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

(13) Winthrop Eagles vs (4) Butler Bulldogs (-11, 145)

Game to be played at Bradley Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Butler, which earned its ninth NCAA Tournament appearance in 11 years Sunday, became the gold standard for mid-majors under Brad Stevens and now Big East Coach of the Year Chris Holtmann. However, the Bulldogs look to snap a modest two-game losing streak and make amends from a quick exit in the Big East Tournament when the fourth seed in the South Region opens NCAA Tournament play Thursday in Milwaukee against 13th-seeded Winthrop in the first round.

With a second-place finish in the talented Big East and a season sweep of overall No. 1 Villanova, Butler is certainly capable of making a long run in this year’s tournament. However, after bouncing back from losing three of four to win four straight down the stretch, the Bulldogs dropped the regular-season finale at home 70-64 to Seton Hall before scoring a season-low 57 points in a five-point loss to Xavier on Thursday in the first round of the conference tournament. In a tournament where the No. 4 pick is always in danger of getting upset in the first round, the Bulldogs will take Winthrop and 5-7 senior star Keon Johnson very serious. After winning the Big South regular-season championship, the Golden Eagles claimed their 11th Big South title with their eighth straight victory, 76-59 victory over Campbell on March 4 behind 26 points from Johnson and 17 points and 14 rebounds from 6-8 Xavier Cooks to earn their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2010.

TV: 1:30 p.m. ET, TNT

LINE HISTORY: Butler opened as 11-point favorites and, as of Wednesday night, the spread has yet to move. The total opened at 143 and spiked up to 145.5. Check out the complete line history here.

BETTING STATS:

ABOUT BUTLER (23-8 SU, 3-4-1 ATS, 6-2 O/U): Despite a midseason slump, 6-7 junior Kelan Martin led the team in scoring at 16.1 points, shooting 42.3 percent from the floor and 34.9 percent from the arc. Senior forward Andrew Chrabascz is the leader of the team on the floor and averages 11 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists. Freshman guard Kamar Baldwin (10 points per game, team high 55 steals) is a budding star and gets help in a deep backcourt from senior transfers Avery Woodson (8.6 points, team-high 65 3-pointers), Kethan Savage (8.1 points) and Tyler Lewis (6.4 points, 3.9 assists).

ABOUT WINTHROP (26-6 SU, 17-12 ATS, 14-13-2 O/U):
The Eagles, who went 15-3 in the Big South, are led by Johnson, the Big South Conference Tournament MVP who leads the team in scoring at 22.5 points, while draining 99 3-pointers at 40.4 percent and making 171 free throws at 86.8 percent from the line. Cooks, a junior forward who had a double-double in all three tournament games (19.7 points, 13 rebounds per contest), adds 16.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1. 8 blocks. Junior guard Anders Broman (8.3 points) and senior forward Roderick Perkins (7.5 points) complement Johnson from the arc, combining for 112 made 3-pointers.

MATCHUP CHART:

TRENDS:

* Eagles are 1-4 ATS in their last 5 neutral site games as an underdog.
* Bulldogs are 20-5-2 ATS in their last 27 NCAA Tournament games.
* Under is 14-3 in Eagles last 17 games following a ATS win.
* Under is 4-0-2 in Bulldogs last 6 neutral site games as a favorite.

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

(12) Middle Tennessee St. Blue Raiders vs (5) Minnesota Golden Gophers (+1, 135.5)

Game to be played at Bradley Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Middle Tennessee sprung the upset of the 2016 NCAA Tournament by upending perennial power Michigan State in a first round 2-versus-15-seed matchup. The Blue Raiders are back in the Big Dance again – this time as a 12 seed – after winning the Conference USA regular-season and tournament titles and will open against another Big Ten foe, fifth-seeded Minnesota, in a first-round South Region matchup Thursday in Milwaukee.

Despite a 27-4 regular season, which included a 17-1 Conference USA mark, Middle Tennessee wasn’t a sure-fire NCAA tourney lock, but it eliminated any doubt by posting three double-digit victories in three days to win the conference tourney last week in Birmingham. “We’re excited,” senior forward Reggie Upshaw said in school news release Sunday. “Every year you see a 12-5 upset, and to have that 12 seed, we know the history behind it. There’s nothing but excitement from us, because we know what we can do when we get into the national spotlight in the NCAA Tournament.” There’s also palpable excitement in the Twin Cities as the Golden Gophers completed the best win-total turnaround (plus-16) in the Division I ranks this season and punching its first Big Dance ticket in four years. Minnesota’s first round win over UCLA in 2013 officially is the school’s only NCAA Tournament in the last 20 years as the Golden Gophers’ 1997 run to the Final Four has been wiped off the books due to NCAA violations.

TV: 4 p.m. ET, TNT

LINE HISTORY: Minnesota opened betting as 1-point favorites but by Wednesday morning that line has jumped the fence to Middle Tennessee St. -1. The total hit the betting board at 137 and dropped 135.5 by Wednesday night. Check out the complete line history here.

BETTING STATS:

ABOUT MIDDLE TENNESSEE (30-4 SU, 23-10 ATS, 13-20 O/U): The Blue Raiders went 2-0 against their only major-conference foes (Vanderbilt and Ole Miss) as part of a 10-1 start and finished the regular season with their first-ever appearance in the national rankings at No. 25 in the USA Today Coaches’ poll. Coach Kermit Davis’ squad features four upperclassmen starters, including leading scorers JaCorey Williams (17.3 points and a team-leading 7.3 rebounds per game as the Conference USA Player of the Year), Giddy Potts (15.8) and Upshaw (14.5). On the other end of the court, Middle Tennessee is renowned for its 1-3-1 trapping defense which limited opponents to an average of 63.3 points and forced 13.5 turnovers per contest.

ABOUT MINNESOTA (24-9 SU, 19-12 ATS, 18-13 O/U): Coach Richard Pitino is making his first NCAA tourney appearance in his fourth year with the Gophers and fifth as a Division I head coach overall. Pitino has a young team with five underclassmen and three juniors comprising the top eight of his rotation after senior Akeem Springs’ season-ending Achilles-tendon tear in Friday’s Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal win over Michigan State. Point guard Nate Mason (15.5 points), guard Amir Coffey (12.1), forward Jordan Murphy (11.2, team-leading 8.8 rebounds) and guard Dupree McBrayer (10.9) are averaging double figures while 6-10 center Reggie Lynch, the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year, is averaging 8.4 points and 6.2 boards and set a single-season program record with 111 blocks so far.

MATCHUP CHART:

TRENDS:

* Blue Raiders are 9-0 ATS in their last 9 games vs. a team with a winning % above .600.
* Golden Gophers are 0-6 ATS in their last 6 neutral site games as an underdog.
* Under is 9-2 in Blue Raiders last 11 non-conference games.
* Over is 8-2 in Golden Gophers last 10 overall.

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




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