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Sweet 16 News and Notes

Sweet 16 News and Notes

Sweet 16 Primer
By Brian Edwards

The Sweet 16 matchups are set and the lines are out for eight region semifinal games in four host cities. For the fifth straight year, all four No. 1 seeds advanced with UConn looking the most impressive in blowout wins over Chattanooga and Texas A&M.

Pittsburgh was the least impressive of the top seeds, going 0-2 against the spread. The Panthers didn’t pull away from East Tennessee St. or Oklahoma St. until the final minutes.

North Carolina might have been toast if not for the return of senior guard Ty Lawson, who erupted for 23 points in his return to the lineup after missing three games with turf toe. Lawson made timely shots to rally the Tar Heels past a very game LSU squad.

Louisville only led Moorehead St. by two at halftime of its first-round game. The Cardinals eventually pulled away to win, but they failed to cover the number as 21 ½-point favorites. Rick Pitino’s team stared elimination in the face at crunch time Sunday against Siena. The Saints used a 12-0 run to surge in front of Louisville 63-59 with 7:45 left.

And that’s when Terrence Williams took over. He answered Siena with a putback on the offensive boards to cut the deficit to two. On the next trip down, the Cardinals were back in the lead thanks to a Williams’ 3-pointer. They never trailed again.

U of L moves on to Indianapolis to face Arizona on Friday. Las Vegas Sports Consultants opened Louisville as a nine-point favorite with a total of 136. As of early Monday morning, most books had moved the total to 139.

The Wildcats are back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since going to the Elite Eight in 2005. They are the only double-digit seed still ticking after sending Cleveland St. packing in a 71-57 victory in Miami as 2 ½-point favorites.

The Big East has lived up to its reputation as the nation’s premier conference, placing five schools in the Sweet 16. Pitt will face Xavier in Boston as a seven-point favorite Thursday night. The total is in the 139-140 range. The Muskateers are plus-260 to win outright.

Also on Thursday, UConn and Purdue will head West to square off in Glendale. Most books have the Huskies as 6 ½-point ‘chalk’ with the total in the 134-135 range. The Boilermakers, who beat Washington in Saturday’s second-round game as short underdogs, are plus-240 on the money line.

The ACC has only two schools left standing in UNC and Duke. The Blue Devils will take on Villanova on Thursday night in Beantown. As of early Monday morning, most spots had Duke as a 2 ½-point favorite with a total of 148.

Coach K’s team knocked off Texas in Saturday’s second-round nail-biter. The Blue Devils advanced thanks to a terrific play from Jon Scheyer and a pair of nickel-dimer fouls at crunch time. That’s right, the Dookies were the benefactors of a pair of sketchy calls that were crucial in putting the Longhorns away. (How many times do we have to see that happen?)

Jay Wright’s team survived a scare from American in the first round and then dealt out woodshed treatment to UCLA in the second round. The Wildcats pounded the Bruins 89-69 as 2 ½-point favorites in Philadelphia.

Syracuse and Oklahoma promises to be a compelling matchup Friday night in Memphis. The Orange showed zero fatigue in spread-covering victories over Stephen F. Austin and Arizona St. Andy Rautins led the way in Sunday’s win over the Sun Devils, tallying 17 points, five assists and four rebounds.

The Sooners, who broke open a tight game with a late run to cash tickets against Michigan in Round 2, are one-point favorites at most books. LVSC sent the total out at 148, but it was already increased to as high as 153 ½ as of Monday morning.

North Carolina has been installed as an 8 ½-point favorite for Friday’s game against No. 4 seed Gonzaga in Memphis. As of early Monday morning, the total was in the 162-163 range. Gamblers can back the ‘Zags on the money line for a plus-320 return.

Gonzaga needed a game-winning bucket with 0.9 seconds left to survive a late rally by Western Kentucky. The Bulldogs failed to cover against the Hilltoppers and in their first-round game vs. Akron.

LVSC has updated its future numbers for the 16 remaining schools. UNC remains the 2/1 ‘chalk’ and Pitt still has 4/1 odds. However, Louisville now has the second-shortest number. The Cardinals opened at 9/2 and are now 7/2.

UConn is still 5/1 but Memphis and Duke both saw their odds reduced from 10/1 to 8/1. Five schools (Michigan St., Oklahoma, Syracuse, Villanova and Kansas) are now sporting 15/1 odds. If you’re rapidly becoming a believer in Missouri, Gonzaga or Purdue, a lucrative 25/1 payout is still available (risk $100 to win $2,500). ‘Zona and Xavier are the biggest longshots at odds of 50/1 and 75/1, respectively.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

--I called UCLA’s Darren Collison the nation’s most overrated guard all year long. He had five turnovers and one assist in his team’s blowout loss to ‘Nova.

--I love the way Duke’s Jon Scheyer and Syracuse’s Andy Rautins have turned up their play in March.

--Ranking the eight matchups:
1-Villanova-Duke
2-Syracuse-Oklahoma
3-Gonzaga-North Carolina
4-Memphis-Missouri
5-Kansas-Michigan St.
6-Purdue-UConn
7-Louisville-Arizona
8-Xavier-Pitt

--Five Best Teams eliminated:
1-Marquette
2-LSU
3-Siena
4-Oklahoma St.
5-FSU

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Re: Sweet 16 News and Notes

Buyer Beware Sweet 16
By Marc Lawrence

With the 2009 NCAA Tournament entering the SWEET 16 round, let’s take a different perspective in analyzing the teams that have arrived. It pertains specifically to teams that are returning to the SWEET 16 for the 2nd straight year. Do they perform like a team with experience and panache, or do they execute like CEO’s expecting cushy bonuses while steering a sinking ship? Let’s take a look.

According to our database, since 1991, teams making a right-back appearance in the SWEET 16 are 50-33 SU and 35-47-1 ATS in Round Three of the tourney. The cut-line, however, is the pointspread.

That’s confirmed by the fact that favorites of more than 6 points are 28-2 SU and 18-12 ATS in these games. Priced at anything less (dog or favorite of 6 or fewer points), they dip drastically to 22-31 SU and 17-35-1 ATS in competitive contests.

Last year witnessed five SWEET 16 returnees, namely Kansas (-12, 72-59), Memphis (-4.5, 92-74), North Carolina (-8.5, 68-47), Tennessee (+3, 60-79) and UCLA (-12, 88-78). Four of the five managed SU victories, while going 3-2 ATS.

The common denominator among the four winning teams, you ask? Scoring margin. All four victors had larger scoring margins within the tourney than did their opponent. The loser, Tennessee, took a back seat in tournament scoring average to their opponent, Louisville (+10 net ppg vs. +24 net ppg).

Taking a look at this year’s list of returnees, we find no less than seven teams that we here last year. They include – Kansas, Louisville, Memphis, Michigan State, North Carolina, Villanova and Xavier. What a coincidence. Five of this year’s sweet seven own higher tourney scoring margins, with Michigan State on the short end (+7.0 net ppg vs. Kansas +13.5 net ppg) and Louisville dead-even with Arizona (each +13.5 net ppg).

Unlike last season when four of the five returnees were No. 1 seeds, only two from this year’s group (the Cardinals and Tar Heels) are top seeds.

Looking at it from a ‘seed’ perspective, SWEET 16 returnees are 40-11 SU and 26-25 ATS as No. 1 or No. 2 seeds. If these top two seeded squads scored more than 75 points in their last game to advance to this round they improve to 27-4 SU and 19-12 ATS, including 23-1 SU and 17-7 ATS if they are also off a double-digit win.

You can draw your own conclusions, if you like. But make no mistake, when it comes to handicapping teams in the SWEET 16 the winners will likely be those that have ‘been there-and-done that’, keeping their team afloat, if you know what I mean.

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Re: Sweet 16 News and Notes

What we've learned from Round 2
By JASON LOGAN

Like most of you, Covers.com college basketball analyst Jason Logan spent his entire weekend watching the NCAA tournament. And like most of you, he has his thoughts and opinions on a fantastic second round.

--Much like last year, the brackets are getting pretty chalky heading into the Sweet 16 with all No. 1 and No. 2 seeds still kicking around. While having all No. 1 seeds on your bracket is shaping up pretty well, betting them is like treading water. The No. 1 seeds are an even 4-4 against the spread with an identical over/under mark.

The No. 2 seeds have proved more profitable. The second tier programs are 6-2 ATS with an over/under count of 7-1.

