Chicago Region Handicap

The NCAA Tournament is not just a time to fill out brackets for your office pool. It is also a time of big business betting college hoops games in Vegas. If your head is swimming with the 32 games to be played in the next two days, let our resident handicapper help you see more clearly. Here is his frank look at the 16 teams and eight opening games in the Chicago region - with no holds barred.

Indianapolis

#8 Texas [pk] #9 Nevada

The "who gets to be roadkill" game. Texas has talented frosh Daniel Gibson at PG and a bunch of guys who would have sat on the bench for the Longhorns a couple years ago. Brad Buckman is solid, but I think his 27 points on 8-of-11 shooting vs. Oklahoma State two weeks ago says more about OSU's lack of size than his ability as a go-to guy inside. That win, which was at OSU, stands as one of the most shocking of the season. It was sandwiched by a 16-point home loss to Oklahoma and an ugly 12-point loss to a bad Colorado team.

Nevada replaced WAC player of the year Kirk Snyder with a new POY, Nick Fazekas, but doesn't have the offensive talent of last year's tourney darlings. Like Texas their season ended on a surprising loss, 73-72, to Boise State. Their record against teams that made the tourney is mediocre at best. A 33-point loss @ Kansas, a 3-point home loss to Pacific, a split with UTEP, a home win over a gassed Vermont.

Fazekas is a 1st round NBA pick and probably already has stuff named after him in every Greek restaurant in Reno, and they haven't lost a road game since December but I'm taking the Longhorns because their freshman PG is better than the Wolfpack's freshman PG.

#1 Illinois [-26 ½] #16 FDU

This is gonna be ugly. The #1/#16 games usually are, but when it's a #1 known for tremendous defense you really start to feel bad for the other guys. Losing 90-60 just doesn't look or feel as bad as 70-40 does. Fairleigh Dickinson actually played both Cal and Arizona State this year and was respectable, but this is over in the first minute.

Cleveland

#5 Alabama [-5 ½] #UW-Milwaukee

We know more than we want to about 'Bama. Kennedy Winston is the dynamic scorer everyone would love to have, the increasingly rare player that can always bail his team out late in the shot clock. They make a ton of 3s and Chuck Davis is a nice inside player as well. Is there a more anonymous team than UW-M ? All I know is what I see on the page, and that they are coached by Bruce Pearl. They haven't lost since late January; their conference is weak; and they lost by only 11 at Kansas. But the footnotes are plentiful. They were down 13 at half to Kansas, which was without Wayne Simien. They lost to Wisconsin by the disturbing score of 63-37. If UW-M wins, they lose their coach for sure, but that's not gonna happen. Pissed I didn't buy Alabama in my Calcutta - they win handily.

#4 Boston College [-6 ½] #13 Penn

The predictable BC plummet is in full swing. The biggest edge Illinois has in this tournament is BC as the #4 seed. Are you kidding me, Louisville, Florida, Syracuse… BC? They've lost three out of five, and it hasn't been pretty. The wins were over weak Seton Hall and Rutgers; the losses were by six at Villanova, by 22 at home vs. Pittsburgh, and by six to West Virginia in the Big East tourney in a game that saw them down 22 at the half. Their outside shooting is terrible. On the other hand, they have the best pair of power forwards in the country. 34 points and 16 rebounds between them. So can Penn handle them? Well, I seriously doubt that 6'7" and 6'8" guys from an Ivy have a chance against Craig Smith and Jared Dudley. Their PG has been out for weeks with mono. And they don't have that Princeton formula of great 3-point shooting, connecting on only 34% and also a weak 66% from the line. BC finds their mojo and stomps them big.

Oklahoma City

#2 Oklahoma State [-18 ½] #15 SE Louisiana

It is never a good thing when the team you are playing has the same name as the city you are playing in. #2 seeds occasionally lose in the first round, but they are usually teams with a certain flake factor. Lack of defensive intensity, maybe a shaky point guard, too young, mediocre coach, etc. That list is the opposite of everything Oklahoma State represents. The Lions scored 49 in their last game over Northwestern State - that converts to about 18 against OSU. Massacre.

#7 Southern Illinois [-2 ½] #10 Saint Mary's

We've all come to know and love the Salukis over the past few years and you don't have to be an AKC competitor to know what a Saluki is any more. Another gaudy 26-7 record, but their second half meltdown in their conference tourney makes one pause. How does the league champ blow a 42-26 halftime lead? Are they trying to be Oregon? They play nine guys double digit minutes; their star is a 6'3" pogo stick guard named Darren Brooks. I don't care how high he jumps - when a 6'3" guy leads the team in rebounding with 5.1 per, you have troubles. As for their opponent, let me say this. If you start a school and want to have the least intimidating name possible you can do one of three things. You can put the word "saint" in your school name, you can name your school after a girl, and you can choose a wimpy sounding nickname that no one understands. If you really want to inspire laughter from your opponents, you can combine the three things, perhaps something like "Saint Mary's Gaels," but no one would be silly enough to do that. Another team featuring an Australian center, is there a lab down there or what? But they beat Cal, good enough for me. Outright win for the girls.

Boise

#3 Arizona [-5 ½] #14 Utah State

15-3 in conference, wins over Washington, Stanford, UCLA twice, Mississippi State, Utah and a narrow three-point loss to Wake Forest. All that, and the #3 seed is not even a six-point favorite? I call that the Mustafa Effect. Trade him for Chris Hernandez and this team is a title contender (and Lute Olson knows it). Obviously a dangerous opponent for anyone, the Salim Stoudamire-Channing Frye outside-inside combo may not sound intimidating (Hakeem and Shaq and Wilt sound like they are gonna dunk on yo ass, but "Channing"?) but they compare favorably to the anyone else's duo (J.J. Redick-Shelden Williams, Rashad McCants-Sean May, whoever). But it's the two flakes at PG and tweener that make this team impossible to figure. Shakur and Hassan Adams, when not getting strip-searched at airports, are capable of great to putrid performances. A combined seve points vs. Washington, with 0 from Chris Rodgers - are you kidding me?!? The Aggies play defense, and I really want to see this 6'8" point forward Spencer Nelson with the gaudy stats (16, 8, 5 and we've never heard of him). They have their own sharpshooter, a frosh guard named Jaycee Carroll who did a two-year LDS mission after a high school that saw him named Wyoming Player of the Year twice (I know, like being the tallest dwarf). This accounts for his shooting, when your parents name you Jaycee, you spend a lot of time alone shooting hoops. A trendy upset pick and the crowd will be with them, but I just don't see it. Cats cruise.

#6 LSU [-2 ½] #11 UAB

An ideal game for the spelling impaired or people looking for a good start to spelling LSJUMB. LSU is rolling with their one-point loss to Kentucky, ending a seven-game winning streak. Brandon Bass is the most unknown beast around. The SEC Player of the Year, but we never get to see him. 252 pounds of nasty inside game with a nice jumper to go with it; their next loss is likely his last game. Their roster features not only Pete Maravich's son Josh Maravich, but this dandy name – Xavier Whipple. We all saw how dangerous the frenetic Blazers are in last year's wins over the Huskies and then the shocker over Kentucky. I hate it when two of my sleeper picks get paired with each other in the first round. Frankly I think this is the single best game of the entire first round. LSU is the pick based on the stronger conference and their complete familiarity with what happened to Kentucky last year.


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