2008 NCAA Tournament – West Region Preview and Picks

2008 NCAA Tournament Preview West Region
by Badger of Predictem.com

All roads in this region end up in Phoenix, Arizona, at the U.S.
Airways Center for the West Regional finals the weekend of March 27th
30th. First and second round games will be played this Thursday
through Sunday at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., the Verizon
Center in Washington, D.C. and St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa Bay,

Thursday, March 20th
Honda Center
Anaheim, Calif.

#1 UCLA Bruins (31-3)
#16 Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils (17-15)
Line: UCLA -31.5 Total: 122

At least Mississippi Valley State doesn’t have to play an extra play-
in game to get clobbered by a No. 1 seed in the opening round.

The Delta Devils won the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC)
Tournament as the No. 2 seed, following a stellar 14-15 regular
season. The Devils won three games in the SWAC tourney, so they are
playing well, but a 14-15 team playing as the 2-seed should give you
an indication of the SWACs quality of play.

Adding to the Delta Devils mountain to climb is the fact that they
only average 62.7 points per game. UCLAs defense only allows 59
points per game to teams in the PAC-10 that score 70 to 80 a game, so
the Devils better hope they break 20. Mississippi Valley State only
scored 26 in a 71-26 thumping by Washington State from the PAC 10.

UCLA claimed the regular season and tournament championship in the
PAC 10 Conference. Theyve also been the Final Four the past two
seasons, so they are battle-tested and experienced. The Bruins were
19-12-2 ATS this year, including a 1-1 ATS record in games where they
were +30-point favorites.

The Delta Devils only had four games with odds this season, going 1-3
ATS in those chances including the game versus Washington State were
they failed to cover as 32-point underdogs.

Pick: A line of 30-plus points is too much for me to recommend in
either direction. Take the under on this game and hope the Bruins
call off the dogs early so they dont score too many.

#8 BYU Cougars (27-7)
#9 Texas A&M Aggies (24-10)
Line: Texas A&M -2 Total: 129.5

The beauty of these 8-seed/9-seed matchups is they truly can go
either way. This game will also be the litmus test for the small
conference-big conference debate. If Texas A&M, a middle-tier team
from the Big 12, can win easily over the Mountain West Conference
(MWC) champion BYU Cougars, it would emphasize the strength of the
Big 12 this season.

However, BYU is no pushover. The Cougars play defense, which
translates into any league. BYU is 9th in opponents field goal
percentage (38.6%) and 5th in opponents 3-point percentage (29.4%),
so they can defend versus anyone.

They also played well in non-MWC games during the year, beating
Louisville (78-76 on Nov. 23) before respectable losses to North
Carolina (73-63 on Nov. 24th) and Michigan State (68-61 on Dec. 8th).

Texas A&M is also a defense-first team, as they allow opponents just
a 39.3 percent shooting percentage from the floor. Their best game
this season was on January 30th when they destroyed Texas at home,
80-63. The Aggies did struggle down the stretch, losing five of their
last seven in the regular season before winning two-out-of-three in
the Big 12 tourney.

Both teams were winners for bettors, but barely. BYUs ATS record of
16-11-3 is a little better than Texas A&Ms 15-13 record versus the
number. BYU is solid in their last 10 games though, going 6-2-2 ATS,
while A&M covered in all three Big 12 tourney games last week but has
only been a favorite in one game since it turned March.

Pick: Nerves, a neutral floor and a strong offensive-vs.-defensive
mismatch for both teams make this an ugly game. If the score of this
game barely gets into the 60s, so take the under. If I had to take a
side, Id take BYU plus the points.

Thursday, March 20th
Verizon Center
Washington, D.C.

#6 Purdue Boilermakers (24-8)
#11 Baylor Bears (21-10)
Line: Purdue -2.5 Total: 143

This game features this seasons surprise Big 10 team, Purdue, versus
this years surprise Big 12 team, Baylor. The similarities between
the two teams dont stop there either.

Both schools raced out to great starts, but the bloom has fallen off
the rose for both teams of late since both teams were stunned by
upsets in their respective conference tourneys in overtime (Baylor by
Colorado 91-84; Purdue by Illinois, 74-67).

Both teams also feature guard-heavy lineups. Five of Baylors top six
scorers are guards, while Purdues top five scorers are ALL guards.

