The first day of the NIT is always interesting; do teams that were snubbed like Monmouth, Valpo, St. Mary’s and San Diego Stat come out playing with a vengeance and anger, or do they sulk through the motions, still frustrated from their omission?
It will be interesting to watch tonight, and of course, the Big Dance gets under way with the 16/16 undercard, followed by possibly the most interesting “play in” game since the expanded Field of 68 became the new normal.
Also – be sure to check back today and tomorrow for an in-depth overall preview of the NCAA field and some decent future wager possibilities.
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Today’s Free Pick:
Vanderbilt Commodores vs. Wichita State Shockers -3
Vanderbilt was perhaps the biggest shock in the Bracket (in the non-Tulsa category). The ‘Dores have plenty of talent, in fact many liked them as a Final Four sleeper preseason, but it just never materialized. They made a nice run to get onto the Bubble, but their opening round SEC Tourney loss to lowly Tennessee seemingly ended their season.
They get new life tonight.
Their opponent knows the drill of March Madness. They made the Final Four as a wild underdog. They lost in the second round as a #1 seed against Kentucky in one of the best first weekend games in recent NCAA history. This year, they find themselves back in the perhaps more comfortable underdog role as a criminally underseeded 11 seed. Their backcourt is back for the third straight year, Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet, and just the two of them are enough for me to pick them to advance. The Shockers profile took a hit when they dropped a few games while Van Vleet was hurt and then lost to then-unranked Seton Hall on the road in overtime after Van Vleet returned. After last weekend’s Big East tourney, it’s hard to view that loss as “bad” any longer…
Alas, Wichita State is in a tough seed, but I like them to make some noise. I think they win tonight and think they have a real good chance to clip Arizona Thursday as well. They are one of the most efficient teams in the nation per-possession. Every loss was by four points or less and to good teams with the exception of the Iowa blowout without Van Vleet and the road loss at Tulsa in the second game of the season. Losses to USC, Seton Hall, Northern Iowa and Alabama all seem a LOT less bad after a full season of play. And they’ve won a ton of games too; not just this year but over the past three years with a lot of this core intact.
Three points is a near pick’em, and not nearly enough to scare me off the Shockers tonight. Look for Wichita State to out-execute the Commodores and to show their tourney experience and poise. If backcourts win in March, they don’t get much better than Baker and Van Vleet. Vanderbilt certainly has the frontcourt edge, with a pair of talented seven-footers. But that size has been there all year and they still lost games to LSU, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Tennessee.
I’ll lay the three and take the Shockers to gear up for another fun March run.
High Point Panthers at South Carolina Gamecocks -17
Look, South Carolina is the better team, obviously, and they are playing at home. But 17 points?? That’s a ton. High Point is a competent and competitive basketball team. They lost by four in a true road game at Texas Tech, they lost by three in a true road game at Georgia. They lost by three at NC State and four at William & Mary. In fact, other than a distrous trip to Winthrop (who won the league) no one beat them by more than five points all regular season.
I expect High Point to compete tonight, and frankly, aren’t sure how a power program that expected to be in the Big Dance after starting season as the final undefeated team in the country gets up for tonight.
They might win. They SHOULD win. But I’ll take 17 points and the Panthers all day long.
Free Pick: High Point Panthers +17 (line at BetOnline.com and sportsbetting.ag – no one else has the game currently listed, so this line could be subject to a big change… FEELS too good to be true)