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Game: Cincinnati at Ohio State Mar 22 2012 9:45PM
Grade: Loser (-110)
Reason: At 9:45 PM EST on Thursday, we will be playing the Cincinnati Bearcats plus the points versus the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament. When Cincinnati and Xavier engaged in their infamous brawl early in the season, the aftershocks of that incident impacted both teams negatively. Yet both teams have new life now after reaching the Sweet 16. At least in the case of the Bearcats, we think the NCAA Tournament has offered this Cincy team the opportunity for retribution and redemption after that ugly incident. This was also was supposed to be a dangerous team for head coach Mike Cronin as he saw the top four players who shot the ball on offense return from the 26-9 team that lost to UConn in the Round of 32 last season. The need for Cronin to change the identity of his team after the suspension of players from the brawl into a more guard-oriented team may have provided a silver lining regarding what this team can do now. Cronin teams always play tough defense with the ability to employ a full court press. The Bearcats also do not turn the ball over which makes them use their possessions efficiently. The results have been a nice run to the Finals of the Big East tournament as well as the Sweet 16. Cincy has played five close games in a row -- and they have gutted out four of these games. We have no reason to not expect another close one here. The Bearcats have held nine of their last eleven opponents under a 1.00 Points-Per-Possession scoring rate. In the NCAA Tournament, Cincinnati has held both the computer-loving Texas and ACC Tournament champion Florida State to just a 37% shooting percentage inside the arc. That tough interior defense is led by Yancy Gates who provides the Bearcats a tough inside presence on both ends of the court.
Cincy (26-10) should build off the momentum from their 62-56 win over FSU as a 2-point underdog on Sunday. The Bearcats have covered the point spread in 6 of their last 7 games after both a straight-up victory as well as a point spread win. Cincy have covered 7 of their last 8 games against elite competition with a winning percentage over 60%. The Bearcats have covered 4 of their last 5 games as an underdog. And in their last 5 games played on a neutral court, Cincinnati has covered 4 of these games. Ohio State (29-7) comes off their 73-66 win over Gonzaga where they outlasted the Bulldogs despite the foul trouble to center Jared Sullinger. We certainly like this Buckeyes team -- and we narrowly lost with them on Saturday when they were laying 8-points (a late Gonzaga 3-pointer that rimmed out then back inside the cylinder turned out to be our point spread death knell). We like this Cincinnati team much more than that Bulldogs team. A flaw of this Buckeyes team has been that teams can jam Sullinger up in the middle if their shooters are not nailing 3s. Cincinnati is very equipped to implement that strategy. Additionally, Thad Motta's Ohio State teams have failed to cover the point spread in 13 of their last 19 NCAA Tournament games when favored. The "power" ratings indicate that the Buckeyes should be playing 8 or so points. In practice, we expect a much more competitive game between two defensive minded teams. Cincinnati is battle-tested with a renewed sense of purpose after enduring that ugly incident in the fall. They are a tough "out" who will keep this game close. 20* CBB Thursday Sweet 16 Special Feature with the Cincinnati Bearcats plus the points versus the Ohio State Buckeyes. Best of luck for us -- Frank.
