Thursday’s Midwest Region First Round betting preview

No. 12 Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans vs. No. 5 Purdue Boilermakers (-9, 128.5)

Game to be played at Pepsi Center, Denver, CO

Fifth-seeded Purdue looks to build on its deep run in the Big Ten tournament when it takes on No. 12 seed Little Rock in the first round of the Midwest Region in Denver on Thursday. The Boilermakers notched impressive victories over Illinois and Michigan before falling to red-hot Michigan State 66-62 in the tournament final but will make their second straight NCAA Tournament appearance after missing out on March Madness in the previous two years.

Purdue has won the battle of the boards in all but two games this season and hopes to use its overwhelming height advantage to advance past the first round for the first time since 2012. Little Rock coach Chris Beard has engineered one of the most impressive turnarounds in the nation as the Trojans notched 16 more wins than they did in the previous season. Little Rock has won eight of its last nine games and captured the Sun Belt regular-season and tournament titles en route to setting a school record for most victories in a campaign with 29. The Trojans beat ULM 70-50 in the Sun Belt Tournament final to secure their fifth trip to the NCAA Tournament and their first since 2011.

TV: 4:30 p.m. ET, TBS

LINE HISTORY:
Purdue opened as 8-point favorites and have been bet up a point to its current number of -9. The total has seen plenty of movement, going down 2.5-points from 131 to 128.5. Check out the complete line history here.

MATCHUP CHART:




ABOUT LITTLE ROCK (29-4, 19-10 ATS, 10-19 O/U):
Roger Woods went 8-of-10 from the field en route to a team-high 19 points against ULM and earned the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award in the process. Marcus Johnson Jr. added 14 points while Jalen Jackson provided a spark off the bench by scoring 11 points. “I’m the luckiest man in the world to be coaching these guys,” Beard told reporters. “We’re not done yet and I think we can do some damage in the tournament.”

ABOUT PURDUE (26-8, 18-11-1 ATS, 15-15 O/U): Vince Edwards led the Boilermakers with 19 points while A.J. Hammons added 11 points and nine rebounds against Michigan State to finish in double figures for the 15th consecutive game. Caleb Swanigan also scored 11 points but Purdue couldn’t overcome a poor-shooting first half against the Spartans. “We came far from two years ago coming in last place in the Big Ten,” senior defensive stopper Rapheal Davis told reporters. “To go out and get a five seed and play a good team like Little Rock will be good for us.”

TRENDS:

* Arkansas-Little Rock is 7-1 ATS in its last eight non-conference games.
* Purdue is 6-0-1 ATS in its last seven games overall.
* Under is 4-0 in Arkansas-Little Rock’s last four neutral site games.
* Over is 5-2 in Purdue’s last seven games overall.

No. 14 Fresno State Bulldogs vs. No. 3 Utah Utes (-8.5, 138.5)

Game to be played at Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado

Third-seeded Utah made a splash in its return to the NCAA Tournament in 2015 and hopes to take a step – or four – further when it meets No. 14 seed Fresno State on Thursday in the first round of the Midwest Region in Denver. The Utes, appearing in their first NCAAs since 2009, lost to eventual national champion Duke in the Sweet 16 last season and return plenty of experience and firepower including Pac-12 Conference Player of the Year Jakob Poeltl.

Utah was crushed by Oregon – the No. 1 seed in the West Region – 88-57 in Saturday’s Pac-12 tournament final, but coach Larry Krystkowiak wasn’t too concerned after the Utes had their nine-game winning streak snapped. “I know our guys would trade for some success starting (Thursday),” he told reporters. “If it means getting our butts waxed in the championship game, then we’ll take our medicine and hopefully be focused for some practice on Monday.” The Bulldogs earned their ninth straight victory and first NCAA bid since 2001 with a 68-63 win over San Diego State on Saturday in the Mountain West Conference tournament championship game behind senior guard and MWC Player of the Year Marvelle Harris, the school’s all-time leading scorer. “It was incredible. Greatest feeling I’ve had in my whole basketball career,” Harris told reporters after the title game. “It’s a big win for the program, community, fans, everyone. …”

TV: 7:27 p.m. ET, truTV

LINE HISTORY: Utah opened as 8-point favorites and have been bet up to -8.5. Meanwhile, the total has moved a whopping four points since opening, going down from 142.5 to 138.5. Check out the complete line history here.

