NIT Final Four Predictions
by Victor Ryan - 03/30/2009
Baylor vs. San Diego State (-1, 136)
Baylor entered this season with high expectations, but any realistic thoughts the Bears had of playing in the NCAA Tournament were derailed after inexplicably losing 10 of 12 games to end the regular season.
The postseason has been a different story entirely. Baylor, who wound up ninth in the Big 12 and had gone 59 years without a postseason victory, reeled off three straight wins in the Big 12 Tournament (before losing in the final to Missouri) and is 3-0 in the NIT. After a stirring two-point home win against Georgetown in the opening round, the Bears won as road underdogs at Virginia Tech, 84-66, and Auburn, 74-72.
San Diego Statepunched its ticket to New York with a 70-66 home win vs. St. Mary's as a 3.5-point favorite last week. Prior to that, the Aztecs (26-9), who many thought deserved an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, scored dominating covers over Weber State and Kansas State. Like the Bears, the Aztecs are playing perhaps their best basketball of the season as evidenced by their 6-1 record against the number in their last seven games.
Another notable betting trend focuses on the total of 136. The Aztecs, who rank 12th in the country in scoring defense with just 59.2 points allowed, have kept it under the total in 21 of their 30 games this season. Baylor (23-14), thanks in large part to its good perimeter play led by guards Tweety Carter and Curtis Jerrells, ranks near the top in the country with 76.4 points a game, but are among the worse in the country with 70.3 points a game given up. Still, the under has been a profitable 17-11 with the Bears.
This looks to have all the makings of a close one as both programs are in uncharted waters this deep in the postseason. It could come down to who best handles the bright New York City spotlight. Both teams are 5-1 on a neutral floor this season.
The Aztecs have been rolling in the NIT and do have big-game experience on their sideline with Coach Steve Fisher of University of Michigan 'Fab Five' fame of the early 1990s. Fisher won both an NCAA and NIT championship at Michigan and figures to have his guys ready for this one. We'll take the Aztecs and the points and side with the under.
Notre Dame vs. Penn State (-4, 138)
Notre Dame opened as 3.5-point favorites and is now at -4 at most locations. Notre Dame earned its trip to New York with a 77-67 win vs. Kentucky as a 3.5-point home favorite last week, while Penn State advanced by stunning Florida, 71-62, as a 10.5-point road underdog.
The Irish (21-14) were expected to challenge for the Big East title, and possibly even a national championship, as the season dawned. However, Notre Dame went 32 days without a win during the middle of the Big East season and was quickly bounced by West Virginia in the second round of the conference tournament to end any NCAA Tournament hopes.
Penn State (25-11) tied for fourth during the Big Ten regular season and its 25 wins ties a school record. Jamelle Cornley led the way for the Nittany Lions in their quarterfinal win over the Gators. Cornley, who missed Penn State's 83-72 second round win over Rhode Island because of a partially separated left shoulder, returned to pour in 23 points on 11-of-14 shooting and added 12 rebounds.
As a team, Penn State outrebounded the Gators 35-25 and shot nearly 50 percent from the floor. The Irish have already played three times this year at Madison Square Garden and are 1-2. In fact, this year's senior class has played eight times in New York City. Coach Mike Brey told the local media he feels it's a big advantage for his team.
Notre Dame forward Zach Hillesland echoed his coach's sentiments.
"It was the last time I felt giddy about playing in any venue…It really isn't just another place," Hillesland told the South Bend Tribune. "They can say the party line about it being another game and whatnot, but they're not going to really know until they get out there and play. There will be an adjustment period for them."
Penn State Coach Ed DeChellis has instructed his players to soak up everything New York has to offer, according to local reports, and that could indicate the Nittany Lions are simply happy to be here.
Notre Dame played one of its better games in a while vs. Kentucky. They made 12 3-pointers, their second highest total of the season, and were paced by Luke Harangody's 30 points. Success in the Big Apple could provide a bit of redemption for Notre Dame. We're looking for the Irish to cover easily.