Game: Louisville at Michigan State Mar 22 2012 7:45PM
Prediction: Michigan State
Grade: Loser (-110)
Reason: At 7:47 PM EST on Thursday, we will be playing the Michigan State Spartans minus the points versus the Louisville Cardinals in the Round of 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State (29-7) shot 54.3% from the field while hitting 40% of their 3-point shots en route to their 65-61 win versus a very sound St. Louis team last Sunday as a 7.5-point favorite. The fact that the Spartans were that efficient on offense against a strong Billikens' defense does represent a statistical outlier. This is one of the most explosive offensive teams in the Tom Izzo tenure in East Lansing. In the last eleven days, Michigan State has played the elite defenses of Ohio State, Wisconsin and St. Louis -- and the Spartans have scored at an outstanding 1.11 Points-Per-Possession rate. In fact, in their last five games, Michigan State owns a 1.20 PPP scoring rate fueled by a 58% percentage from inside the arc. While this team has not been quite as elite in crashing the glass this season as compared to past Izzo teams (although this club's more efficient shooting is taking away opportunities), what this team is doing better than recent Spartans' teams is not turn the ball over as much. It all starts with Draymond Green. We were all over Green way back in November for that opening game on the aircraft carrier against North Carolina. The senior leads the team not only in assist rate but also defensive rebounding. He truly is the coach's surrogate when on the floor. Izzo loves this team because of its team chemistry -- there is a reason this club shared the regular season Big Ten title before winning the Big Ten tournament. This shapes up to be a very good spot for Sparty here as they have covered the point spread in 5 of their last 6 NCAA Tournament games as a favorite of under seven points under Izzo. Michigan State should play well here as they have covered the point spread in 8 of their last 10 games after a point spread loss. The Spartans have covered the spread in 5 of their last 6 games played on a neutral court. And in their last 25 games against teams with a winning percentage over 60%, Michigan State has covered the spread in 17 of these contests. Louisville (28-9) has certainly shown grit in rattling off six straight wins to both win the Big East tournament as well as reach the Sweet 16. The Cardinals nailed 7 of their 15 shots from behind the arc in their 59-56 win over New Mexico to narrowly cover (unfortunately) the 2-point spread. But we think the rubber has hit the road now for this overachieving Rick Pitino team. Louisville was 13th in the Big East this season with their low 0.98 PPP scoring rate. In these last six games, the Cardinals have scored at higher than a 1.03 PPP rate just once. Even with their proficiency from behind the arc against the Lobos, Louisville scored at just a 1.02 PPP rate in their last game. We are skeptical that this club will be able to keep up the scoring pace -- even with their strong defense -- against a Spartans team that has been playing great defenses over the last two weeks. Then consider the fact that Louisville was outrebounded by New Mexico by a 36-25 margin while watching the Lobos pull down 50% of their missed shots. Those are frightening numbers when preparing to face any Izzo-coached team. To compound matters, the Cardinals were 13th in the Big East by turning the ball over in 22.0% of their conference possessions. For a team that is so dependent on stopping their opponent, this rebounding and turnover problem will give this Michigan State team too many opportunities to get their efficient offense rolling. Then consider the fact that no Louisville players were selected were selected to one of the top three All-Big East teams this season. This is a gritty team that has not allowed their last six opponents to score at even a 1.00 PPP rate -- but Sparty looks to tough for them now. Pitino teams have failed to cover the spread 4 straight games in the Tournament as an underdog of under seven points. The Cardinals have also failed to cover the spread in 10 of their last 12 games as an underdog on a neutral court. And a Pitino team has not covered the point spread in 6 straight games against schools from the Big Ten. This just does not look like the team that can buck that trend. Together, these team trends produce our specific 55-14 combined winning angle for this situation. Michigan State should retain a lead in this one which will allow them to pull away down the stretch. 25* CBB Sweet 16 Favorite of the Year with the Michigan State Spartans minus the points versus the Louisville Cardinals. Best of luck for us -- Frank.
SWEET 16 UPDATE: We will have three plays for Thursday's action that will be released Wednesday early evening. I will be offering these three plays guaranteed via an All-Access Triple Feature package at a discounted price. Also, we will post a free play for the fourth side selection of these four games which is a solid selection but just not as strong as the other three side plays. Then we will have at least three plays for Friday -- I may very well release four plays for a very enticing Friday card that will include our 25* College Basketball Underdog of the Year. That play will be posted Wednesday night with the other games posted by Thursday evening. If it is only three plays, then I will offer another All-Access Triple Feature for Friday. Thanks, Frank.
