 loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament semifinals. The Spartans are on a 5-1 ATS run, after going 4-12 ATS in their previous 16 contests.

The Panthers are on ATS tears of 5-1 at neutral sites (including the last four in a row), 6-2 in non-conference play, 9-2 against the Big Ten and 5-2 as a neutral-site chalk, but they are 5-11 ATS in their last 16 Saturday battles and 2-5 ATS as a favorite of less than seven points.

The Spartans, who haven’t made it out of the opening weekend of the Tournament since advancing to the Final Four in 2005, are on several positive pointspread runs, including 13-5-1 in the Tournament, 5-0-1 at neutral venues, 5-1 in their last six overall, 5-1-2 outside the Big Ten and 7-2-1 as a neutral-site pup. However, they are 4-9-1 ATS after a spread-cover, 2-5 ATS after a SU win, 1-4 ATS catching points, 1-5 ATS against the Big East and 1-7 ATS in their last eight Saturday outings.

For Michigan State, the over is 10-3 in the last 13 after an ATS win and is 4-1 on Saturday, but the under is 21-6-1 with the Spartans getting points and 8-3 as a neutral-site ‘dog. For Pitt, the over is on a 10-1 spree and is 6-1 in the Tournament (6-0 as a favorite), 6-0 overall with the Panthers favored, 4-0 versus the Big Ten, 4-0 as a neutral-site favorite and 6-2 on Saturday.

ATS ADVANTAGE: PITT and OVER


SOUTH REGION

(6) Marquette (25-9, 16-12 ATS) vs. (3) Stanford (27-7, 18-16 ATS)


Stanford cruised past Cornell 77-53 laying 16 points Thursday to cash for the fourth consecutive game (3-1 SU). The Cardinal’s 4-0 ATS streak – which included three games in the Pac-10 tournament as they reached the final before losing to UCLA -- comes on the heels of a 2-6 ATS slide to end the regular season.

Marquette held off Kentucky 74-66 Thursday and grabbed the cash as a six-point favorite, moving to 3-1 SU and ATS in its last four outings. The Golden Eagles have been solid against the number lately, going 9-3 in their last 12 lined contests.

The Cardinal, who haven’t advanced past the Tournament’s second round since 2003, are 2-4 ATS in their last six NCAA contests and 3-6 ATS in their last eight non-conference matchups. But they are on positive ATS runs of 4-0 at neutral sites, 5-0 as a neutral-site favorite, 4-1 in their last five overall as a favorite, 6-2 on Saturday and 7-3 after a spread-cover.

The Golden Eagles sport positive ATS numbers of 5-1 in non-conference play, 5-1 at neutral venues, 6-2 after an ATS win and 7-3 against winning teams, but they are 1-4 ATS in their last five as an underdog.

Stanford has stayed under the total in nine straight non-conference contests, and the under is 10-1 in its last 11 outside the Pac-10, but the over is 7-1 after a SU win, 6-1 on Saturday, 5-1 at neutral sites, 7-2 in NCAA Tournament play, 10-2 in the last 12 games overall and 40-16 with the Cardinals favored by less than seven points.

The over is 21-9 in Marquette’s last 30 neutral-site games and is also 6-1 on Saturday, 4-1 after a SU win and 11-4 with the Golden Eagles an underdog, although the under is 4-1 with Marquette a neutral-site pup.

ATS ADVANTAGE: STANFORD

Gametimepicks.com

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Why Round 2 is the best round to bet of the tournament
By TED SEVRANSKY

There’s certainly nothing wrong with the other five rounds of the NCAA Tournament. But in my opinion, the single best round to bet is Round 2, on the Saturday and Sunday of the opening weekend.

The first round offers the most games to bet on, with fully half of the tournament’s games taking place on the opening Thursday and Friday of action. The non-stop wall-to-wall action makes the first two days of the tourney such an amazing event here in Las Vegas, with the sportsbooks packed from 7 a.m. (gotta hold your seats!) until the final game concludes around 10 o’clock at night.

But there are some drawbacks – minor drawbacks, but drawbacks nonetheless - to the first round for bettors. First, you get too many mismatches; games that are difficult to bet because of the vastly different skill set of the two teams involved. Very few 14, 15 and 16 seeds are capable of hanging with 1, 2 and 3 seeds. There are a dozen games in the opening round with double digit pointspreads, not my preferred wagering price range.

