March 16, 2011

NCAA Tournamnet Pick: #14 Bucknell vs. #3 Connecticut

The third-seeded Connecticut Huskies (26-9) will go as far in the West Region as star guard Kemba Walker can take them after winning five games in five days at the Big East Conference tournament last week en route to the championship. Despite having five days off, fatigue could be a bit of a factor for the Huskies (-10) when they meet the 14th-seeded Bucknell Bison (25-8) on Thursday in second-round action of the NCAA tournament at Tucson’s McKale Center.

UConn became the first team ever to win five games in five days over the course of a college basketball conference tournament as the Big East’s #9 seed, topping #3 Louisville 69-66 in the championship game last Saturday. Now the question is, does this team have enough left in the tank to carry that success over to the Big Dance?

The Huskies covered the spread in all five games of the Big East tournament, winning the last three as underdogs against #1 Pittsburgh (+5.5) in the quarterfinals last Thursday, #4 Syracuse (+4) in the semifinals last Friday and then the Cardinals (+3) in the title game. They had lost four of their last five games both straight-up and against the spread to finish the regular season, making their seeding somewhat controversial.

Walker set a conference tournament record with 130 points in the five games and played 190 of a possible 205 minutes. He also averaged 40 minutes in the last seven regular-season games, with the UNDER going 5-1-1 in those games. The last time an MVP from the Big East tournament willed his team to the championship like that came in 2006, when Syracuse guard Gerry McNamara led his team to four wins in four days. The Orange flamed out in the first round of the NCAA tournament that year in a similar scenario, with Texas A&M pulling off a 66-58 upset.

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Whether or not Bucknell can duplicate that feat remains to be seen, but the best way to stop UConn is to simply hope Walker has an off game shooting. The Bison won the Patriot League’s regular-season and tournament championships and bring a 10-game winning streak into the NCAA tournament. They are back in the Big Dance for the first time since 2006, when they shocked Arkansas 59-55 in the first round as 5-point underdogs before losing 72-56 to Memphis.

Bucknell will be looking to control the tempo with its motion offense, something the Huskies could have trouble with due to unfamiliarity. The Bison have also not allowed an opponent to score 70 points in their last 10 games, including their last three that all went UNDER the total.

Take Bucknell and the Points

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