Free Picks: Service Plays for Saturday, March 23

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Michigan St -5½FOR FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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On Saturday I like the Michigan St Spartans over the Tigers. The big difference here will be the strong defensive and rebounding edge with MICH ST. They are also a very deep team and will throw 9-10 at you. Especially with Gary Harris shooting the deep ball like he does, at a dangerous 41% clip. I expect the Spartans to win by 10 here.

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Saint Louis -3½FOR FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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The Saint Louis Billikens have been the most underrated team in the country all season. They are currently 28-6 on the year with Atlantic 10 regular season and conference tournament titles under their belt.
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Considering the Atlantic 10 is 6-0 in the NCAA Tournament, that's obviously more impressive than they're getting credit for. Another fact support the Billikens being undervalued is that they are an awesome 22-10 ATS in all games this season.
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In fact, Saint Louis is a ridiculous 15-1 ATS in its last 16 games overall. It continues to play its heart out for head coach Rick Majerus, who passed away in December. It should be a much bigger favorite tonight over the Oregon Ducks in the Round of 32.
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The Billikens are 21-7-1 ATS in their last 29 games vs. a team with a winning S.U. record. Saint Louis is 14-2 ATS versus very good teams - outscoring their opponents by 8+ points/game over the last 2 seasons. Oregon is 2-11 ATS after 4 or more consecutive wins over the last 2 seasons. Bet Saint Louis Saturday.

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JEFF BENTON

Now 21-9 with my freebies.

Saturday freebie is the Louisville Cardinals as the big favorite over Colorado State.

The senior-laden Rams had no trouble getting past underachieving Missouri on Thursday, but Louisville presents a whole other set of problems for Colorado State to contend with, as the Cardinals sure have the look of a team that will be in Atlanta in early April when it is all said and done.

Louisville's winning streak is currently at 11 in a row, and their cover streak stands at 8 in a row. The Cards have made good in 4 straight when laying double-digits, and they are on a 7-2 overall run their last 9 when giving 10 points or more.

Playing in nearby Lexington also ensures the Redbirds of a filled Rupp Arena of Cardinal red.

Colorado State has had a fine season, but today is when it comes to an end.

Cards to cruise.

3* LOUISVILLE

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CRAIG DAVIS

Today's free play is on Michigan State over Memphis as I am sick and tired of Josh Pastner (Memphis) head coach constantly whining about how his team gets no respect and they're not the underdog or Cinderella story and how they are the 6-seed for a reason and they've won 30+ games, etc.

At first I was on board with him. Now I'm just flat out sick of hearing his voice and I hope the Spartans absolutely kick the crap out of his team.

Not even so much for the players but for the coach. Quit crying and play the game. Prepare for Michigan State like you prepare for your media comments.

I have a feeling that his team is buying into this crap to the point they are going to lose focus on the Spartans... and if you do that against a Tom Izzo-coached team, you are in big trouble.

He's one of the best tournament coaches in the country and even with seemingly average talent, Izzo gets the most out of his players. I would put him up there with Dean Smith, Bob Knight, Coach K, etc. He's as good as it gets.

Josh Pastner... not so much.

While I like what he was able to do with his Tigers this year, we're talking about Conference USA and a schedule that really didn't press him all that much. His toughest late-season game was against Xavier... an average team that didn't even make the Big Dance... and they got beat.

Michigan State can beat you inside, outside, from the line, on the boards, from the bench. You name it, Izzo has seen it and coached it.

Well, he finally got his wish. Izzo wanted to get away from Big 10 teams for a while because they were "beating the hell out of each other" and he was hoping to beat up on someone else for a while. Well, he got his wish in the first/second round vs. Valpo and today he gets to beat up on another non-conference team... Memphis.

Take Michigan State as your free play of the day.

5♦ MICHIGAN STATE

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MATT RIVERS

Free play for Saturday comes in the NIT...yes, they are playing a NIT game this Saturday for those of you who care.

Stanford did win it all last season in this tournament, but the schedule-makers did not do them any favors this season, as the Cardinal need to make the long trek to Tuscaloosa and they must also play this game at 9:00 am pacific coast time - which I feel will be pretty hard on their body clocks in the early stages of this contest.

