West Regional Final
March 23, 2018
By Brian Edwards
Editor's note: Brian Edwards cashed his guaranteed selection for Thursday easily by backing Michigan in its run-away-and-hide win over Texas A&M. Brian’s guaranteed plays are on a 47-35 run (57.3%, +9.7 Units!) since Dec. 8, so don't miss out on tonight's pay-if-it-wins-only selection!
When I was on the “Out of Bounds Show” with Qualk and Kelly on a 105.5 The Roar in Clemson on Wednesday afternoon, they asked me how I felt about Michigan, the team I picked to win it all. I said, “Michigan played terrible last weekend and yet still advanced. It got through the first weekend without playing well and still has a pulse. That’s a great thing and I expect them to play lights out moving forward.”
Of course, John Beilein’s team will need to play lights out three more times to cut the nets down in San Antonio. But if Thursday’s run-away-and-hide beatdown of Texas A&M was any indicator, Michigan’s chances to get to San Antonio and thrive are looking good.
The Aggies were fresh off dealing out a pimpslap of their own the previous Sunday, when they destroyed North Carolina 86-65 as seven-point underdogs in the Round of 32. But Billy Kennedy’s bunch was on the receiving end Thursday at Staples Center in Los Angeles, where the Wolverines rolled out to a 52-28 halftime lead and coasted to a 99-72 triumph.
Michigan (31-7 straight-up, 24-12-1 against the spread)easily covered the way-too-short 2.5-point number. The 171 combined points dropped ‘under’ the 136-point total.
Muhammad-Ali-Abdur-Rahkman led the way with 24 points, five rebounds, one steal and seven assists compared to just one turnover. Mo Wagner added 21 points, three boards and two steals while shooting making 8-of-12 FGAs, all three of his launches from downtown and both of his FTAs. Charles Matthews had 18 points and five boards, draining 8-of-11 FGAs. Zavier Simpson contributed 11 points, six steals, five assists and four rebounds. Duncan Robinson was also in double figures with 10 points, as he buried 2-of-3 launches from 3-point land.
Before blasting Texas A&M, Michigan had to overcome an early 10-0 deficit to Montana, the winner of the Big Sky’s regular-season title and Tournament championship. The Wolverines would shake that poor start off and lead by three at halftime. Then they outscored the Grizzlies 30-19 in the final 20 minutes to pull away for a 61-47 victory as 10-point favorites. The 108 combined points dipped ‘under’ the 134-point total.
Matthews stole the show with 20 points and 11 rebounds, while Abdur-Rahkman added 11 points, five boards, two assists and two steals.
Waiting for Beilein’s bunch in the Round of 32 was Houston, which closed last Saturday night as a 3.5-point underdog. Neither team would build a lead of more than six points in this back-and-forth affair. The Cougars seemed to be in control late in the final minute but Devin Davis, who had made his first eight free throws of the game, missed three of his last four. The final miss came with UH holding a two-point lead and gave Michigan one last chance.
The Wolverines advanced the ball into the front court and passed to freshman Jordan Poole, who only had time to catch, elevate and shoot a deep 3-ball from the right wing. The buzzer sounded with the ball in mid-air just before it caught nothing but nylon. Final Score: Michigan 64, Houston 63.
Kelvin Sampson’s club took the cash however as 3.5-point underdogs. Abdur-Rahkman and Wagner shared team-best scoring honors with 12 points apiece. Matthews and Robinson chipped in with 11 points apiece.
Wagner paces the Wolverines in scoring (14.4 points per game), rebounding (6.9 RPG) and FG percentage (53.1%). Matthews is averaging 12.9 points and 5.5 RPG, but he’s a liability from the FT line (57.0%). Abdur-Rahkman (12.9 PPG, 3.9 RPG) has a remarkable 128/28 assist-to-turnover ratio and makes 38.5 percent of his 3-pointers. Simpson (7.4 PPG) is the team leader in assists (3.7 APG) and steals (1.3 SPG).
As of Friday afternoon, most books had Michigan listed as a 4.5-point ‘chalk’ with a total of 143.5. The Seminoles are +170 on the money line (risk $100 to win $170).
Michigan is ranked ninth in the nation in scoring defense, limiting foes to 63.3 PPG. The Wolverines are 10-6 ATS in 16 games as single-digit favorites.
FSU (23-11 SU, 18-13 ATS) was in a 1-7 ATS slump entering the Tournament, but it has taken the cash in all three of its Tourney victories. Leonard Hamilton’s team caught a break when Missouri’s second-leading scorer Jordan Barnett was suspended for its opener after being arrested on DUI charges.
Barnett might not have made any difference because FSU took control early and darted out to a 42-20 halftime lead. The Seminoles cruised to a 67-54 win as 1.5-point favorites. Trent Forrest scored eight points, grabbed six rebounds, had three steals, blocked two shots and dished out eight assists compared to only one turnover. Mfiondu Kabengele finished with 14 points, 12 rebounds and two blocked shots.
FSU took on top-seeded Xavier in Nashville last Sunday night and found itself trailing by 12 points midway through the second half. The Seminoles’ defense was dominant at crunch time, however, forcing six turnovers in the Musketeers’ final nine possessions. An 18-4 run to end the game lifted the ‘Noles to a 75-70 victory as 5.5-point underdogs.
Braian Angola scored 16 points to go with six rebounds, three assists, two steals and one blocked shot. Forrest added 13 points, five boards, four steals and three assists.
After playing late Sunday night in Music City, FSU had to travel back to Tallahassee. Then after spending less than 36 hours at home, the ‘Noles had to make the cross-country flight to L.A. to meet Gonzaga, which has played in Boise on Thursday and Saturday of the previous weekend.
These travel factors that seemed advantageous to Mark Few’s team didn’t matter. FSU took a comfortable lead early and had a counter for every run Gonzaga tried to make. Hamilton’s bunch won a 75-60 decision as a six-point underdog to advance to the program’s first Elite Eight appearance since it lost to Kentucky in 1993 with a Pat Kennedy team that featured players like Charlie Ward, Sam Cassell, Doug Edwards, Rodney Dobard and Bobby Sura.
Terance Mann led the way past the ‘Zags with 18 points and five rebounds. Angola and C.J. Walker contributed nine points apiece, but this win was mostly about defense. The Bulldogs made only 33.9 percent of their FGAs and just 5-of-20 (25.0%) launches from long distance.
FSU owns a 6-5 spread record with five outright victories in 11 games as an underdog this season.
Mann averages team-bests in scoring (12.9 PPG), rebounding (5.5 RPG) and FG percentage (56.5%). Phil Cofer averages 12.8 PPG and buries 37.9 percent of his 3-pointers.
The ‘under’ is 18-16-2 overall for Michigan, going 2-0 in its first two games of the Tournament.
The ‘over’ is 17-15 overall for FSU despite three straight ‘unders’ in this Tournament.
These schools met in the first round of the 2007 NCAA Tournament, with FSU winning 87-66 as a 7.5-point favorite. They haven’t squared off since Nov. 22 of 2013 when Michigan won 82-80 in overtime as a two-point ‘chalk.’ Nik Stauskas scored 26 points to help the Wolverines overcome a 10-point intermission deficit.
Tip-off at Staples Center in L.A. is scheduled for 8:45 p.m. Eastern on TBS.
Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards.
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