NCAA Tournament – East Region Preview and Picks

2008 NCAA Preview - East Region Previews and Picks
by Oracle of Predictem.com

The East Region has been regarded as one of the toughest regions,
according to the so-called bracketology experts around the country.
The East is led by North Carolina as the No. 1 overall seed of the
NCAA Tournament. They’ll be playing in their own backyard of Raleigh
in the first weekend of play. Tennessee and Louisville are the No. 2
and 3 seeds in the region. The Volunteers may have gotten snubbed here
by the committee, as they are considered the worst two-seed out of
every team since they’re in the same region as the No. 1 overall team.
The East also contains George Mason, a Cinderella story just two years
ago, as well as the Pac-10’s Washington State Cougars as a No. 4 seed.
The Fighting Irish look to avenge last year’s first round debacle, as
they’re pitted against the Patriots as a 5-seed. All in all it’ll be a
tough go for any of these 16 teams to get out alive and unscathed.

Friday, March 21st, TBD
RBC Center
Raleigh, NC

#1 North Carolina (32-2)
#16 TBA (0-0)
Line: —- Total: —-

The winner of Coppin State and Mount St. Mary’s will get the daunting
task of playing North Carolina as the No. 16 team at the RBC Center in
Raleigh on Friday. By now, it’s well-known that no No. 1 seed has ever
lost to a 16-seed.

The Tar Heels come into the contest as the No. 1 overall seed in the
tournament. On top of that, they have never lost a tournament game
when playing in their home state. UNC held off Clemson, 86-81, to
garner the ACC Tournament championship on Sunday.

Their only two losses on the year came in conference play against
Maryland and Duke, but they’re riding an impressive 11 game winning
streak heading into the tourney.

UNC point guard Ty Lawson has slowly but surely come back from an ankle sprain,
although head coach Roy Williams still doesn’t think Lawson is at full
strength. Nonetheless, Lawson got in some valuable playing time during
the ACC tourney that will help his confidence in the Big Dance.

Tar Heel big man Tyler Hansbrough has continued to be Mr. Consistent for his Tar Heel
squad. Hansbrough is second in the nation with 23.1 points per game,
while pulling down 10.5 rebounds. Players like Danny Green is what
makes this Tar Heel squad click, as he comes off the bench to score
nearly 12 points per game and grab 5 rebounds. Speaking of rebounds,
the Tar Heels are number one in the nation by averaging 10.8 more
rebounds per game than their opponents.

North Carolina has the seventh best record against the spread in the
country at 20-11. With a high scoring offense, the over/under is
19-11-1 as well. The Tar Heels have struggled lately covering the
spread for bettors, going just 1-5 overall in their last six games.

Either way bettors look at it, the Tar Heels will be big favorites
against either Coppin State or Mount St. Mary’s in the 1 vs. 16 match
up.

Friday, March 21st, 12:15 p.m. EST
BJCC Arena
Birmingham, Ala.

#2 Tennessee Volunteers (29-4)
#15 American University Eagles (21-11)
Line: Tennessee -20 Total: 141

The American University Eagles have finally made it to the NCAA
Tournament for the first time in school history after defeating
Colgate to win the Patriot League Tournament. And what do they have to
show for it? A match up against the No. 2 seed Tennessee Volunteers.

American is a guard-oriented team, led by two players in the backcourt
that are under 6-feet tall. One of those guards is Garrison Carr, who
averages 18.1 points per game. Derrick Mercer is the other, averaging
12.5 points and 4.1 assists per game. These two players lead a team
that is sixth in the nation in three-point shooting at 40.9%.

American plays a very slow style of basketball, something the
Volunteers aren’t really used to. Bruce Pearl has his team flying up
and down the court, pressing and fast breaking when they can.

The Volunteers squandered any shot at a No. 1 seed in the tournament
after a loss to Arkansas, 92-91, in the SEC semifinals. Tennessee had
the nations toughest regular season schedule, making them more
qualified than in years past in making a deep run into the tournament.

Last season, the Vols were bounced by Ohio State in the Sweet 16,
while the year before they were upset by Wichita State as a No. 2
seed.

