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March-26-2008,
March Madness, 2008: Its Cause -- and Cure!...By Nelson Lardner

I make no claims to being the King Kong of college basketball handicapping. Hell, I'm not even close to being the Student Prince. But I never did as much work on the sport as I put in this season, and combined with a couple of reliable pipelines and some hard-won insights, our anticipatory skills this campaign served us adequately.

So we'll make a rare break with personal MajorWager tradition and whip out a brief Sweet Sixteen preview, looking to avoid the obvious while trying to point out aspects which figure to be broadly overlooked.

Will briefly touch on a couple of tourney tactical points. As sharp as these lines have been, those with confidence in their basic reads of the teams involved have been able to pick up on some tremendous halftime-line value. Besides some obvious second-half explosions out of slow-starting favorites, some dogs enduring sluggish beginnings offered superior value at the half, including but not exclusive to Baylor - 3 ½ vs. Purdue, and St. Joe's -3 vs. Oklahoma. Purdue's willingness to run the floor permitted Baylor to nudge the final to semi-respectable levels, and the Hawks' refusal to quit paved the way for additional success. THURSDAY: NORTH CAROLINA (-7 1/2) vs. WASHINGTON STATE:

Instinct is to back off, especially after pronounced early money came on the dog, which leaves us wary. Carolina has the height/skills combination that's troubled Wazzu all season (reference Stanford), but the 'Heels aren't bulletproof. If the Cougars can slow this down appreciably, nothing's impossible - and other than Hansbrough, remainder of Carolina lineup has yet to be tested with sustained, brute physicality. And if some ref decides to take exception to Psycho T's severe aggressiveness, it'll be interesting. Fantasyland tourney shooting percentage for 'Heels will NOT sustain . . . trust me!

LOUISVILLE (-2 1/2) vs. TENNESSEE:

Hate giving points to this Bruce Pearl team, resilient as they are, but their guards aren't shooting as well as they were earlier in the year and their ballhandling skills remain undistinguished. As is the case with most good Pitino teams, Cards are jelling in a big way, when it matters most.

WEST VIRGINIA (-1) vs. XAVIER:

Big East/Atlantic-10 pedigree disparity may be at work here - but we're willing to pay to see it resolve itself on the court. Don't go overboard on Mountaineers having beaten Duke. K's kids awfully young (not to mention that the recruiting ain't what it used to be, especially if you're looking to avoid bringing in one-year wonders), and hit the wall in that second half. And other than losing a couple of late games to St. Joe's they could afford to lose, X destroyed the A-10, on merit.

UCLA (-12 ½) vs. WESTERN KENTUCKY:

Hilltoppers haven't lost by more than six all year (having lost by that much to the Vols, at home, and to Gonzaga by three, away). That's impressive, and to be respected. But on the heels of that officials-aided fraud vs. A&M, Bruins need to slap someone around, and will look to kill here for feel-good reasons, if they can manage it. And WKU may not be "big" enough to slow them down.

FRIDAY: KANSAS (-11 ½) vs. VILLANOVA:

Season-ending ankle injury to Cat C Casiem Drummond is severe blow to any legitimate Nova matchup hopes, here. You haven't seen Jayhawks' best game yet (they deliberately wore down Portland State and UNLV without showing their best stuff), though upcoming games pose some serious potential challenges, and must note that Bill Self has to succeed deep in this tournament - and that's with his having had some decent teams.

WISCONSIN (-4 ½) vs. DAVIDSON: Stephen Curry continues to maintain that enormous chip on his shoulder (being snubbed by Virginia Tech will do that to you), and so far it's working, as the projected Roy Hibbert matchup nightmare came true. But Wisky's Michael Flowers is going to provide the stiffest opposition Curry's encountered thus far.

MEMPHIS (-5) vs. MICHIGAN STATE: If the Spartans are on, this is a matchup fraught with danger for the Tigers. Chris Douglas-Rogers is legit, but as talented as Derrick Rose is, he's a freshman. MSU isn't going to back down an inch from Tiger "enforcer" Joey Dorsey; Dorsey's crap might go in C-USA, but is less likely to fly against an experienced guard like Drew Neitzel. Tom Izzo rates far higher in-game than does Calipari, and those Tiger foul-shooting woes. Heh, heh.

TEXAS (-1 ½) vs. STANFORD:

More style and coaching edges, this time in Longhorns' favor. Like Augustin/Abrams/Mason guard trio a good deal. Is Rick Barnes my favorite coach? Hardly. But Trent Johnson is just a sitting duck at this level, and the guards the Tree rolls out there don't compare. What's more, the horrid Pac-10 performance during this tournament speaks volumes. Houston site helps Texas, but concerned about shooting background in Reliant Stadium. Argument, abuse and/or consternation encouraged. It's what makes this fun.

03-26-08
Nelson Lardner
MajorWager.com
lardner@majorwager.com

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