Thursday’s NCAA Tournament first round betting preview: East Region

(5) Virginia Cavaliers vs  (12) NC-Wilmington Seahawks (+7.5, 135)

Game to be played at Amway Center, Orlando, Florida

Virginia survived the gauntlet of ACC play in the regular season and came out of it with a No. 5 seed in the East region of the NCAA Tournament. The Cavaliers will begin their tournament run on Thursday in Orlando, Fla., against No. 12 seed UNC Wilmington, which breezed to a Colonial Athletic Association title behind a potent offense ranked in the top 10 nationally.

That Seahawks, who average 85.2 points and reached 100 seven times during the season, will match up against a Virginia defense that led the nation in points allowed (55.6) and held six different opponents under 45 points. Defense has been the calling card for the Cavaliers under coach Tony Bennett, who brought the team to the Elite Eight as a No. 1 seed last year and had his team in a top-2 seed in each of the previous three NCAA Tournaments. That defense showed some cracks at times during ACC play and in the conference tournament, when Virginia was bounced by Notre Dame in the second round while allowing the Fighting Irish to shoot 52.2 percent from the floor. UNC Wilmington is making its second straight NCAA Tournament appearance and is facing an ACC team again after falling to fourth-seeded Duke 93-85 last spring.

TV: 12:40 p.m. ET, truTV

LINE HISTORY: Virginia opened as 8.5-point favorites and that number has dropped a full point to 7.5. The total opened at 136 and was quickly bet down to 135 on Monday afternoon and has held firm at that number. Check out the complete line history here.

BETTING STATS:

ABOUT UNC WILMINGTON (29-5 SU, 14-15-1 ATS, 16-14 OU): The Seahawks are carrying a seven-game winning streak into the NCAA Tournament after closing out the regular-season CAA title and ripping through the conference tournament. Four players average at least 12.3 points for Wilmington, led by 6-foot-5 sophomore guard C.J. Boyce (17.6), who scored 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting in the win over College of Charleston in the CAA title game. The Seahawks lack size and often count 6-7 sophomore forward Devontae Cacok as the tallest player on the floor surrounded by guards that push the tempo.

ABOUT VIRGINIA (22-10 SU, 18-12 ATS, 10-19-1 OU): The Cavaliers will do everything they can to eliminate the tempo the Seahawks prefer to play while trying desperately to score some points of their own. Senior guard London Perrantes (12.5 points) is the only player averaging double figures in scoring and he slumped to three points on 1-of-9 shooting in the loss to Notre Dame that knocked Virginia out of the ACC tournament. The Cavaliers did get an encouraging performance in that loss from junior guard Devon Hall, who collected 12 points and nine rebounds after totaling nine points and eight boards combined in the previous two games.

MATCHUP CHART:

TRENDS:

* Seahawks are 8-2 ATS in their last 10 neutral site games as an underdog.
* Cavaliers are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 non-conference games.
* Over is 7-0 in Seahawks last 7 games as an underdog of 7.0-12.5.
* Over is 8-2 in Cavaliers last 10 NCAA Tournament games as a favorite.

Click here for a complete list of hot and cold trends.

(4) Florida Gators vs (13) East Tennessee State Buccaneers (+10, 147.5)

Game to be played at Amway Center, Orlando, Florida

Florida opens the NCAA Tournament looking to find its stride again after a late-season slide and an early exit from the SEC tournament. The Gators are the fourth seed in the East region, and while they will be favored in Thursday’s first-round matchup against No. 13 seed East Tennessee State in Orlando, losses in three of their final four games have raised questions on how far the Gators can advance.

Florida, which lost to Vanderbilt in the regular-season finale and again in the SEC quarterfinals, features a balanced offense which finished fourth in the SEC in scoring (78.9 points per game) and a defense ranked 14th nationally against the 3-point shot (30.7 percent). The Buccaneers won the Southern Conference title and are back in the NCAAs for the first time since 2010, winning nine of their final 10 games. East Tennessee State is one of the best shooting teams in the country, ranking 10th at 49.1 percent from the field while averaging 79.9 points per contest. The Buccaneers have faced two SEC teams this season, beating Mississippi State and losing by four to Tennessee.