Game: Wisconsin at Syracuse Mar 22 2012 7:15PM
Grade: Loser (-110)
Reason: At 7:15 PM EST on Thursday, we will be playing the Syracuse Orange minus the points versus the Wisconsin Badgers in the Round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament. Syracuse (33-2) has too quickly discounted as a serious threat to still win the NCAA Tournament after their loss of 7'0" center Fab Melo who was declared academically ineligible for the tournament a week ago. While certainly head coach Jim Boeheim would prefer to have Melo eligible, his absence has been way overplayed by the pundit class. Melo was the Orange's just 6th leading scorer with his 7.8 PPG average. Additionally, while Melo was Syracuse's leading rebounder, his 5.8 RPG average can certainly be replaced by others. Melo's biggest impact was on the defensive end of the court where his seven-foot frame provided a shot-blocking presence in the middle of the Orange's vaunted 2-3 defense. But it is safe to say that Boeheim has seen dominant 2-3 defenses in his tenure without a shot-blocking big man in the middle. This remains a very talented -- and very deep -- Syracuse team that has many players that are ready to take Melo's minutes on the court. After struggling to get by an talented and upstart UNC-Asheville team, the Orange looked more like themselves in their 72-59 win over Kansas State in a game where they shot 51.1% from the field while holding the Wildcats to a mere 31.3% field goal percentage. Freshman Rakeem Christmas seized the opportunity Melo's suspension offered by scoring 8 points while pulling down 11 rebounds and blocking a Melo-like 3 shots against Kansas State. At this point, it is safe to say that the Orange's loss of Melo has been a bit overblown -- and we are getting point spread value now because of it. Sophomore Dion Waiters is stepping up his game as well by coming off the bench to nail 56% of his shots -- and 56% of his 3s -- so far in the NCAA Tournament. This team is loaded. And Syracuse has covered the point spread in 11 of their last 16 games against teams outside the Big East who may not be as familiar with the Boeheim version of the 2-3 zone defense.
Wisconsin (26-9) comes off a 60-57 win versus Vanderbilt -- but they have failed to cover the point spread in 7 of their last 10 games following a straight-up victory. Bo Ryan's teams have underachieved in the NCAA Tournament in the last few years -- but usually those games are against upstart mid-majors. Perhaps facing one of the elite teams in college basketball will present Ryan's team a more compelling challenge? Or perhaps the problem lies elsewhere. The computers love the stats that Wisconsin puts up -- and that helps pull this line down since Las Vegas uses those numbers. But these overall "power" numbers do not correlate with a team that only managed a net Efficiency Margin of +0.06 Points-Per-Possession (Offensive PPP: 1.03; Defensive PPP: 0.97) versus Big Ten competition. That metric is just above Michigan's net Efficiency Margin of +0.05 PPP in conference play to place them third in the Big Ten and is far off from Ohio State and Michigan State's net Efficiency Margin of +0.17 PPP and +0.16 PPP respectively. The Wolverines would be an underdog of double the points the Badgers are currently getting -- which makes us not believe the hype here. Additionally, Wisconsin is a team that performs much better at home where they enjoyed a 14-4 record. However, on the road, this supposed efficient offense shoots only 40.7% from the field to produce a 7-4 record with an average winning margin of +1.7 PPG. In theory, this is a "strength versus strength matchup" as the Syracuse zone will only further entice this Badgers' team to shoot more 3-point shots beyond their "bombs-away" mentality that has seen them put up 47% of their shots from behind the arc in their last four games. But seeing a bunch of 3s is nothing new for a Boeheim defense -- there is a reason that the Orange are seeing their opponents nail only 30.7% of these shots from behind the arc (28th in the nation). Furthermore, the vulnerability with this Syracuse team is that they allow their opponents to pull down 39.3% of their missed shots (4th worst in the nation). But because the Badgers like to put their big guys on the outside to shoot more 3s, they are not equipped to take advantage of the offensive boards. Wisconsin pulls down only 30.7% of their missed shots (yes, that is the exact same number as Syracuse's 3-point defense in my notes) which is only 224th in the nation. Ultimately, these look like two teams that are harboring impressions in the conventional wisdom that do not match our read on things. Lastly, Syracuse is supported by an empirical angle that has been 68% effective over the last five seasons. In games played on a neutral court, favorites or pick 'ems averaging 74-78 PPG (Syracuse: 74.5 PPG) who come off at least one straight win and now faces a team that scores 63-67 PPG (Wisconsin: 64.0 PPG) have then covered the point spread in 30 of the last 44 situations where these conditions applied. 20* CBB Don't Believe the Hype Special with the Syracuse Orange minus the points versus the Wisconsin Badgers. Best of luck for us -- Frank.