At 81.4 points per game, Baylor is going to want to push the pace and
turn it into a 3-point shooting contest. Purdue is a young team (all
freshman and sophomores), so if they get caught up in the heat of the
moment it could play out in the Bears favor. Expect the Boilermakers
to make it a more deliberate, defensive game, which is their biggest
strength (only 61.2 ppg allowed -23rd in NCAA).

Baylor is a strong 8-1 ATS in their last nine neutral-site games.
Purdue meanwhile went 17-1-1 ATS this year including a 14-3-1 ATS
record in the last 18 games overall. Both teams have excellent road
records too, with Baylor at 10-3 ATS and Purdue at 9-4-1 ATS.

Something will have to give on the total too because Baylor is 13-3
for the over in their last 16 games as an underdog, while the under
is 8-1 in the last nine games with Purdue as a favorite.

Pick: Baylor is an extremely difficult team to play as an 11-seed,
but Purdues defense will make it hard for the Bears. In the end
though a few late 3-pointers lifts Baylor past the upstart

Take Baylor plus the points, then look out for Purdue
next season.

#3 Xavier Musketeers (27-8)
#14 Georgia Bulldogs (17-16)
Line: Xavier -7.5 Total: 129.5

Georgia pulled off one of the more impressive feats in recent college
basketball history by winning four games, including two in one day,
to take home the SEC Tournament championship and the SECs automatic
bid. Two of those four games went into overtime too, making you
wonder just how much gas the Bulldogs have left in the tank, mentally
and physically.

Prior to the Bulldogs miracle run in the SEC tourney they had lost
six of their last seven, and 11 of their last 13 games, so dont get
too caught up in their recent history. Georgia head coach Dennis
Felton probably saved his job in the process. The reality is that
Georgia was barely an NIT team before the run, now that they made the
run will that sub-NIT team come back into play?

Xavier was ranked in the AP top-25 most of the season and took down
an Atlantic-10 Conference that got three teams into the Big Dance
(Temple and St. Josephs) to the tune of a 14-2 conference record.
The Musketeers also beat Kansas State by 26 points (103-77), and took
Tennessee down to the wire in an 82-75 loss.

Xavier lost to St. Joes twice in the past 10 days, including in the
A-10 tourney semifinals, so they havent played as strong of late as
they did during an 11-game winning streak in January through early
March. The Musketeers are also a deep, senior-heavy team that will be
playing with a chip on the shoulders since no one on the team was
voted onto the A-10s first-team all conference list.

Its hard to glean any edge off of each teams ATS and over/under
records. Both were mediocre versus the number (Georgia 16-13 ATS,
Xavier 13-16 ATS), although the Bulldogs covered in all four SEC
tourney games while Xavier has struggled down the stretch (1-4 ATS
last 5 games).

Pick: Xavier will likely win this game, but we think that the Bulldogs will cover. X is the better team but Georgia is hot and you just can’t overlook that!

#7 West Virginia Mountaineers (24-6)
#10 Arizona Wildcats (19-14)
Line: W.Virginia -2 Total: 136

A lot of people think the NCAA selection committee took the wrong
team from Arizona (Arizona State beat the Arizona twice), so look for
the Wildcats to take the Us vs. the World mentality into this game.

They will need a lot of help too, as they struggled down the stretch
of the regular season (when they needed wins as a bubble team) losing
three out of the last four games. Then they lost by 11 points versus
Stanford in the PAC 10 tourney, a game many thought they needed to
win just to get in.

West Virginia had a nice run through the Big East tournament, beating
Providence (58-53) and upsetting Connecticut (78-72) before bowing
out versus top-seeded Georgetown (lost 72-55).

The Mountaineers have found a go-to player on offense in forward Joe
Alexander. Alexanders scoring (26.8 ppg in last 6 games) with a
prototypical Bob Huggins-type defense has proven to be a good one-two
combo for West Virginia lately. Alexander wore down in the Georgetown
game (only 12 points), and when he doesnt score the Mountaineers can

Arizona has already announced that legendary coach Lute Olson will be
returning next season, so Im not saying it gives the Wildcats a
built-in excuse for next year, but it gives them a built-in excuse
for a bad loss. If not for three wins versus the low end of the PAC
10 gene pool (Oregon St., Washington), the Wildcats would have been 0-
fer since February 14th. Thats not an accident.

Pick: Take the Wildcats plus the points.