TV: 3:10 p.m. ET, truTV

LINE HISTORY: Florida opened as 10-point favorites, that line was quickly raised to 10.5 on Sunday night and by Monday morning had faded back to the opening number, where it has remained.  The total opened at 143.5 and has been steadily raising, by Wednesday afternoon it was up four points to 147.5. Check out the complete line history here.

BETTING STATS:

ABOUT EAST TENNESSEE STATE (27-7 SU, 17-13-1 ATS, 15-15-1 OU): T.J. Cromer finished second in the Southern in scoring at 19.1 points per game, shooting 40.4 percent from 3-point range and 82 percent from the free-throw line. Cromer tied a conference tournament record with nine 3-pointers against Samford, finishing with a career-high 41 points. The Buccaneers have shot 840 free throws this season, eighth-highest total in the country, while recording 8.4 steals per contest (14th nationally).

ABOUT FLORIDA (24-8 SU, 17-13 ATS, 14-16 OU): KeVaughn Allen leads the Gators in scoring at 13.9 points per game and is 16-of-36 from 3-point range in his past five games. Kasey Hill ranks second in the league in assists (4.6) and fifth in steals (1.7), but in his past five contests has recorded more turnovers (13) than assists (12). Chris Chiozza led the SEC in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.51), while Canyon Barry averages 12.1 points off the bench while shooting 87.8 percent from the free-throw line.

MATCHUP CHART:

TRENDS:

* Buccaneers are 1-4 ATS in their last 5 neutral site games as an underdog.
* Gators are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games following a ATS loss.
* Over is 8-1-2 in Buccaneers last 11 neutral site games.
* Over is 6-0 in Gators last 6 games following a double-digit loss at home.

Click here for a complete list of hot and cold trends.

(1) Villanova Wildcats vs (16) Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers (+26.5, 131.5)

Game to be played at KeyBank Center, Buffalo, New York

As a freshman in his second college basketball game, Josh Hart made one of many statements during his decorated Villanova career when he enjoyed his first double-double in a blowout victory over Mount St. Mary’s. The Big East Player of the Year hopes to have a similar impact against them again Thursday when the top-seeded Wildcats open their title defense in the NCAA Tournament East Region against the 16th-seeded Mountaineers in Buffalo, N.Y.

Hart, who finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds in 22 minutes off the bench against Mount St. Mary’s when he last saw the Mountaineers on Nov. 13, 2014, continued his stellar senior season Saturday with 29 points – one shy of his career high – in a Big East tournament title victory over Creighton. Along with fellow classmates Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds, Hart is part of the Wildcats’ most successful senior class, leading them to a 128-16 mark over their four seasons. The 6-6 wing added to his list of individual accomplishments against the Bluejays last weekend as well, becoming only the third player to win the conference tournament MVP award twice, joining Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing and Louisville’s Peyton Siva. Mount St. Mary’s, which began the season 1-11 only to turn it around and post the program’s second 20-win season, earned its second NCAA Tournament victory with Tuesday’s 67-66 decision over New Orleans in First Four action at Dayton, Ohio.

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

LINE HISTORY: Villanova opened as 26.5-point favorite over the unlucky winners from Mount St. Mary’s. The total opened Wednesday night at 132.5 and dropped by a full point to 131.5. Check out the complete line history here.

BETTING STATS:

ABOUT VILLANOVA (31-3 SU, 18-15 ATS, 11-22-0 OU): Hart (Big East-high 18.9 points, team-best 6.5 rebounds) bettered both his season averages with 21 points and 7.3 boards during the team’s three-game Big East tournament title run and scored at least 11 points in every game this season. Sophomore backcourt mate Jalen Brunson (14.8 points, 39.6 3-point percentage) is one of three other Villanova players averaging more than nine points and shooting at least 37 percent beyond the arc, joining forwards Jenkins (13.4, 37.2) and Mikal Bridges (9.9, 39.3). Jenkins, who nailed the game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer in last season’s national championship, shot 22.5 percent from beyond the arc over his last six outings after connecting on 40.3 percent over his first 28 games.

