St. Mary’s vs. Valpo Pick – NIT Tournament March 22nd

It was an odd night for home teams in the NIT last night as a pair of #1 seeds got absolutely steamrolled by #4 seeds.  Look, the 82nd best team beating the 69th best team isn’t breaking news in and of itself, but it is rare for teams to get throttled that badly as the favorite in the NIT for the simple reason that the higher seed gets home court advantage until the Final Four moves to New York City.  South Carolina was absolutely humiliated by the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets as the Season of the ACC is apparently extending even beyond the Big Dance, and our pick, the loveable Monmouth Hawks went disastrously cold from the floor in the final ten minutes en route to an 87-71 defeat to the GW Colonials.  MAAC Player of the Year Justin Robinson was a disastrous 2 of 16 from the floor in his final collegiate game – a sad ending to a really fun and interesting career for the diminutive point guard.

Given the way the #11 and #12s have played in the NCAA Tournament, one can’t help but wonder if the two teams in tonight’s featured pick might have been still playing even IF they HAD gotten an invite to the Big Dance.  Both Valpo and St. Mary’s profile really favorably to Northern Iowa, Wichita State, Yale and Gonzaga.  It should be a really entertaining and high-level game tonight – so who prevails??

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Today’s Free Pick:

St. Mary’s Gaels at Valpo Crusaders -4.5

Valpo and St. Mary’s both had excellent cases for inclusion in the tourney (and NO Syracuse beating a slumping Dayton and #15 Middle Tennessee State doesn’t automatically justify the Committee’s selection).  Valpo finished the year 28-6 with wins over Iona, Oregon State and Belmont and a close 6-point loss at Oregon.  Their six losses were mostly reasonable; Oregon, Belmont, Green Bay in the Horizon Tournament, but the sweep by Wright State might have been their ultimate undoing.

Meanwhile, St. Mary’s went 29-5 after losing to Gonzaga in the WCC Final, with other losses coming at Cal and to BYU.  For the Gaels, it was a sweep by Pepperdine that likely ended the party, and the fact they had no Top 50 wins.  They did beat Stanford and BYU twice, but because their two wins over Gonzaga knocked them to 52nd in RPI, they lacked a single “top 50” win.  Ironically, had the LOST once more to Gonzaga, they might have had a better profile (#bad system).

What’s done is done.  And what is left is a good basketball game and a chance to go to New York City and keep playing nationally televised basketball.  Valpo has an edge being at home where they are 16-1 SU this season, but St. Mary’s will be a tough foe.  Road wins at Gonzaga and a close game at Cal indicate this team will be just fine away from home.  Plus, Valpo sputtered a little bit late in the season.  They are just 1-4 ATS in their last five games and just 2-5 ATS in their last seven home games.  St. Mary’s will have their hands full with Alec Peters, but top to bottom are the slightly more talented team.

I like them with the points and wouldn’t be surprised if they won straight up.  Watching Gonzaga this weekend just manhandle Seton Hall and Utah is an indication those two St. Mary’s wins might have been worth far more than the Committee realized.

I’ll take the Gaels tonight with the points.

Free Pick: St. Mary’s Gaels +4.5