Illinois State vs. Old Dominion Pick NCAA – March 23rd

And then there were Sixteen. How Sweet it is for far from “mid” majors like Wichita State who slew their instate giant Kansas, Xavier who made their fifth Sweet Sixteen in eight years, and Gonzaga who stormed through the weekend and now gets a chance to avenge their brutal loss nearly a decade ago in the Sweet Sixteen to UCLA. Favorites like Kentucky and Arizona and Duke rolled. Other favorites like Wisconsin and Notre Dame got tested but survived and venerable names and legendary coaches, dangerous teams like North Carolina, Michigan State, West Virginia and Louisville are still hanging around.

It’s going to be an amazing weekend in college hoops, with four nights of can’t-miss matchups. But in the meantime, there is some college hoops to sate the appetite and some pretty good games tonight in the NIT. So let’s get to tonight’s free pick and try to bolster the college bankroll before an enormous weekend.

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Today’s Free Pick:

Illinois State Redbirds at Old Dominion Monarchs -3

Many people thought Old Dominion deserved a spot in the Big Dance. Obviously, given the lower profile of the school, there wasn’t nearly the outcry that a few other teams received, but either they or Temple would have been plenty more deserving than Oklahoma State whose nine-seed still baffles me. Anyhow, Old Dominion is at home where they are a perfect 18-0 this season and have knocked off more than a few teams with similar profiles to Illinois State.

Meanwhile, Illinois State has the glamorous win over Wichita State in the MVC semifinals, so it is no secret that they can play ball and have the capability of winning on any given night. However, a true road game is never easy, and unlike the big conference schools who often mail it in for the NIT I expect Old Dominion and their fans to be up for tonight’s game.

Illinois State is just 7-5 away from home, and a large reason is probably their offensive and defensive efficiency. They are shooting just 43% on the road and allowing 41.7% to their opponents. Compare that with Old Dominion’s splits of 43.4% and just 39% allowed and it is easy to see ODU being the more efficient team tonight at home.

The talent levels are pretty easy, but I’d give the big edge to ODU for their entire body of work. Illinois State is buoyed greatly by the late win over Wichita State, which is impressive, but aside from that win they don’t have a top 100 win other than UAB.

I’ll take the better team, and the home crowd, which matters a ton in late season tournaments.

Free Pick: Old Dominion -3