Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:05 AM

Saturday - Session 1

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East Region – Pittsburgh – PPG Paints Arena
#9 Alabama vs. #1 Villanova (-11, 148) – 12:10 PM EST – CBS

Two seasons ago, Villanova (31-4 SU, 23-12 ATS) cut down the nets by hitting the game-winning three-pointer in the National Championship to edge North Carolina. The Wildcats couldn’t escape the opening weekend last season as a top seed when they were tripped up by Wisconsin in the second round. Villanova looks for its third Sweet 16 appearance since 2009, as Jay Wright’s squad has been bounced as the top seed in 2016 and 2014 in the round of 32.

‘Nova cruised past 16th-seeded Radford, 87-61 in Thursday’s opening round as the Wildcats cashed as 22 ½-point favorites. Six Wildcats scored in double-figures, led by Jalen Brunson’s 16 points, as Villanova shot nearly 60% from the floor, while knocking down 14 three-pointers. Villanova has covered in three of four postseason games, which includes a 2-1 ATS mark in the Big East tournament.

Alabama (20-15 SU, 18-15-1 ATS) broke into the NCAA field thanks to a pair of victories in the SEC tournament over Texas A&M and Auburn. Avery Johnson’s team was in must-win mode in St. Louis after suffering five consecutive losses to close out the regular season. The clincher for the Big Dance came in a quarterfinals blowout of top-seeded (and rival) Auburn, 81-63 as 6 ½-point underdogs to beat the Tigers for the second time this season.

The Crimson Tide rallied past Virginia Tech in the first round, 86-83 as three-point underdogs to pick up their first NCAA tournament victory since 2006. Freshman star Colin Sexton paced the Tide with 25 points, while fellow guard John Petty contributed 20 points as Alabama shot a scorching 60% from the field.

The Tide are riding a 4-1 ATS run, while being listed as a double-digit underdog for the first time this season. The largest underdog number Alabama was listed at was nine points in a December setback at Arizona, 88-82. Villanova has cashed in 12 of its past 18 contests, while putting together a solid 17-8 ATS mark when laying at least 10 points this season.

Midwest Region – Pittsburgh – PPG Paints Arena
#7 Rhode Island vs. #2 Duke (-9 ½, 149 ½) – 2:40 PM EST – CBS

In 2015, the Blue Devils (27-7 SU, 21-11 ATS) captured the fifth championship in the famed Mike Krzyzewski era. However, Duke has gone backwards in the NCAA tournament since that title by losing in the Sweet 16 to Oregon in 2016, followed by a round of 32 exit to eventual Final Four participant South Carolina last season. Duke has won only one of its championships as a #2 seed, coming back in 1991 against Kansas for the first title in school history.

The Blue Devils rebounded from an ACC semifinals setback to rival North Carolina by routing Iona in the first round, 89-67. Duke barely cashed as 20 ½-point favorites, but freshman stud Marvin Bagley III pumped in 22 points on 10-of-14 shooting from the floor. Trevon Duval scored 19 points, while Grayson Allen and Gary Trent, Jr. each contributed 16 points as Duke improved to 19-3 in the last 22 tournament openers.

Rhode Island (26-7 SU, 17-13-1 ATS) fell short against Davidson in the Atlantic 10 championship by one point, but still managed to secure an at-large big to the dance. The Rams needed overtime to knock out Trae Young and Oklahoma in Thursday’s first round, 83-78 as URI erased a four-point halftime deficit. E.C. Matthews led the Rams with 16 points, while Rhode Island won in spite of shooting 39% from the field. However, URI limited Oklahoma to 4-of-20 shooting from three-point range.

There isn’t a rich history of NCAA tournament success for the Rams, who have not advanced past the second round since their run to the Elite Eight in 1998. Dan Hurley’s squad is currently on a 3-6 ATS run, but five of those ATS losses came in the favorite role. Rhode Island posted a 1-3-1 ATS record in the underdog role, as its highest ‘dog number (+6) came against Virginia in a 70-55 loss back in November.

Both Rhode Island and Duke are currently on solid UNDER runs, as the Rams have hit the UNDER in five of the past seven games. The Blue Devils have drilled the UNDER in eight of the last nine contests, while limiting nine of the previous 10 opponents to 70 points or fewer.

You can reach Kevin Rogers via e-mail at [email protected]

Kevin Rogers can be followed on Twitter at virogers.

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