West Regional Final Preview

West Regional Final Preview

West Regional Final
By Judd Hall

It’s amazing what one win can mean for a team.

Xavier can achieve its first Final Four appearance with one more victory this season. Meanwhile, the Bruins will find themselves cutting down the nets at a regional final for the third consecutive year.

The Musketeers had to fight tooth and nail with West Virginia to make it to their second Elite Eight in four years. Xavier (30-6 straight up, 16-16 against the spread) entered its tilt with the Mountaineers as a slight one-point underdog and a total of 137. And Sean Miller’s club needed overtime in order to dispatch WVU, 79-75.

Xavier shot 47.5 percent (28 of 59) from the field in the Sweet 16. They were practically automatic from three-point land, nailing 11 of 19 shots. And the Musketeers barely won the rebound battle, 39-34.

Where XU really got the advantage in this contest was when the Mountaineers lost Joe Alexander’s services during the extra session. Alexander had 18 points and 10 rebounds, but fouled out in overtime. WVU seemingly lost its verve, especially at the free throw line, missing four of its six shots from the charity stripe during overtime.
Josh Duncan played a fantastic game for the Musketeers by scoring 26 points with five boards, including nailing three of his four shots beyond the arch. C.J. Anderson was XU’s only other scorer in the double-digits with 12 points.

UCLA (34-3 SU, 20-14-2 ATS) looked like it was trying to give the game away to the Hilltoppers on Thursday night. The Bruins surged to a 41-20 lead at halftime thanks to a 23-4 run during the middle of the first half.

Western Kentucky then pressed the Bruins hard in the second half that helped facilitate a 21-8 run that brought the margin down to four. Things looked bad for the B’s when Darren Collison fouled out with four points. However, Kevin Love put in game-high 29 points with 14 boards. And James Keefe had the night of his young college life, scoring a career-high 18 points to help pick up the slack.

The line has moved quite a bit in just a day. Las Vegas Sports Consultants opened the line with UCLA as an eight-point “chalk” and a total of 129. And the public has responded by backing the Musketeers with a vengeance, making the line shrink down to six-points for the Bruins. And don’t think the total was immune to the movement either, it opened at 126…meaning the ‘over’ is getting a lot of love as well.

As far as betting this matchup, you may want to consider the Bruins on the money line at minus-255 (risk $255 to win $100). UCLA is 23-5 SU and 14-13-1 ATS when listed as a single-digit favorite in the last two seasons. The ‘under’ has gone 17-11 for the B’s in that situation.

The Musketeers have posted an 8-13 SU and 12-9 ATS mark when made a single-digit underdog since 2005. Meanwhile, the ‘under’ has gone 11-9-1.

CBS will be broadcasting this match from the US Airways Center in Phoenix, Arizona at 6:40 pm EDT.


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Lavender could play big role for Xavier
March 28, 2008

PHOENIX (AP) -Xavier forward C.J. Anderson remembers the first time he played against Drew Lavender, in a 16-and-under AAU tournament in Ohio.

``That's when I was like, 'Who is this little guy?' because he was scoring a lot of points,'' Anderson said Friday.

Lavender and Anderson eventually became teammates at third-seeded Xavier, which plays top-seeded UCLA (34-3) in the NCAA's West Regional final on Saturday. Lavender is a big reason the Musketeers (30-6) are one victory away from making their first trip to the Final Four.

Well, not that big. Listed at 5-foot-7, he's one of the smaller players in the tournament.

``Drew's a winner in every sense of the word,'' backcourt partner Stanley Burrell said. ``It's great having him here. We wouldn't be where we are today if it wasn't for him.''

In Xavier's first three tourney games, Lavender has averaged 13.3 points and six assists per game. Lavender went 8-for-8 from the free-throw line in the final minute of an 85-78 victory over Purdue in the second round, finishing with 18 points and nine assists.

Lavender has a total of six turnovers in 106 high-pressure minutes. That might be the most important statistic on a team that depends on ball movement to spread the scoring load.

``I don't think he turns the ball over a lot,'' UCLA point guard Darren Collison said. ``Any time you have good point guard play, you go far in the tournament. Obviously, he led his team to the elite eight for a reason.''

