Wednesday's First Four
March 14, 2018
By Brian Edwards
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**Texas Southern vs. North Carolina Central**
-- As of early this morning, most betting shops had Texas Southern (15-19 straight up, 6-1 against the spread) installed as a 5.5-point favorite with a total of 146.5. The Eagles were +200 on the money line (risk $100 to win $200).
-- Texas Southern won the SWAC Tournament behind the play of MVP Demontrae Jefferson, a 5’7” sophomore guard who scored at least 15 points in 24 of the 25 games he played this season. He missed nine games due to an early-season suspension and the passing of his father. Jefferson led the Tigers to their seventh straight win in the SWAC Tournament finals, an 84-69 triumph over Arkansas Pine Bluff as six-point favorites. The 153 combined points went ‘over’ the 143-point total. Jefferson made all 11 of his free throws, finishing with 15 points, seven assists and six rebounds. Trayvon Reed, a seven-foot, two-inch center, hit all seven of his field-goal attempts on his way to producing 17 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots. Donte Clark, a transfer from UMass, contributed 14 points and six assists, while Derrick Bruce added 13 points, six assists and four boards. Bruce drained 4-of-7 launches from 3-point land.
-- Texas Southern is coached by Mike Davis, who played at Alabama under both C.M. Newton and Wimp Sanderson from 1979-83. He returned to his alma mater and served as an assistant under Sanderson’s replacement, David Hobbs, from 1995-97 before taking an assistant job under Bobby Knight at Indiana in 1997. Much to Knight’s dismay when he was dismissed in 2000, Davis took over as IU’s interim head coach. Davis coached the Hoosiers for six seasons, taking them to the 2002 NCAA Tournament finals before losing to Maryland. His first three years at IU resulted in three NCAA Tournament trips, where the Hoosiers posted a 6-3 record. After missing the postseason in 2004, Davis took Indiana to the NIT in 2005 and the Round of 32 in the 2006 NCAA Tournament. But he was fired after the ’06 team was eliminated from the Tournament with a 19-12 record. He quickly landed the UAB head-coaching gig, guiding the Blazers to three straight NIT appearances from 2008-10. Then in 2011, Davis helped UAB to a 22-9 record and a First Four appearance, but the Blazers lost in Dayton. Following a 15-16 mark in ’12, Davis was handed another pink slip.
-- Davis, who is now 57 years of age, has led the Tigers to a fifth consecutive postseason appearance and their fourth NCAA Tournament in five seasons. His 2014 team lost 81-69 to Cal Poly in the First Four, so he’s 0-2 in his career in a pair of First Four games, and the Tigers are still looking for their first NCAA Tournament win in the program’s history.
-- Texas Southern didn’t win its first game until New Year’s Day in its conference opener. That’s because Davis boldly scheduled the nation’s toughest non-conference slate, according to KenPom.com. Check out this murderer’s row of games to start the season: at Gonzaga, at Washington State, at Ohio State, at Syracuse, at Kansas, at Clemson, at Oakland, at Toledo, at Oregon, at Baylor, at Wyoming, at TCU and at BYU. The Tigers were competitive in Pullman before dropping an 86-84 decision to Washington State in overtime. They covered as 20-point underdogs in an 82-64 loss at Ohio State and lost by just seven at Clemson. Davis’s bunch lost 71-69 at Toledo and covered the number again as a 20-point ‘dog in a 74-68 loss at Oregon. Texas Southern hung tough with Wyoming as well before falling 72-66.
-- Texas Southern is 15-6 since that brutal stretch of 13 straight road games, going 4-0 ATS in a quartet of spots as a favorite.
-- Clark (18.6 points per game, 5.3 RPG) has scored at an 18.6 PPG clip in the Tigers’ past five games and has a team-high 38 steals. Reed (9.7 PPG) is the SWAC’s second-leading rebounder (8.8 RPG) and paces the conference in blocked shots with 3.0 per game. Jefferson is averaging team-bests in scoring (23.4 PPG) and assists (4.5 APG), while Bruce (13.9 PPG, 3.8 RPG) is burying 40.3 percent of his treys and 83.3 percent of his free throws.
-- Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, Texas Southern is the first team to make to make the field after losing its first 13 games.
-- North Carolina Central (19-15 SU, 5-1 ATS) has won five games in a row and has covered in its last five lined contests. The Eagles defeated regular-season MEAC Champion Hampton by a 71-63 count as four-point underdogs in the conference tournament finals. Pablo Rivas led the winners with 22 points and five rebounds. Jordan Perkins added 13 points and nine assists.
-- North Carolina Central’s best player is Kent State transfer Raasean Davis, who averages team-highs in scoring (15.0 points per game) and rebounding (8.0 RPG). The All-MEAC second-team selection is fourth in the league in rebounding and tops in field-goal percentage (66.7%). Before being held to seven points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots in the MEAC finals, Davis had a pair of double-doubles. First, he scored 16 points and snagged 20 rebounds in a 58-56 victory over Savannah State, before producing 22 points and 11 boards in a 79-70 triumph over Morgan State.
