Texas Longhorns vs. Xavier Musketeers
Line: Texas -4
Where: T-Mobile Center, Kansas City, Missouri
When: Friday, 3/24 at 9:45 p.m. ET
No. 2 seed Texas will try to continue its seven-game unbeaten run against the spread (6-0-1) when it faces No. 3 seed Xavier on Friday night in the Sweet 16.
The Longhorns are making their first trip to the region semifinals since 2008, despite firing head coach Chris Beard due to an arrest in December. They advanced to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament with wins over No. 15 seed Colgate and No. 10 seed Penn State.
Xavier has returned to the spotlight under former Arizona head coach Sean Miller, who engineered a 23-8 regular season and a berth in the Big East Tournament title game. The Musketeers advanced with wins over No. 14 seed Kennesaw State and No. 11 seed Pittsburgh last weekend.
“We’re thrilled to be in the Sweet 16,” Miller said. “It’s a hard journey to get here, and I’m really thrilled for these guys, each of them, because it’s their first opportunity, and they’ll remember it forever.”
Most books opened Texas as a 4-point favorite with a total of 148.5. Tonight’s total initially ticked up slightly to 149 points, but it’s now down to 148. Some spots spent some time at -4.5 in the last 48 hours, but Rodney Terry’s team is -4 nearly everywhere now.
The Longhorns have seen the ‘under’ cash in seven consecutive games.
They have been an elite defensive team throughout the season, ranked tenth in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency ratings under interim coach Rodney Terry. Beard’s former top assistant led the team to a Big 12 Tournament title victory over Kansas earlier this month.
“I think he embodies what we are and what we try to be every day,” Texas forward Timmy Allen said. “Someone who has been there before, never shakes at adversity, somebody who wakes up and tries to attack the day to be great. When I’ve got somebody like that in my corner, I’ll do anything for them.”
Texas has the sixth-most experienced roster in college basketball, which is another factor that has allowed them to overcome Beard’s firing. Senior guard Marcus Carr leads an offense that is No. 15 in adjusted efficiency with 15.8 points, 4.0 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game. Sir’Jabari Rice (12.9), Allen (10.3) and Tyrese Hunter (10.1) join Carr in double figures.
They are going to have to match a Xavier offense that ranks third nationally in 3-point percentage (38.9) and seventh in adjusted efficiency. The Musketeers have five players scoring in double figures, although they have been without second-leading scorer Zach Freemantle (foot) since the end of January.
Senior guard Souley Boum is averaging a team-high 16.5 points to go along with 4.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists, scoring 33 points against Providence at the end of the regular season. He had 14 second-half points in a win over Pitt last weekend, while Adam Kunkel drilled five 3-pointers.
Kunkel has knocked down 10 of 19 from beyond the arc over his last three games. Junior Colby Jones has two double-doubles in his last four games, pulling down a career-high 14 rebounds against Pitt.
Xavier has covered the spread twice in its last six games, but it is 6-1 ATS in its last seven games against Big 12 opponents. Texas has failed to cover in seven straight contests against Big East teams.
The pick: Texas -4
I’ve been high on Texas throughout the season, and its leadership makes the Longhorns an excellent team to back in March. They have not failed yet this month, going unbeaten ATS in their last seven games. Xavier has been overvalued by the market to a tune of a 2-4 ATS mark in its last six contests, and I worry about betting on an offensive-minded team at this point in the season. Texas is balanced on both ends of the court to go along with an elite defense, while Xavier relies on outside shooting and is No. 64 in defensive efficiency. The Longhorns have the makeup of a tournament contender, and they should find a way through against a team that relies on hot shooting.