ABOUT MOUNT ST. MARY’S (20-15 SU, 4-3-0 ATS, 4-3-0 OU): Junior Robinson (14.3 points), who is the shortest player in the Big Dance at 5-5, scored at least 22 points for the third time in four games this month with 23 against the Privateers, including the go-ahead jumper with 1:27 to play. Sophomore guard Elijah Long (team-high 15.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, team-high 4.4 assists) managed only six points as New Orleans held him to an uncharacteristic seven field-goal attempts, interrupting a four-game stretch during which he averaged 21.8 points. Freshman guard Miles Wilson (11.5 points, 3.8 boards) helped the Mountaineers pick up the slack with 17 points and 11 rebounds Tuesday, posting his second straight double-double after recording none over his first 33 games.

MATCHUP CHART:

TRENDS:

* Wildcats are 6-0 ATS in their last 6 NCAA Tournament games.
* Mountaineers are 0-4 ATS in their last 4 neutral site games as an underdog.
* Over is 5-1-1 in Wildcats last 7 NCAA Tournament games as a favorite.
* Over is 5-1 in Mountaineers last 6 games vs. a team with a winning % above .600.

Click here for a complete list of hot and cold trends.

(8) Wisconsin Badgers vs (9) Virginia Tech Hokies (+5.5, 136.5)

Making its 19th straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament, Wisconsin will square off with Virginia Tech, which is dancing for the first time since 2007. The teams will face off in Buffalo, N.Y., on Thursday in the first round of the East Region with the winner likely taking on top-seeded Villanova in the Round of 32.

Wisconsin, seeded eighth after losing to Michigan in the Big Ten tournament title game on Sunday, received a seed lower than many had expected. That could serve as extra motivation for the Badgers, who have several key players with Final Four experience, including guard Bronson Koenig and forward Nigel Hayes. No. 9 seed Virginia Tech features an assortment of quality 3-point shooters and won four of five before falling to Florida State in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament. Coach Buzz Williams has improved the Hokies in all three seasons on their sideline but is down to eight scholarship players heading into the tournament.

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

LINE HISTORY: Wisconsin opened as 4.5-point favorites on Sunday evening, was quickly bet up to 5.5. and has held firm at that number. The total opened at 138.5 and has since dropped two points to 136.5. Check out the complete line history here.

BETTING STATS

ABOUT VIRGINIA TECH (22-10 SU, 16-11-1 ATS, 14-14 OU): The Hokies finished seventh in the ACC this season and have a resume that includes wins at Michigan and versus Duke, Virginia and Miami (Fla.). Zach LeDay leads five double-digit scorers at 16.3 points and also grabs a team-high 7.4 rebounds, while Seth Allen chips in 13.4 points while making 45.1 percent of his 3-pointers. Ty Outlaw (48.2 percent on 3-pointers) and Justin Robinson (42.5) are two other terrific shooters for Virginia Tech, which makes 40.3 percent of its long-range shots overall and brings a ton of firepower from its reserves with LeDay and Allen typically coming off the bench.

ABOUT WISCONSIN (25-9 SU, 15-16 ATS, 12-16-3 OU): The Badgers entered Sunday ranked seventh in the nation in points surrendered (61.1) but allowed Michigan to shoot 56.3 percent from the field and 43.5 percent from the arc in a 15-point defeat. Koenig delivered 15 points and made multiple 3s for the fifth straight game. Ethan Happ nearly averages a double-double and recorded 14 points and 11 rebounds against the Wolverines while Hayes added 14 points for his second straight double-double.

MATCHUP CHART:

TRENDS:

* Hokies are 7-1-1 ATS in their last 9 games vs. a team with a winning straight up record.
* Hokies are 6-1 ATS in their last 7 neutral site games.
* Under is 5-1 in Hokies last 6 non-conference games.
* Under is 9-1-1 in Badgers last 11 neutral site games.
* Under is 4-0 in Badgers last 4 NCAA Tournament games.

Click here for a complete list of hot and cold trends.


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