--What gutsy guard performance was more impressive: Ty Lawson's second-half explosion on a nagging toe or Dominic James' 17 minutes on a broken foot?

While James' comeback was probably the tougher of the two, he did little but give his backcourt mates a rest and was at times a liability on defense versus Missouri. Lawson, on the other hand, reminded everyone why he was ACC Player of the Year by scoring 21 of his 23 points in the second half to win and cover against LSU.

--If it wasn't for dunks like the and-1 slam Blake Griffin threw down against Michigan, the Sooners sophomore forward would likely punch the next defender that looks at him funny. After suffering night after night of cheap shots, it's a wonder Griffin hasn't snapped. Thank goodness he can take his frustrations out on the rim.

--One of my most anticipated matchups in the Sweet 16 is the battle on the blocks between UConn's Hasheem Thabeet and Purdue's JaJuan Johnson. The Boilermakers sophomore center scored 22 points against Washington big Jon Brockman and has the talent to take it to the Huskies' 7-footer. Thabeet scored just six points against Texas A&M due to foul troubles. Books have J.J. and Purdue set as 6.5-point underdogs.

--The Louisville Cardinals have committed 36 turnovers in their first two games of the tournament. They're also 0-2 against the spread. Coincidence?

--I mentioned Duke's defense in the opening round, thinking Coach K would rip into his team for its lack of effort without the basketball. But Texas managed to shoot over 50 percent from the field against the Blue Devils despite a poor showing from beyond the arc. Duke has gone over the total in its past two tournament tilts and faces an explosive Villanova offense in the Sweet 16. Books have set the total at 148 points.

--The way the Western Kentucky-Gonzaga game was going, the Bulldogs were lucky the refs didn't grant the Hilltoppers that timeout in the final seconds. You never know what would've happened. However, the Zags are even more lucky that WKU shot just 6-of-15 from the foul line. It could have easily been Mark Few hunting down the officials after the final horn.

--If any other No. 12 seed was making a run into the Sweet 16, they would be officially crowned this year's Cinderella. But not the Arizona Wildcats. On top of the program's history and prestige, the efforts of Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill and Nic Wise won't let Arizona fit into that glass slipper.

--Xavier's Jamel McLean put together an impressive highlight reel in just 18 minutes of work Sunday. The Musketeers reserve scored just six points in the win over Wisconsin but did so in style. McLean followed huge dunk with huge dunk, giving Blake Griffin a run for his highlight reel crown.

--As a Michigan State fan, it's just weird not seeing Drew Neitzel's glowing dome hitting huge shots in March. But I will admit Travis Walton is doing a good job filling those shoes. The senior guard went 8-for-13 for 18 points in MSU's win over Southern Cal. Walton has scored double figures just five times this season but he made up for a foul-plagued performance from Raymar Morgan. That leadership and experience is valuable against a young KU program.

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Re: Sweet 16 News and Notes

The Arizona Wildcats aren't Cinderella
By JASON LOGAN

To twist an infamous quote from ex-football coach Dennis Green:

If you want to crown them, then crown their asses. But the Arizona Wildcats are who we thought they were.

After sneaking into the field of 65 as a No. 12 seed and winning their way into the Sweet 16, the Arizona Wildcats are this year's Cinderella team by default.

It's tough to give that title to a program synonymous with the NCAA tournament. A program that has been to the big dance for 25 years running. A program that boasts as much talent as any other team left in the tournament.

The Wildcats haven't shocked and awed the masses with upset wins in the first two rounds. They handled Utah by 13 points as a slight underdog but a surefire pick on everyone's bracket. And then defeated Cleveland State in a walk-through game as 2.5-point favorites.

Arizona did exactly what we thought it would do. And that's not how a Cinderella team is supposed to behave.

The Wildcats' run to the Sweet 16 has been a couple years in the making. Arizona is always a talented team on paper. However, in recent seasons, that talent has focused more on using the university as a springboard to the pros than actually putting their heart and soul into a deep run in March.

This year, with interim head coach Russ Pennell leading the charge instead of the legendary Lute Olson, the Wildcats are playing with a purpose far greater than NBA riches. And they're doing it with NBA talent.

Junior Chase Budinger could easily be in his second season in the pros. However, the bouncy forward has skipped the draft the past two years unlike former teammates Jerryd Bayless and Marcus Williams and near-teammate Brandon Jennings, who decided to get paid in euros instead of earning his Pac-10 stripes.

The same goes for fellow junior Jordan Hill. After averaging more than 18 points and 10 rebounds this season, Hill is projected as high as the third overall pick in the upcoming NBA draft. But a pro career is not the forward's main focus. Hill is as gutsy a player as you will find in college hoops, playing a physical brand of ball despite numerous injuries this season.

Add to that mix the play of junior guard Nic Wise, who has taken the team on his back this postseason. He's scored a combined 50 points in the first two rounds while totaling 10 assists and six rebounds.

All this talent makes it tough to call Arizona a Cinderella team.

And thankfully, you don't have. Not yet at least.

If the Wildcats defeat the No. 1 overall seeded Louisville Cardinals in Friday's Sweet 16 matchup, then perhaps we can “crown their asses” as coach Green so eloquently put it.

Until then, Arizona is good team with a bad seed. But certainly not Cinderella.

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Re: Sweet 16 News and Notes

Sweet 16 returnees: The price of experience
By Marc Lawrence

With the 2009 NCAA Tournament entering the Sweet 16 round, let’s take a different perspective in analyzing the teams that have arrived. It pertains specifically to teams that are returning to the second weekend for the second straight year. Do they perform like a team with the confidence of experience, or do they execute like CEOs expecting cushy bonuses while steering a sinking ship?

According to our database, since 1991, teams making a return appearance in the Sweet 16 are 50-33 straight up and 35-47-1 against the spread in the third round of the Tourney. That’s quite a contract in SU and ATS records.

Favorites of more than six points are 28-2 SU and 18-12 ATS in these games. Priced at anything less (dog or favorite of six or fewer points), they dip drastically to 22-31 SU and 17-35-1 ATS in competitive contests.

There were five Sweet 16 returnees last year: Kansas (-12, 72-59), Memphis (-4.5, 92-74), North Carolina (-8.5, 68-47), Tennessee (+3, 60-79) and UCLA (-12, 88-78). Four of the five managed SU victories, while going 3-2 ATS.

The common denominator among the four winning teams was scoring margin. All four victors had larger scoring margins within the tourney than their opponents did. The loser, Tennessee, took a back seat in tournament scoring average to its opponent, Louisville (+10 net ppg vs. +24 net ppg).

Taking a look at this year’s list of returnees, we find no less than seven teams that were here last year (Kansas, Louisville, Memphis, Michigan State, North Carolina, Villanova and Xavier). What a coincidence. Five of this year’s seven returnees own higher tourney scoring margins, with Michigan State on the short end (+7.0 net ppg vs. Kansas +13.5 net ppg) and Louisville dead-even with Arizona (each +13.5 net ppg).

The data illustrates that when it comes to handicapping teams in the Sweet 16 the winners will likely be those that have already had a go around.

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Re: Sweet 16 News and Notes

Sweet 16 opening line report
By Stephen Nover

There’s no doubting the Big East Conference now.

Yes, Duke has stepped up and North Carolina has the shortest odds to win the NCAA Tournament, but the Atlantic Coast Conference hasn’t been able to match the Big East.

Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Louisville, Syracuse and Villanova are among the 16 remaining schools with the Panthers, Huskies and Cardinals solid third-round favorites.

Louisville is the biggest favorite on the board at -9 against Arizona. North Carolina is 8.5-point chalk versus Gonzaga and Pittsburgh is -7 against Xavier.

The oddsmaker at Las Vegas Sports Consultants made the Cardinals 9-point favorites. They also opened North Carolina -9 and Pittsburgh -8.

“The sharps have been taking the points early,” said Mike Seba, a senior linesmaker for LVSC. “Public money has been on the favorites.”

Sometimes, though, professional bettors have taken favorites right near tip-off. That was the case with Pittsburgh on Sunday against Oklahoma State.

The Panthers opened 10, were bet down to 8 and then closed 9.5. They beat the Cowboys, 84-76, but failed to cover the spread.

Seba said LVSC didn’t want to make the top seeds Pittsburgh, North Carolina, Connecticut and Louisville too short with their opening-line recommendations. They’d rather see the house needing to root for those teams.