No doubt senior Chris Lofton, who scores 16.1 points per game and can
shoot it from any logo on the floor, will make his presence known
against American since it’s the beginning of the end of his playing
days at UT. Emerging star Tyler Smith is just one of several key role
players on Pearl’s team that has the ability to go 8 or 9 deep in a
game.

Vegas, as well as other online sportsbooks, deemed American University
not worthy for bettors, as the only game a line was made on them was
their Patriot League Championship game against Colgate, where they
failed to cover.

Tennessee is 16-13 on the year ATS, however, they’re just 4-17-1 on
neutral ground against the spread when they come into the contest a
favorite.

American will try to slow this game down, as the over/under total is
at 141 and the spread favors the Vols -20.

Pearl and company know they need to take this tourney one game at a
time, but they’re anxious to show people why they were the No .1 team
in the country for a week earlier this year.

Pick: Tennessee is going to run American right out of the gym. Lay the wood and take the Vols!

Friday, March 21st, 9:40 p.m. EST
BJCC Arena
Birmingham, Ala.

#3 Louisville Cardinals (24-8)
#14 Boise State Broncos (25-8)
Line: Louisville -13 Total: 143.5

The Boise State Broncos have built a powerhouse over the past few
years that have raised a lot of eyebrows around the country……..in
football, that is.

The Broncos are infamous for their blue turf and for the Statue of
Liberty play they pulled off against Oklahoma two season ago to beat
the Sooners on the gridiron. Now they’re making they’re presence felt
on the hardwood.

Boise St. earned its first bid to the NCAA Tournament since 1994 by
beating New Mexico State in one of the most entertaining games of the
college basketball season, 107-102, in triple overtime during the WAC
Finals. They’ll now meet the No. 3 seed Louisville Cardinals in a
match up on Friday night at the BJCC Arena.

The Broncos can score with the best of them, averaging 82 points per
game - 8th in the country. They also shoot a blistering 50.2% from the
field, good enough for second best in the land. Pretty impressive
numbers considering they weren’t on many national radars this season.
Boise St. played Washington State in their third game of the season
and actually led the game after half time, but ended up on the wrong
side of the win/loss column in the end, 86-74.

The Cardinals come into the tournament struggling, at least to their standards.

Louisville has lost two straight games - albeit to the Big East
regular season champion Georgetown Hoyas the Big East Tournament
champion Pittsburgh Panthers.

They’ll try to counter the Broncos scoring attack with their full
court pressure defense. Louisville gives up just 61.3 points per game,
which is 25th in the country. They’re led by a plethora of players, as
they have eight guys who go at least 17 minutes per game. David
Padgett leads the way with 11.7 points per game and Terrance Williams
is right behind him at 11.2.

This will be the first ever meeting between these two squads. The line
has opened up at most online sports books with Louisville strong
favorites -13 with an over/under of 143.5 points.

Both teams have faired well for bettors, with Louisville going 17-12-1
against the spread and Boise State at 15-12. The over for BSU is
18-8-1, not surprising considering their stellar offense and porous
defense (75.4 points per game).

The Broncos don’t get fazed when they’re underdogs, though, posting an
8-1 mark ATS in the last nine games as dogs. They’re also 4-0 ATS when
they score at least 90 points in their previous game.

The Cardinals have been good covering the spread as of late, going 9-2
overall in their last 11 games. They weren’t successful covering the
spread against Pitt in the Big East Tournament loss, but they’re 4-0-1
ATS in their last five games when they don’t cover in the previous
contest.

The over is a strong trend for both teams. BSU doesn’t mind playing on
neutral sites, as the over is 8-1 in their last nine even ground
games. The over is also 7-1-1 in their last nine non-conference games.

Also, for Louisville, the over is 4-1 in their last five tournament games.

Boise State is no pushover No. 14 team, but Louisville has experience,
both with their players and coaching staff, in the NCAA Tournament.
The Broncos are looking for the same magic that made them infamous in
the football world, on the hardwood.

Pick: Take Boise State to cover the spread.

Friday, March 21st, 7:20 p.m. EST
Pepsi Center
Denver, Colo.