And many of those games involve teams that haven’t played more than a couple of ‘lined’ games all year. Even sharp bettors have difficulty correctly valuing the Belmont’s and Texas-Arlington’s of the world. I can’t tell you whether Maryland-Baltimore County is capable of hanging with Georgetown, because I haven’t seen the Retrievers play, nor do I have any relevant history about how they play against elite level foes.

The double digit pointspreads aren’t a problem in themselves, but they aren’t my preferred type of game to wager on. You’ll often see the superior team take a comfortable lead and then coast thereafter, leaving the pointspread outcome in doubt until the final few minutes of play, making it something of a crapshoot. This is especially the case with the larger pointspreads of -20 or higher.

There’s one other minor problem with the opening round – the lines have a full three or four days to settle into place. The oddsmakers have ample time to come up with solid numbers for sides, totals and first half wagers. Handicappers, sharp and square alike, have ample time to bet those numbers into shape. Whatever bargains might have been out there on Monday morning are rarely available on Friday before tip-off.

It’s a similar story for Round 3, where the lines again have nearly a full week to settle, hammered into place by the wiseguys and the general public alike. In addition, by the Sweet 16, we don’t even have many games to bet on – four games on Thursday night, four games on Friday night, less than 1/20th of what we’ll find on the average Saturday college basketball card. The games are great, the action is good, but there’s simply not as many good bets to be found with only eight games.

That problem continues to compound as we reach the Elite Eight, the Final Four and then the Championship Game. Again, it’s fantastic basketball, very entertaining, played at the highest level that college hoops has to offer. And I will find good bets to be made during these rounds, just not as many as I’ll find earlier in the tournament. The problem with the last three rounds is very simple – not enough volume.

Again, let me make this perfectly clear: Rounds 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 of the Big Dance offer plenty of opportunity – it’s not like the betting marketplace suddenly becomes totally efficient, wiping away all our value with these ballgames. But, in my opinion, the very best opportunities take place in Round 2, this coming weekend.

In Round 2, we get 16 competitive games. Barring a shocking first round upset, we won’t see a pointspread higher than 15 or so, putting every single game in my preferred price point betting range. And 16 games seems to be the perfect amount to be able to concentrate on each one, as opposed to the dizzying flurry of Round 1. That gives us great halftime betting opportunities as well.

In Round 2, the betting marketplace doesn’t get the same chance to settle. The lines go up within minutes of the matchups being set, and the betting public is still concentrating on the current games going on. You’ll consistently see slightly weaker numbers in the second round, resulting in some outstanding betting opportunities.

In Round 2, you get massive over-reactions to Round 1 performances. If a top notch team looked sluggish against a lesser foe, you’ll often get a great price on them against a team that looked good in the first round. With teams that you haven’t seen much, you’ll get a good chance to assess how they can match up with their Round 2 foe. And, of course, you can sometimes find a vastly undervalued team or two playing out of their minds, with enormous momentum that can carry them forward.

I personally find more bets to be made, and greater value with those bets in the second round of the tourney. I put out six guaranteed plays for the 32 first round games, but I wouldn’t be shocked in the slightest if I find more than six wagers to recommend to my clients among the 16 games in the second round of the Big Dance.

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A look at the second day of the first round of the NCAA tournament
ASSOCIATED PRESS

Stephen Curry reached some rare air in the NCAA tournament.

He scored 40 points in Davidson's 82-76 victory over Gonzaga in the first round on Friday, just the third time since 2000 someone scored that many points.

The last player to score 40 points in the NCAA tournament was Gerry McNamara of Syracuse, who had 43 in the Orange's 80-75 victory over Brigham Young in the first round in 2004.

Tayshaun Prince of Kentucky had 41 in the Wildcats' 87-82 win over Tulsa in the second round in 2002.

There have been 20 games where a player has scored 44 or more points in the history of the tournament and five of those belong to Austin Carr of Notre Dame, who holds the single-game record with 61 points against Ohio University in the Fighting Irish's 112-82 first-round win in 1970.

Curry, the son of former NBA sharpshooter Dell Curry, had 30 points in the second half and finished one point off his career high set earlier this season against North Carolina Greensboro.