Pittsburgh, however, hasn’t covered since the close of the regular season. The Panthers are 0-3 in the first two NCAA Tournament games and one game in the Big East Tournament.

“You can’t make Pittsburgh too high of a favorite,” Seba said. “Pittsburgh just wants to win and move on. The Panthers don’t seem real interested in covering double-digit spreads.”

Connecticut is -6.5 against Purdue. LVSC opened the Huskies -7.

“We wanted to be high on them, just because they’ve been so dominant,” Seba said of the Huskies.

Louisville has failed to cover in its first two NCAA Tournament matchups versus Morehead State and Siena. The Cardinals are -9 against Arizona.

Seba said the Cardinals probably don’t deserve to be that strong of a favorite against the Wildcats, but playing at Indianapolis is a plus for Louisville. He also believes the Cardinals will use the extra time to regroup and then play to form.

The Gonzaga-North Carolina number was difficult to make, Seba said.

“That game is tough to figure out,” he said. “Gonzaga is really capable of frustrating Carolina. If I were a Carolina backer, I’d be real nervous.”

The biggest disagreement the LVSC oddsmakers had was on the Syracuse-Oklahoma matchup. There was split opinion on which team should be favored. There was some consideration to opening the matchup a pick, but the linesmakers finally decided to make the Sooners a 1-point favorite.

“The Sooners could have been a No. 1 seed if (Blake) Griffin didn’t get hurt,” Seba said. “The site (Memphis) also is a plus for them.”

Offsetting that is Syracuse being a Big East team and enjoying a 9-1 covering run. Fading the Orange hasn’t been the way to go.

So far the biggest early move has been on the Kansas-Michigan State game. The matchup opened pick and currently the Spartans are -2 or -2.5.

“I’m not sure why it’s up to as many as 2.5,” Seba said. “It’s a pick’em type of game, maybe a point for Michigan State because of the site (Indianapolis).

“But I couldn’t feel comfortable betting Michigan State. Kansas travels well and is playing its best ball.”

Duke is another school that picked the right time to peak. The Blue Devils are -2 versus Villanova. LVSC’s send-out was Duke -3.

“Duke has to be the favorite,” Seba said. “It’s just a question of two or three. Duke is playing as well as it can. Villanova may have peaked out.”

LVSC did not want to get caught short on Memphis so they opened the Tigers -6 against Missouri. The line is either 4.5 or 5.

“We wanted to be a little high on them,” Seba said of the Tigers. “I guarantee the line will go up not down.

“Missouri is fortunate to have beaten Marquette. Memphis has won 27 in a row and has the best defense in the country. I think the line will close five or 5.5.”

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Re: Sweet 16 News and Notes

Surviving and Advancing
The Gold Sheet

Before we get to reviewing last weekend’s sub-regional action, and previewing the upcoming Sweet 16 elsewhere in the publication, we thought we’d relay a thought that crossed our mind when watching three pulsating NCAA second-round games come down to the wire late Sunday afternoon.

What if college basketball determined its national champion the way college football does it?

The degrees of drama we saw unfold in Dayton (Siena-Louisville), Boise (Missouri-Marquette), and Minneapolis (Michigan State-Southern Cal) late Sunday afternoon would never be as intense, or remotely close to it, if March Madness were instead replaced with a series of football-like basketball “bowl” games. Imagine Temple and Arizona State not squaring off in a meaningful first-round tournament game, but instead a one-and-done game in a locale such as Charlotte in the Meineke Car Care Bowl Hoops Classic. Texas and Minnesota would have competed against one another not to see which might advance to the next round of the Dance, but rather to see who would win the Alamo Hoops Bowl in San Antonio before going home for the season. Never mind those lesser hoop “bowl” games, however. Even a team as talented and powerful as Oklahoma would have no chance at the national title, since the Sooners didn’t finish in the top two of the final regular-season poll. OU could get invited to the Fiesta Hoops Bowl in Glendale, Arizona, perhaps against a team such as Syracuse, but that’s as far as the Sooners or Orange would go. Elsewhere, Mountain West champ Utah could have faced Pac-10 runner-up UCLA in the Las Vegas Classic, much as the Las Vegas Bowl football game pits MWC and Pac-10 opponents. The only basketball “bowl” that would generate significant interest would be the Hoop BCS championship game, likely between Louisville and North Carolina, because as Big East champs, the Cards would have prevented Pitt or UConn from participating in the title game. The Panthers might instead have been invited to a Hoops Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, perhaps against SEC Tourney champ Mississippi State, whereas UConn would have probably been invited to the Orange Basketball Bowl, where it could have played Kansas. Meanwhile, the Rose Bowl of Hoops would feature the champs of the Pac-10 and Big Ten Tourneys, Southern Cal and Purdue, facing off somewhere close to Pasadena at a special late-afternoon time slot without any TV competition from another basketball bowl game.

If it all sounds ridiculous, well, it is. Just remember that’s exactly how college football conducts its postseason and determines its national champion.

The thought of college hoops ever changing course and instead implementing a gridiron-like bowl system is chilling (and less likely than John McCain demanding and winning a recount for last November’s election), but we hope the picture is clear. Don’t let anyone try to convince you that the BCS system is the way to go about determining a champion in college football. We’ll save the specifics for later this year when the BCS baloney starts up all over again. We just thought the middle of March Madness was a good time to remind everyone about the BCS. And remember the analogies we’ve just drawn when watching that bogus BCS “Selection Show” on the first Sunday of December.

Now, let’s get back to hoops.

ARISTOCRATS ONLY, PLEASE

About all this edition of the NCAA Tournament now lacks is the sorts of underdogs that can captivate a sporting nation the way Davidson and Western Kentucky did a year ago, and other longshot entries in years past. Indeed, we can hardly recall a more “chalky” Sweet 16 than this year’s, wherein 14 of the teams were seeded 4th or better in their regions, and another (Purdue) seeded as a 5. The only truly high-numbered seed left in the Dance is Arizona, the 12th seed in the Midwest but also an elite hoop program and owner of the current longest NCAA Tourney streak at 25. Hardly the sort of longshot that can endear itself to the masses. Even the remaining “mid-majors” aren’t really mid-majors at all, as Xavier and Gonzaga have established themselves as two of the more-consistent top-level programs in the land, rising above their modest conference affiliations to annually rub shoulders with the aristocrats of college basketball.

That’s not to say, however, that some of the best storylines and performances of sub–regional action weren’t authored by some unexpected sources. Indeed, we’re still a bit chuffed that the Selection Committee so devalued mid-major participation the Dance and decided that an overdose of Big Ten, ACC, and other BCS conference entries was preferable.

But there are still enough longshots in the Dance that can provide a bit of hoop romance because of the chance of an unexpected upset. There’s nothing quite like seeing a power team really sweat in an opening round game, as Pitt, Memphis, and Villanova all did in their openers. And we really believe the tournament is missing something by not inviting a few more mid-major programs capable of producing those moments of unexpected magic. Granted, we know the dynamics of this season’s selection process (which we analyzed in depth a week ago) were skewed by the number of upsets in conference tourney action, which probably kept two quality mid-majors (Saint Mary’s & Creighton) out of the Dance. And odds are that the Gaels and Bluejays would probably have been sent packing by now. But the quality of some early-round games was lacking, in part because of the lack of fundamentally-sound teams (which includes most top-flight mid-majors) encouraged some of the blowout results we witnessed in the sub-regionals.

Teams that play fundamentally sound rarely get blown out; witness an unheralded entry such as Ben Jacobson’s well-coached Northern Iowa, which made a heroic effort vs. Purdue in the first round at Portland. Siena threatened to become the best storyline of the Dance; indeed, we doubt tourney excitement could top the late-night Friday action, when Siena-Ohio State dovetailed with Wisconsin-Florida State to produce the best simultaneous dramas of the tournament. One could sense the appreciation of a longtime analyst such as Bill Raftery, who was obviously very taken with a Siena side that no doubt reminded him of some of the old-time eastern Catholic school teams that won more with guile and heart than pure physical ability. And we have to wonder if there was a more entertaining team in sub-regional action than Western Kentucky, which beat Big Ten Illinois easier than that 76-72 Thursday scoreline would suggest, before battling Gonzaga down to the last second in a wild second-round game at Portland. That the Hilltoppers, conquerors of Louisville in pre-conference play, weren’t featured a few more times on the ESPN family of networks is really a crime, because we’re not sure we enjoyed watching a team quite as much this season.