Anthony Grant's team looked pretty solid in their opening round win and cover over a tough Northeastern team, as the Tide beat back Northeastern by a 62-43 count which was good enough for the cover as the -11 point chalk.

That win pushed 'Bama's home court record to a stellar 15-3 straight up.

Look for the early start for the west coast team to take its toll somewhere along the line in this one, as Alabama moves on to the next round with the win and the cover.

Roll Tide.

3* ALABAMA

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BRAD WILTON

Going to the College Insider Tourney for my Saturday comp play, as I back the Purple Aces as the home favorite over the Eastern Kentucky Colonels.

The Colonels opened with a first round win over Gardner Webb 69-62, but that win put them at just 3-3 straight up and against the spread their last 6 games overall.

Meanwhile, the Purple Aces have been blowing hot here in the month of March, dumping Tennessee State by a dozen to get to this second round showdown.
Evansville is on a 5-1 straight up run their last 6 games, and a 6-1 against the spread uptick their last 7 games overall.

Throw in a 15-3 straight up mark at home, and a 10-5 home spread mark this year, and it is easy to imagine Evansville ending Eastern Kentucky's season this Saturday afternoon at home in Indiana.

Take the host as the small chalk.

4* EVANSVILLE

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Saturday, March 23

BRETT ATKINS

My free play for tonight is going to be on the Syracuse Orange minnus the points against the Cal Golden Bears, as I don't think the Pac 12 entry is as good as they may have appeared on television the other night. Cal beat a bad UNLV team that played so poorly, one has to wonder how the Rebels were even in the game at the end.

Cal is now matched up against a tough Syracuse team that has the experience - both in uniform and in a suit - with coach Jim Boeheim leading the charge for this one. I know coach Mike Montgomery looked 'brilliant' in coaching his Bears to a rather easy win over the Runnin' Rebels, but again - how good is UNLV?

I don't think this is any match for Syracuse, which should win this one by double digits.

5♦ SYRACUSE

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CHRIS JORDAN

The last time I watched Gonzaga play a lackluster game, two days later it hit the same damn court, in front of my very own eyes, and looked like the most complete team in America. That was in the West Coast Conference semifinals and finals. The Bulldogs took a half to get into their game against Loyola Marymount, and then advanced to the championship game, where they dominated St. Mary's with a concentrated defensive effort, and balanced offense at the other end.

And believe me, there is more to this team than Kelly Olynyk.

When Olynyk is bottled up or caught up in a physical game, there's Elias Harris and Kevin Pangos to step up as the stars of the team. There's an entire supporting cast, and I'm not going to name them all.

But I can tell you the Bulldos know how to pull away in games like this and know how to methodically break things down and wear out opponents.

Wichita State is a physical team, I understand that, but the Shockers are not the right time to match up with Gonzaga's quickness and perimeter game. I'm laying the points with my pre-tourney choice to win it all.

2♦ GONZAGA

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SCOTT DELANEY

My free winner is on the fast and furious St. Louis Billikens, who should be able to outlast the bigger Oregon Ducks, who I've seen play up close, but I don't think can hang with such a complete team. I believe St. Louis has the talent to go deep into this tournament, and should be able to cover the points in this one.

Dedicating the season to Rick Majerus, you have to be impressed with how the Billikens have performed, led by Jordair Jett, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound guard who plays like he's on a football field, and moves with the ball like he's on an open field, and also forward Dwayne Evans, who had 24 points and six rebounds in the team's second round win over New Mexico State.

Last year at this time the Billikens were getting ready to face top-seeded Michigan State, and their season came to an end with a tough-to-swallow, 65-61 loss to the Spartans. The tourney dates have been circled ever since, and they were re-circled in ink after the death of Majerus.

A renewal of coaching rivalries is intriguing, indeed. As we have Oregon's Dana Altman and St. Louis' Jim Crews - both of whom were in the Missouri Valley Conference at one point. My money is on Crews' crew over Altman's quackers.