MATCHUP CHART:




ABOUT FRESNO STATE (25-9, 18-11 ATS, 17-12 O/U):
Harris (20.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, team-high 4.4 assists) has 2,007 career points after averaging 17.7 in three MWC tournament games and scoring 34 against Utah State on March 5 to break the previous school record of 1,951 set by Melvin Ely in 2002. Harris, who was also named MWC tournament MVP, has 701 points this season – breaking the previous single-season school standard set by Carl Ray Harris in 1994. The Bulldogs boast six other players averaging at least 7.6 points including Torren Jones (10.5 points, team-high 7.9 rebounds) and fellow junior forward Karachi Edo (9.9, 6.4).

ABOUT UTAH (26-8, 16-15-1 ATS, 18-13-1 O/U): Poeltl, a 7-0 sophomore forward from Vienna, Austria, averages 17.6 points, nine rebounds and 1.6 blocks. The Utes have five players scoring at least 9.6 points with senior forward Jordan Loveridge (11.8) leading the group, which also includes sophomore forward Kyle Kuzma (10.8 points, 5.9 rebounds). Senior point guard Brandon Taylor (9.6 points, team-high 3.8 assists) runs the show while junior guard Lorenzo Bonam (9.9 points) also contributes.

TRENDS:

* Fresno State is 6-0 ATS in its last six games overall.
* Utah is 4-0-2 ATS in its last six games versus Mountain West opponents.
* Over is 5-1 in Fresno State’s last six games overall.
* Over is 6-0 in Utah’s last six neutral site games.

No. 11 Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. No. 6 Seton Hall Pirates (Pick, 145.5)

Game to be played at Pepsi Center, Denver, CO

Seton Hall’s shocking run to the Big East tournament title earned it an equally surprising No. 6 seed and a date with No. 11 Gonzaga in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Denver on Thursday. The Pirates, making their first appearance in the field in 10 years, will be looking to recapture some of their former glory, like when they reached the 1989 championship game, as they kick off play in the Midwest Region.

Gonzaga needed an extended run and perhaps even the West Coast Conference tournament title to secure its 18th straight appearance in the field. The Bulldogs, who reached the Elite Eight last year, losing to eventual national champion Duke, did just that by disposing of Saint Mary’s in the final, leaving the top-seeded Gaels on the Big Dance sidelines. Gonzaga is one of only two teams to win its opening-round tournament game each of the last seven seasons — Kansas is the other. Led by sophomore sensation Isaiah Whitehead, who scored 26 points in the Big East title game against Villanova, Seton Hall is making its 10th appearance in the tournament.

TV: 9:57 p.m. ET, truTV

LINE HISTORY: Another situation where the books feel the selection commitee got the seeding wrong opening the No. 11 seed Bulldogs as slight 2-point faves over the Pirates. Money has come in on Seton Hall since however and the line has moved to a Pick’em. The total has been bet up 2-points from 143.5 to 145.5. Check out the complete line history here.

MATCHUP CHART:

ABOUT SETON HALL (25-8, 23-9 ATS, 14-18 O/U): Whitehead, who is expected to bolt for the NBA after the season, recorded a three-point play in the closing seconds to lead the Pirates to a 69-67 win over the Wildcats in the Big East title game. Another sophomore, Khadeen Carrington, scored a game-high 23 points as Seton Hall nipped Xavier 87-83 in the semifinal. The Pirates are certainly young but guided by coach Kevin Willard and, in his sixth year with the team, they have won 12 of their last 14 games in what was regarded as one of the toughest conferences in the nation.

ABOUT GONZAGA (26-7, 15-15-1 ATS, 16-15 O/U): Gonzaga’s NCAA Tournament streak seemed to be in serious jeopardy after an early-season back injury cost them the services of star center Przemek Karnowski. But emerging power forward Domantas Sabonis, who some feel is a future NBA lottery choice, and sharp-shooting Kyle Wiltjer, who transferred from national champion Kentucky after the 2012-13 season and led the team in scoring at 20.7 points a game, helped keep the Bulldogs in the bubble picture. Led by coach Mark Few, Gonzaga has shunned the label of mid-major power and is 22-18 all-time in NCAA games with six trips to the Sweet 16 and two trips to the Elite Eight, although the team was just 1-3 against ranked opponents this season.

TRENDS:

* Gonzaga is 5-0 ATS in its last five games overall.
* Seton Hall is 4-0 ATS in its last four neutral site games.
* Over is 5-0 in Gonzaga’s last five neutral site games.
* Over is 2-1 in Seton Hall’s last six games overall.

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