Updated on 09/16/2011 6:59AM

NCAA no Boston tea party


LAS VEGAS - If you follow what the professional bettors in Las Vegas do, Friday might be a good day to play big underdogs in the NCAA tournament.

Of the eight Friday games that opened with double-digit point spreads, the line moved toward the underdog in five of them (as of noon Wednesday) with the favorite being bet up only in one case: Pittsburgh up from a 14 1/2- to a 15 1/2-point favorite over Central Connecticut St. But that can mostly be explained by Pitt's Brandin Knight's injury status being upgraded to "probable." Two lines have held steady.

The biggest line move has been on McNeese St., which opened as a 14-point underdog to Mississippi St., but has been bet down to 10 1/2. Other big dogs attracting early money were Hampton (bet down from +14 to +12 1/2 vs. UConn), Creighton (from +10 to +9 1/2 vs. Florida), San Diego St. (from +11 to +10 vs. Illinois) and Illinois-Chicago (from +19 to +18 1/2 vs. Oklahoma).

In addition, Murray St. has been bet from +9 1/2 to +9 vs. Georgia and some early money has come in on Siena +26 1/2 vs. Maryland, though that line didn't go up until after Siena beat Alcorn St. Tuesday night in the play-in game.

Overall, 11 of the 16 Friday games have moved toward the dog with four holding steady. By comparison, for Thursday's games, the odds on seven favorites increased while five dogs got enough action to move the line. Two games opened at pick-em and two lines didn't move.

Texas (-5 1/2) vs. Boston College

Both teams have played tough schedules and have had trouble beating quality teams, but Texas's setbacks look much more respectable. The Longhorns took both Kansas and Oklahoma to overtime before losing, and also fought valiantly in a 3-point loss at Gonzaga and a 6-point loss at Indiana. Boston College is 1-5 against the spread in their last six games (3-3 straight up), including double-digit losses to Connecticut and Pittsburgh. T.J. Ford can move the Longhorns up and down the court, or they can bang the ball inside and play Big East-style. In addition, Texas should also have a decided home-court edge with the game being played in Dallas. I thought this line would be around 8, so this is a point-spread bargain.

Cincinnati (-24) vs. Boston U.

I have nothing against Boston, but I'm going against Beantown again. The Boston University-Cincinnati game has the possibility of being the biggest blowout of the opening round. BU's only chance is hitting 3-pointers, and you can bet that Cincy will be contesting every shot. The Terriers have been blown out by Boston College, Iowa (when they weren't playing well) and even Columbia. The West Region No. 1 seed Bearcats can name the score here, and it's not far-fetched to think that they will be out to make a statement after so many people questioned why they got the No. 1 seed in the West over Oklahoma. And the game is in Pittsburgh, and Cincy fans can make the drive there in just over four hours.

San Diego St. (+10) vs. Illinois

San Diego St. was my darkhorse pick in the Mountain West Tournament last weekend and the Aztecs came through. They have won eight of their last nine games, covering the spread in seven of them. The lone straight-up loss was to UNLV 83-76 in overtime after leading most of the game as a 4-point dog. The Aztecs, led by forward Randy Holcomb, are peaking at the right time and can play with Illinois athletically. The Illini are a streaky shooting team. If they're hot from 3-point range, then I'll probably lose this pick, but if they're cold or even lukewarm, San Diego St. can make a game of it and Illini's shaky free-throw shooting could come back to haunt them late in the game. Illinois should have a home-crowd edge in Chicago, but San Diego St. was able to overcome that obstacle vs. UNLV last week. One intangible going for the Aztecs is their coach, Steve Fisher, formerly of Michigan. He would love nothing more than to knock off a Big Ten team.

Penn (+4 1/2) vs. California

Played in Pittsburgh, this game is nearer to home for Penn than it is for the higher-seeded California Golden Bears. Penn has won 10 straight games (8-2 against the spread), including must-win games down the stretch to win the Ivy League title in a tiebreaker mini-tournament against Princeton and Yale. Cal has faced tougher overall competition in the Pac-10, but Penn was 17-10-1 against the spread this year and an even more impressive 8-3-1 outside the Ivy League, covering against major-conference teams such as Georgia Tech, Illinois, Temple, and Villanova (winning all of those but the Illinois game outright). Cal beat Princeton (but failed to cover) 70-58 in its season opener, while Penn beat Princeton more soundly, 62-38 and 64-48. Penn will have to slow down the game and work the ball inside to 6-8 forwards Ugonna Onyekwe and Koko Archibong. If they establish the tempo, it's anyone's game, so the 4 1/2 points is insurance.

Other leans

Hawaii (+2) vs. Xavier: Hawaii was 19-6 (76 percent) against the spread this year with one push, and traveling doesn't bother the Rainbows. I think the wrong team is favored in this No. 8 vs. 9 matchup.

Mississippi (+1) vs. UCLA: The same goes for this No. 8 vs. 9 game. Ole Miss plays defense, and UCLA is sloppy with the ball. Besides, the Bruins have failed to cover six of their last seven games and at 9-20-1 have the worst spread record of any tourney team.