Pittsburgh Panthers vs. Xavier Musketeers Preview and Pick – Sweet 16

Pittsburgh Panthers (30-4) -7, 139 O/U vs. Xavier Musketeers (27-7)
+7, 139 O/U, TD Banknorth Garden, Boston, Mass., Thursday, March 26,
East Region Sweet 16, 7:27 PM EST, CBS

by Badger of Predictem.com

There will be plenty of story lines to keep track of leading up to
Thursdays tip off of the East Regions opening game of the Sweet 16
at TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, as the No. 1-seeded Pittsburgh
Panthers and the No. 4-seeded Xavier Musketeers have a lot more in
common than just hard, physical play.

To start, Xavier head coach Sean Miller will be coaching against his alma mater for the first time in his young coaching career. Miller was a point guard for the Panthers in the early 1980s, so he knows a
thing or two about tough, physical, Big East Conference basketball.
Its been his ability to get his players at Xavier to play with that
same style that has made Miller one of the hottest young coaches in
all of the NCAA.

For Pittsburgh fans the main story line going into Thursdays game will be whether or not this is the year the Panthers finally break
through into the Elite 8 and beyond. The Panthers have had a lot of
good teams during head coach Jamie Dixons tenure at Pitt, but
theyve never translated that success to the tourney. Last year as a
4-seed the Panthers were bounced one round earlier by Michigan State.
In 2007, they made the Sweet 16 only to lose to UCLA in the
semifinals. In 2006 they were bounced by Bradley before the Sweet 16,
so there is definite pressure on Dixon and this years team to take
it one step further, at least.

Plus, there are plenty of other story lines can Pitt power forward DeJuan Blair stay out of foul trouble? Can Xavier match the power of
Pitts interior of Blair and Sam Young? Will Xavier try and play
transition basketball to eliminate the effectiveness of the Blair-
Young combo inside? Will Pitt finally live up to their expectations
and cover a spread in the tournament?

Bookies Online and in Las Vegas opened the game with Pittsburgh as a rather large 7-point favorite, considering they have yet to cover a number in either of the first two round of the tourney. That number has held firm through early betting at the
window too.

The over/under total opened at 139 and has also held firm for the most
part, although there are a few offshore sportsbooks that have moved the
total up or down a half-point to either 138.5 or 139.5. Shop around if you
think that half point will make or break your over/under bet.

Pittsburgh spent three weeks as the top-ranked team in the country
based on their strong offense that averaged 78 points per game (25th
in NCAA). The Panthers are a half-court, inside-out team led by Blair
and Young in the post. Blair is a beast inside who has had 19 double-
doubles during the season to go along with his 15.9 points and 12.3
rebounds per game averages. Young is just as talented, with an
outside jumper to boot. Youngs 32 points on 12-of-20 shooting is
what kept the Panthers alive in the Oklahoma State game last Sunday.

Defensively the Panthers have a plethora of long, athletic guards led
by Jermaine Dixon and Tyrell Biggs that are hard to beat off the
dribble. As a team, the Panthers hold opponents to 64.3 points per game.

Xavier features a guard-led offense with lots of interchangeable
parts and pieces, with each piece capable of stepping up when needed.
B.J Raymond (14.1 ppg), Derrek Brown (13.7) and C.J. Anderson (10.0)
all average double figures for a team that scores 72.1 points per
game. They also shoot very well from beyond the three-point arc, as
they ended the regular season at 40.1 percent from three-land, the
10th best mark in the country.

Defense is where Xavier separates themselves from the pack, as they
allow just 61.9 points per game to the opposition. More importantly,
they do an excellent job of closing out to the shot, as they allow
just 38.8 percent from three-point range for the 11th best tally in
the NCAA.

The one aspect of the game that both teams struggle with is free
throw shooting. This game could get ugly at the end if it turns into
a nail-biter, as Pittsburghs 67.5 percent free throw average is only
slightly higher than Xaviers 67.4 percent mark.

These two havent met on the hardwood since the 1998 season, a game
Pitt won 94-76 as 7-point favorites.

Pittsburgh is 16-11-1 ATS on the season and 5-5 ATS in their last 10
games, however, Pitt hasnt covered a spread in a game since the
regular season ended (opening loss to W. Virginia in Big East
tourney, first two games of NCAA tourney). Xavier ended 18-12-2 ATS
for the year, is 7-3 ATS in their last 10 and has covered both games
in the NCAA tourney. They also have straight up wins and against-the-
spread covers against Missouri and Memphis, two teams that also made
it into the Sweet 16, so they are by no means overmatched.

A few other betting trends of note: the over is 7-2 in Xaviers last
9 NCAA tourney games, while its 7-3 in Pitts last 10 tourney games.
However, the two unders for Xavier have been this year, while one of
the three unders for Pitt was their opening round game versus East
Tennessee State.

Badgers Pick: Pittsburgh is due for a blowout, since they havent done it yet in the tourney. But not against the Musketeers, their
defense just wont allow that to happen. I think the best bet in this
game is the under of 139.5, but I also like Xavier plus the points.
Take Xavier plus 7-points.