#4 Washington State Cougars (24-8)
#13 Winthrop Eagles (22-11)
Line: Washington St. -8.5 Total: 115

The Winthrop Eagles are no stranger to the NCAA Tournament, as this is
their eighth trip in the last 10 years. As a mid-major, Winthrop has a
Cinderella moment to hang on to from just last year with their
shocking defeat over Notre Dame bounced the Irish out of the field
during the first round of the tournament.

This time around, they’ll try to stop Washington St., who received an
at-large bid out of the Pac-10. These two teams pride themselves on
their defense, as they’re both in the top 9 in the country. Winthrop
allows just 58.3 points per game (9th) and the Cougars are an
impressive third in the country giving up just 57.1 points per game.

With these kind of numbers, it’s no surprise the over/under is set at
115 points. Meanwhile, The Cougars are a favorite to win this one
-8.5.

The Cougars lost to Stanford in the Pac-10 Tournament, but have
plenty of impressive wins on their resume, including wins at USC and
Gonzaga. However, as much as their defense has been solid, their
offense has been inconsistent. They score just 67.1 points per game –
216th in the country. Part of that problem has been injury issues to
Daven Harmeling, as well as Aron Baynes not producing like he has been
expected to down low.

Derrick Low has done his best to keep them afloat, though, scoring
14.1 points per game and playing some stellar defense.

Winthrop goes as Michael Jenkins goes. He leads the team with 14.3
points per game . The Eagles didn’t lose a conference game when
Jenkins scored at least 12 points, but were 7-9 no the season when he
scored fewer. Winthrop has another senior leader in Taj McCullough,
who scores 11.5 points and grabs 5.6 rebounds per game.

Vegas hasn’t open the books on Winthrop much this year, as they’re
only 3-2 ATS. The Cougars are one game above .500, too, at 16-15 ATS.
The over/under mark is exactly the same at 16-15 for WSU.

The Eagles have been tremendous to bettors, though, when playing on a
neutral site. They’re 10-2 ATS when playing on even ground over the
last 12 games and 7-2 when playing as an underdog.

The Cougars, meanwhile, are just 1-4 ATS during their last five
neutral site games. However, they are 5-2 ATS in their last seven
overall games as a favorite.

Winthrop will try to catch the Cougars sleeping and pull off their
second upset in as many years in the tournament.

Pick: The Eagles play well at neutral sites and Washington State
hasn’t been the dominant team they started the year as. Take the
Eagles plus the points!

Thursday, March 20th, 9:50 p.m. EST
Pepsi Center
Denver, Colo.

#5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (24-7)
#12 George Mason Patriots (23-10)
Line: Notre Dame -7 Total: 141.5

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish look to erase memories of an ill-fated
loss last season in the first round of the tournament when it faces an
upset-minded George Mason squad, who just two years ago made and
miraculous run to the Final Four.

The Fighting Irish didn’t get much help from the committee, as they’re
in the dreaded 5-12 match up. They’ll look to continue the pace of
last year’s tournament where it was the first time since 1988 that a
12-seed didn’t beat a 5-seed.

The Patriots, on the other hand, still have two starters and half
their roster from their magical run in 2006. This will bode well for
them, as experience won’t affect the CAA Tournament Champions.

Many bookies realize that this isn’t your normal 5-12 match
up, with both teams having tournament experience. The line opened up
favoring Notre Dame -7, but has slowly moved to -6.5 in favor of the
Irish. The over/under total also opened at 141.5.

This isn’t the same Notre Dame team that was upset by Winthrop last
season in the first round of the tourney, as they have Big East Player
of the Year Luke Harangody to balance their high-scoring offense.

Harangody averaged a double-double with 20.8 points and 10.2 rebounds
per game this season. Harangody had plenty of help with sharp-shooter
Kyle McAlarney providing a nice inside-outside punch. McAlarney shoots
45% from three-point land while averaging just over 15 points per
contest.

George Mason has the defense to defend McAlarney from the perimeter,
holding opponents to a microscopic 32.8% from beyond the arc. Will
Thomas will try to defend Harangody down low, which might be a problem
for the Patriots. But Thomas will be a handful for Harangody on the
offensive end, as he averages 15.7 points per game and shoots an
amazing 63.5% from the floor. If Thomas gets into foul trouble for the
patriots, it might be a long night for them.

