(3) Louisville Cardinals (26-8), -2.5, o/u 146 vs. (2) Tennessee Volunteers
(31-4), +2.5, o/u 146, Charlotte Babcats Arena, Charlotte, North Carolina,
9:57 p.m. Eastern, Thursday
by Oracle of Predictem.com
Although the chalk has come out on top in the East Region, something smells funny.
When looking a little deeper, that stench becomes grotesquely stronger, as No. 3 Louisville is a 2.5-point favorite against the No. 2 seed Tennessee Volunteers.
How can this be? Well, take into account the fact the Tennessee struggled against American University yes, American in the first round of the tournament, and needed overtime to put away Butler in Round 2.
Meanwhile, Louisville has absolutely dominated its tourney opponents, winning by an average margin of 24 points against Boise State and Oklahoma. Add into the mix head coach Rick Pitino and his Tournament resume, along with the recent news that the Vols’ leading scorer Chris Lofton is in a walking boot, it’s not even close to a surprise that Louisville is the favorite heading into Thursday night’s contest in North Carolina.
The Vols were once the No. 1 ranked team in the nation, but a loss to Vanderbilt knocked them off their pedestal, and a loss to Arkansas in the SEC Tournament hampered their chances of a No. 1 seed in the tournament.
Bruce Pearl tried to throw a curveball in the second round by putting J.P. Prince in the starting lineup against Butler for Jordan Howell. The move paid off well, as Prince went 4-of-5 from the field, scoring nine points, grabbing seven rebounds and dishing out five assists in 31 minutes.
Lofton, who averages 15.5 points per game, is expected to play on Thursday against Louisville, but he was said to have tweaked his ankle in the first half against Butler. It affected his performance, as he went just 3-of-11 from the field.
Pearl has to be worried about his team’s turnover woes in the tourney, averaging 17 per game, including 20 alone against Butler.
Louisville will be playing a full-court pressure defense, so Tennessee will have to take care of the ball.
That won’t be easy, though, as the Cardinals possess one of the best defenses in the country. They hold opponents to 60.9 points per game (19th in the country) and 38.4% from the field (6th).
Louisville also has the advantage of rested starters. Terrance Williams was the only starter to play over 30 minutes in their 30-point blowout of Oklahoma in the second round. Their bench scored 37 points in that contest.
In two blowouts, Louisville has covered spreads of -14 and -7 in the first couple of rounds. They pushed the over/under total of 126 against Oklahoma and was under in their 79-61 win against Boise State.
The over/under for this contest is at 146, mainly because of both teams’ potent offense.
Tennessee failed to cover against American and beat the -4.5 spread against Butler in their 76-71 overtime win. The overtime also helped the total of 140 go over the mark.
The Vols haven’t faired well against the spread when playing Big East teams lately. They’re just 1-5 in their last six contests.
The Cardinals don’t mind being the favorite in an NCAA Tournament game, going 5-0-1 ATS as a favorite. The trends don’t stop there, as they’re 9-1 in their last 10 games following a straight up win.
Although these two teams can score with the best of them, the under has been a recent trend for both squads. The under is 5-0 in Tennessee’s last five games against the Big East. The under is also 4-0 after Louisville wins a game by more than 20 points.
Bettors have sided with the 3-seed Cardinals as the favorite. Will the chalk hold up in the East?
Oracle’s Pick: The lack of a go-to guy could be worrisome for Louisville in this game. I see Tennessee playing one of their best games of the year. Take The Vols plus the points!