Xavier Primed to Cover Hefty Line in Friday's West Region Opener

Jay Pryce

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 1:49 PM UTC

Wednesday, Mar. 14, 2018 1:49 PM UTC

Top-seeded Xavier awaits the play-in winner of Wednesday night's Texas Southern-N.C. Central for its first-round opponent. The line for either matchup will open in the 20-point range.

Xavier Musketeers: West Region's No. 1 Seed

Xavier (28-5 SU, 20-13 ATS) earned its first No. 1 seed in school history after winning its first Big East regular-season title over the likes of Villanova, Seton Hall and Creighton. That’s impressive. Equally remarkable is the fact it has made the NCAA Tournament in 12 of the past 13 seasons, matching just seven other programs. The team finished No. 3 in the final AP Top 25 poll, and Chris Mack earned the Big East Coach of the Year honor.

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Xavier’s road starts in Music City...#MarchMadness#LetsMarch pic.twitter.com/fBnPFgdSOr

— Xavier Basketball (@XavierMBB) March 13, 2018

The Musketeers, whose tourney opener is Friday in Nashville, are one of the best offensive teams in the country, armed with multiple top-quality guards who can take over games. National Player of the Year candidate Trevon Bluiett is the foundation. The senior, a three-time All-Big East first-team member averaging 19.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game, can easily be cashing a pro paycheck. Shutting him down is the key to beating Xavier. Bluiett has scored 13 points or fewer 10 times this season; the Musketeers are 6-4 SU and 5-5 ATS overall in those games. When putting up more, they are 22-1 SU and 15-8 ATS.

Whichever play-in winner moves on will struggle to contain Xavier’s scoring. N.C. Central earned an automatic bid after winning the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in consecutive years. A 9-7 regular-season record pitted the Eagles a six-seed in the tourney, but postseason experience helped propel the squad to a 71-63 championship victory over Hampton.

Texas Southern, meanwhile, is making its fourth appearance in the Big Dance in the past five years after winning the Southwestern Athletic Conference Tournament. It finished tied for second in the regular season with a 12-6 SU record, but dominated postseason. The Tigers won all three playoff games by double digits (14, 14, and 15 points).

What both play-in opponents share are porous defenses. The Tigers rank 315th in the nation in KenPom’s adjusted efficacy ratings; the Eagles sit 288th. Where the two differ is in pace and attack. The Tigers like to get up an down the court in a hurry, proving the 35th-fastest team in tempo nationally. Central, meanwhile, ranks 320th-slowest out of 351 DI teams. Both will see Xavier push 85-plus points.

Xavier returns four starters from last year’s squad that crashed the Elite Eight, upsetting Maryland, Florida State, and Arizona en route before losing to eventual runner-up Gonzaga. This bunch takes care of business when heavy chalk. Since 2016, the Musketeers are 9-2 ATS spotting 15 points or more to an opponent. They are covering a -21.5 average line by 4.3 points per game. The final score is 88.9 to 63.1. Expect a similar tally regardless of the play-in winner. Lay the points with your NCAAB picks.

Check out SBR’s college basketball odds page for updated lines. Also, head over to the March Madness Betting Headquarters for vital handicapping information, picks, and a list of the best sports books and live betting options for the tournament season.

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