Knowing they had a chance to make the tournament this season, the
Patriots loaded up on their non-conference schedule, beating the likes
of Kansas State, Dayton and South Carolina, and losing to Villanova.

George Mason hasn’t faired well for bettors this season, going just
12-15-3 ATS. Notre Dame isn’t much better at 14-14, but both squads
like the over, with Notre Dame at 18-10 and the Patriots at 17-12.

Seeing as how GMU made a Cinderella run two years ago, they’re 5-1 ATS
in their last six tournament games. However, lately they haven’t
covered when coming into a game the underdog, as they’re just 1-4 ATS
in their last five games as dogs of .5 to 6.5 points.

When the Irish are favorites of .5 to 6.5 in their last four games, they’re 4-0.

Both teams seem to score during Thursday games. The over is 4-0 for
both teams during their previous four Thursday contests.

George Mason has all the pieces together for another Cinderella run
through the tournament, but the Irish still have the bad taste in
their mouths from last year’s knockout punch by Winthrop. Something
has to give.

Pick: George Mason has the firepower to stay with Notre Dame and the
defense to at last contain them. They may not get their upset, but
it’ll go down to the final minutes. Take the Patriots plus the points!

Friday, March 21st, 7:10 p.m. EST
BJCC Arena
Birmingham, Ala.

No. 6 Oklahoma Sooners (22-11)
No. 11 St. Joseph’s Hawks (21-12)
Line: Oklahoma -2.5 Total: 126

The Oklahoma Sooners have flown under the radar all season long, and
before anyone knew it, they earned a No. 6 seed in the NCAA
Tournament. They’ll face a No. 11 seed St. Joe’s squad who, early on
in the year at least, looked to be a lock in the field of 65.

The Sooners come into the tournament banged up with stud freshman
Blake Griffin having some knee troubles late in the season, and Longar
Longar slowly coming back from a fractured fibula. Griffin seemed to
shrug off his injury, though, in Oklahoma’s 77-49 pounding it took
from Texas in the Big 12 Tournament, finishing with 20 points and 13
rebounds as the only bright spot for the Sooners.

Griffin, who doesn’t get as much pub as some of the other freshmen
around the country, is a big key for Oklahoma, averaging 15.9 points
on 56.5% shooting, along with grabbing 9.4 rebounds per game.

As a team, the Sooners rely heavily on their defense to stop their
opponents. Its offense is hit or miss, as they score just 68.4 points
per game and struggle shooting from the free throw line.

St. Joe’s, who has had winning streaks of five and six games this
season, is a guard-oriented team. They’re led by Pat Calathes and his
17.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Ahmad Nivins (14.4 points) and
Rob Ferguson (11.6) will have the duty of guarding Griffin in the
post.

The over/under total stands at 126 for this game, while Oklahoma
opened as favorite -2.5.

The Sooners have struggled covering the spread in the first round of
NCAA Tournament games, going just 3-9 ATS in their last 12. They were
also just 5-9 ATS when playing teams that went to this year’s
tournament throughout the season.

On the other hand, head coach Phil Martelli and his St. Joe’s team is
an impressive 9-2 ATS against non-conference foes this year and are
9-2 SU in NCAA openers.

The Hawks are also 14-3 ATS following a straight up loss.

The under is a heavy trend for both squads, as it is 4-0 in St. Joe’s
last four non-conference games. The under is also 7-0 in Oklahoma’s
last seven games.

St. Joe’s is hoping their tough non-conference schedule will help them
heading into the first round of the tourney against a physical
Oklahoma squad.

Pick: Oklahoma is banged up. Even though St. Joe’s hasn’t played as
well lately compared to the beginning of the year, they should outrun
the Sooners. Take St. Joe’s plus the points!

Friday, March 21st, 2:45 p.m. EST
BJCC Arena
Birmingham, Ala.

No. 7 Butler Bulldogs (29-3)
No. 10 South Alabama Jaguars (26-6)
Line: Butler -4.5 Total: 125.5

When South Alabama lost to Middle Tennessee State in the Sun Belt
Tournament, they put themselves right on the cusp of the bubble. But
when the selection committee gave the Jaguars a No. 10 seed, it seemed
as though they were a lock all along to make the tournament.