Some sub-regional notes worth reviewing before we move on to Sweet 16 and Elite 8 action.

Favorites vs. dogs. The tourney is still seeking some pointspread definition, although it began to trend toward the chalk in second-round play. When the dust settled early Sunday evening, 48 games had been played in sub-regional action, with favorites holding a slim 25-22-1 advantage, thanks in part to covering 11 of 16 second-round games. The dogs held a slight 17-14-1 edge in first-round action.

Big East, Big XII and other conference notes. A couple of the “Big” conferences performed better than others. The Big East, to the surprise of few, is starting to dominate proceedings, with five entries in the Sweet 16. The surprise conference of the sub-regionals was the Big XII, which also displayed strength in numbers while sending half of its six entries into the Sweet 16. On the other hand, the ACC and Big Ten have been somewhat disappointing, barely sending two teams each through to the Sweet 16, while after a quick start, the Pac-10 is down to one entry, ironically Arizona (the most-controversial at-large invitee). And for the first time in memory, the SEC won’t be represented in the Sweet 16.

Pointspread-wise, however, Big XII entries stand above the crowd, covering 11 of 12 chances in sub-regional action, whereas the Big East stands only 6-7 against the number entering the Sweet 16. After a quick start in the opening round, Pac-10 teams endured a rough second round, dropping 4 of 5 spread decisions to fall to 5-6 overall vs. the line. That’s still better than the disappointing ACC, just 2-7-1 against the number in the sub-regionals, with only North Carolina and Duke remaining in the Sweet 16.

Best sub-regional game. Siena 74, Ohio State 72 in double OT at Dayton...This game had a little bit of everything, an exhausting back-and-forth donnybrook that included a dramatic three-pointer by Siena’s Ronald Moore to send the game into a second OT, and another triple by Moore at the end of that second extra session to finally put the Saints on top for keeps, although OSU barely missed sending the game into a third OT when Evan Turner’s 15-footer at the buzzer just missed. Things didn’t look so good for Siena earlier in the game, when the bigger Buckeyes, urged on by throaty regional support in Dayton, stretched their lead to 41-30 early in the second half, ready to throw a knockout blow. Undaunted, however, Siena responded with a 9-0 run and finally caught OSU at 49 on a Ryan Rossiter layup with 2:57 remaining. After that, it was pure buckle-your-seatbelt time, with Fran McCaffery’s Saints overcoming an uncharacteristic 22-turnover performance to advance.

Runner-up: Several candidates, although a slight nod to Gonzaga’s wild 83-81 second-round win over gallant Western Kentucky, finally decided by Zag frosh G Demitri Goodson’s floating bank shot after a full-court drive with only 1 second to play.

Worst sub-regional team performance. Wake Forest 69, Cleveland State 84 at Miami...Watching this game unfold, few would believe that the Deacons were once the top-ranked team in the country, and not that long ago, either. But Wake continued its sideways pattern of the past two months by never even having a look against Gary Waters’ underrated Vikings from the Horizon League, as CSU took command early and never looked back. The Deacs fell behind by as many as 17 points and could never make up the ground vs. the gritty Vikings, whose defense dictated the proceedings by forcing 18 Wake turnovers (as opposed to just 6 committed by CSU). It also completed a remarkable revival of a Viking program that was 4-25 as recently as the 2003-04 season and finished 10-21 only two years ago in Waters’ first season as coach.

SWEET 16 & ELITE 8 ON DECK

We’d love to keep reminiscing and reviewing last weekend’s action, but it’s time to review recent Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight history. And there have been a few trends worth noting.

In the Sweet Sixteen, favorites bounced back to cover 5 of 8 chances a year ago after the dogs held the advantage the preceding three seasons (15-8-1 vs. line). Previously, favorites had also fared well in the period between 2001-04, with the chalk 19-12-1 against the number in those years. Double-digit Sweet Sixteen dogs, however, are now 9-5 vs. the line the past ten seasons. Some conference pointspread trends in this round are particularly interesting, especially the Big East, only 8-18-2 since ‘98 against the number. We’ll see if this year’s powerful Big East, with five teams in Sweet 16 action, can reverse that trend.

More illuminating trends appear in the Elite 8, where despite dropping 3 of 4 spread decisions a year ago, underdogs have recorded a solid 26-16 spread mark since ‘98 (with two pick’ems). Conference-wise, note that Big Ten teams (though not involved beyond the Sweet 16 a year ago) stand 9-4 vs. the line in the Elite 8 over the past decade, while the Big XII reps are only 4-10 in this round against the number over the same span.

Following are the specific breakdowns (not including pick’ems or result “pushes”) by pointspread category and conferences for the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 since 1998.

SWEET SIXTEEN FAVORITES
Spread category W-L
1-3 points..........13-13
3½-6½...............12-14
7-9½................10-8
10 or more points...5-9
Total...............40-44

Spread record by conference: ACC 11-11-1, Atlantic 10 5-2, Big East 8-18, Big Ten 13-10, Big XII 12-9, CAA 1-0, C-USA 5-2, Horizon 1-2, MAC 1-1, Mid-Continent 1-0, MVC 1-3, Mountain West 0-2, Pac-10 9-13, SEC 11-10, SoCon 1-0, Sun Belt 1-0, WAC 2-1, West Coast 2-2.

ELITE EIGHT FAVORITES
Spread category W-L
1-3 points..........4-10
3½-6½...............9-7
7-9½................2-6
10 or more points...1-3
Total..............16-26

Spread record by conference since 1998: ACC 6-6, Atlantic 10 3-2, Big East 5-6, Big Ten 9-4, Big XII 4-10, CAA 1-0, C-USA 2-3, Pac-10 6-6, SEC 5-4, SoCon 1-0, WAC 1-1, West Coast 1-0.

TOURNEY HIGHLIGHTS IN LAS VEGAS

Finally, any review of sub-regional action wouldn’t be complete without mention of how Las Vegas treated the weekend, which has become near the top of most guys’ “to-do” lists. Many hoop dignitaries descend upon Vegas for the festivities. And for college hoop junkies, there is simply no better place to be than a Las Vegas sports book during the first and second rounds of the tournament. The books all throb with back-and-forth excitement through four days of riveting hoop action. And some hotels in Vegas have gone an extra step to enhance the experience.

Case in point is the Wynn Hotel on the strip. Although many hotels have expanded their facilities to include ballrooms turned into makeshift sports books for overflow March Madness crowds, the Wynn went an extra mile by not only providing plush accommodations for its own makeshift sports book in one of its ballrooms, but enhancing the hoop experience by inviting Billy Packer and Bob Knight to host the proceedings as well. Packer was at the Wynn to tape his Survive and Advance TV show, of which Knight and other hoop dignitaries are guests throughout the tournament, but both also spent parts of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday watching the games in the ballroom with the fans. Knight, who spent the early parts of each day playing golf, wasn’t around the ballroom quite as much as Packer, but when the two were together they occasionally would host impromptu question-and-answer sessions with the crowd. And even when they weren’t, just looking at the two sitting on their own perch in the center of the ballroom added an extra bit of color to the proceedings.

After the final games were completed each night, Packer and Knight would adjourn to the sports book, where they would host another question-and-answer session (with no mention of pointspreads, by the way) as well as conduct lively hoop trivia contests. Packer seemed to be thoroughly enjoying his role as host, and Knight also quickly warmed to the proceedings in his own inimitable manner. A real highlight came Sunday night, however, when Packer taped his Survive and Advance TV shown in the sports book, as he’s doing each Sunday night throughout the Dance. Last night’s guests included Bill Russell, David Thompson, and Denny Crum, who along with Knight and Packer created a sort of Mount Rushmore of hoops when all were together. For all of the basketball fans present, it was like the red carpet at the Academy Awards. For the record, next Sunday’s Survive and Advance guests will be Jerry Tarkanian, George Raveling, and Christian Laettner.

And March Madness just gets more fun every year!

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Re: Sweet 16 News and Notes

The Big XII Perspective
By Joe Nelson

The Big East is getting much more publicity with five teams still standing in the sweet 16 but the most profitable conference in the tournament has been the Big XII. There were a few close calls and the possibility of pushes or losses on a few games but based on the consensus closing numbers the Big XII has gone 11-1 ATS in NCAA Tournament games. The Big East has more teams moving on and the best chance to bring home a championship, but the conference is just 5-8 ATS and a few of the elite contenders have had serious scares in early round action.