-- Rivas averages 11.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per game and has a team-high 35 blocked shots. Reginald Gardner (11.1 PPG) is also scoring in double figures, while Perkins (8.4 PPG) has a 184/92 assist-to-turnover ratio and knocks down 40.4 percent of his 3-pointers.
-- North Carolina Central has won outright in both of its underdog spots vs. Savannah State (+1) and Hampton (+4) at the MEAC Tourney.
-- Totals have been an overall wash (3-3) for the Eagles, who have seen the ‘under’ go 3-1 in their past four games.
-- After cashing in all three of its SWAC Tournament games, the ‘over’ improve to 4-3 overall for the Tigers.
-- The winner advances to Nashville to face the South Region’s No. 1 seed, Xavier, on Friday.
-- Tip-off is scheduled for 6:40 p.m. tonight from Dayton on TruTV.
**Arizona State vs. Syracuse**
-- As of early this morning, most books had Arizona State (20-11 SU, 14-15 ATS) listed as a 1.5-point favorite with a total of 143.5.
-- Arizona State stormed out of the gates in November and December with a sensational start, compiling a 12-0 SU record and a 10-2 ATS mark. During this time, ASU beat San Diego State, an 11-seed that’s currently won nine games in a row, by 22 points at home in Tempe. The Sun Devils also beat a pair of NCAA Tournament teams in ninth-seeded Kansas State and top-seed Xavier in a tournament at The Orleans in Las Vegas over the Thanksgiving holidays. After beating St. John’s at Staples Center in Los Angeles by 12 points on Dec. 8, Bobby Hurley’s team went to Phog Allen Fieldhouse two days later as a 12-point underdog and beat another No. 1 seed, Kansas, by a 95-85 score.
-- ASU’s hot start would be to its benefit and the wins over Xavier and KU were undoubtedly the deciding factors in snatching one of the last four at-large bids. The Sun Devils are 8-11 SU and 4-13-2 ATS since the sizzling-hot start in non-conference action. Hurley’s squad is 1-5 both SU and ATS in its past six games, including a 97-85 loss to Colorado in the opening round of the Pac-12 Tournament. Remy Marting had 20 points and four assists without a turnover in the losing effort against the Buffaloes, who enjoyed a 39-25 rebounding edge over ASU. Tra Holder, Shannon Evans II and Kodi Justice each had 14 points vs. Colorado.
-- ASU has lost outright in four consecutive games as a single-digit ‘chalk.’ In its past 14 games when favored by a single-digit number, Hurley’s bunch is a deplorable 3-10-1 ATS with nine outright defeats. For the season, the Sun Devils are 5-10-1 ATS with nine outright L’s as single-digit favorites.
-- Arizona State has played only seven games against schools that are in the NCAA field, winning five of those seven games with both defeats coming against in-state rival Arizona.
-- The Sun Devils are led by Holder, the senior guard who averages 18.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.3 steals per game. Holder has hit 37.4 percent of his launches from 3-point land and 84.1 percent of his FT attempts. Evans, who transferred from Buffalo when Hurley left the MAC school for Tempe, is ASU’s second-leading scorer (16.6 PPG) and leads the team in assists (3.5 APG) and steals (1.4 SPG) while burying 37.3 percent of his 3-balls and 85.3 percent of his FTs. Justice (12.6) and Romello White (10.7 PPG, 7.2 RPG) also average double figures in scoring.
-- Syracuse (20-13 SU, 14-17 ATS) struggles to score, ranking No. 309 in the country with its meager 67.5 PPG average. The Orange don’t shoot it well, either, making only 41.8 percent of its FGAs and 32.1 percent of its 3-pointers.
-- Syracuse has been an underdog 12 times this season, compiling a 5-7 spread record with three outright victories.
-- From mid-to-late February, Syracuse lost four of five games and appeared to be on the wrong side of the bubble. The Orange put itself back in the mix with a 55-52 win over Clemson in its regular-season finale at the Carrier Dome. Then in the opening round of the ACC Tournament, the ‘Cuse captured a 73-64 win over Wake Forest as a four-point ‘chalk.’ Marek Dolezaj made 6-of-7 FGAs and scored 20 points to go with four rebounds and a pair of blocked shots in the win over the Demon Deacons. Tyus Battled added 18 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals.
-- However, the ‘Cuse went down in the ACC Tourney quarterfinals when North Carolina rolled to an easy 78-59 victory as a 7.5-point favorite. Oshae Brissett had 20 points and 10 rebounds in defeat.
