Friday’s East Region First Round betting preview

No. 10 Pittsburgh Panthers vs. No. 7 Wisconsin Badgers (-2, 131)

Game to be played at Scottrade Center, St. Louis, MO

Wisconsin is making its 18th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, but it’s certainly a different Badgers bunch than the team which reached the Final Four the past two seasons. Wisconsin, which features a first-year coach and a revamped roster, are the East Region’s seventh seed and will face 10th-seeded Pittsburgh in the first round Friday in St. Louis.

Greg Gard, who took over as the Badgers’ interim coach when mentor Bo Ryan suddenly resigned Dec. 15, was officially had his interim tag removed March 8 when he received a five-year contract from the school. Gard, who is in his 16th season at Wisconsin, lost four of his first six games at the helm, including a 1-4 Big Ten start, but the Badgers won 11 of their next 12 before dropping their last two prior to Selection Sunday. “This is an extremely special moment for me and our family,” Gard said at the March 8 news conference. “But I think just special for the state of Wisconsin, from the standpoint of being one of their own, that’s been able to trek through their career at various stops around the state, and to ultimately be in this position to be able to lead your home state institution’s flagship school into the future.” That immediate future begins with the Big Dance date against Pittsburgh, which is making its 13th NCAA Tournament appearance in the last 15 seasons.

TV: 6:50 p.m. ET, TNT

LINE HISTORY: Wisconsin opened as 2-point favorites, the spread dropped down as low as -1 at one point earlier in the week, but came back up to the opening number by Thursday. The total opened at 131 and has held steady. Check the complete line history here.

MATCHUP CHART:

ABOUT PITTSBURGH (21-11, 12-17 ATS, 13-16 O/U): The Panthers did miss the NCAA tourney a season ago for only the second time in 13 seasons under coach Jamie Dixon, finishing 19-15. “It means a lot to make the tournament knowing where we were last year,” senior guard James Robinson said in a Pittsburgh news release Sunday. “We know Wisconsin is going to play hard, and we’ll get right to work (Monday) to prepare for the game.” With 10.3 points per game, Robinson joins forwards Michael Young (16.0) and Jamel Artis (14.4) as double-digit scorers for the Panthers, who finished ninth in the ACC with a 9-9 record and were ousted by top-seeded North Carolina 88-71 in the conference-tournament quarterfinals.

ABOUT WISCONSIN (20-12, 16-16 ATS, 14-18 O/U): The Badgers bounced back from their 1-4 Big Ten start to finish 12-6 and tie for third place in the standings before being upended by Nebraska 70-58 in the second round of the conference tournament in Indianapolis. Junior forward Nigel Hayes (16.3 points per game) and junior guard Bronson Koenig (13.4), the two starters remaining from last season’s national championship game loss to Duke, are the team’s leading scorers and also are averaging a combined 5.6 assists per outing. Meanwhile, 6-9 freshman forward Ethan Happ is averaging 12.7 points and a team-most 7.8 rebounds. 

TRENDS:

* Panthers are 0-7 ATS in their last 7 vs. Big Ten.
* Badgers are 8-2 ATS in their last 10 games vs. a team with a winning straight up record.
* Over is 7-1 in Panthers last 8 Friday games.
* Under is 8-1 in Badgers last 9 overall.

No. 14 Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks vs. No. 3 West Virginia Mountaineers (-8, 145.5)

Game to be played at Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY

West Virginia will be a heavy favorite Friday when the third-seeded Mountaineers face No. 14 seed Stephen F. Austin in the first round of the NCAA Tournament’s East Region in Brooklyn, N.Y., and it’s easy to understand the logic. Coach Bob Huggins’ squad recorded an impressive win over Oklahoma in the Big 12 Tournament semifinals and took a one-point lead into the half against Kansas in the title game before falling 81-71.

