NCAA Tournament Betting: East Region Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 03/17/2009
Points are going to be at a premium in the East (Boston) Region of the NCAA Tournament and if "defense wins championships" then there's a good chance that our next national title winner could emerge from this group. Florida State (No. 7), Xavier (No. 13), American (No. 21), VCU (No. 27), Minnesota (No. 34) Villanova (No. 43), Texas (No. 47), ETSU (No. 52) and Binghamton (No. 57) give the region nine teams ranked in the Top 60 in field goal defense. And that's not even mentioning known defensive powers in Pittsburgh and Wisconsin.
Size and strength is the clear theme in the East, but placed amidst the sluggers are several teams whose offensive acumen could pose serious problems for the rest of the bracket. Oklahoma State, Tennessee and Duke don't put much of a premium on stopping opponents as they do overwhelming them with their offensive arsenal. As a result, these high fliers are going to make interesting foils to their defensive-minded brethren.
Here's one man's look at the East (Boston) Region, including the current odds for teams to win the region:
No. 1 Seed: Pittsburgh (28-4 straight-up, 16-9-1 against the spread, -165 to win the region)
Despite the fact that Pittsburgh has made exactly zero Final Fours in the last 20 years, this perennially disappointing tournament team has been crowned as the No. 2 favorite to cut down the nets. With Sam Young and DeJuan Blair the Panthers have two blue-chip NBA talents. Point guard Levance Fields is solid but not spectacular and is surrounded by a group of strong role players. The issue, as has been the problem in the past, is scoring. This team doesn't have many sharpshooters and if Blair or Young are in foul trouble or having an off night then the points dry up quickly. I also have a big problem with Pitt's schedule this year. This is a team that went through the Big East ringer. But they didn't challenge themselves (besides one game at FSU) in the nonconference. I still don't see this team as a championship-caliber club.
No. 2 Seed: Duke (28-6 SU, 16-17 ATS, +200)
Everyone loves to hate the Blue Devils. And with good reason. But this is still a team that can play with anyone in the country and they have to be taken seriously. However, the same issue that I've had with this team is present right now: they are soft. I'm talking Downey soft. They have one of the best perimeter attacks in the game and if they are knocking down their threes than their opponents are in serious trouble. But this team has zero post presence. They haven't made it out of the opening weekend three straight years and they haven't been past the Sweet 16 since 2004. And that's mainly because they run into teams that are flat-out tougher than they are -- like Texas, UCLA, Pitt or Villanova, all of which are in Duke's bracket. Further, this has been a bad road team. They are just 5-5 in true road games and have losses at B.C. and at Michigan. Duke is just 5-8 ATS in its last 13 and 8-13 ATS in its last 21 games.
No. 3 Seed: Villanova (26-7 SU, 16-13 ATS, +800)
The Wildcats had a weird run in the Big East Tournament and are a clear X-Factor in this region. They have a tremendous advantage of being able to play at home in Philly in the first two rounds. But a tricky draw that could pit them against UCLA in the second round isn't conducive to a long stay. They have four strong guards, including the dynamic Scottie Reynolds, and four strong forwards, including Dante Cunningham. But Reynolds was not nearly the same player in New York after he got slammed to the floor late in the Marquette game. He's been in a daze since and he has to be at his best in order for this team to hit its potential. They have the talent to make a Final Four run (they were a Sweet 16 team last year) and their offensive and defensive efficiency numbers suggest a long stay in the tourney. But the question is whether or not they can put it together.
No. 4 Seed: Xavier (25-7 SU, 17-13 ATS, +7500)
Xavier is a team that is really hard to pin down in this field. On the one hand I love their experience and their interior presence. B.J. Raymond, Derek Brown, C.J. Anderson are Jason Love are guys that have Been There and gotten it done in March. But they are relying on an unproven freshman point guard to guide them and that guy, Terrell Holloway, has been pretty average. Average doesn't cut it. Xavier closed the year just 5-5 SU and 4-7-1 ATS so they are not playing their best ball, and the fact that the No. 4 seed has just the ninth-best odds to win the region is a red flag. But the X-Men have wins over Missouri, Memphis and LSU - all on the road - so they clearly have the ability to make another deep run.