The lone against the spread miss for the Big XII came from Texas A&M in the second round, losing badly to Connecticut. By the closing numbers Kansas in round one and Missouri and round two are being counted as wins but obviously some people may have pushed on those games if they did not take the time to find a favorable line or played them early. Even without those two games the conference has had great success and provided profits for backers. Most will expect the Big XII to be out of teams by this weekend but with three teams remaining it has been a strong tournament and any of the three teams, Oklahoma, Missouri, or Kansas, could find a way to get the job done and move on. Baylor is also still playing in the NIT, although the Big XII has not had a strong ATS performance in the other postseason tournaments.

Missouri is the team that has had the least exposure of the three remaining teams but they are no less of a threat in the first of three 2-3 match-ups faced by the Big XII. In a wild second round game Missouri squeaked out the victory, rallying from and early deficit and then falling behind despite a huge lead late in the first half against Marquette. This team regularly plays ten players deep and features a fierce pressing defense that can create major scoring runs.

Memphis is a tough match-up with some of the best numbers in the nation on defense and foul trouble is never really a major concern because of the great depth and constant rotation. Missouri is likely the more explosive offensive team in this match-up but the Memphis Tigers have plenty of talent and far more tournament experience even if there is also a lot of youth in key spots. After a lackadaisical first round win, Memphis dominated Maryland in round two but the team still has some question marks after playing a relatively weak conference schedule and losing three of its toughest non-conference games. These teams are stuck in Glendale in the West Region so this crowd could be the most neutral as all four of the teams still standing have long trips to Arizona.

Based on the early numbers Oklahoma is the team with the best chance to advance in the regional semifinal. The Sooners had a bit of a struggle early in each of their first two games but eventually pulled away with wins over Morgan State and Michigan. The Sooners will have a bit of a location edge playing in Memphis which is a long but manageable road trip from Norman and this match-up will give the Big East and Big XII a head-to-head match-up for conference validity. Syracuse has been playing as well as anyone however coming off a historic Big East tournament run and two relatively unchallenged victories in the first two rounds, routing Stephen F. Austin in a game that was not as close as the final score indicated and keeping Arizona State at arm’s length most of the game in round two.

Oklahoma does not have great depth but Blake Griffin has been an unstoppable force despite legal and illegal attempts to keep him in check. Syracuse has the inside size to potentially cause problems for Griffin but he might be good enough to overcome it. Although Oklahoma is the highest seeded of the Big XII teams the Sooners did not beat Missouri or Kansas this season, the caveat being that they only played on the road at Missouri and faced Kansas with Griffin out of the lineup.

Kansas is still the defending national champion even if few of the key contributors from last year’s great team remain. The Jayhawks did win the Big XII title outright but caught a favorable conference schedule and a few breaks along the way which made the championship seem a little less impressive. Although Indianapolis is great location draw for Michigan State, Lawrence is not that much further of a trip and plenty of Jayhawk fans should be able to make the trip. The first-round barnburner against North Dakota State may have been a good thing for Kansas as the team played exceptionally well in a dominant defensive effort against Dayton in round two.

The Big Ten got seven teams into the tournament but only two remain and the conference is only 4-7 ATS so far. Michigan State struggled with USC in round two and the final margin was the only point in the game when the Spartans were covering. Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich have had dominant tournament performances so far and Michigan State got an unlikely offensive gem from Travis Walton against USC as Big Ten Player of the Year Kalin Lucas has been fairly quiet. Kansas is a bit of a wild card in this tournament as they seemed like an upset risk with some inexperience but the championship run last year certainly should pay dividends with getting this team ready to play on the biggest stage.

The trend of ATS success for the Big XII may not continue but it is certainly worth noting as you dissect the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight match-ups. This appears to be the year of the Big East but expect some of those teams to be a bit overvalued and some profit opportunities may be elsewhere. Even if Missouri, Oklahoma, and Kansas all lose this week it has been a respectable showing for teams that were expected to get here based on the seeding but had many doubters about their chances on the national stage. Obviously the NBA may be calling for some of these players but the top two scorers for both Oklahoma and Kansas have eligibility next year and Missouri has received solid production from four freshmen that should be able to capably replace the departing seniors. If the Final Four does not happen for the conference this year, next year should be another strong year for the Big XII

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Re: Sweet 16 News and Notes

Will Favorites Rule Again in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight?
By Scott Spreitzer

Last year during the NCAA tournaments I discussed how college hoops had become top heavy. The elite teams were REALLY good…and had moved further ahead “of the pack” than the betting markets had realized.

Ultimately, the top four seeds all advanced to the Final Four for the first time ever. They were able to do that by being absolutely DOMINANT in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 rounds.

Let’s review what happened last year with the top seeds:

SWEET 16

North Carolina (-8) beat Washington State 68-47 (up 35-21 at the half)

UCLA (-13) beat Western Kentucky 88-78 (up 41-20 at the half)

Memphis (-5) beat Michigan State 92-74 (up 50-20 at the half!)

Kansas (-12) beat Villanova 72-57 (up 41-22 at the half)

ELITE 8

North Carolina (-5) beat Louisville 83-73 (up 44-32 at the half)

UCLA (-6) beat Xavier 76-57 (up 33-24 at the half)

Memphis (-3) beat Texas 85-67 (up 39-28 at the half)

Kansas (-9) beat Davidson 59-58 (up 30-28 at the half)

It was an amazing weekend for the powers needless to say. They went 6-2 ATS for the full games even though the lines were high because the public was betting them hand over fist. The public loves betting on big name teams, and particularly when the seedings confirm their greatness. I know several professional wagerers in Las Vegas who thought they would make a killing taking all of the points in these two rounds last year. They spent the weekend yelling at the TV!

If you bet first halves, which are available here in Las Vegas, the favorites went 7-1 ATS. So, that’s a combined 13-3 ATS for the top seeds, the obvious national powers that everyone knew was great before the tournament even started!

Note how dominant those first halves were in terms of the victory margins. All seven “first half” covers actually covered the full game spread in the first 20 minutes! North Carolina was up 14 at the half over Washington State laying just eight for the full game. Memphis won a half by 30 points! It’s as if every game was following the same script (except for Kansas/Davidson).

The betting markets literally had no idea that the top seeds were THAT much better than the field. Ironically, the “smart money” kept the lines from going higher because professional wagerers love betting against the public. Those are the guys who play first halves too. That 3-13 record in these games left quite a bruise.

Will we something similar this year with the superior seeds left in the brackets?

The temptation is to say NO, 2008 was a one-time fluke. It’s not like what we saw last year was par for the course. Usually the public-betting favorites are a bit overrated rather than underrated. Remember it was the first time ever all four top seeds reached the final weekend.

That being said, this isn’t a year that saw a depth of super teams across the landscape. Only a handful of powers really set themselves apart during the regular season. You shouldn’t be that shocked if members of that handful go for the jugular early in their games and post some impressive pointspread results. Who’s going to stop them? Last year’s underdogs just got out of the way and went home dejectedly.

Keys to remember:

Watch and learn as things develop. Some longtime pros TOOK A BATH last year because they were muttering “this can’t keep happening” all weekend long. It could. It did. The powers really were that much better than everyone else. Be ready to take the dogs if things return to normal, but don’t be afraid to lay the points if the elite continue to blow and go. If you’re a dog-heavy player, at least PASS the danger spots rather than betting with your fingers crossed.

Review regular season results to see how the underdogs performed on the road against the best other teams in their conferences. That will be the closest you can get to simulating the task at hand for them. If the dogs weren’t consistently competitive in their “challenge” games, be careful asking them to be heroes this time around.

Remember that blowouts are keyed by aggression from the favorite. All four of last year’s top seeds just flew at the basket out of the gate and dared you to stop them. First weekend survivors who DON’T do that are less likely to post great results. Just like in poker, aggression is rewarded. Bet on aggression. Don’t stand in the way of it and hope the refs call a charging foul on the guy who busted your nose.

Be sure to incorporate arena conditions into your handicapping. Two sites will be in football stadiums (Indianapolis and Phoenix), where shooting backdrops may be odd. You don’t want to bet on underdogs who rely on contributions from the perimeter. Flying at the basket is an even stronger approach for a favorite when the dog is trying to stay in the game launching bombs in a dome.

The NCAA Tournament has been very entertaining so far. You’ve reached a potential danger spot on the road to the championship. Don’t swerve off the road in a spinout that resembles something like that 3-13 underdog disaster from last year. Drive carefully and smart…and you’ll reach your destination in great shape!