On Saturday, Lavender and Collison will share the spotlight at the point, but they probably won't guard each other. Burrell said he's likely to be assigned to Collison, and Lavender likely will guard Russell Westbrook, who stands 6-foot-3.

Lavender gives up eight inches to Westbrook. But Lavender is used to it.

Lavender said he rarely thinks about his size, except when he's asked about it. It's not his favorite subject, but he's become used to questions.

``I got tired of everybody asking me all those questions about my size,'' Lavender said. ``Am I scared of going in there with all those trees and everything like that.

``It used to motivate me, but I'm just so used to it now, I'm just like 'whatever,''' Lavender said. ``I laugh about it now when people ask about my size and everything. It's just kind of funny now. It used bother me, but I don't let it get to me anymore.''

Going back to grade school, Lavender said he's always been among the smaller players on the floor. The only difference in college ball, he said, is that his opponents are much taller.

``They just got bigger and bigger, but it's still basketball,'' Lavender said. ``It's not like the ball got bigger or the hoop got smaller.''

For Lavender, the trip to the desert is part of a journey that began in 2003 at Oklahoma. He spent two years with the Sooners before deciding to transfer.

Coincidentally, his last OU game was in March 2005 in Tucson, about 90 miles to the south. The Sooners lost to Utah in the NCAA's second round, and Lavender went 1-for-6 from the floor.

``After that, I was hoping that whatever school I came to was going to be a contender like we are now,'' Lavender said. ``I chose Xavier, and now here we are.''

Lavender said he considered transferring to Michigan or Seton Hall. Xavier turned out to be the best fit for Lavender. Coach Sean Miller was a standout point guard at Pittsburgh, so he understands what it takes to thrive at the position.

To Miller, it's no surprise that Lavender is one of the last point guards standing in this tourney - even if he stands only 5-foot-7.

``He won a high school state championship,'' Miller said. ``He won a Big 12 championship at Oklahoma. And he's won two conference championships at Xavier. He's been a winner.''

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Michael Cash
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(3) Xavier (30-6, 16-16 ATS) vs (1) UCLA (34-3, 20-14-2 ATS)

UCLA was pounding 12th-seeded Western Kentucky 41-20 at halftime Thursday, but the Bruins had to fend off a furious second-half run, eventually prevailing 88-78 but failing to cover as a 12½-point chalk. UCLA notched its 13th straight win, but the Bruins are just 6-7 ATS in that stretch, including 2-5 ATS in their last seven starts.

The Bruins, on track for their third straight Final Four appearance, are 2-0 SU and ATS in Elite Eight games the past two years, edging Memphis 50-45 as a 2½-point favorite in 2006, then eliminating Pitt 64-55 as a three-point chalk last year.

Xavier had to work late Thursday, notching a 79-75 overtime win over seventh-seeded West Virginia as a 1½-point underdog to reach the Elite Eight for the first time since 2004. The Musketeers have now ripped of 16 wins in their last 18 games (9-9 ATS) and have cashed in their last three.

UCLA is on positive ATS streaks of 35-17 after a non-cover and 7-2-1 as a favorite of less than seven points. However, Ben Howland’s team is on negative ATS streaks of 1-4 overall – all against winning teams at neutral sites, and all with the Bruins favored – 0-4 on Saturday and 0-4 against teams with a winning percentage above .600.

The Musketeers are on a bevy of positive ATS runs, including a sterling 9-1 in the Tournament and 7-0 as a Tournament underdog. In addition, they are 6-0 ATS in non-conference play, 26-7 ATS at neutral venues, 12-2 ATS as a neutral-site pup, 20-8 ATS as an underdog, 7-3 ATS versus winning teams and 45-22-1 ATS against teams with a winning percentage above .600. Two negative notes are Xavier’s 2-6 ATS mark in its last eight games on Saturdays and a 2-4 ATS record in its last six after a SU win.

In the past two Tournaments, underdogs have gone 6-2 ATS in the round of eight, with each of those six ‘dogs winning outright to reach the Final Four. However, favorites went 5-3 ATS in the Sweet 16 and are now 34-21-1 ATS for the Tournament.