That’s because South Alabama is 26-6 overall on the season and have
beaten a couple of quality teams in non-conference play such as
Mississippi State, 71-67, and another tournament team in San Diego.
The Jags also almost pulled off a monstrous upset at Memorial
Gymnasium taking Vanderbilt, who is nearly unbeatable at home, into
overtime before falling 91-88.

This resume has helped South Alabama make the tournament. Herein lies
the problem, though. They have to face a Butler Bulldogs team that is
experienced to the core in a mid-major battle on Friday at BJCC Arena
in Birmingham.

The Bulldogs continued their Horizon League dominance by winning the
conference tournament. Butler, much like Gonzaga, really can’t be
considered a Cinderella story anymore with their experience in the
tourney. They went to the Sweet 16 just a year ago and have gone to
the Big Dance 7 of the last 11 years. They also have many players back
from last year’s team, including heady seniors A.J. Graves and Mike
Green.

Green leads the team in points (14.9), rebounds (5.1) and assists
(6.6). Meanwhile, Graves is the floor general for the Bulldogs and
plays some nasty defense, leading the team with 1.4 steals per game.

Graves heads a Butler team that gives up just 57.8 points per game –
fifth in the country.

Butler comes into this contest as -4.5-point favorites, while the
over/under is at 125.5 points.

South Alabama is 17-9 ATS on the year, which is 10th best in the
country, while Butler is 16-13-2. The Jags are used to being
underdogs, but they don’t mind, covering the spread in 9 of their last
10 games as a dog.

The Bulldogs have had recent success in the tournament, hence their
5-1 record ATS in their last six tourney games. With Butler’s stellar
defense, the under has come in during their last four NCAA Tournament
games.

The under is 4-1 for South Alabama in their last five games as dogs of
.5 to 6.5 points.

A mid-major match up will be in full force in Birmingham. At least the
mid-major backers can say they had at least one team make it to the
weekend.

Pick: South Alabama isn’t getting any respect. Take them plus the oints to cover and possibly beat Butler straight up!

Friday, March 21st, 9:40 p.m. EST
RBC Center
Raleigh, NC

#8 Indiana Hoosiers (25-7)
#9 Arkansas Razorbacks (22-11)
Line: Indiana -1.5 Total: 141

The reality is that there isn’t much difference between the No. 8 and
No. 9 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Such is the case when looking at
the match up between Indiana and Arkansas on Friday night at the RBC
Center in Raleigh.

The Hoosiers haven’t responded well after the firing of Kelvin
Sampson, as they’re just 3-3 under interim coach Dan Dakich. They’ve
lost three out of their last four games, including dreadful losses to
the woeful Penn State Nitanny Lions and Minnesota Golden Gophers,
albeit on a last second shot.

Meanwhile, Arkansas is on the hate list of every bubble team in
America, as they blew a shot at winning the SEC Tournament losing to
Georgia. The Razorbacks, who return all five starters from last year,
started the year 8-1, and they have a couple of impressive wins on the
year, including two against Vanderbilt, one against Tennessee and one
against Mississippi State.

D.J. White and Eric Gordon have still done their jobs despite the
team’s recent woes. White scored 23 points and grabbed 13 boards, and
Gordon scored 16 points in their loss to Minnesota in the Big Ten
Tournament.

The line for this contest directly relates to the seeding of these
teams, as the Hoosiers are favorites -1.5. The over/under is at 141,
with both teams score in the mid-70’s on a consistent basis.

The Big Ten has had the upper hand against the SEC in recent
tournament games going 11-5 SU and ATS. But Indiana is just 1-5 ATS
under Dakich and 3-3 SU.

The Razorbacks have struggled all year long covering the spread with
an 11-16-2 record. They’re also just 2-5-1 ATS in their last eight
overall games.

The under is 7-0 in Indiana’s last seven games on neutral ground and
4-0 in their last four games against the SEC.

If Dakich wants any shot at getting rid of his interim label, this is
the time of year to do so by making a run in the tournament.

Pick: Indiana is free falling and Arkansas returns five starters from
a season ago. Look for Arkansas to win this game straight up!