03/16/2007 11:00PM

Tennessee can outgun Virginia


LAS VEGAS - After favorites won 15 of 16 games straight-up and went 13-2-1 against the spread on Thursday's opening day of the NCAA tournament, Friday was a little more balanced with favorites going 12-4 straight-up and 8-7-1 against the spread.

However, the tournament still remained devoid of any major upset as the top five seeds in each region advanced and, just like Thursday when No. 11 seed Virginia Commonwealth knocked off No. 6 seed Duke, a No. 11 seed was the lowest seed to win as Winthrop beat No. 6 Notre Dame 74-64.

The most thrilling game, which went from a potential outright upset to a point spread point battle, was No. 15 seed Texas A&M Corpus Christi vs. No. 2 Wisconsin, the 13-point favorite. Texas A&M CC jumped out to a 10-0 lead before Wisconsin even got on the board and then extended the lead to 25-7. The Badgers made a late first-half run, but the Islanders still led 27-19 at the half. But Wisconsin roared back in the second half and tied the game at 47-47 with 10:15 remaining. They proceeded to take control and looked on the way to actually covering the spread when Kammron Taylor's two free throws gave the Badgers a 14-point lead with 1:20 to play, but then Texas A&M CC hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 11 and another Wisconsin basket put the margin right on the 13-point spread. Bettors on both sides were taking an interest in the closing seconds as the coaches cleared their benches. A Wisconsin sub threw up an airball to keep the Badgers from getting clear of the number and a Texas A&M backup threw up a 3-pointer at the buzzer that clanged off the iron to leave the game as a push.

Through Friday, favorites were 27-5 straight-up and 21-9-2 against the spread with the under holding a slight edge in totals wagering at 16-15-1.

As for my own selections, the preponderance of favorites has left me with a 3-7 record with my bankroll plays against the spread (in fact, I'm 0-6 with underdog picks and 3-1 on favorites), though I am 16-15-1 in all games.

Here's a look at three of Sunday's eight second-round games, listed in betting rotation order (all times are Eastern), starting with one short favorite and then going with two underdogs:

Tennessee (-2) vs. Virginia (o/u 153)

At Columbus, Ohio

When Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said on the Jim Rome show to "bet the over" in the Volunteers' first-round game vs. Long Beach St., he wasn't kidding. The total went from 163 to 169 and then Tennessee proceeded to beat Long Beach St. 121-86 as the Volunteers relished the chance to run and gun. Off that performance, oddsmakers made Tennessee, a No. 5 seed, the favorite over No. 4 Virginia, which showed more offensive firepower than it has recently with an 84-57 win over Albany. I think they have the right favorite and I'll lay the short price with the Volunteers and also go with the over as it looks like both teams are willing to get in another track meet. According to statfox.com, Tennessee is 36-23 with the over (61 percent) since Pearl took over as coach, including 27-13 as a favorite (67.5 percent).

PLAY: Tennessee for 1 unit and over 153 points for 1 unit.

Winthrop (+3) vs. Oregon

At Spokane, Wash.

Winthrop has assumed the Cinderella role in a tournament with few upsets. The Eagles showed they were for real by building a 20-point lead over Notre Dame before withstanding a rally, and they match up even better against an Oregon team that had its hands full vs. Miami-Ohio and failed to cover a 9-point spread in a 58-56 win. Over the past three seasons, Winthrop is 6-0 against the spread in road games when playing against a team with a winning record.

PLAY: Winthrop for 1 unit.

USC (+2 1/2) vs. Texas

At Spokane, Wash.

USC was my lone winner Friday and I'll wheel back with them on Sunday. If you had played any team in the tournament that had 4 or more returning starters from last year than they're opponent, you would have gone 30-15 (66.7 percent) against the spread. Texas is still a young team, and even though the Longhorns might have the best player in the country in Kevin Durant, USC has Taj Gibson to match up against him and the Trojans play good team defense, which is rare for West Coast teams.

PLAY: USC for 1 unit.

Friday's NCAA bankroll record: 1-4. Record through first round: 3-7, including 0-1 with 2-unit plays, for a net loss of 5.8 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1). Record in all tournament record: 16-15-1.

Here are my leans, again listed in rotation order:

* Southern Illinois PK vs. Virginia Tech

* Wisconsin -5 1/2 vs. UNLV

* Kansas -8 vs. Kentucky

* Memphis -5 1/2 vs. Nevada

* Florida -9 vs. Purdue