3♦ ST. LOUIS

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Jeff AlexanderFOR FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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Charlotte Bobcats -1½FOR FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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Detroit has lost 10 in a row overall and 7 straight on the road by an average of 17.4 points. It spent a lot of energy in Miami last night, which puts it at a disadvantage against a Charlotte squad that has had 2 days of rest. The Pistons are 1-5 ATS in their last 6 games when their starting 5 players combine for more than 160 minutes the previous day. They are also 0-6 ATS in their last 6 games following an ATS win. Bet the Bobcats.

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MINNESOTA -½ +134 over San JoseFREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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Regulation only. First off, this is a matinée game that goes off at 2:00 PM EST and for the Sharks, it’s more like a morning game, taking them right out of routine. Secondly, we have one of the NHL’s hottest clubs going up against a San Jose squad playing its fourth road game in a row after its previous three were played on the West Coast in L.A., Anaheim and Edmonton. It’s also the Sharkies’ sixth road game in their previous seven games.  San Jose has four regulation road wins in 16 games and two of those occurred in its first two games of the season. Two of those four wins came against the Oilers including the Sharks’ last win in a game they rallied from a 3-1 third period deficit. The Sharks have allowed three goals or more in eight straight games and four or more in six of those.
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The Wild have won four in a row and six of their past seven. They’ve also won nine of their past 12 games with only losses over that span occurring against Anaheim twice and the Blackhawks once, the NHL’s top two teams. Minnesota has at least three outstanding puck-moving defensemen in Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin, with young Brodin continuing to emerge as one of the most exciting young players in the game. The Wild have scored 18 goals over their past four games and with the way they are playing, winning games and scoring goals, they can’t wait to get back on the ice. Current form of these two only points one way.
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LOS ANGELES -½ +115 over VancouverFREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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Regulation only. The Canucks have won two in a row and four of six but we’re not being fooled. This is a team with a makeshift lineup that is not in position to compete with the NHL’s elite. Alex Edler was suspended for two games. David Booth and Ryan Kessler are both out long-term. On Thursday in Phoenix, defenseman Keith Ballard played on the third line alongside Andrew Ebbett and Dale Weise. Andrew Gordon, who played his first game as a Canuck after being called up from the Chicago Wolves, skated on the fourth line with Max Lapierre and Tom Sestito. Chris Tanev and rookie Jordan Schroeder were the goal scorers in Vancouver’s 2-1 win. The best news is that Vancouver defeated the Kings by 5-2 back on March 2, scoring five times on 24 shots. The same fate does not await them here.
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Los Angeles is coming off a 2-0 loss at home to Dallas. The Kings have not lost consecutive home games this entire season and now they have a score to settle here. In their last home loss prior to Thursday, also against Dallas, the Kings responded with a 6-2 win over Calgary. Los Angeles is now 12-3 at home with just one OT game at the Staples Center. Healthy, vastly superior and coming off a rare home loss, the Kings’ will leave nothing on the table here against this hated rival. The only chance the Canucks have is if Cory Schneider stands on is head and even then, it’s still not likely to matter.
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Columbus +144 over NASHVILLEFOR FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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Regulation only.  This line is set based on the Jackets being perceived as a club that will not be able to maintain its current pace while Nashville is being expected to turn things around at some point. We see no evidence of either. Before heading off on a four-game trip, the Jackets made quick work of the Flames last night in a convincing 5-1 win. It was the Jackets’ third win in a row and the 12th straight game of picking up at least one point. Incredibly, the last time Columbus lost by more than one goal was way back on Feb. 16, 17 games ago. The Jackets are not only winning but suddenly the offense has picked it up with nine goals in their past two games.
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The Predators are coming off a 5-3 win over Calgary upon returning home from a five-game trip. It was just their fourth win over their past 14 games with the other three wins coming against Dallas twice and Edmonton once. More disturbing than Nashville’s defeats is a lack of goaltending and defense, a cornerstone of the franchise for years. Pekka Rinne’s best save percentage over his last five games has been a league low and brutal .871. The Preds have surrendered 23 goals over their last five games. Three of Nashville’s best offensive players, Colin Wilson, Patric Hornqvist and Paul Gaustad are all on the rack. The last time Nashville strung together consecutive wins was back on Feb-12-14 against Phoenix and San Jose. This is a risky favorite at the best of times. In a downward spiral and allowing far too many goals while not having the offense to compensate, Nashville is extremely overpriced here.

