The NCAA Tournament is fast approaching and the next three weeks the Field of 64 will begin to take form. Tonight’s three national TV games all feature “bubble teams” as Michigan, Xavier, Alabama, and Arkansas are all battling for those final postseason spots with critical conference games tonight.
Below is a look at each game on ESPN and ESPN-2 for Tuesday.
ILLINOIS (-1 ½, 135) at MICHIGAN (ESPN)
Illinois was the national runner-up last season and despite losing two of their best players, the Illini are once again a Top 10 team and stand 22-4 SU on the season. This is a tough spot for Illinois as they must travel and play their second game in three days, following a big home win over Indiana on national TV Sunday afternoon.
Illinois won the first meeting versus Michigan, 79-74 on January 14th, but Michigan got the pointspread cover as a 10 ½-point road underdog. Michigan outshot Illinois 46-42 percent overall and 46-39 percent from three-point range.
Michigan is just 1-4 SU/ATS over their past five games, but three of those four recent losses were on the road. The Wolverines have been strong at home this season, going 12-2 SU. Michigan is battling 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 scoring (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 ppg).
XAVIER -1 ½ at DAYTON (espn2)
Xavier enters this game off a three-game home stand in which they went 2-1 SU, but just 1-2 ATS. The Musketeers lost the first game versus LaSalle, 79-70, as an 11 ½-point favorite, but then bounced backed with easy wins over Fordham, 84-64, and Duquesne 91-70. Xavier easily covered as a 10 ½-point favorite versus Fordham, but failed to cover an inflated 22 ½-point line versus Duquesne.
Dayton has one of the most extreme home/road dichotomies in the nation this season as the Flyers stand 11-4 SU at home, but just 1-10 SU away. Dayton stands just 4-8 SU in conference play this season, but they have beaten each of their past four Atlantic-10 home opponents.
Both teams are solid defensively as Xavier is allowing just 62.4 points per game and 39.4 percent from the field (versus opponents that average 66.3 ppg and 43.1 percent overall) and Dayton is permitting just 61.0 points and 40.0 percent (versus opponents that average 67.0 ppg and 42.9 percent overall).
Xavier won the first meeting this season, 60-55, but failed to cover as a 12-point home favorite on January 28th. The Musketeers led 29-23 at halftime and outshot the Flyers 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 squads are on the fringe of making the NCAA Tournament. Alabama is currently ranked 38th in the RPI, while Arkansas is ranked 57th. The biggest difference has been Alabama’s stronger schedule as the Crimson Tide has faced the fifth toughest slate of opponents, while Arkansas has only faced the 73rd toughest schedule. Alabama is also 3-4 SU versus top-50 opponents and 8-8 SU versus top-100 clubs, while Arkansas is 3-6 SU versus top-50 teams and just 5-6 SU versus top-100 foes.
Alabama underachieved during November and December and have actually played better basketball since losing their leading scorer, Chuck Davis (15.4 ppg) to a knee injury in early January. Since their loss on January 7th in Davis’ final game, the Crimson Tide have gone an excellent 8-3 SU and 6-3-2 ATS.
Arkansas lost at Alabama, 78-75 in overtime, as a 1 ½-point underdog on January 18th, despite outshooting 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 his Premium plays here.