The Baylor Bears and the Xavier Musketeers have a date in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet Sixteen, with a spot in the Elite Eight up for grabs. Is it Baylor or Xavier that comes through for us on Friday evening?

The NCAA basketball odds for this intriguing matchup have the Bears favored by six points at pretty much every major basketball betting site. The matchup’s total, for those interested, can be found at 139.5 or 140 depending on the sportsbook. The winner here plays the victor of Kentucky/Indiana.

Baylor vs. XavierBaylor has definitely elevated their play come tournament time, covering in two of their three Big 12 tournament matchups and in both of their NCAA tournament games thus far. 

The first half of their round two encounter with Colorado was back and forth, but in the end the Bears, led by sharpshooter Brady Heslip, had too much firepower for the Pac-12 tournament champions. 

Raining threes 

Heslip nailed an amazing nine treys in the 80-63 win and finished with a game-high 27 points, while backcourt mate Pierre Jackson had 15 points, 10 assists and five steals. The performance of the guards made up for another shaky effort from Perry Jones III, who scored just seven points in the victory. 

Xavier also had to withstand an early battle with Lehigh, but the Musketeers prevailed for the 70-58 win and a berth in the Sweet Sixteen. 

Down by as many as 15 in the first half, Xavier kept their composure and kept feeding the ball inside to Kenny Frease, who picked the perfect time to have a career game. Frease recorded 25 points (11-of-13 FG) and 12 rebounds and the Musketeers also got 21 points out of Tu Holloway. 

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Baylor presents a much more difficult matchup for the Musketeers here in the next round. 

There aren’t a lot of teams out that as talented as the Bears, but I still don’t fully trust them. Xavier will make this a very physical game and they’ll try to establish Frease down low again. Baylor is athletic and long inside but lack strength and physicality. 

The Musketeeers also have a strong guard duo that should be able to keep Heslip and Jackson from dominating proceedings again. No chance Heslip drains nine threes against a great defensive tandem of Holloway and Lyons on Friday. 

A likely date with Kentucky awaits 

Holloway has been making some huge shots and has the perfect mentality for March Madness. He should be able to at least match what Jackson is able to do offensively.

Sure, I’m a tad worried about Xavier’s versatile guard Dez Wells and whether or not he’ll be healthy enough to play. He suffered a toe injury against Lehigh and will likely be a game-time decision.

Even so, Baylor is not particularly known for their toughness and that’s what Xavier is going to bring to the table. The Musketeers are going to try and make this an ugly game and I think they’ll succeed. Given the Bears’ talent and athleticism all over the court, they have to succeed or they’ll be going home.

I’m picking Xavier to give Baylor a run for their money and therefore will be backing the underdogs to cash as one of my NCAA basketball picks.

FREE Pick: Xavier Musketeers +6

TREND BREAKDOWN

Musketeers are 3-7-1 ATS in their last 11 games overall 

Musketeers are 3-7 ATS in their last 10 neutral site games

Bears are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games overall

Bears are 6-2 ATS in their last 8 non-conference games 

OVER is 5-1 in Baylor’s last 6 games overall

In what should be a great game, the Xavier Musketeers battle the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the opening round of the South region. Find out who we are picking to cover the NCAA Basletball odds in this matchup.

The NCAA Basketball odds are tight right now, as sportsbooks have Notre Dame favored by only 2.5 points. Considering the Fighting Irish can be excellent on the defensive end, the matchup’s low total of 124 is understandable.

Lets preview this matchup and decide where us bettors should lay our NCAA Basketball picks.

After catching fire in late January, the Fighting Irish never looked back and were able to earn a BYE in the first round of the Big East tournament.

Their first game against South Florida was tough but they did manage the win. Unfortunately, the good times ended there, with the Fighting Irish falling to Louisville 50-64 in an anemic offensive performance. 

Notre Dame shot just 35.8 percent (compare that to Louisville’s 56.0 percent) and hit only 2-of-17 from beyond the arc. Down by 16 at half, the Fighting Irish just couldn’t get anything going to ignite any sort of comeback.

Excellent first round matchup

Xavier vs. Notre DameThe Musketeers made a deep run into their conference tournament as well, beating Dayton and St. Louis en-route to the finals against St. Bonaventure.

Despite 33 points from Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, Xavier had absolutely no way to stop Andrew Nicholson, the Atlantic 10 player of the year. He finished with 26 points (7-of-13 FG), 14 rebounds and an amazing eight block to lead the Bonnies to the A10 title.

Sure it was a disappointing finish, but Xavier can quickly make up for it in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

For me, there probably wasn’t a more disappointing player than Kenny Frease this season. Instead of taking over during his senior year, his numbers were down across the board and his play signified Xavier’s up-and-down campaign.

Luckily for Frease, his teammates stepped up, largely Holloway, Lyons and fellow guard Dezmine Wells. They all averaged in double figures for the Musketeers this season. 

Still, because you never really know what Xavier team is going to show up, I’m picking Notre Dame to cover the small number on Friday. 

Notre Dame to move on

A lot of credit should go to Mike Brey for what he’s done with the Fighting Irish. Leading man Tim Abromaitis was lost early on, but the team banded together and made a furious charge during conference play. 

A huge season out of Jack Cooley helped. He filled the void inside perfectly, ending the year with 12.4 PPG and 9.0 RPG, both of which were team-highs. 