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Re: Sweet 16 News and Notes

Sweet Sixteen Predictions
by T.O. Whenham

With the Sweet 16 just a couple of days away, here's my attempt to offer some Sweet 16 predictions on which teams are the best bets:

Thursday

Connecticut (-7) vs.
Purdue - Strong defense tends to thrive in the tournament, and both of these teams have top-rate defenses - in the Top 5 by defensive efficiency. The difference here is going to be the pace of play. UConn plays a far more up-tempo style that capitalizes on their size advantage over virtually everyone they play. Purdue will need to slow things down and set the tone if they want to have a chance. As much as I like the Big Ten, I don't think the Boilermakers can pull it off. It's a near-certainty that the Huskies will have a significant rebounding edge. Purdue has struggled against fast, hot guards this year, and UConn's backcourt is on fire right now. I expect this one to be tough and fun, but I think in the end Purdue just won't have enough to measure up.

Pitt (-7) vs. Xavier - The Musketeers beat Wisconsin in the second round largely by lulling the Badgers to sleep in the second half. Xavier is very solid defensively, and they set the tempo as well as any team in the country. They can also score pretty well, though not as well as the Panthers. Pitt is bigger and stronger, and they use that size to assert themselves offensively with ruthless efficiency. That means that this game will be a battle of wills. I probably favor the Panthers, but Xavier is playing very well, they have the experience of being in this round just last year, and they have nothing to lose. My hunch is that this line gives the Panthers too much credit.

Memphis (-4.5) vs. Missouri - Perhaps more than any other game, this one comes down to one player - Memphis freshman point guard Tyreke Evans. Memphis has a lethal combination - a relentless, ball moving offense, and the most efficient defense in the country. They haven't lost since Evans moved to the point, but he has only been okay so far during the tournament. If he returns to his impressive late-season form then the Tigers should be able to roll here much like they did against Maryland. Even if he doesn't, Missouri has perhaps the smallest margin of error of any remaining team - they need to play as close to flawless as they can or they will be vulnerable against a better team. I expect the Tigers to roar.

Duke (-2.5) vs. Villanova - Maybe I am drawn to Villanova just because I dislike Duke so very much. Or maybe I just like the matchup for the Wildcats. Duke is as much of a one-dimensional perimeter team as there is. If teams can contain and control that then the Blue Devils are likely in trouble. Villanova can probably do that. Their guards use speed and pressure to disrupt opponents and take away shots. That speed will also let them exploit Duke on the break like Texas did in the last round. Duke also doesn't have an answer for Villanova's big man, Dante Cunningham. Villanova has the advantages and the momentum, and I give them a solid edge.

Friday

Louisville (-9) vs. Arizona -
I'll keep this one brief - Louisville was my pick to win it all before the tournament, and they still are. That being said, I'm not convinced that this line makes sense. The Wildcats have a trio of talented players, an explosive offense, a defense that is playing well of late, and momentum. Louisville is the better team and should win, but it could very easily be by less than nine points.

Oklahoma (-1) vs. Syracuse - Oklahoma beat Michigan by 10 points, but the game was closer than the score. Michigan was penalized by the refs far more than the Sooners, had absolutely no answer for Blake Griffin, and went long stretches displaying ridiculous offensive futility, and still were in it until late in the second half. Syracuse has more size, more speed, better shooting, and much more momentum than Michigan. I see them getting through this one and keeping their hot streak alive.

Michigan State (-1.5) vs. Kansas - I have a hard time respecting Kansas right now. They deserve credit for getting where they are considering what they lost. Still, it's hard to argue that they aren't overachieving. They benefited from a relatively weak conference to get their seeding, and don't have the experience or seasoning to go further in my eyes. That's not the same for Michigan State. They are deep, tough, seasoned, and focused on playing in the Final Four at home. The Kansas repeat bid ends here.

North Carolina (-8.5) vs. Gonzaga - Every time I look at this one I change my mind. Since before the tournament started I have had a feeling that UNC is vulnerable and poised to fall. That hasn't changed. Sometimes I think that Gonzaga is the team to end the Tar Heels' run. When they play their best they certainly could. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs also have the ability to disappoint and underwhelm when the pressure is on. To pick Gonzaga to win, or even to cover, you have to take a leap of faith that they can perform at their best. Given the number of points they are given, I'm willing to bet that they will. UNC is vulnerable in two key ways - they don't play great defense when pressed to do so, and they get frustrated when teams are able to get back defensively and limit the effectiveness of the North Carolina fast break. Gonzaga is offensively potent and defensively sound, and they have the potential to manage both feats.

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Re: Sweet 16 News and Notes

Sweet 16 Betting: East Regional Preview
by Robert Ferringo

It wasn’t always pretty and it wasn’t always easy, but the chalk survived the opening weekend in the East Regional. It took overtime (Xavier), a double-digit second half comeback (Villanova), some clutch plays in a game that was tied in the last 60 seconds (Duke), and a late pull away against a plucky No. 16 seed (Pittsburgh), but the top four seeds are alive and well and heading to Boston this weekend for a crack at the Final Four.

Here is a breakdown of the East (Boston) Regional:

Xavier (+7) vs. Pittsburgh (7:30 p.m., Thursday, March 26)

The opening game in this regional will pit the top-seeded Panthers against the No. 4 seeded Musketeers.

I can honestly say that there probably hasn’t been a more unassuming, underrated team in the entire field than this Xavier crew. The X-Men were a ridiculous 75-to-1 underdog to win the East Regional at the tournament’s outset. Yeah, you read that right: Xavier wasn’t 75-to-1 to win the entire tournament, they were 75-to-1 just to win the East! And this is despite the fact that if you compare the postseason resumes of these two schools over the last several year the Musketeers have outperformed the Panthers by a mile.

Over the last four NCAA Tournaments the Musketeers have been the single best bet on the board, posting a gaudy 7-2 record against the spread. They have two starters, Derek Brown and C.J. Anderson, back from an Elite Eight squad from last year and they feature five guys (of eight) that played 10 or more minutes per game for that team. Coach Sean Miller is one of the best in the business and you know he’s going to have his guys ready to play in this one.

From a matchup perspective, I actually like the big bodies that Xavier has to throw at DeJuan Blair. Blair is pretty much unstoppable on the offensive glass. But Xavier is one of the best rebounding teams (No. 18 offensive rebounding, No. 36 defensive) in the country and boasts two 6-8 starting power forwards and a seven-foot center off the bench to compete. What’s more is that it has been proven that Pittsburgh is vulnerable when Blair gets in foul trouble. Because Xavier pounds the ball inside on offense that increases the odds of Blair being put in tough positions and also puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the officials in this game.

Pittsburgh really labored to get through the opening weekend, struggling against No. 16 East Tennessee State and then tussling with No. 8 Oklahoma State. In both instances the Panthers were looking at a one- or two-possession game in the last four minutes. Further, Pittsburgh is 0-3 ATS this postseason and all four of their losses this year have been either on the road or on a neutral court.

The area that Pittsburgh in which has a sizeable advantage is at point guard. Levance Fields is a seasoned PG that has proven himself in big games while his counterparts, freshman Terrell Holloway or sophomore Dante Jackson, are unproven on this stage.

This game is absolutely going to live up to its billing. Both teams are methodical on offense, relying on powerful inside games for motion and senior shooting guards to hit big shots. Xavier has an experience edge and a free throw edge. But Pittsburgh has proven itself against the top teams in the country this year. Xavier has lost 14 games over the past two seasons, but only half of them have been by more than seven points.

Villanova (+2.5) vs. Duke (10 p.m., Thursday, March 26)

The Blue Devils are out of the opening weekend for the first time in three years and now it seems like all of the momentum is in the Blue Devils’ camp. Duke will head to Boston as a favorite and are clearly playing well enough to advance and take another crack at Pittsburgh for the right to head to the Final Four.

Duke has won 10 of 11 games and has been on fire since winning the ACC Tournament. They’ve taken down five straight, and although they are just 2-3 ATS in those games they are playing their sharpest ball of the season. Also, in their two biggest nonconference games of the year – at Purdue and against Xavier on a neutral court – the Blue Devils laid out absolute ass-kickings winning by 16 and 18 points. The Blue Devils rely heavily on the three-point shot, something that the Wildcats have struggled to defend this year. And if Duke is hitting from deep they can be tough to stop.

