UTEP Vs. Butler Prediction

Ray MonohanContributor IMarch 17, 2010

ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 29:  Shelvin Mack #1 of Butler dribbles the ball during their 76 Classic game against Clemson at Anaheim Convention Center on November 29, 2009 in Anaheim, California. Clemson defeated Butler 70-69.  (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

University of Texas El Paso vs Butler – 4:55 P.M. Thursday, March 18th

NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament - West Region - First Round
UTEP +2.5 (-110)
Butler -2.5 (-110)
Over/Under 130

The 12th seed UTEP Minors square off against the #5 seed Butler Bulldogs in the first round of the West regional with tip-off scheduled for 4:55 P.M. on Thursday March 18th in San Jose, Ca.

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Texas El Paso (26-6) won the Conference USA with a 15-1 record but relied on an at-large bid to get into the tournament after losing to Houston 73-81 in the conference tournament final.

Given the fact that the #25 ranked Minors had won 16 straight games before that loss, getting the bid seems to be well deserved. This is one of the better mid major teams in the NCAA’s so do not be fooled by their #12 seeding. They are led by two very capable juniors; G Randy Culpepper, who is the team’s leading scorer averaging 18 points per game and F Derrick Caracter, who is averaging 13.8 points and 8 rebounds per game.

All in all, four out of the five starters scoring average is in the double digits and they have two or three quality players who can contribute off the bench. In the classic 12-5 upset scenario, this definitely a team to be wary off.

The competition in the Horizon Conference was no match for Butler (28-4) this season as they went a perfect 18-0 in conference play and waltzed through the conference tournament, beating Wright State in the final 70-45.

The #8 ranked team in the nation also has some early season quality wins (Ohio State 74-66 and Xavier 69-68) on their resume so there is little doubt this team is for real. If they hope to make a deep run they will rely heavily on a pair of sophomores to get them there. G-F Gordon Hayward is averaging 15.4 points and 8.5 rebounds and G Shelvin Mack is averaging 13.9 points.

Another player to watch is junior F Matt Howard, who is averaging 12.3 points and 5.4 rebounds. If these three play at the top of their game, this team could be a bracket buster down the road.

This game is much closer than their seeds suggest as the selection committee certainly did not do Butler any favors matching them up with UTEP in the first round. Given that the line is so tight at just 2 ½ this would be the perfect game to pick a 12 over 5 upset.

My main concern with the Bulldogs is that they have not been tested since early in the season so it is hard to say how they will react against a quality opponent. For that reason alone I’m taking the Minors and the points.

Betting Trends:

Bulldogs are 1-5 ATS in their last 6 games following a SU win of more than 20 points
Bulldogs are 1-7-1 ATS in their last 9 games after allowing less than 50 points in their previous game
Bulldogs are 1-7 ATS in their last 8 neutral site games
Bulldogs are 0-4 ATS in their last 4 games following a ATS win
Miners are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 games as an underdog
Miners are 5-1 ATS in their last 6 games following a ATS loss
Miners are 6-2 ATS in their last 8 games vs. a team with a winning % above .600
Over is 10-2 in Bulldogs last 12 neutral site games
Under is 4-1 in Bulldogs last 5 games vs. a team with a winning % above .600

Miners vs. Bulldogs Free Pick:  UTEP +2.5

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