The Fighting Irish backcourt duo of Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins (who are roommates) is the key for Friday though. They’re matched up with Holloway and Lyons, who will be central to the Musketeers’ chances of victory. 

Notre Dame is team that plays tremendous defense and limits mistakes. Xavier may have the standout individual players, but in my book the Fighting Irish are the better team and therefore I’m backing the higher seed with my sports picks to cash. 

FREE Pick: Notre Dame Fighting Irish -2.5

TREND BREAKDOWN

Musketeers are 1-7-1 ATS in their last 9 games overall

Fighting Irish are 1-4 ATS in their last 5 games overall

Fighting Irish are 1-7 ATS in their last 8 neutral site games

OVER is 5-0 in Xavier’s last 5 games as an underdog 

UNDER is 20-9 in Notre Dame’s last 29 games overall

The Xavier Musketeers travel to meet the Butler Bulldogs for tonights college basketball matchup. See what the sportsbook odds makers are offering us as we decide how we are going to play our NCAA Basketball picks tonight.

It’s not often that we see a televised matchup this time of year pitting two teams that are both from outside the Big 6 conferences. Generally, at least one team — if not both — hails from the ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC or Pac-12. 

But ESPN is giving viewers and NCAA Basketball bettors an opportunity for just that on Wednesday when the Xavier Musketeers travel to meet the Butler Bulldogs. Tip from Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis will come a bit past 9 PM (ET) in this A-10, Horizon League duel, and the NCAA basketball odds have the Musketeers laying 5.5 with a 126 point total. Which way should you look when it comes to making your college basketball picks?

Before we give ESPN too much credit for showing this matchup, let’s not forget two big reasons why it’s prime-time material to begin with. Final exams are either taking place or about to on college campuses, and athletic programs in season are in a bit of a slumber. If not for finals, the first of about 60 bowl games would be on the boob tube about now. 

Butler BulldogsSecondly, let’s not forget that one of these ‘little guys’ has become more of a household name with appearances in each of the last two NCAA Tournament Finals. People who had never heard of even the Horizon League two short years ago now know who the Butler Bulldogs are. Some might even know the coach’s name. 

To his credit, and much to Butler’s delight, Brad Stevens is still the coach through what should be a tough rebuilding season. Stevens could have easily bolted after this season, with several Big 6 openings in places like Maryland, Missouri, Texas A&M, Miami,North Carolina State and Tennessee. But he didn’t. 

The Bulldogs saw the season get off on the wrong note with an overtime loss on the road to Evansville, and are coming off another OT defeat at home last Saturday to conference rivalValparaiso that dropped Butler to 4-4. Stevens’ squad also isn’t making any friends among bettors, failing to cover the college basketball betting spread in any of the five lined contests. 

Losing three of the top 4 scorers off last season’s team is the first thing many will point to asButler’s biggest problems. And, yes, the offensive numbers aren’t too appealing as well as down a bit from the previous two squads. But let’s face it, putting up points was not what got the Bulldogs into each of the last two finals. 

Lifting that field goal mark that is currently below 41% and sinking a higher percentage of free throws are improvements that have to be made. But the real road back to winning games will come on the defensive end. Butler is allowing 63.5 points per game, good enough to rank just inside the top half of the country, but a deeper look into that number reveals about a 10-point jump in opponents’ scoring when the Bulldogs haven’t been playing the likes of UT-Chattanooga, Savannah State and Oakland City. 

The good news is Butler won’t exactly be taking on an offensive juggernaut in Xavier, though the Musketeers certainly have solid weapons to pop the net. Solid guards in senior Tu Holloway (18.0 PPG) and junior Mark Lyons (17.3 PPG) team up with 7-footer Kenny Frease (9.5 PPG, 5.7 RPG) to give XU a formidable trio. Holloway also leads the team in assists (5.0) and has combined withLyons to form a very accurate duo from long range (18 for 38, 47%). 

Xavier Bulldogs

Like Stevens at Butler, defense and glass work is stressed in Chris Mack’s scheme at Xavier. So far, the Musketeers have done the better job at both. Teams have yet to shoot 43% or better against Xavier, and a true team effort has the Musketeers among the nation’s best at pulling down rebounds. 

Holloway will get all of the attention in this game, and for good reason. He’s coming off a pair of games in which he caught fire late to rally Xavier past good Vanderbilt and Purdue teams. He could be on the verge of lifting this team on his shoulders, a la Kemba Walker at UConn a year ago, and carrying the Musketeers deep into March. Or he could revert to inconsistent ways. 

The battle down low between Frease of XU and Butler’s Andrew Smith could ultimately decide the contest, but the best part of the show might be turned in by getting glimpses at a couple of talented freshmen on each side. 

XU’s Dezmine Wells may wind up being a big talent that got away from Tobacco Road. The 6-5 guard has been getting plenty of court time and will be eager to make up for his big zero performance in the win over Purdue. Andy Smeathers has just started to get his feet wet forButler the last two games, and could be well overmatched against a more experienced Xavier…or simply catch fire from three point land as he has shown along his young hoops career.

Taking a Chance: Even with the talent advantage, this is a tough call on Xavier. The Musketeers are on the road in a very real letdown spot and playing a gritty Butler team that hasn’t lost consecutive games at Hinkle since February 2007. Still, I’m going to bite on the chalk and make Xavier +5.5 my pick, Musketeers win it 70-60.