I’m not trying to pass tonight’s game off as a championship game that you should put your life on pause to watch, but tonight’s NIT Final IS a championship game nonetheless and features two really quality basketball teams. George Washington has gotten hot at the right team and more closely resembles the team that neat Virginia in their season opener than the one that stumbled well out of at-large consideration in the last month of A-10 play. Valpo looks the same; meaning a team that was plenty good enough to get an NCAA Tournament bid (and probably should have… Tulsa? Reallllly?) has used the snub as fuel and can at least be one of just a handful of teams that gets to end their season with a win.
We have two more days until the National Semifinals, but tonight is a pretty good appetizer on ESPN. I’m looking forward to a pretty interesting and well-played game. But who lifts the trophy?
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Today’s Free Pick:
George Washington Colonials vs. Valparaiso Crusaders -2
GW looked like a tournament team until about eight weeks ago. Losses to Davidson and Richmond probably did them in, but aside from those losses, the overall GW resume should make their recent play pretty unsurprising. They lost to St. Joes, Dayton, VCU and Cincinnati. They have wins over Virginia, Seton Hall, and VCU.
Meanwhile, Valpo has been solid all year long except for a weird matchup issue with Wright State. They have narrow losses to Oregon and Belmont and wins over Oregon State, Belmont and twice over the Green Bay team that stunned them in the Horizon Tournament. They steamrolled St. Mary’s and Florida State before almost giving away the BYU game in the NIT Semis.
This should be a good matchup, but I’ll lean towards the team with better size, more depth and a better season record in Valpo. Alec Peters deserved a chance to introduce himself to the nation in the Big Dance, but if you haven’t had a chance to see the versatile pick and pop big man play, tonight is your last chance. Take advantage of it. He is a big reason the Crusaders have a +13.1ppg point differential this season.
George Washington plays in a better league, at least at the top, but has done most of their damage against teams that aren’t any better than the middle and top of the Horizon League. Valpo has played a fairly similar slate and has been much better away from home. They are 12-4 in non-home games while GW is just 9-6. It’s a small difference, but I think it is enough to lean Valpo tonight on a neutral floor. The late slip up against BYU should be the wake up call they need to get back on track and focused tonight.
Look for a good game, and the line tonight is a fair one. I like Valpo to make a few more plays down the stretch to pull out a narrow cover.