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Steve Merril’s College Fullcourt Report (Feb.21)
The NCAA Tournament is fast approaching and over the next three weeks the Field of 64 will begin to take shape. Tonight’s three nationally televised games all feature “bubble teams” as Michigan, Xavier, Alabama and Arkansas all fight for those final playoff spots with critical conference games tonight.
Below is a preview of every game on ESPN and ESPN-2 for Tuesday.
ILLINOIS (-1 ½, 135) at MICHIGAN (ESPN)
Illinois was the national finalist last season and despite losing two of their best players, the Illini are once again a Top 10 team and are 22-4 SU this season. It’s a tough spot for Illinois as they have to travel and play their second game in three days, following a big home win over Indiana on national television Sunday afternoon.
Illinois won Game 1 over Michigan, 79-74 on January 14, but Michigan secured point spread coverage as a 10½-point underdog on the road. Michigan outshot Illinois 46-42 percent overall and 46-39 percent from three points.
Michigan is just 1-4 SU/ATS in its last five games, but three of those four recent losses have been on the road. The Wolverines have been strong at home this season, going 12-2 SU. Michigan is struggling with numerous injuries and three key players Chris Hunter, Jerret Smith and Lester Abram are all listed as questionable tonight.
Hunter is second on the team in blocks (21) and fifth in points (7.0 ppg). Smith is third on the team in assists (41) this season and Abram is the team’s fourth-leading scorer (11.5 points per game).
XAVIER -1 ½ to DAYTON (espn2)
Xavier comes into this game with a three-game home stand in which they went 2-1 SU, but only 1-2 ATS. The Musketeers lost Game 1 to LaSalle, 79-70, as the 11½-point favorite, but then bounced back with easy wins over Fordham, 84-64, and Duquesne 91-70. Xavier easily covered as a 10 ½ point favorite against Fordham, but failed to cover a swollen 22 ½ point line against Duquesne.
Dayton has one of the most extreme home/road dichotomies in the nation this season, with the Flyers going 11-4 SU at home but just 1-10 SU away. Dayton is just 4-8 SU in conference play this season, but they’ve beaten each of their last four Atlantic-10 home opponents.
Both teams are solid defensively as Xavier is allowing just 62.4 ppg and 39.4% from the field (against opponents who are averaging 66.3 ppg and 43.1% overall) and Dayton allows only 61.0 points and 40.0% (against opponents who average 67.0 points per game and 43.1% overall). 42.9% overall).
Xavier won the first meeting this season, 60-55, but failed to cover as a 12-point home favorite on January 28. The Musketeers led 29-23 at halftime and edged the Flyers at 41-35 percent from the field. The difference in the game was a 21-8 free throw advantage (attempts) for Xavier.
ALABAMA at ARKANSAS (-7 ½, 137) (ESPN)
A battle between two “bubble teams” in the SEC tonight as both teams are set to enter the NCAA Tournament. Alabama is currently ranked 38th in the RPI, while Arkansas is ranked 57th. The biggest difference was Alabama’s stronger schedule, as the Crimson Tide faced the fifth-toughest slate of opponents, while Arkansas only faced the 73rd-toughest schedule. Alabama is also 3-4 SU against the top 50 opponents and 8-8 SU against the top 100 clubs, while Arkansas is 3-6 SU against the top 50 teams and only 5-6 SU against the top 100. enemies.
Alabama underperformed in November and December and has actually played better basketball since losing top scorer Chuck Davis (15.4 ppg) to a knee injury in early January. Since losing Jan. 7 in Davis’ last game, the Crimson Tide have gone stellar 8-3 SU and 6-3-2 ATS.
Arkansas lost to Alabama, 78-75 in overtime, as a 1½-point underdog on Jan. 18, despite shooting past the Crimson Tide 42-40 percent from the field. Arkansas is just 3-7 SU on the road this season, but a much stronger 14-1 SU at home, including an 85-81 win over Florida on Saturday.
STEVE MERRIL is a professional sports handicapper and a documented member of the Professional Handicappers League. Get its Premium games here.
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