While most eyes were on Curry throughout the game as he went 8-for-10 from 3-point range, one of Davidson's less-heralded players came up with his first double-double of the season.

Junior forward Andrew Lovedale had 12 points and 13 rebounds, the next-to-last of which was on the offensive end and he passed the ball to Curry for the 3-pointer that gave the Wildcats the lead for good with 1:04 to play.

Davidson coach Bob McKillop went biblical in praising Lovedale, a native of Nigeria who played his high school basketball in England.

''I said this the other day in front of our student body,'' McKillop said. ''I said, 'If God had put Andrew in the Garden of Eden, we would still be there.' That's the kind of man he is, and to see him perform like he did today, wow. I couldn't be more happy for him.''


NEW HIGHLIGHT: Every year the tape gets dusted off and we see Bryce Drew hit the winning 3-pointer for 13th-seeded Valparaiso in a 70-69 victory over No. 4 Mississippi in the first round of the 1998 NCAA tournament.

It took 10 years, but there's a new highlight in town.

Ty Rogers' 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded in overtime gave 12th-seeded Western Kentucky a 101-99 victory over No. 5 Drake.

Drew's shot, off a play the Crusaders called ''Pacer,'' became the trademark TV clip of a mid-major beating a team from a power conference.

The Western Kentucky-Drake game was a mid-major matchup but Rogers' shot off a pass from Tyrone Brazelton was a big-time play.

Coming out of the final timeout and trailing by one point, Rogers told Brazelton: ''Don't be afraid to kick it to me.''

Brazelton dribbled the ball across halfcourt, went to his right and threw a perfect pass to Rogers.

''It kind of worked out good,'' Rogers said.

Western Kentucky coach Darrin Horn sounded like a commercial.

''Got to love the NCAA tournament, don't you?'' he said. ''I think what you just saw out there is why this is the greatest show on Earth. Can't say enough about Drake, unbelievable character, toughness, heart. They played so hard, they countered everything. What a great team. Unbelievably well-coached.

''And I think what you saw was what makes this event special, a bunch of young people out there just completely pouring their hearts out and fighting to the very end. And we were fortunate that we got the ball last, and that we've got a lot of character. ... From one senior to another, great pass by Tyrone, big shot by Ty Rogers, and very fortunate to come out on top.''

And on the other side was Drake, which saw its remarkable season end in the most emotional way possible.

''I think most coaches in that situation and if not most, anyway myself, you expect those shots to go in, because you see those highlights all the time,'' first-year Drake coach Keno Davis said. ''That last-second shot, you get a good look at it, they tend to go in more times than not, it seems like. So you're figuring it's going in. They got a good look. And just a lot of emotions go through your head.''


SAVING A CONFERENCE: The West Coast Conference had three teams in the NCAA tournament for the first time in its 55 years and it came within a final-seconds jumper of losing all three in the span of a few hours.

Gonzaga lost to Davidson and Saint Mary's lost to Miami, Fla. with the games ending within 6 minutes of each other.

That left San Diego, the league's tournament champion, to carry the banner against Connecticut and it may have taken the Toreros an extra 5 minutes, but they beat the Huskies 70-69 on a jumper by De'Jon Jackson with 1.2 seconds to play.

''I'm disappointed for both those teams because I have felt certainly all year long that they're both two of the top 25 teams in the country,'' San Diego coach Bill Grier said of Saint Mary's and Gonzaga. ''But things happen in the tournament, and it's too bad that they weren't able to win today for the conference. But they deservedly were in the tournament. I think both of them, the resumes that they put together this year spoke for themselves.

''I didn't feel like there was pressure on us now that they were out. But certainly it's great for our league that we won, but bigger than that I think it's great for our university.''

The second-round matchup of a 12 and 13 seed is the first since 2001 when No. 12 Gonzaga, which beat No. 5 Virginia 86-85, and No. 13 Indiana State, which beat No. 4 Oklahoma 70-68 in overtime, met with Gonzaga winning 85-68.

That same year No. 15 Hampton beat No. 2 Iowa State and No. 10 Georgetown beat No. 2 Arkansas for a second-round matchup that also totaled 25 in combined seed numbers. Georgetown won the second-round game 76-57.


LOW FIVE: After a year off, the No. 12 seeds are back haunting the No. 5s.