No. 5 Seed: Florida State (25-9 SU, 18-9-1 ATS, +2000)
The Seminoles are one of the best defensive teams in the country (No. 7 overall) and have a legit go-to guy in Toney Douglas (21.3 ppg). Those two facets right there make them something to be reckoned with. Add on top of that this team has been snubbed from the past two tournaments as one of the last teams out of the field. They have nice wins over UNC, Cal, Florida and Western Kentucky, as well as decent toe-to-toe matchups with Pitt and Duke. Shooting can be a problem. This team doesn't shoot a high percentage and if Douglas is off then it will be a real short dance. He is their only double-digit scorer and that is usually a huge red flag to me that this team can't be taken too seriously.
Best first-round match up: No. 8 Oklahoma State vs. No. 9 Tennessee
This is going to be a fun game to watch. These are two reckless, up-tempo, athletic, no-shot-is-a-bad-shot teams whose styles perfectly match up. Oklahoma State essentially plays with four guards and is constantly on the attack. Tennessee's post players all think they are guards and want to score 90 points every game they step on the floor. Neither team takes care of the ball and neither team protects the basket.
Best potential second-round match up: No. 3 Villanova vs. No. 6 UCLA
UCLA is feeling incredibly disrespected by their seed. And for good reason. A whopping 19 of their 24 wins this year have come by nine points or more so they are a blowout waiting to happen. And after three consecutive Final Fours - think about that for a second - it's clear that this group knows how to win in March. Villanova does have the benefit of playing at home in Philadelphia. But UCLA will be a very live dog and a potential Collison-Shipp-Holiday matchup against Reynolds-Fisher-Stokes is definitely must-see TV.
Upset Alert (first round): No. 5 Florida State vs. No. 12 Wisconsin
Ohio State nearly won the Big Ten title but they were outplayed for about 35 minutes by a very focused, experienced, talented Wisconsin team. The Badgers are tough because they have Bo Ryan, coaching royalty, on the bench and because they have a load of players with tournament experience. These clubs play at a very similar pace and play a similar style. That's a benefit to the underdog. And when you consider that FSU is coming off an emotional run to the ACC Finals, in which they had to play North Carolina and Duke back-to-back, they could be primed for a letdown. Throw in a long trip out to Boise and the fact that the spread in this game is just 2.5 and we could have a classic 12-over-5 upset.
Upset Alert (second round): No. 1 Pittsburgh vs. No. 8 Oklahoma State (Or Tennessee)
I actually don't think that Pittsburgh is going to make it out of the first weekend and either of these clubs will be a very live dog. Either the Cowboys or the Volunteers are going to be a very tough matchup for Pitt because both clubs are so adept at putting the ball in the hole. That's something Pitt struggles with. If the Panthers can turn it into a half-court game then they could be in their element. But neither OSU nor UT will willingly slow down or alter their styles. The Panthers are just 2-5 ATS against teams whose "tempo" ranks at 90 or less (fast teams) and their losses to 'Nova, Louisville and Providence all fit into that category.
Dark Horse team: No. 8 Oklahoma State
Let me start by saying that Travis Ford is a coaching stud. And 15 years from now we're going to be talking about this guy as one of the greats in the game. He has a team with a lot of experience and some exceptional perimeter skill and this team is peaking at the right time. They are 8-2 SU in their last 10 games, with their only losses at Oklahoma and against Missouri. Even if they didn't have much success, this team played some powers (Gonzaga, Michigan State, Washington) in the nonconference. But because they have zero - and I mean, ZERO - post presence this team could get romped by Tennessee and no one would bat an eye. Or they could beat Pitt and go to the Sweet 16, where they would likely face another half-court team (Florida State, Xavier, Wisconsin).
Team That Makes Me Nervous: No. 5 Florida State
The Seminoles are a team that I loved coming into March. But I almost feel like they would have been better off losing in the ACC semifinals. I definitely worry about how they are going to respond to the letdown of losing to Duke in that championship game. They have a very tough draw in the opening round and a win has them running into Xavier in Round 2. Again, they have all of the pieces but a tough draw and are in a difficult position.