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Arizona -10 over Harvard: I know that the big dance is not a place where you would expect a team to have let down, but this is one spot for that. Harvard didn't have a great year in the Ivy League yet they still won the Conference Title thanks to weaker overall competition in their conference. Then they follow that up with the first ever NCAA Tournament win for the program. This team has to come out a bit flat and they will be taking on an Arizona team that completely dominated a very good Belmont squad in their opener. Harvard does play solid defense, but the big edge for Arizona is at the offensive end of the floor, especially on the inside, where Harvard just doesn't have anyone that can slow down Solomon Hill. Just like I said in my Arizona/ Belmont pick, I expect the Wildcats to wear down a smaller Harvard squad on their way to a big 14+ point win.
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Michigan State -5.5 Over Memphis: I know how athletic this Memphis squad is. but I feel the Michigan State is the right side here. This team has a much better defense than St Mary's and the Gaels held this high scoring Memphis squad to just 54 points. Not only is Michigan State 8th in defensive efficiency, but they are also 24th in offensive efficiency and that was vs the #1 ranked strength of schedule. Memphis was 77th in off eff and 23rd in def eff, but only vs the 124th ranked strength of schedule. Big edge in SOS their for Michigan State. Another big edge is the fact that this game will be played in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Practically a home game for Sparty. The Spartans are playing very well and this BIG 10 team with home court advantage should take care of a Conference USA squad that is good but also played a much weaker schedule. Sparty by 12+ here.
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Oregon/ St Louis Over 124: Yes the Billikens play a slow down game and hey play lockdown defense as well, but I feel that Oregon can speed this game up enough to get the Over here. St Louis isn't an extreme slow down team as they are 211th in pace and they are a very efficient offense (52nd), while scoring 68.6 ppg. A big reason for their low scoring games is the fact that their defense is so tough, but I feel that Oregon has the athletes to crack that defense. The Ducks come in 51st in pace and they score 71.6 ppg, including 69.4 ppg away from home. Defensively the Ducks are 10th in efficiency, but still allow 71.9 ppg away from home. This will not be a slow paved game. I feel hat Oregon can speed it up and score on this tough defense, while St Louis should get a good amount of points off a Ducks defense that doesn't play well away from home. I look for this one in the 130's.
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Butler +1.5 Over Marquette: The Golden Eagles are very lucky to be here as a last second shot over Davidson propelled them to the 3rd round. They will need more than luck to get past this round though. Marquette had a very nice year in the Big East, but this Butler squad is very goo and afraid of no one. They have been here before and they already beat Marquette in an earlier game this year. They will not be intimidated by this team. Butler has also been battled tested this year in facing teams like Lasalle, VCU and St Louis from their own conference (all teams that are still in the tourney), while also facing and winning games vs Gonzaga, Indiana (Road) and Vanderbilt. This team is built for the tournament. They shoot the ball well, play great defense, don't turn the ball over too much and rebound well. Marquette has a strong offense, but also are 231st in TO% and one of the worst 3pt shooting teams in the Nation. Both teams have played a tough schedule, but I just feel that Butler has the IT factor for this one. and will move on in a nother close game vs the Golden Eagles.

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Harry Bondi

MARQUETTE (-1.5) over Butler

Another nice NCAA Tournament FREE WINNER yesterday on underdog Temple " outright" over NC State. Today we will go against a slightly overrated underdog and back Marquette minus the short numberover Butler. We had Butler (-3) over over-rated Bucknell as part of our 3-1 Thursday kickoff to the NCAA Tournament but this Bulldog squad is not nearly as talented as the last two years teams that made deep tournament runs. Bucknell was the perfect matchup for them nut they will have much more trouble with a Marquette team that is lucky to still be playing. The public saw Marquette struggle with Davidson and that is what is keeping this number so low. They value is definitely with the Golden Eagles so lets back them today over Butler.