That said, Villanova is the wildcard in this region and I think that they matchup pretty well with the Blue Devils. Villanova relies on a tight eight-man rotation that features four guards and four forwards. None of their forwards are particularly dominating, but their size alone should give them an advantage over the smaller, faster Blue Devils. Dante Cunningham, Nova’s leading scorer, needs to have a big game if the Wildcats are going to get it done. But I don’t see any of the Dukies matching up particularly well against him.

Villanova’s backcourt is full of gritty, tough-as-nails bulldogs that won’t at all be intimidated by matching up with the Blue Devils. Scottie Reynolds is as good as anyone that’s going to be on that court and has proven that he’s capable of carrying the scoring load for the Wildcats. The key will be how Nova’s sophomore Coreys – Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes – perform on the perimeter. They need to knock down shots and they have to be able to defend the athletes that the Blue Devils will throw at them. If they do that, then the Wildcats can win this one outright. But if they don’t step up then this one could get ugly and the more experienced, more battle-tested Duke group could bury the team from the Big East.

Further, Villanova has shown a stunning ability to collapse for full halves. They blew a 15-point lead in the Big East Tournament against a wounded Marquette team before stealing a comeback win. They then mailed it in for about 25 minutes in the first round against American before pulling through with an overwhelming push to turn a 15-point deficit into a 13-point win. That type of inconsistency makes for a dicey bet this time of year.

Another thing to consider is that Duke has not performed well against the Big East and even though they enter Boston as a favorite they should expect a very pro-Villanova, pro-Big East crowd in that region. Duke is just 2-8-1 ATS against teams from the Big East over the last several years.

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Re: Sweet 16 News and Notes

Total Talk - Sweet 16
By Chris David

Sixteen schools remain in the NCAA Tournament and the first two rounds have been all about favorites, with the top 12 seeds advancing. If you’re into heavyweight battles, then you better not miss the action on tap for this weekend. Cinderella has left the dance early and most pundits expect classic clashes between the top programs in the country.

While picking straight up winners has been simplistic in the tournament, predicting the outcome against the point-spread hasn’t been as easy. Depending where you shop and play, most books had the favorites go 25-22-1 through the first 48 games. Sixteen of those games had double-digit spreads posted and we mention that because there are no games with 10-point lines or higher this week, which also stresses how competitive the games should be.

Since predicting the Final Four is expected to become much tougher here on out, a lot of handicappers and gamblers have leaned their action toward totals. The betting public is known to shade to the favorites and ‘over’ tickets and they’ve benefited this March.
   
Through the first 48 games, the ‘over’ has gone 27-21 (56%) and that includes a sizzling 11-5 on Saturday and Sunday. Delving into the numbers further, it seemed like the lower totals listed in the 130’s and 140’s easily went ‘over’, while any total remotely close to 150 cashed ‘under’ tickets.

Six contests had a total in the 150-range and the ‘under’ went 5-1 in those games. North Carolina (90.2 PPG) entered the Big Dance as the highest scoring team in the field of 65 and Roy Williams team didn’t disappoint in the first weekend. The Tar Heels posted 101 and 84 yet both of their games went ‘under' the number.

This weekend, North Carolina faces Gonzaga and the ‘over/under’ listed is hovering around 163 points, which is the highest on the board. The Bulldogs saw both of their first two games go ‘over’ in the tourney, as the team scored 77 and 83 in their victories. VegasInsider.com handicapper Brian Edwards believes the line is tough to handicap.

He said, “The ‘over’ is on an 8-2 run for Gonzaga, but this is its highest total of the year. The Bulldogs’ three highest totals this year ranged from 154 ½ to 157 ½ in their two games against Tennessee and one meeting with Oklahoma State. Two of those three games stayed ‘under.’ But it’s really hard to pull the trigger on an ‘under’ in a UNC game, especially with Ty Lawson back in the lineup. The ‘over’ is 9-3 in UNC’s last 12 games with Lawson.”

What’s hard about handicapping the tournament is that sometimes regular season trends don’t mean squat and Memphis is a perfect example. John Calipari’s team is considered by many to be the best defensive team in this field, evidenced by their points allowed (57.6 PPG) and defensive field goal percentage allowed (36.6). Prior to the tournament, the Tigers’ strong unit has helped the ‘under’ go 22-10 (69%) during the regular season.

Despite those crazy numbers, not many gamblers expected the Memphis offense to explode for 81 and 89 points in its first two tournament games. The Tigers were helped by the 3-ball (21) in their victories and could go deep if they continue to fall. Will we see another shootout when Memphis meets Missouri on Thursday?

Edwards emphatically added, “This total really stands out to me a lot. Calipari’s squad has been racking up ‘unders’ galore all year, but that has been against C-USA foes that struggle to put up points against a Memphis lineup that’s bigger and more athletic. In the first two games of the Tournament for Memphis, the ‘over’ has hit both times with scoring tallies of 159 and 151."

"The biggest reason why I like the ‘over’ in this game is because of the pace we’re going to get. Mike Anderson is a disciple of Nolan Richardson and his “40 minutes of hell” mentality. Missouri is going to press the entire game and Memphis is going to attack the press to score, so there’s no doubt we’ll get the pace we want. The only way this game stays ‘under’ is if both teams shoot a horrible percentage. Las Vegas Sports Consultants sent the number out at 143. I thought it should’ve been 147. As of Wednesday, most spots had it at 141. It’s hard not to LOVE the ‘over’ here!”

Let’s take a closer look at some quick notes to jot down for the first eight games this weekend.

Thursday (3/26)

Purdue vs. Connecticut (134):
The Huskies have been on a roll lately, scoring 117, 103 and 92 points in their last three. Hard to see UConn come close to those numbers this week, especially against a Purdue team that slows it down. Only two of the last 10 opponents have busted 70 points against Purdue.

Xavier vs. Pittsburgh (139): The Panthers just played a pair of run ‘n shoot teams in the first round and now meet a school that fits more to their style. Pitt has seen the ‘under’ go 3-1 the last four, while Xavier is on a 7-2 ‘under’ run. Both teams like to pound the ball inside and play defense. The Musketeers have held nine of their last 10 opponents under 65 points or less.

Missouri vs. Memphis (141): Missouri likes to run but their defense has helped the ‘under’ go 4-1 in their last five encounters. Memphis was known to be an ‘under’ team (see above) but lately the offense has been on fire. Prior to its two game ‘over’ run, the ‘under’ had cashed in 12 straight.

Villanova vs. Duke (148): If the bombs fall from the outside, this number is certainly doable. What Villanova might not know is that Duke is a very good defensive team, considering the ACC doesn’t really stress it that much. The Blue Devils are great at frustrating teams and they take a ton of charges. Still, the tempo and shots will be there and it’s just a matter of making them. The Wildcats and Blue Devils both saw their first two opening games go ‘over’ the number.

Friday (3/27)

Arizona vs. Louisville (139.5):
The Cardinals are going to push the pace in this matchup ala Rick Pitino’s press but the Wildcats have a point guard that is capable of breaking it. This matchup comes down to the half-court sets and whether or not these teams can connect. The Cards have seen the ‘under’ go 4-2 in their last six, while the Wildcats are on a 7-3 ‘over’ roll.

Syracuse vs. Oklahoma (153): The Orange (21-12) and the Sooners (16-11) have both been cashing ‘over’ tickets all year long. The ‘over’ is 7-3 in Syracuse’s last 10 and the lone three ‘under’ tickets only occurred because its opponents scored 58, 40 and 44. Oklahoma has the big in the middle and the shooters on the outside, which have been off in the first two games of the tourney. The number does seem a little inflated for two teams that struggle from the charity stripe, which should be used often for this matchup.

Kansas vs. Michigan State (138): These two schools met in January and Michigan State earned a 75-62 win over Kansas in East Lansing. The combined 137 points never threatened the closing number of 145 and only looks somewhat respectable because they combined for 84 in the final 20 minutes. The number on the ‘over/under’ for this clash comes in lower and a lot are expecting another slug it out affair. Even though the Big 10 is considered boring at best, Michigan State did lead the league in offense. At the same time, the Big 12 was compared to a track meet at times but Bill Self’s team was the second best defensive club.

Gonzaga vs. North Carolina (163): Highest total on the board and it’s hard to argue against either team not getting to 81 points a piece, which is all you need for an ‘over’ ticket. The trend has been to go against these high numbers in the tournament but the combination of super-fast point guards, consistent shooters and big men that can hit free throws certainly makes this one look like a high-scoring affair.

