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ARIZONA VS LOUISVILLE
Sportsbook.com Line Louisville -9 -6.5 O/U 139
In what has been one of the more predictable NCAA tournaments in recent memory, the Arizona Wildcats are the only real surprise participants to reach the Sweet 16. In the East and South brackets, the top 4 teams all advanced, and in the West bracket the 1,2,3 and 5 seeds all advanced. In the Midwest bracket it was the top 3 seeds advancing, and then the lowly 12th seeded Arizona Wildcats sneaking in the side door. Arizona got by the slightly favored Utah Utes in the 1st round, and then dodged a bullet when 13th seeded Cleveland State knocked off 4th seeded Wake Forest, giving the Wildcats a much easier match-up for round 2.
So now the Arizona Wildcats…..who arguably don’t even deserve to be in the tournament in the first place, with their 9-9 conference record and 19-13 overall mark, and losers of 5 out of their last 6 regular season games……get to face the #1 seed out of the Midwest bracket, and top rated team in the country, the Louisville Cardinals.
The venue for the Midwest semi-finals now moves to Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN, home to the NFL Indianapolis Colts.
The Wildcats have been hot so far, shooting a combined 52.5% on FG attempts in their 1st and 2nd round, double-digit wins over Utah and Cleveland St., which is around 5% higher than their season average of 47.7%. They’ve also been successful at the free-throw line, where they have knocked down 44 of 56 for a 78.5% clip, also around 5% higher than their season average. They have not had much success from 3-pt land however, as they have only connected on a total of 7 out of 23 attempts, or just 30.4%, which is well below their season average of 39% and six 3-pointers per game.
Luckily for them, their opponents have had similar struggles from deep, as Cleveland St was only able to connect on 3 of 23, and Utah only 8 of 32.
Arizona has been led in the tournament by the same trio of Juniors who led them during the season. F’s Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger, who led the Wildcats in scoring average per game with 18.4 and 17.9 ppg respectively, have continued that trend in combining for 68 pts so far. But it’s been diminutive PG Nic Wise who has really stepped up his game. Wise averaged a healthy 15.7 ppg during the season, but has exploded for a combined 50 pts in the 2 Wildcat wins. Thus far in the tournament, the 5’10” Wise has connected on 15 of 26 FG’s, 3 of 7 from 3-point land, and is a perfect 17 of 17 from the free-throw line.
The Louisville Cardinals ended the season with a 28-5 mark and the #1 ranking in the country. As the #1 seed in the Midwest bracket, they have had it relatively easy so far, having had to face just the 16th and 9th seeds in Morehead State and Siena. Louisville has, at times this year, been guilty of playing down to the level of the competition though.
They had previously crushed their round 1 opponent, Morehead State, by 38 pts in their 79-41 season opening win. But in the opening round, they led by just a 2 pt margin at HT, 35-33. But the Cards came out and connected on 65% of their FG’s in the 2nd half to come away with a comfortable 20 pt win, but disappointing their backers as they missed the cover by a single point.
In the round 2 game vs Siena, Louisville was a little more focused and was able to go into HT with a 7 pt lead. But about halfway through the 2nd half, they seemed to lose their focus again and started playing sloppy basketball, actually allowing Siena to take a 6 pt lead with under 8 minutes to play. Of course they got it back together in time to pull out the 7 pt victory, but again disappointing their backers by not even coming close to covering the 11.5 pt spread.
Also led primarily by 3 star players, Sr. Terrence Williams, Jr. Earl Clark and Freshman phenom Samardo Samuels, (who average 6’8” between them), the Cards have knocked down 53% of their FG tries and 43% of their 3’s in their 2 tournament wins, both stats well over the season averages of 45% on FG’s and 36% on 3’s. They have inexplicably gone cold at the free throw line though, making only 12 of 24 so far for a 50% mark, well below their season mark of nearly 64%.
Both teams have hot hands shooting the basketball right now. I would expect to see lots of points scored. The total opened at 136 and has been bet up to 139.5 already. Louisville has been set as a –9 pt favorite.
Arizona was very streaky during the regular season. They were 9-3 when conference play started, with 2 of those losses by just a single point. Their wins included a 5 pt win over Gonzaga and a 17 pt pounding of Kansas, two teams in the Sweet 16. In conference play they lost 2, won 2, lost 3, won 7, lost 4, won 1, lost 1. Those losing streaks seemed to coincide with road trips for the most part. But they are playing now like they were during their 7 game win streak, and they have a lot of confidence and motivation.
Louisville comes in on a major roll, having won 12 games in a row. They’ve only lost 5 games all year, but some of them are head scratchers. They lost to Western Kentucky by 14 pts at a neutral venue, they lost to UNLV at home managing only 21 pts in the 1st half, they got killed at home by UConn by 17 pts, and then 2 games later got destroyed by 33 pts at Notre Dame. At times they seem to be looking ahead, and they seem to have a habit of letting teams get back in the game after grabbing a lead.
With the way Arizona is playing right now, and considering how Louisville can let teams hang around enough to get the win but not the cover, I’m going to recommend taking the hot Arizona Wildcats and the generous 9 pts at a neutral venue. Arizona +9 is my pick.
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