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Ottawa Senators -131FOR FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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The Lightning are 13-16-1 on the year and just 5-9 on the road.  They are coming off a 4-2 loss in Toronto.  Ottawa is 16-9-6 on the season and a solid 10-2-3 at home.  They are coming off a 2-1 loss against a good Bruins team, but they had won 3 straight prior to that.  Tampa Bay beat Ottawa in their only meeting so far this season  but that was back in January when the Lightning were playing well and it was in Tampa Bay.  The Senators won all 4 meetings between these two teams last season including 4-1 and 4-2 at home.  Robin Lehner is in net for Ottawa and he is 2-1-4 with a stellar 1.92 GAA and .944 SV%.  Take the Sens at home.

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LEGIT PICKS

Saturday 3/23/13 Plays...

3* MICHIGAN -3 (9:15AM PST)

---LEGIT PICK'S WARNING: Practicing Money Management & Shopping Lines Can Lead to Long Term Success--

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Jesse Schule

Vancouver vs. Los Angeles
Pick: Under

After a tough start to the season, the defending champs have their swagger back. The Kings have won three of their last four, all on home ice, and they face Vancouver at the Staples Center Saturday afternoon. The Canucks have really been struggling, and they are without several key players due to injury.

Ryan Kesler is out with a broken foot, David Booth is once again out with a lower body injury, and Zack Kassian and Chris Higgins have both missed time recently with back problems.

Vancouver was so short up front in their last game against Phoenix, they put defenseman Keith Ballard on the wing with Andrew Ebett and Dale Weiss. They got more bad news Friday when they learned one of their best defensemen Alex Edler would be suspended for two games for a hit on Phoenix goalie Mike Smith.

The Canucks have struggled against the Kings at the best of times, losing five of the last seven meetings, but they are in a particularly tough spot here with all the injuries.

The lack of depth at the forward position puts even more pressure on the Sedin twins, who have not been having a great season so far. Opponents know that if they can shut down the twins, the Canucks don't have a lot of other weapons. I would expect the Kings to rough up Daniel and Henrik, hitting them hard every time they touch the puck. This strategy has been very effective for them in the past.

On a positive note for Canuck fans, Corey Schneider has been brilliant in back to back starts, winning each of those games and allowing just three goals in the process. All three of those goals were on deflections, that he really had no chance to see let alone stop. Schneider won his only previous start against L.A. this year, allowing two goals on 30 shots.

I don't expect to see these teams combine for a lot of goals in this game, it should be a low scoring affair.

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Larry Ness

Wichita St. vs. Gonzaga
Pick: Gonzaga

It's been 46 years since Wichita State had a crack at the No. 1 team in the country. That occurred back in 1967 and the Shockers opponent was UCLA, led by some guy named Lew Alcindor (who later changed his name to stay anonymous) and coached by a man named John Wooden (who retired out of frustration at not winning enough, I think?). That game didn't much go Wichita State's way, as the Bruins won by 34 points!

Wichita St is hopeful things will go much better tonight in Salt Lake City, when the Shockers take on current AP No. 1, Gonzaga. The good news for Wichita fans is this No. 1 team bears little resemblance to that UCLA team. Gonzaga hardly looked the part of the nation's No. 1 team (or one of TY's four, No. 1 seeds), just barely getting past Southern (SWAC) 64-58 on Thursday (as 23-point favorites). The 7-0 Olynyk (17.6.7.3) did his job with 21 & 10 but four-year starter Harris (14.6-7.5) made just 2-of-10 shots. Gonzaga's two starting guards, Pangos (11.6-3.3 APG) and Bell (9.3), also played well with a combined 27 points but all in all, it was an AWUL effort.
<p>
Meanwhile, No.9 Wichita St (now 27-8), beat Pitt 73-55.This marks Wichita’s State’s second straight NCAA trip, as the Shockers played very well in losing 62-59 to VCU last year, as 7 1/2-point underdogs. Last year’s team finished 27-6, two wins less than the 2011 team had, the one which won the NIT (first for Wichita St) and set a school record for wins at 29-8. This Wichita St team is "for real!"

