NCAA Tournament Odds: Wisconsin faces Belmont

By: Michael Robinson | Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Thursday's Southeast Region matchup between the
Badgers and Bruins is a clash in styles.
The fourth-seeded Wisconsin Badgers look to end a streak of tournament futility when they meet the 13th-seed Belmont Bruins on Thursday night.

Wisconsin is just a 4 ½-point favorite despite the disparity in seeds, with a total of 125 ½-points. CBS will have this Southeast Region matchup at 4:27 p.m. (PT) from Tucson, Arizona.

Fourth Seeds in March Madness are 82-22 straight-up (78.8 percent) against 13th seeds since 1985. Fourth seeds were 3-1 SU and 2-2 against the spread last year, with Wisconsin one of them (more below).

The Badgers (23-8 SU, 15-12 ATS) are ranked No. 16 in the latest AP poll and finished third (13-5 SU) in the Big Ten regular season behind Ohio State (16-2 SU) and Purdue (14-4 SU).

Wisconsin bowed out in its opening Big Ten Tournament game, 36-33 against Penn State as 7 ½-point favorites. That score is not a misprint and it was easily the lowest combined score in the tourney’s 14 year history.

The Badgers have lost their opening Big Ten tourney game the last three years, all as favorites. That tournament suffering extends to March Madness. Wisconsin is just 2-3 SU and 1-4 ATS going back to the Stephen Curry and Davidson upset in the 2008 Sweet Sixteen.

Last year, Coach Bo Ryan’s team opened as 10 ½-point ‘chalk’ over Southern Conference Wofford and was lucky to survive, 53-49. The luck ran out against Ivy League Cornell the next game, an 87-69 drubbing as 4 ½-point favorites.

Ryan is considered a great coach, but is taking some heat for the postseason struggles. His guys play hard every night, especially at home where they’re 16-0 SU and 9-3 ATS this year. The problem is road and neutral site games (7-8 SU and 6-9 ATS).

The reality is Wisconsin is not very talented outside of first-team all-Big Ten Jordan Taylor (18.1 PPG, 4.7 APG) and Jon Leuer (18.6 PPG, 7.3 RPG). Keaton Nankivil (10 PPG, 4.4 RPG) is another upperclassman and a tough banger, but no one else scores more than 5.9 PPG.

Ryan is known for his slowdown offensive system and tough defense. The last game against Penn State was the perfect example. However, the Badgers ‘D’ let up 68.3 PPG over the final seven regular season games, compared to 58.3 PPG on the year (fifth nationally). The ‘over’ was 6-1 in those seven contests.

The Bruins (30-4 SU, 7-4 ATS) went 19-1 SU in the Atlantic Sun Conference regular season and ended any NCAA tournament suspense by winning the conference tourney over North Florida (87-46).

This small school from Nashville has sophomore guard Ian Clark as its leading scorer (12.4 PPG), but it’s a balanced effort with big men Mick Hedgepeth (10.6 PPG) and Scott Saunders (10 PPG) close behind. They’ll be needed to battle the Leuer and Nankivil tandem.

The Bruins went 0-3 SU and 1-2 ATS in their first three March Madness appearances (2006-2008). They almost had one of the biggest upsets in history in 2008, losing 71-70 to second-seed Duke as 20-point ‘dogs.

Coach Rick Byrd plays a lot of guys and his team is scoring 80.4 PPG (11th nationally), while allowing 61.9 PPG (ranked 35th). That’s tops nationally in scoring margin (18.4 PPG).

Belmont is helped immensely by being second in the country in creating turnovers (19.2 per game). The problem is Wisconsin almost never turns it over, top in the nation at 7.4 per game.

The Bruins’ toughest games were at SEC Vanderbilt and Tennessee (twice). They lost 85-76 in the first meeting at Tennessee as 14-point dogs before a 66-65 defeat (no spread) in the second game. The Vandy contest was an 85-76 loss, also with no spread.

Wisconsin bench player Mike Bruesewitz is doubtful with a knee injury. That’s the only injury to report for either team.

This is the first meeting ever between the schools.

The victor will face the winner of fifth-seed Kansas State (minus 2 ½) and 12th-seed Utah State.

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