Western Kentucky beat Drake 101-99 in overtime Friday, the 12th time - how appropriate - a 12 seed has beaten a No. 5 in the first round since 2001.

There had been at least one win by the 12s every year since 2001 until last season. There were four years when it happened more than once, including 2002 when Missouri, Tulsa and Creighton all won as No. 12s.

Notre Dame and Michigan State both won as No. 5 seeds on Thursday and Clemson played No. 12 Villanova on Friday night in the last of those first-round matchups.


HOME COOKING: Staying in state meant first-round success for the most part.

Five schools got to play first-round games in their home state in the first round and only one lost.

North Carolina, Stanford, UCLA and Davidson all won in their home states, while South Alabama, playing in Birmingham, lost to Butler.


SIBLING WINS: It was a good first round for the Hansbrough family.

Tyler Hansbrough, a 6-foot-9 junior forward, had 21 points as North Carolina beat Mount St. Mary's 113-74.

Ben Hansbrough, a 6-3 sophomore guard, had five points as Mississippi State beat Oregon 76-69.

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Marquette prepares for Stanford's Lopez twins in NCAA second-rounder
ASSOCIATED PRESS

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) - Stanford has twin 7-footers Brook and Robin Lopez.

Fortunately, Marquette center Ousmane Barro has a brother, Daouda. Unfortunately, he's 7 years old.

''Too young,'' Barro said with a chuckle.

Not to worry. Barro will have plenty of help when the sixth-seeded Golden Eagles face No. 3-seeded Stanford in the South Region's second round on Saturday. At 6-foot-10, Barro is Marquette's only player taller than 6-9.

Starting forward Lazar Hayward, at 6-foot-7, will pitch in. Dwight Burke, a 6-8, 250-pound forward, and 6-foot-9 Dan Fitzgerald will help off the bench. The Golden Eagles' guards will try to pester the Lopez twins with double teams, hoping to make them give up the ball.

When it comes to stopping the Stanford trees, it takes a village.

''We're going to need everybody,'' Barro said Friday after practice.

The Golden Eagles are used to facing talented big men in the Big East, and they've had mixed success. Georgetown's 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert hit 7-of-11 shots from the floor and scored 20 points in the Hoyas' 70-68 overtime victory on March 1 in Milwaukee. Barro fouled out in 16 minutes.

Marquette coach Tom Crean said that when it comes to stopping big centers, ''we've had our successes, we've had our minuses, but we've had a lot of experience.''

Barro said he's usually been able to hold his own against opposing centers in the Big East.

''But the Lopez brothers, that's different because we never see two 7-footers in the same game playing at the same time,'' Barro said.

And, he might have added, playing well at the same time.

Brook Lopez averages 18.6 points and 8.3 rebounds. Robin Lopez averages 10.1 points and 5.6 rebounds, and he has 80 blocked shots.

In an opening-round rout of Cornell on Thursday, the twins combined to make 8-of-11 shots from the floor, scoring 18 points in 38 minutes. Robin Lopez also had five blocks.

At least Barro won't have any trouble telling them apart. Robin Lopez is the one with the mop top.

''I don't think we're going to get confused because one of them's got big hair and one of them doesn't,'' Barro said. ''You can see them right away.''

Brook Lopez has heard that one before.

''You hear it all the time in chatter between two players,'' he said. ''It's lucky in basketball you've got numbers on the back of the jerseys, too. That helps a lot.''

The brothers started wearing different hairstyles in sixth grade, and Brook Lopez said he doesn't think it puts them at a competitive disadvantage.

''We've talked about looking exactly the same on the court,'' Brook Lopez said. ''I don't think either of us would really go for it, though.''

Robin Lopez certainly wouldn't.

''We're effective enough right now without risking my hair,'' Robin Lopez said.

Stanford has other weapons. But only one other player - guard Anthony Goods - averages more than 10 points per game.

The Lopezes said they've seen almost every defense imaginable, from double teams to zones.

''Some were bizarre,'' Robin Lopez said.

''I remember a couple of weekends ago, USC sat someone in my lap and then played someone behind me,'' Brook Lopez said.

Marquette's staff has probably already seen the tape of that game. The Trojans limited Brook Lopez to 4-for-13 from the floor and 11 points, and USC prevailed 77-64.