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Re: Sweet 16 News and Notes

Purdue faces tough test
By Matt Fargo

The Betting Numbers

This game opened at -6.5 and is staying pretty steady with the line moving to -7 in some places. The total has also remained stable, opening at 134.5 and holding on that number.

Series History

This will be the fifth meeting between Purdue and Connecticut, but the first since 1992. The Boilermakers have won all previous four meetings.

The Teams

Connecticut was the preseason favorite to win the Big East Conference and it nearly met expectations, finishing a game behind Louisville. Pundits are once again saying that the Huskies could be the team to beat based on two dominant performances to open the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies steamrolled UT-Chattanooga in the first round and followed that up with another blowout against Texas A&M in the second round. The offense has been unstoppable, scoring 103 and 92 points while the defense allowed the two opponents to shoot a combined 33.3 percent from the floor (43-129).
   
Connecticut is now 15-2 away from home on the season and of those 15 wins, seven victories came against teams that are in the 64-team field as well as four others against teams that played in other postseason tournaments. The Huskies are ranked third in shooting defense in the nation, allowing 37.4 percent from the floor and they are now first in the country in rebounding margin at +11, passing Michigan St. for the top spot. If there is a liability, it comes from the free throw line where Connecticut is hitting just 67.6 percent on the season including a disturbing 60 percent over the last five games.

When Purdue is healthy, it is one of the tougher teams in the country and it cannot be overlooked to pull off a huge upset. The Boilermakers won their first two games in tight fashion, defeating Northern Iowa, although that game was not as close as the final score indicates and then taking out Washington after nearly blowing a big lead. Purdue has now won five straight games, all on a neutral floor to improve to 11-6 away from home. Momentum is big this time of year and Purdue definitely has that going.

When Purdue clicks on offense, it is tough to beat because the defense comes to play in every game. That has been the case in the first two games of the tournament as the Boilermakers have held their two opponents to 39.7 percent shooting (48-121). The offense has yet to find its rhythm as Purdue is shooting only 40 percent (46-115) through the first two games and it certainly won’t be any easier here. Robbie Hummel has scored only 16 total points so his offense needs to turn around. He has been held to single-digits in seven of his 12 games since returning from injury.

Against the Numbers


The Huskies, being a high profile team are often overvalued and it showed at times with their numbers. Connecticut is 15-14 against the number including an 11-13 ATS mark as a favorite. They have had more success on the road than at home, going 17-6 ATS in road and neutral court games. Fading the Huskies down the stretch would have paid huge dividends as they went a money-burning 1-6 ATS in their final seven games prior to the start of the Big Dance although they have easily covered the two big numbers since. The Huskies are 5-5 ATS as a single-digit favorite this season

Purdue has been a disappointment this season for its backers as it is 16-17 against the number. After a four-game ATS winning streak to end January, the Boilermakers are 6-9 ATS in their last 15 games despite going 3-2 ATS since postseason play started. Purdue has been an underdog only three times this season, going 1-2 against the number with the lone ATS victory being against Washington last time out. It has covered five of its last six tournament games as an underdog of fewer than seven points.

Intangibles


The Huskies are 27-4 in first and second round NCAA Tournament games under head coach Jim Calhoun… The Huskies' 82-point combined margin of victory was the most in the opening rounds since Duke dispatched its first two opponents by the same total in 1999…Travel could be on Purdue’s side as it stayed out west after playing in Portland, being in Arizona since Sunday and has been working out on the Arizona St. campus… Purdue played four games against teams seeded No. 2 or better in the NCAA Tournament and went 1-3 in those games (defeating Michigan St. at home).

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Re: Sweet 16 News and Notes

Seeding History
By Andy Iskoe

In getting prepared for the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA Tournament I have researched past history to get an idea of how the current season matchups, seed-wise, have fared over the 24 seasons since the NCAA Tournament Field expanded to 64 teams (beginning in 1985).

Over the 24 seasons there have been a total of 192 Sweet Sixteen games -- 8 per season for 24 seasons.

The four most frequent seeding matchups have been --

1 vs 4 -- 34 matchups -- there are 2 such matchups this season (Pitt vs Xavier and North Carolina vs Gonzaga)

1 vs 5 -- 32 matchups -- there is 1 such matchup this season (UConn vs Purdue)

2 vs 3 -- 29 matchups -- there are 4 such matchups this season (Duke vs Villanova, Memphis vs Missouri, Michigan State vs Kansas and Oklahoma vs Syracuse)

2 vs 6 -- 23 matchups -- there are no such matchups this season

Thus the 4 most frequent matchups account for 118 of the 192 Sweet Sixteen games, or 61+ percent of all Sweet Sixteen games.

The other matchup this season matches a 1 seed (Louisville) vs a 12 seed (Arizona), a matchup that has occurred 15 times in the 24 seasons.

Let's look at the historical results of the the 4 seeding matchups we'll see played Thursday and Friday.
   
1 vs 4

The # 1 seed has won 24 of the 34 matchups straight up (70.6 %) but is just 19-14-1 (57.6%) ATS.

The # 1 seed has averaged being favored by 6.74 points and the average margin of victory has been 10.35 points.

When the # 1 seed has won straight up (24 times) the average margin has been 11.8 points and in the 10 wins by the # 4 seed the average margin has been 6.9 points.

The average score and total points in these matchups have been 78.8 to 68.5 for a total of 147.3 total points.

There have been 2 instances of the # 4 seed being favored over the # 1 seed. In 1990 Georgia Tech (# 4) defeated Michigan State (# 1) 81-80 but failed to cover as a 2.5 point favorite. In 2005 Louisville (# 4) defeated Washington (# 1) 93-79 and covered as a 1.5 point favorite.

This season's Lines and Totals are --
Pittsburgh - 7.0 vs Xavier with a Total of 139.0
North Carolina - 8.5 vs Gonzaga with a Total of 163.0

1 vs 5

The # 1 seed has won 27 of the 32 matchups straight up (84.4%) but is just 13-16-3 (44.8%) ATS.

The # 1 seed has averaged being favored by 7.55 points and the average margin of victory has been 9.53 points.

When the # 1 seed has won straight up (27 times) the average margin has been 10.1 points and in the 5 wins by the # 5 seed the average margin has been 6.2 points.

The average score and total points in these matchups have been 80.6 to 71.0 for a total of 151.6 total points.

The # 1 seed has been favored in all 32 prior matchups of a # 1 vs a # 5 seed.

This season's Line and Total is --
Connecticut - 6.5 vs Purdue with a Total of 135.0

1 vs 12

The # 1 seed has won ALL 15 of the prior matchups straight up (100%) and is a solid 9-6 (60.0%) ATS.

The # 1 seed has averaged being favored by 11.33 points and the average margin of victory has been 13.20 points.

The average score and total points in these matchups have been 80.7 to 67.5 for a total of 148.2 total points.

The # 1 seed has been favored in all 15 prior # 1 vs # 12 matchups.

This season's Line and Total is --
Louisville - 9.0 vs Arizona with a Total of 139.5

2 vs 3

The # 2 seed has won 19 of the 29 matchups (65.5%) and is 16-13 (55.2%) ATS.

The # 2 seed has averaged being favored by 2.90 points and the average margin of victory has been 9.62 points.

When the # 2 seed has won (19 times) the average margin has been 9.7 points and in the 10 wins by the # 3 seed the average margin has been 9.4 points.

The average score and total points in these matchups have been 78.9 to 69.3 for a total of 148.2 total points.

There have been 5 instances of the # 3 seed being favorted over the # 2 seed. In 1986 Louisville (# 2) upset North Carolina (# 3) 94-79 as a 2.0 point underdog. In 1989 Syracuse (# 2) upset Missouri (# 3) 83-80 as a 2.0 point underdog. In 1995 Connecticut (# 2) upset Maryland (# 3) 99-89 as a 2.0 point underdog. In 2007 Memphis (# 2) upset Texas A&M (# 3) 65-64 as a 3.5 point underdog. And last season, 2008, Louisville (# 3) defeated Tennessee (# 2) 79-60, covering as a 2.0 point favorite.

This season's Lines and Totals are --
Duke - 2.5 vs Villanova with a Total of 148.0
Memphis - 4.5 vs Missouri with a Total of 141.5
Michigan State - 2.0 vs Kansas with a Total of 138.0
Oklahoma - 1.0 vs Syracuse with a Total of 153.0

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