Xavier has made five fewer field goals than its first three Tournament foes and has just four more total rebounds than those foes. However, the Musketeers are outshooting their opponents 48 percent to 42.3 percent, and they’re averaging 79 points per game.

Despite struggling defensively in the second half against Western Kentucky, UCLA is still just giving up only 52 ppg on 31.7 percent shooting in the Tournament. Offensively, the Bruins average 69.7 ppg on 47.2 percent shooting.

Although Thursday’s game against Western Kentucky flew over the 137-point posted price, UCLA remains on “under” streaks of 16-5 in the Tournament (2-0 “under” in the Elite Eight), 10-2 as a Tournament favorite and 4-1 outside the Pac-10. However, for Xavier, the over is on runs of 10-1 in the Tournament (6-0 in the last six), 7-1 in non-conference play and 8-2 at neutral venues.



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Elite Eight analysis & pick: Xavier vs. UCLA

Xavier vs. UCLA

Odds: UCLA -6, O/U 129

If going deep in the NCAA Tournament is all about different players stepping up at the right times, consider Xavier deep.

B.J. Raymond played only 18 minutes and scored just eight points against West Virginia Thursday night, but scored all of them in the last bits of overtime, just when it looked like WVU was going to steal the game. That included the go-ahead trey with just over a minute to play and the game-icing triple that put Xavier up by four with just 28 seconds left.

Xavier picked up the 79-75 win and it’s now covered the spread in all three tournament games and played over the total in each of them as well.   

So why the against the spread success and over cash?

It’s that different players thing I mentioned.

In Round 1, it was Derrick Brown. Round 2 it was C.J. Anderson. In the Sweet 16 it was Josh Duncan’s 26 points and incredible defensive play, along with the clutch shots from Raymond. And all the while, Drew Lavender, the niftiest ball handler in the tournament, has been the glue keeping it all together.

On any night, one of six or seven players can put up double digits for Xavier and most of them can hit the trey. That explains the three overs.

But it’s the tough man-to-man defense that is the real key behind the covers. Xavier doesn’t give up many good looks on defense. They are fast, tenacious, and it’s difficult to fool them on screens and switches. Down low, their help defense has been sensational, which makes it so tough to get to the rim for easy buckets.

Against UCLA, they’ll face a challenge that no team can really prepare for. Super teen and Pac-10 player of the year, Kevin Love, will give any team fits down low at both ends of the floor - count on that.

He has 68 points, 34 rebounds and 16 blocks through three rounds and those are just the stats. The 7-footer is even more unbelievable when you see him play, complete with a fade-away jumper that’s so sweet it gives you cavities just watching.

If Xavier can keep up that tough help defense and double-teaming down low, it may have a shot at limiting him. I don’t really think so, but maybe.

But the Musketeers are athletic through the lineup and what they lack in size in some spots, they make up for in agility and speed. I think UCLA will need key points from other sources like they got in the game against A&M when Darren Collison went 5-of-8 from downtown and scored 19.

I don’t think UCLA can afford the lapses it’s had in the past two games - which have to be driving Bruins bettors bananas. They blew the cover against Western Kentucky by falling asleep in the second half for a period and allowing them to claw back to within six points. They also had a stinker of a first half against A&M and nearly watched moneyline bets get flushed down the toilet in a 51-49 victory as 9 1/2-point faves.

The defense has been tough for the most part though, and I think oddsmakers got it right by setting the total low for this Elite Eight affair.

Over bettors were lucky the game went to overtime to jump the 137 points in the Xavier game on Thursday, so don’t be fooled by the result there. The Musketeers can slow the game down when it’s close and use all of the game clock to get the look they like. I think we’ll see a bunch of that against a UCLA team that allowed a measly 78 points through the first two rounds.

This is going to be a tight game. UCLA will have the best player on the court, but it’s Xavier’s depth and athleticism that should concern Bruins bettors.

Xavier needs to be better than UCLA from beyond the arc, and if we see that happen, we might see a jaw-dropping upset here.

Pick:  Xavier +6 

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Re: West Regional Final Preview

X going up. 55% this morning. Over 20,000 bets recorded

Michael Cash
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