UCLA coach Ben Howland, whose Bruins are here as a West Region entry, was asked how he defended the Lopezes this season. UCLA went 3-0 against Stanford, with Brook Lopez averaging 15.3 points and Robin Lopez averaging 10.3.

''I don't think you match up,'' Howland said. ''I think you've got to do it as a team.''

That's what the Golden Eagles intend to do. They also plan to take advantage of their own advantage - quickness.

The Cardinal may have trouble handling Marquette guards Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews, who average a combined 38.7 points and 9.5 assists.

''(The Cardinal) run everything from the inside out,'' Fitzgerald said. ''But the way we look at it, they've got to guard us too. Our whole mentality is attacking them, and having them guard what we do. I think that will be just as hard for them.''

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Round 2 previews and picks for the afternoon games
Covers.com

WVU vs. Duke -3½, 147

When Gerald Henderson sliced through the lane and dropped a layup with 11 seconds to go against Belmont, Dukie lovers everywhere breathed a sigh of relief while the Cinderella lovers of the world sagged in disappointment.

We nearly had a monstrous upset that would go down in history but even the support of country star Vince Gill couldn’t help these boys from Tennessee.

Belmont put up a fearless effort against the 2-seeded Blue Devils and made timely threes to keep this one close. It was not to be, though if Duke doesn’t get its three-point shooting going, it might not last past the second round.

Not only did Duke go 6-for-21 from downtown, but there was another big concern: the Blue Devils ran out of gas at the end of this game. They started making bad turnovers and shots were falling short of the rim due to tired legs. It also showed on defense when Alex Renfroe repeatedly marched through the lane and made shots.

West Virginia is a high scoring squad that can hurt you with the three-ball if you can’t respond. The Mountaineers finally had someone other than Joe Alexander step up against Arizona. Alex Ruoff scored 21 and Da’Sean Butler had 19.

West Virginia should see more pressure on the outside from Duke, but I have to wonder for how long if those legs get tired again in the second half.

Pick: Duke -3½


Kansas State vs. Wisconsin -4½, 131

Kansas State is going to be a tough team to beat. The Wildcats showed that in their win over USC Thursday.

They are a tough rebounding team at both ends of the floor and they are full of talent with guys like Michael Beasley.  Bill Walker also stepped up for the Cats in the first half especially while Beasley was being closely guarded. Walker finished with 22 and Beasley had 23.

From the get-go it looked like K-State wanted this one more than USC. They were on the floor for balls, stealing offensive rebounds and playing intense defense. USC couldn’t match the tenacity and it never really felt like the Trojans threatened.

Wisconsin is a better defensive team and unlike USC, it doesn’t rank worst in its conference in offensive boards. The Badgers started slowly in their Round 1 matchup against CS Fullerton, but regrouped in the second half to become the tough-nosed defensive squad we’ve seen all season.

This should be a great matchup with two squads playing tight defense right now.

Pick: Kansas State +4 ½


Purdue vs. Xavier -3, 130

Even though Xavier beat Georgia by 11 points, don’t let the score fool you. The Musketeers had to claw from behind in the second half and they only extended the lead to double digits at the end of the game on garbage time free throws.

They could show signs of tired legs against Purdue. The refs let these teams play and Georgia was a gritty opponent that made Xavier dive all over the floor for loose balls and play tough defense. The Musketeers had to earn everything they got.

Xavier is an athletic team inside and it has a speedy transition game where the club loves to grab rebounds off defensive boards and race you up floor for a bucket. Purdue should match up well with the Musketeers there, but Xavier poses some other problems.

Josh Duncan is a 6-foot-9 forward with great dribbling and shooting skills who is painfully tough to guard. Burell is also a force on defense as the A-10 defensive player of the year and anchors a speedy defense that can close on you in a hurry.

If you’re thinking this young Purdue squad might be intimidated though, forget it. The Boilers looked more like a senior-laden team than the one that started four freshmen in its opener against Baylor.

Purdue came out firing, shooting 50 percent in the first half and it had Baylor scrambling.  The Boilers were scoring all over the court, nailing treys and beating Baylor inside.