-- Jim Boeheim has never been timid about using a short rotation and this team is another example of that. Battle (19.8 PPG), Frank Howard (15.0 PPG) and Brissett (14.7 PPG) rank first, second and sixth in the nation, respectively, in minutes per game and produce 73.3 percent of the team’s scoring.
-- Boeheim’s squad is No. 54 at KenPom.com and No. 39 in the RPI Rankings. The ‘Cuse is 2-7 vs. the RPI Top 25, 4-7 against the Top 50 and 8-11 versus the Top 100. The Orange have home wins over Buffalo, Clemson, Maryland, Va. Tech, Boston College and Toledo, in addition to road wins at Miami and at Louisville. In other words, they’ve lost nine of 13 games against teams in the NCAA field.
-- Hurley’s team is No. 45 at KenPom.com and No. 61 in the RPI. ASU went 2-2 vs. the RPI Top 25, 4-2 against the Top 50 and 9-10 versus the Top 100.
-- The Orange are ranked 15th in the nation in scoring defense (64.5 PPG) and eighth in FG percentage ‘D’ (39.6%).
-- The ‘under’ is 17-14 overall for the ‘Cuse.
-- The ‘over’ is 15-14-2 for the Sun Devils after cashing in back-to-back games and three of their past four.
-- These schools met in the 2009 NCAA Tournament in a South Region game in the Round of 32 at American Airlines Arena in Miami. The mercurial Eric Devendorf banged home five 3-balls en route to scoring a team-best 21 points, while one of my favorite long-range shooters in college basketball history (Andy Rautins) drained a trio of 3’s on his way to finishing with 17 points, five assists and four rebounds. The Orange won a 78-67 decision as a 2.5-point favorite.
-- The winner advances to play sixth-seeded TCU in Detroit on Friday.
-- TruTV will provide the telecast 30 minutes after the conclusion of Texas Southern vs. NC Central.
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
-- St. Bonaventure rallied past UCLA at the First Four in Dayton last night to advance to meet sixth-seeded Florida late Thursday night in Dallas. The Bonnies trailed by five at the under-8 television timeout, but they outscored the Bruins 19-7 the rest of the way to collect a 65-58 win as 2.5-point underdogs. Courtney Stockard, who had injured his hamstring in the A-10 Tournament quarterfinals and missed Saturday’s semifinal loss to Davidson, was listed as ‘questionable’ all the way up until game time. But it was Stockard who stole the show last night with 26 points, four steals and four rebounds. Jaylen Adams had a horrific night, going 2-of-16 from the field, but he hit a go-ahead jumper at crunch time to put his team in front to stay. Matt Mobley added 14 points, seven rebounds, and three assists for the winners.
-- LSU is a four-point home favorite tonight vs. Louisiana. The Tigers are 13-4 SU and 10-4 ATS at home, while the Ragin’ Cajuns are 10-3 SU and 8-4 ATS on the road. These in-state adversaries haven’t met since 2009. From 2001-09, LSU won five in a row in this rivalry, going 3-2 ATS, but Louisiana took the cash in the two most recent encounters.
-- Mississippi State’s second-leading scorer is freshman guard Nick Weatherspoon, but he’s listed as ‘doubtful’ for tonight’s first-round NIT home game vs. Nebraska due to a hip injury sustained at the SEC Tournament in St. Louis. Weatherspoon averages 11.1 PPG and has a 67/33 assist-to-turnover ratio. The Bulldogs are 18-2 SU and 8-7 ATS at The Hump in Starkville, while the Cornhuskers are 4-7 SU but 8-3 ATS in 11 true road assignments. As of early this morning, most spots had Ben Howland’s team listed as a four-point home favorite. Remember, Tim Miles’s squad has an incredible 18-3 spread record in 21 games played since Dec. 5!
-- Nebraska won eight its last nine regular-season games and went 13-5 in the Big Ten. Nevertheless, the Cornhuskers were made a fifth seed in the NIT. This left Miles unhappy. He told the Associated Press on Monday, “I really do feel like we got slapped in the face. It is what it is. We can still do something about it. That’s the good news.” The Bulldogs and Cornhuskers will collide at 9:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2.
-- Harvard is a 12-point underdog tonight at Marquette. Tommy Amaker’s team is already without Bryce Aiken, who averaged 14.1 PPG before going down with a season-ending injury. Now the Crimson could be without leading scorer Seth Towns tonight. Towns (15.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG) is ‘questionable’ tonight due to a knee injury. This game will tip at 7:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2.
-- Alabama’s Donta Hall remains day-to-day (concussion) and a question mark for Thursday’s first-round game against Va. Tech. Hall, who was selected to the SEC’s All-Defensive Team, paces the Crimson Tide in FG percentage (72.1%), blocked shots (2.1 BPG), rebounding (6.8 RPG) and dunks (69).
-- Listening to Seth Davis of CBS Sports is relentless torture!
Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards.
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