One can look at TY’s Shockers and not see one real standout but NINE players have averaged 12-plus minutes this year for Wichita and that doesn’t include guard Ron Baker (7.7), who was out from Dec 20 through Mar 2, before returning for the MVC tourney were he contributed 29 points in three games (had six points vs Pitt). The team’s top scorers (and rebounders) are a pair of 6-8 players, Early (13.8-5.2) and Hall (12.7-7.1), while Oregon transfer Armstead (10.7-3.7-4.0) is the top-producing backcourt player, coming off a career-high 28 points in the team's Missouri Valley Conference tournament final loss to Creighton and added 22 points and five assists vs Pitt. Let me note something about Wichita’ St’s lack of a “standout.” The team which won 29 games and the NIT title in 2011 had just ONE double-digit scorer, the 6-8 JT Durley (11.2-4.9). Gregg Marshall’s team is without a doubt, greater than the sum of its parts.

All that said, I don't like this situation for the Shockers. Gonzaga (32-2) has now been deemed a "top-seed fraud." However, a look at past NCAA tourneys indicates a tough first game for the top seed doesn't always mean trouble in the next round.Since 1996, only one of 14 No. 1 seeds that won their first game by 15 points or fewer lost their next (Purdue in 1996 to Georgia, according to STATS). The other 13 advanced by an average margin of <b>14</b> points! Let's add that FIVE went on to the Final Four and two won the national championship, Maryland in 2002 and Kentucky, just last year. No Final 4 or national title predictions here for Gonzaga but I do see them beating Wichita St "with room to spare!"

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Hollywood Sports

California at Syracuse
Prediction: Under

Expect a lower scoring game in a nice technical situation here. Syracuse (27-9) was dominant in their 81-34 victory over Montana on Thursday as a 13-point favorite as they held the Grizzlies to a mere 20.4% shooting night. Not only has the Orange played 16 of their last 22 games Under the Total after a point spread win, but they have also played 4 straight games Under the Total after a win by at least 20 points. Cal (21-11) looks to build off their 64-61 win against UNLV as a 3.5-point underdog -- and they have played 16 of their last 21 games Under the Total after a straight-up victory. The Golden Bears have also played 4 straight games Under the Total against teams with a winning percentage over 60%. And in their last 16 games played on a neutral court, Cal has played 12 of these games Under the Total. Take the Under in this one.

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Freddy Wills

St Louis -3½

Oregon had a nice run, but it's about to end against a very talented St Louis team. ST Louis is 20-4-2 ATS in their last 26 following an ATS win and 19-7-1 ATS in their last 27 games vs a team with a win % greater than 60%. Oregon is just 5-11-1 ATS in their last 17 overall. Oregon is vulnerable against the three and they don't face many talented three point shooting teams in the Pac 12. Meanwhile St Louis which goes against a lot of pressure defenses in the A10 is one of the best and should be able to create mismatches and knock down some open looks from three. Oregon had a nice run in both tournaments, but St Louis moves on.

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Saturday, March 23

Wunderdog

Indiana at Chicago
Pick: Indiana +3.5

Indiana played last night, while Chicago has home court and is rested. But, really, those are the only two edges the Bulls have tonight and it won't be enough. Chicago is terrible on offense, No. 29 in points scored and the Bulls are 10-24 ATS in their last 34 home games. The Bulls have lost six of eight games and suffered a humbling home loss to the Blazers on Thursday to fall to 8-14 over their last 22 games. Indiana is second in the NBA in points allowed, tops in rebounding, and off another blowout win last night, 102-78 over Milwaukee with only one starter playing over 27 minutes. The Pacers are 5-1 ATS when playing on no rest, and 14-6 ATS against the Eastern Conference. Indiana has won their three games by an average of 22.3 points, with each of the victories coming by 20 or more points. The Pacers look to complete a four-game season sweep of the Bulls here, and they are on a sizzling 17-8 ATS run overall. Play the Pacers.

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