The biggest difference against Xavier though, will be its size. Baylor is a guard-heavy team that Purdue clearly overmatched in the paint and in overall size. Xavier doesn’t give up that edge and Purdue won’t enjoy many easy deuces inside nor the advantage on the boards it had against Baylor.

The Boilers might have the advantage when it comes to freshness. They jumped out to a huge lead on the Bears early and were able to sub in plenty throughout the game to keep legs fresh.

They’ll need those legs on defense against Xavier. A big key will be not allowing Xavier to get into a run-and-gun situation.

In the Musketeers’ two losses to St. Joe’s recently, both were low-scoring affairs. Georgia also played fantastic D against Xavier in the first half in the Round 1 matchup when the Dawgs led by double digits at the half.

Pick: Xavier

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Round 2 previews and picks: Evening games
Covers.com

Notre Dame vs. Washington State -2, 133½

Washington State had a scare Thursday when it found itself tied with Winthrop 29-29 at the half. Winthrop was smaller and less talented, but due to turnovers, it managed to keep the game close.

Wazzou cleaned that up in the second half when the Cougars took over about halfway through that period. The key here is Wazzou started slowing down the play and executing. When the Cougs are at their best, they love to use all of the clock and hit their shots in the last few seconds of the 35.

Wazzou can hit the three ball or work the ball in low on the post with Aron Baynes, who will be a tough matchup. Baynes had 19 against Winthrop along with eight boards.

It could be a battle of wills with the Irish because they love to jack up the score and get into high tempo affairs. Luke Harangody is always a problem in the paint and just about everybody on Notre Dame can shoot the three-pointer.

Notre Dame played well to get by George Mason. Unlike many of the other mid-majors, George Mason doesn’t lack a ton of size and had the talent to hang with some of the bigger schools if it played well. Unfortunately for George Mason, it ran into some cold shooting against a Notre Dame squad that was playing unusually tough defense.

This is a tough matchup to call and could come down to the wire. If Washington State can dictate the pace early, I like its chances. The key for Notre Dame is to hit the three-ball early and try to build to get WSU out of its slower-paced, half-court comfort zone.

Pick: Notre Dame +2


Marquette vs. Stanford -2½, 132½

Hopefully Stanford enjoyed its game in Round 1 against Cornell. Judging by the way the Cardinal kept celebrating dunks despite a 20-plus point lead, I think they did.

It won’t be as fun for Stanford from here on in after a game against the Ivy League school that looked like NBAers playing middle school kids. Stanford just had way too much, including size, for Cornell.

If the Cardinal don’t forget about that game, they could get stung by Marquette.

Marquette doesn’t have the size that Stanford has with its seven-footers like the Lopez twins, yet somehow the Golden Eagles are a great offensive rebounding team. They always seem to be in the right position and frustrate you madly with put-back points.

The Eagles play great help defense and do a formidable job of limiting bigger opponents in the paint by double and triple teaming. They also like to switch up looks on defense to keep you on your toes.

The other thing Marquette can do is hit the trey from all over the floor if you let it. Guard play will be huge for Stanford for this reason and also so it can hang with Marquette’s transition game. Jerel McNeal leads the way as one of four Golden Eagles who average double digits in points per game. 

Pick: Stanford -2½


UNLV vs. Kansas 13½, 136

This is a matchup of two teams who rolled in the first round and it could be a tougher matchup than you think.

The No. 1 seed Kansas, dusted off Portland State, though the Jayhawks kept it close enough to the 22-point spread in the second half to keep Kansas bettors nervous.

They’ll now face a UNLV squad that lives up to its Runnin’ Rebels name if its first game is any indicator. The Rebs loved grabbing the ball off defensive boards and racing up floor like their shoes are on fire. They caught a speedy Kent State team on its heals more than once and jumped out to a 31-10 lead at the half. 

Wink Adams might just be one of the best point guards in the tournament. He can dish with the best of them, score with both hands and his ball control makes UNLV a dangerous squad for the potential upset. He scored 17 against Kent State.

The Rebs won’t have the size advantage they had over Kent State on Saturday, however. They had way too many uncontested rebounds and they were fortunate a nervous Kent State squad came out shooting blanks at 20 percent on field goals and 0-for-7 on three-pointers.

Kansas, on the other hand, shot the lights out against Portland State with over 50 percent field goal shooting and 12-of-25 three-point shooting.