Guard Jaysean Paige leads a balanced attack for the Mountaineers, whose high-pressure defense forces more turnovers per possession than any team in the country. Guard Daxter Miles Jr. turned in one of the best defensive performances of the season in the Big 12 semifinals by holding Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield to six points on 1-of-8 shooting, and the 6-foot-3 sophomore will need another strong effort against the upset-minded Lumberjacks. Stephen F. Austin won its third straight Southland Conference tournament on Saturday with a 82-60 rout of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, and the Lumberjacks led the league in scoring (80.7 points per game) and defense (63.3 points). Coach Brad Underwood’s squad upset fifth-seeded VCU two years ago in the NCAA Tournament and face a similar challenge against the Mountaineers.

TV: 7:10 p.m. ET, CBS

LINE HISTORY: West Virginia opened as 7.5-point favorites over Stephen F. Austin and the spread was bet up slightly to -8 by Thursday evening. The total opened at 147 and gradually dropped all week to settle at 145.5. Check the complete line history here.

MATCHUP CHART:

ABOUT STEPHEN F. AUSTIN (27-5, 2-2 ATS, 3-1 O/U): The Lumberjacks are riding a 20-game winning streak and boast one of the nation’s most underrated stars in senior guard Thomas Walkup, who averaged 17.5 points, 6.9 rebounds and 4.6 assists and earned the conference tournament MVP for the third straight year. Forward Clide Geffrard and guard Demetrious Floyd earned All-Tournament honors for the Lumberjacks, who aren’t lacking for confidence. “This team is very good,” Underwood told reporters. “We’re not going to be afraid of the moment. It’s one game at a time, and that’s the way we’re going to approach it.”   

ABOUT WEST VIRGINIA (26-8, 20-11 ATS, 14-16-1 O/U):
The Mountaineers were among the nation’s worst 3-point shooting teams during the regular season and that continued in the Big 12 final as they finished 2-of-15 from beyond the arc. The stellar frontcourt, which includes the imposing duo of Jonathan Holton and Devin Williams, left an impression on Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. “It’s a dangerous group,” he told reporters. “You know, the way they press, it’s really unconventional, but it works for them, and they could be really dangerous in the tournament.”

TRENDS:

* Lumberjacks are 2-6 ATS in their last 8 non-conference games.
* Mountaineers are 6-1 ATS in their last 7 games overall.
* Over is 5-1 in Lumberjacks last 6 Friday games.
* Under is 4-0-1 in Mountaineers last 5 NCAA Tournament games.

No. 15 Weber St. Wildcats vs. No. 2 Xavier Musketeers (-13, 147.5)

Game to be played at Scottrade Center, St. Louis, MO

Xavier worked its way to a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and is looking for a second straight trip to the Sweet 16 and beyond. The Musketeers will get things started against 15th-seeded Big Sky champion Weber State on Friday in the East Region in St. Louis.

The No. 2 seed is the highest in school history for Xavier, which has reached the NCAA Tournament in 10 of the last 11 seasons and reached the Sweet 16 in three of the last six trips. The Musketeers boast one of the top offenses in the country at an average of 81.3 points and pushed that number to 87.9 over the final seven games. Sophomore guard Trevon Bluiet leads four player averaging double figures at 15.5 points but was one of three players to foul out for the Musketeers in an 87-83 loss to Seton Hall in the Big East tournament semifinals. The Wildcats can put up some points as well (averaging 76.7) and punctuated a Big Sky regular season title by beating second-place Montana 62-59 in the tournament final to reach the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three seasons.

TV: 9:20 p.m. ET, TNT

LINE HISTORY: Xavier opened as big 13.5-point favorites and the spread came down slightly to -13 by Thursday night. The total open at 147.5 and hasn’t budged an inch all week. Check the complete line history here.

MATCHUP CHART:

ABOUT WEBER STATE (26-8, 14-16 ATS, 13-17 O/U): The Wildcats have a distant history of NCAA Tournament success – knocking off Michigan State in the first round in 1995 and North Carolina in the opener in 1999 – and are returning again after a bounce-back season that saw them improve from 13-17 to conference champions. “I’m just so proud of this team,” Weber State coach Randy Rahe told reporters. “We went through so much last year but to do this is great. I’m so happy for our team and how once again, they found a way.” Junior guard Jeremy Senglin leads the team with an average of 18.2 points and was named the Big Sky tournament MVP after putting up 22.3 points in the three victories.