#2 Duke Blue Devils (27-5)
#15 Belmont Bruins (25-8)
Line: Duke -19.5 Total: 154

The Belmont Bruins are in the tournament for the third straight time
and will be riding the wave of a 13-game winning streak when they
clash with the 2nd-seeded Duke Blue Devils on Thursday. By the looks
of things, the Bruins may want to get off the wave before it runs

One mismatch thats too hard to ignore is Dukes 84.1 points per game
average on offense versus Belmonts 279th-ranked scoring defense
(allow 73.5 ppg). Lets just say it could be a really long day for
Bruin fans. Their saving grace is they should be able to hang with
Duke on offense, as the Bruins do average 80.1 points per game and
arent afraid to chuck up a lot of shots (29 3-point attempts per game).

Belmont played six games all season with a betting line, going 4-2
ATS in those six. One of those covers was an 86-75 victory over
Cincinnati (as 8.5-point dogs) in the season opener back on Nov. 9th.
The Bruins are also a strong over play apparently, as the over cashed
in for five of the six games this season and is 7-1 in their last
eight games with a total.

Duke is on a rather dry spell for bettors (3-7-1 ATS in last 11 games
overall), but still finished in the money for the season (16-13-2
ATS). The under has hit in six of Dukes last seven games, but Duke
failed to hit 80 points (their season average) in four of those seven

Pick: Belmonts ability to score is why this spread is less than 20
points. I never really like betting on 1-vs-16 or 2-vs-15 games
because its usually too many points to give and not enough to take.
But I do like the over bet, as two 80-plus scoring teams light it up
from 3-point land. Take the over.

Friday, March 21st
St. Pete Times Forum
Tampa Bay, Fla.

#5 Drake Bulldogs (28-4)
#12 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (27-6)
Line: Drake -4.5 Total: 140.5

If I had told you before the season that the Drake-Western Kentucky
NCAA Tourney game could end up being thee best first-round game out
of them all, youd have called me a fraud. But thats exactly the
case in this 5-12 matchup.

Drake is a team loaded to the gills with 3-point shooters, and a
senior point guard (Adam Emmenecker) that knows how to drive-n-kick
to get them countless open looks. Western Kentucky counters with one
of the best unknown guards in the country in Courtney Lee (20.3
ppg) and a similar up-tempo style of offense that could make this
game a memorable one.

Theres no doubt that Drake has been the darling of the NCAA all
season. They were the darlings of the media for their mid-major
charm, picked-to-finish 9th and wound up with a 28-4 record story
line. The Bulldogs were the darlings of bettors by virtue of their
20-7-1 ATS record for the year.

Western Kentucky was also strong for bettors, with a 17-12 ATS
record, including a run of five straight covers before the big dance.

Pick: Drake is the story this season, but the 12-5 matchup is classic
for upsets and Western Kentucky has the potential to do it. Its hard
to tell which bet I like the best in this game: the over, Western
Kentucky plus the points, or the Hilltoppers on a moneyline wager.
Ill probably do all three.

#4 Connecticut Huskies (24-8)
#13 San Diego Toreros (21-13)
Line: Conn. -12 Total: 131.5

The NCAA selection committee put together a classic East Coast-vs.-
West Coast game with the Connecticut and San Diego first round game

San Diego won the West Coast Conference (WCC) automatic bid by
beating Gonzaga in the WCC tourney final. Connecticut lost early in
the Big East tourney, throwing a monkey wrench into the Huskies ideas
of a higher seed.

Connecticut had a 10-game winning streak and was probably thee
hottest team in January and February, so dont let their recent
stumbles (an 85-76 loss at Providence, 78-72 loss to West Virginia)
trick you. The Huskies could still be a very dangerous (and not
necessarily a popular) Final Four pick.

If Drake was the darling of college basketball bettors this season,
than San Diego was their hot tag-along girlfriend. The Toreros were
21-9 ATS this season, including nine of their last 10 and a stellar
13-3 ATS since January 1st. San Diego can struggle to score at times
when they are away from home (only 55 ppg on neutral floors), and the
naysayers will say that the only reason the Toreros are in the Big
Dance anyway was because the WCC Tourney was on their home floor. Go

Pick: San Diego is a better team then the Linesmaker is giving them credit for, so Im all over the Toreros in this game. Take the
Toreros plus the points as they push UConn to the limit before giving
away late. Take San Diego plus the points.