The Jayhawks jumped to the lead early and were able to use plenty of subs to stay fresh. By now you know about Joe Crawford, Mario Chalmers, Darrel Arthur and the rest of this team’s talent so I won’t go into too much more detail.

Pick: UNLV +13½


Pittsburgh vs. Michigan State -2½, 131½

Pitt continued where it left off from the Big East tournament, winning and covering another spread. This time, however, the Panthers did it against a much less talented Oral Roberts team that didn’t play with a whole lot of heart.

Levance Fields was fantastic for Pitt once again, controlling the offense with great playmaking and chipping in with 23 points and seven assists. Pitt can run the floor and is comfortable playing the inside game or the outside game, so the Panthers will be tough.

The biggest improvement from Pitt lately is its defense. The Panthers are making it tough for opponents to score easy buckets on them and when you miss, you have to deal with Sam Young, DeJuan Blair and some decent rebounding guards on the glass. There is a reason Bob Knight chose these guys to win it all.

Michigan State easily handled Temple, but the Owls were a mismatched team. They looked nervous and confused early on as the Spartans switched constantly on defense and Temple clanked one three-pointer after another.

Sparty used its size advantage at both ends of the floor, using screens and rolls to create easy buckets. They won’t have that luxury against a much bigger and more composed Pitt squad that can play far better man-to-man defense.

A big concern here for Michigan State is one that coach Tom Izzo had coming into the tourney: inconsistency.

The Spartans started the game slowly, resulting in a low-scoring first half that played under. They also had an ugly stretch of sloppy play in the second half in which they kept coughing up the ball and allowed Temple to dream of hopes of a comeback before Izzo called a timeout and MSU regrouped.

Pitt plays a full 40 minutes and has talent off the bench, so Michigan State can’t afford the same letdowns against this Big East opponent.

Pick: Pittsburgh +2½ 


Texas A&M vs. UCLA -10½, 125

A&M was the first lower seed of the tournament to beat a higher seed when it nipped BYU 67-65. The Aggies played a tough game though and squeaked it out at the end, so they could be tired on Saturday.

Josh Carter had his biggest game of the season with 26 points and Bryan Davis and Joseph Jones had huge games in the paint. Davis and Jones will need to be just as sharp Saturday because UCLA has all kinds of size.

UCLA made quick work of 16-seed Mississippi Valley State in the first round in a 70-29 win. The most impressive number might be the Bruins’ 20 assists in that game, which shows you the depth this team has. The Bruins are a talent-loaded team with super freshman Kevin Love leading the way.

Everywhere you turn the Pac-10 champions are tough to beat on the floor.

Pick: Texas A&M +10½

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UCLA, Kansas expected to maintain dominance

Top-seeded Bruins and Jayhawks remain prohibitive favorites heading into their second-round games.

UCLA and Kansas won their first-round NCAA tournament games by a combined 65 points and Las Vegas oddsmakers expect both teams to have an easy time again in today's second-round games.

On Thursday, the Bruins covered a 31 1/2 -point spread when they crushed Mississippi Valley State, 70-29. As a reward, No. 1-seeded UCLA has been made a 10 1/2 -point favorite over ninth-seeded Texas A&M for its West Regional matchup at the Honda Center.

In the Midwest Regional, the No. 1-seeded Jayhawks were 22-point favorites over Portland State and covered the line with an 85-61 victory. Today, Kansas will face eighth-seeded Nevada Las Vegas and the Jayhawks are listed as 13-point favorites for the game in Omaha.

Based on the results of the first round, UCLA (32-3) and Kansas (32-3) deserve to be heavy favorites for today's games. But both teams will face difficult opponents.

Texas A&M (25-10) has won four in a row against the spread, which includes a six-point loss to Kansas in the Big 12 Conference tournament. The Aggies, however, have shown the ability to lose big in recent weeks in losing three games by at least 17 points.

UNLV (27-7) has won five games in a row, including an impressive 71-58 victory over Kent State in the first round. The Runnin' Rebels, however, have failed to cover three of the last four times they've been underdogs.

Final note: In first-round blowout victories, both UCLA and Kansas failed to cover the over line. The over/under combined point total for the Bruins' game against Texas A&M is 125 points, and the over/under total for the Jayhawks game against UNLV is 136.5 points.

latimes.com

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