ABOUT XAVIER (27-5, 19-13 ATS, 21-11 O/U): The Musketeers landed in a brutal East bracket that includes traditional powers North Carolina, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Notre Dame and Wisconsin among the top seven seeds. Xavier can score with any of those teams from the starting unit and the bench, where senior James Farr takes the lead. The 6-10 forward serves as the team’s sixth man most games and enters tournament play on a strong run by scoring in double figures in each of the last six contests.

TRENDS:

* Wildcats are 2-8 ATS in their last 10 games following a straight up win.
* Musketeers are 7-1 ATS in their last 8 neutral site games.
* Over is 5-0 in Wildcats last 5 Friday games.
* Over is 7-0 in Musketeers last 7 overall.

No. 11 Michigan Wolverines vs. No. 6 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (-3, 143)

Game to be played at Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY

Notre Dame’s surprising collapse in the ACC tournament last weekend was certainly not what coach Mike Brey expected, but it did allow the Fighting Irish to get something its next opponent only wish it could have – rest. Sixth-seeded Notre Dame looks to rebound from its worst offensive showing of the season when it faces road-weary No. 11 seed Michigan on Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“We could make our travel plans at halftime; let me put it that way,” Brey told reporters last Friday after his squad, which entered the ACC tournament semifinals as one of the more efficient offensive teams in the country, went more than 11 minutes without a field goal in a 78-47 drubbing against North Carolina. The season-worst scoring effort was all the more surprising after the Irish battled back from a 16-point second-half deficit the night before to rally past Duke in overtime. The Wolverines entered last Thursday on the NCAA Tournament bubble prior to upsetting top-seed Indiana before losing to Purdue in the Big Ten tournament semifinals. Michigan, which will be playing its fifth game in nine days, earned the right to face Notre Dame after edging Tulsa 67-62 on Wednesday in a First Four game in Dayton, Ohio.

TV: 9:40 p.m. ET, CBS

LINE HISTORY: Notre Dame opened as 3-point favorites for their game against Michigan the day after St. Patrick’s Day and the line has held solid. The total opened at 143 and has also been steady. Check the complete line history here.

MATCHUP CHART:

ABOUT MICHIGAN (23-12, 17-16 ATS, 19-13-1 O/U): The Wolverines, who led the Big Ten with 9.3 made 3-pointers entering Wednesday, rank second among NCAA Tournament teams with a school-record 332 triples despite going 6-of-25 beyond the arc against Tulsa. Michigan used a tiebreaking 3-pointer from little-used Kameron Chatman with 0.2 seconds remaining to beat the Hoosiers and received more unexpected contributions Wednesday from freshman Moritz Wagner, a deep reserve who doubled his season total entering the game with four blocks and pulled down a career-high eight boards. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (8.5 points) has scored at least 14 points in four straight and six of his last eight outings after doing so only five times in his team’s first 27 games.

ABOUT NOTRE DAME (21-11, 14-15-1 ATS, 15-15 O/U): The Wolverines don’t appear to have an answer in the post for 6-10 forward Zach Auguste (14.4 points, ACC-best 10.8 rebounds), who is averaging 15.7 points and 11.9 rebounds with eight double-doubles over his last 12 contests. Demetrius Jackson (team-high marks of 15.5 points, 4.8 assists and 1.2 steals) has failed to meet his scoring average in seven straight contests, averaging 11 points on 4-of-20 from the field during the Irish’s two-game run in the ACC tournament. Jackson’s limited contributions recently have been minimized somewhat by the increased production from V.J. Beachem (11.3 points), who is 12-of-24 beyond the arc over Notre Dame’s last five contests.

TRENDS:

* Wolverines are 8-2-1 ATS in their last 11 NCAA Tournament games.
* Fighting Irish are 2-8 ATS in their last 10 NCAA Tournament games.
* Over is 5-1 in Wolverines last 6 Friday games.
* Under is 14-3-1 in Fighting Irish last 18 NCAA Tournament games.

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