Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, March 18, 2012 at 9:29 PM
After four days of wall-to-wall basketball, the NCAA Tournament will take some time off until the Sweet 16 picks up on Thursday. You can be certain we’ll resume our intense game previews and stat reports at that time. But, don’t get the idea that you, or we, should be taking three days off. The NIT has some very entertaining teams involved…and the second round and quarterfinals are being played tonight through Wednesday.
You may not be aware that five teams are already through to the quarters. Washington and Massachusetts were the first ones in over the weekend (with UMASS scoring an impressive win over one of the top seeds, Seton Hall). Three more teams joined the Elite Eight Sunday. Monday brings the final three games that will send the final three teams to the party.
Among those is Tennessee, one of the top seeds in this event, and a squad that closed the season very well. We’ll start our Monday previews with their clash against Middle Tennessee (that’s going to be a great crowd!). As we go through the matchups, we’ll discuss how clues from the NCAA’s might provide guidance for best expectations tonight.
MIDDLE TENNESSEE (4) AT TENNESSEE (1)
M. Tennessee: 53 in Sagarin, 61 in Pomeroy, 84 on offense, 49 on defense
Tennessee: 65 in Sagarin, 59 in Pomeroy, 97 on offense, 38 on defense
Vegas Line: Tennessee by 5.5, total of 134.5
Remember that we’re still at home sites in this round of the NIT, which will also be true in the quarterfinals. These aren’t neutral site games. The Volunteers should have a boisterous home crowd in Knoxville. But, you know there will be a Middle Tennessee contingent there for this meeting that’s creating a huge local buzz. Home court is typically worth 3-4 points in college hoops, but often more in the NIT (you’ve seen some cases already this year where it seemed to be worth about twice the normal size). We have some strong opinions about the true value in this matchup, and that will play into any final decisions we make on the game.
The computers have these teams surprisingly even. Just remember that Tennessee closed the season very well…and those rankings reflect the FULL season rather than just what’s been happening lately. The Vols are probably a bit better than the rankings suggest. Factor that in plus home court, and you can see why the market is sitting where it is.
Stylistically, both teams are similar. You can see that defense is better than offense, but that both are top 100 in each. Either of these teams could have been in the Dance. Middle Tennessee was the regular season champ in the Sun Belt. They probably would have been about a 13th seed, maybe 14th had they won the conference tournament. Tennessee is a top seed in the NIT, which means they just missed making the Dance. Probably best to think of them at the South Florida-California class rather than the BYU-Iona class in terms of the play-in teams.
There’s potential here for a great game. But, the NCAA’s are surely alerting us to the fact that Tennessee could be NIT championship material. Kentucky’s looked great so far. Florida crushed Virginia of the ACC in the first round. Vanderbilt just missed taking out Wisconsin. We’re certainly keeping that in mind here. Middle Tennessee is much better than the Western Kentucky team that represented the Sun Belt…but would they be that small a dog on the road vs. other top SEC teams?
Great game to handicap…and our sources in the SEC will be assisting greatly with the final call.
MINNESOTA (6) AT MIAMI-FLORIDA (2)
Minnesota: 47 in Sagarin, 49 in Pomeroy, 61 on offense, 61 on defense
Miami-FL: 41 in Sagarin, 34 in Pomeroy, 36 on offense, 56 on defense
Vegas Line: Miami by 5, total of 132.5
The Big Ten has certainly made a few statements so far in the NCAA’s. It hasn’t been a clean sweep, but they’ve generally played to their computer ratings in a way that would give Minnesota a fighting chance to play well in Miami. Keep in mind that Duke and Virginia fell in the first round in the ACC, and Florida State barely survived St. Bonaventure. Miami may not be as good as the computers are suggesting (and the computers would have had them IN the Dance as an at-large team). Minnesota may be a touch better.
That being said, what a killer road trip. Can you go any farther North to South in this country?! Minnesota had to open with LaSalle in Philadelphia last Wednesday. At least they’ve had plenty of time to prepare and deal with the travel. The NIT brackets make it very tough for inferior seeds to advance any way because the games are on the road. The Gophers really drew the short end of the stick here in terms of travel. Luck of the brackets.
This is a game where information from sources is likely to mean everything. If Minnesota isn’t going to travel well, Miami should coast to a double digit cover. If Minnesota means business, we’re looking at a buzzer game given what we’ve seen from the Big Ten in the postseason. (Have you noticed how many NIT matchups are either blowouts or buzzer games?!). We’ll only play this game if we get something good from our sources.
ILLINOIS STATE (7) AT STANFORD (3)
Illinois St.: 84 in Sagarin, 87 in Pomeroy, 78 on offense, 110 on defense
Stanford: 51 in Sagarin, 51 in Pomeroy, 102 on offense, 25 on defense
Vegas Line: Stanford by 7.5, total of 136.5
Another tough trip for a visitor. Illinois State upset Ole Miss in a 7-2 game in the first round. Now they have to jet out to Palo Alto to face the Cardinal. The good news for Illinois State is that they’re facing a Pac 10 team…and the Pac 10 flamed out of the NCAA’s in fairly unimpressive fashion outside of Colorado’s upset of UNLV. And, that upset may have been a case of the Mountain West being very overrated. Also, Illinois State may be better than their full season rankings given how good they looked I the Missouri Valley tournament. Remember that they beat Wichita State before losing to Creighton in overtime. Of course, that may not mean as much as it seemed at the time.
And, from Stanford’s perspective, the Pac 10 hasn’t washed out of the NIT. Washington blew out Northwestern to reach the quarterfinals back on Saturday Night.
Pace will be a big factor for us here. It can be tough for a favorite to cover a number that high in a slowdown game. It’s easier to scoot past to a laugher if the teams are moving up and down the floor.
Of course, our potential Monday action isn’t limited to the NIT. You will get anything strong that pops up from our exclusive team handicapping approach. But, we’re also looking at the NBA, where these games in particular have our attention:
Boston at Atlanta
Chicago at Orlando (on TNT)
Dallas at Denver (on TNT)
Again…this isn’t a night to take off! Keep focusing on your bankroll as we move down the road to riches during March Madness.
Our Monday slate will be up by early this afternoon here at this website. Make a few clicks and have your credit card handy. You can also sign up for the rest of basketball at a great rate by calling our office at 1-800-323-4453. In fact, today is the perfect time to take care of that because everything is a night game after four straight early sessions.
Hey…with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK, the letters N.I.T. stand for NOW IS the TIME!