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Steve Merril’s College Fullcourt Report (Mar.23)
When the season began four months ago and the field was now whittled down to sixteen teams, 326 teams were competing for the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship. Take a look at all four games from Thursday night below.
LSU vs. DUKE (-6, 147 ½) – 7:10 PM ET (Atlanta, GA)
Interesting matchup as LSU holds the edge of the field while Duke holds the advantage in the backfield. The line dropped a bit in this game, and my overall power rating gives Duke a five-point advantage on a neutral court.
LSU led the SEC with a +7.4 win margin in conference games, while Duke led the ACC with a +9.6 conference win average. The power of the two conferences is pretty much dead based on my power rankings tonight, so regular interconference season stats are important when breaking down this game.
LSU has one of the most potent frontcourts in the country, featuring four of their top five scorers. Star freshman forward Tyrus Thomas is still not playing at full strength, and he has logged just 19 ½ minutes in the team’s two tournament games. Thomas leads the team in blocks (3.1 rpg) and is second in rebounding (9.3 rpg) and fourth in scoring (12.7 rpg).
Duke relies more on their outside scoring as they attempt 35 percent of their shots from three-point range, compared to an LSU team that attempts just 22 percent from long range. Duke is averaging 39.4 percent from beyond the arc this year (compared to opponents allowing just 34.6 percent), and the Blue Devils should be successful against LSU’s average perimeter defense, which has been held to 37 this season. 9 percent allowed.
Bradley vs. MEMPHIS (-6, 142) – 7:25 PM ET (Oakland, CA)
Memphis dominated a weak Conference USA this season, winning by an average of +16.1 points per game, while Bradley was the most dominant team in their conference, winning Missouri Valley games by an average of +7.4 points. .
The teams are a bit closer in talent than in point margin, as my power rankings show the Missouri Valley Conference an average of eight points stronger than Conference USA this season. In total, my five sets of power rankings tonight have combined for Memphis by 5 ½ points on a neutral field.
Both teams are in negative technical situations, as Bradley is coming off a win following SU’s win, while Memphis is in a negative situation, playing against top-seeded tournament teams, covering points in back-to-back games.
Both teams have strong offenses as Memphis averages 81.0 points per game (against opponents who average just 66.8 ppg) while Bradley averages 71.7 points per game (against opponents , who allowed just 64.3 ppg overall).
While each offense is strong, the defense is the same as Memphis is allowing just 38.2% from the field (against a team average of 44.2%) and Bradley is allowing just 40.1% shooting (against opponents , which averages 43.5% of the floor).
West Virginia vs. Texas (-5, 131 ½) – 9:40 p.m. ET (Atlanta, GA)
It’s a rematch from earlier this season on Nov. 21 in Kansas City, where Texas overcame a ten-point second half deficit to win 76-75 as a 6-point favorite in the Guardians Classic semifinals. Texas scored the game-winning basket with just 3.6 seconds left and then blocked West Virginia’s final shot to preserve the victory.
The game easily went to 141 all out as both the attacks were hot from the field. Texas outshot West Virginia 54-48 percent and was outshot from beyond the arc 44-39 percent. The reason the game was so close was because West Virginia had a 12-5 free throw attempt edge and a huge 24-11 turnover advantage.
My overall power ratings favor Texas tonight by 7 ½ points, but West Virginia is a very dangerous postseason team because the Mountaineers make half of their shots from three-point range, and when they’re hot, the Mountaineers can beat anyone. . That was last year when West Virginia made a surprise trip to the Elite Eight, and overall the Mountaineers have gone a perfect 6-0 ATS in the NCAA Tournament under coach John Beilein the past two years.
GONZAGA vs. UCLA (-3, 138) – 9:55 PM ET (Oakland, CA)
That line quickly jumped from -3 to -4 ½ when it was announced that Gonzaga All-American forward Adam Morrison (28.2 ppg) was battling the flu. The concern was that it would take longer than usual for him to recover due to his diabetes. After Morrison practiced on Wednesday and it looks like he’ll be ready to play tonight, the points have since bounced back.
UCLA is also dealing with a key injury as Jordan Farmar recovers from a hand injury suffered in Saturday night’s game against Alabama. Farmer is expected to play tonight, and he leads the Bruins in assists (5.2 apg) and is second in scoring (13.6 ppg).
Gonzaga relies on its inside scoring as the Bulldogs take more than 73 percent of their shots from inside the arc and only 27 percent of their offensive attempts come from three-point range. UCLA, meanwhile, relies more on the outside shot, as the Bruins hit nearly 35 percent of their shots from beyond the arc.
The key to this game will be which team can force the tempo and dictate their style of play, as Gonzaga is more comfortable with an up-tempo pace while UCLA prefers slow defensive battles down the field.
Steve Merrill is a professional sports handicapper and a charter member of the Professional Handicap League. Get his Premium Plays here.
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