NCAA Basketball 3-Point Play: Three Interesting NIT/NCAA Tournament Opening Lines
by Alan Matthews - 3/23/2015
It's my final week of doing these daily college basketball stories for this season. I will hit on every NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 game between now and Wednesday (two today, three Tuesday and three Wednesday) while also including one NIT game from Tuesday night. The ACC is the big winner by far in the Big Dance with five teams remaining, with at least one guaranteed a spot in the Elite Eight because Louisville and NC State play one another. The ACC could earn as much as a record $40 million in this tournament for its members depending on how it plays out.
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No. 2 Miami Fla. at No. 1 Richmond (-2)
This NIT quarterfinal game is Tuesday night at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN, with the winner moving on to Madison Square Garden next Tuesday (probably against No. 1 Temple, my pick to win the tournament).
The Hurricanes (23-12) thought they did enough during the regular season and ACC Tournament to get an invitation to the NCAA Tournament, but clearly they were only fifth in line among NIT teams because the "First Four Out" all got No. 1 seeds. Miami has advanced with a 75-71 win over No. 7 North Carolina Central and then 73-66 over No. 6 Alabama on Saturday. Both of those games were in Coral Gables. Against the Tide, Canes big man Tonye Jekiri hit the first 3-pointer of his career and it led a game-deciding 17-2 run. Miami played without point guard Angel Rodriguez, who sat out because of a wrist injury that he's aggravated several times in recent weeks. Rodriguez, who averages 11.9 points and 3.9 assists, is questionable. Miami won't beat Richmond if leading scorer Sheldon McClellan struggles again. He was 1-for-5 for two points against Alabama. Richmond (21-13), of the Atlantic 10, opened the NIT with an 84-74 victory over No. 8 St. Francis (N.Y.) and then beat Arizona State 76-70 in overtime Sunday. The Spiders trailed for most of the second half before pulling even on a free throw by T.J. Cline with 1:05 to play. ASU had three chances to win in regulation and Richmond one, but neither team could capitalize. Kendall Anthony, the lone senior on Richmond, led the team with 21 points (seven in OT).
This is the first matchup between Miami and Richmond. Interestingly, in UM coach Jim Larranaga's 31 years as a head coach, he has never coached a game in Madison Square Garden. He did play in it multiple times while at Providence.
Key trends: Miami is 7-1 against the spread in its past eight vs. the Atlantic 10. Richmond has covered 10 of its past 14 vs. teams with a winning record. The Spiders are 0-5 ATS in their past five vs. the ACC.
Why take the underdog: I think Rodriguez plays and UM has too much size overall.
No. 7 Wichita State vs. No. 3 Notre Dame (+1, 137)
This Midwest Region game from Cleveland starts Thursday at 7:15 p.m. on ESPN with the winner most likely facing unbeaten Kentucky for a trip to the Final Four. I actually think the Irish are one of a few teams that could beat UK because despite having little size, Notre Dame can shoot as well as anyone. It ranks second nationally in field-goal percentage.
Notre Dame (31-5), off its ACC Tournament title, squeaked by No. 14 Northeastern 69-65 and then did the same on Saturday night in overtime against No. 6 Butler, 67-64. Quite an emotional day for Notre dame coach Mike Brey as he learned his mother Betty, a former U.S. Olympic swimmer, had passed away earlier in the day. Steve Vasturia led the Irish with 20 points against Butler, while star Jerian Grant had 16. He has played every single second in the two tournament games. Notre Dame had failed to reach the second weekend of the tournament in its previous six attempts. The Irish are going to have to improve their normally good 3-point shooting to advance. They were just 8-for-26 combined in those two wins. The last time the Irish reached a regional final was 1979 when they lost to a Michigan State team led by a guy named Magic Johnson. Wichita State (30-4) has begged Kansas for an annual game in years, but KU treats Wichita like a pesky little brother and won't do it. So the 78-65 upset of the No. 2 Jayhawks on Sunday had to feel especially sweet. It was the first meeting since 1993 between the schools. Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton and Evan Wessel combined for 60 points and nine 3-pointers for WSU. How fitting would it be for Wichita to get a shot to end UK's perfect season after Kentucky did that to the Shockers in the Round of 32 last year?
Key trends: Wichita is 7-2 ATS in its past nine NCAA Tournament games. It is 2-6 ATS in its past eight nonconference games. Notre Dame is 5-2 ATS in its past seven against teams with a winning record. The "over/under" has gone over is in four of WSU's past five games. The under is 4-1 in Notre Dame's past five.
Why take the underdog: This line totally shocks me (no pun intended). I can't believe the Irish, the champions of the best conference in basketball, aren't at least three-point favorites.
No. 5 West Virginia vs. No. 1 Kentucky (-13.5, 136.5)
This Midwest Region game in Cleveland will start 30 minutes after the end of the Wichita State-Notre Dame matchup (approximately 9:45) Thursday on CBS.
I'll be honest in that I didn't see West Virginia (25-9) getting this far -- I thought the Mountaineers might lose their opening-round game against No. 12 Buffalo but wouldn't beat No. 4 Maryland. WVU did, 69-59 on Sunday. Devin Williams led Bob Huggins' club with 16 points and 10 rebounds against the Terps. WVU and its pressure defense forced 23 turnovers, the 16th time this season it forced at least 20 against a Division I opponent. That's seven more than any team in the nation. The Mountaineers are 15-2 this season when scoring at least 20 points off turnovers (26 vs. Maryland) and 10-7 when they don't. I think WVU would have a better chance of an upset vs. UK if this was a quick turnaround game on the weekend but not with Kentucky having all week to prepare. Kentucky (36-0) has won its first two games by double digits but certainly hasn't been as dominant as expected or covered either one. The Cats were -15 against No. 8 Cincinnati and won 64-51 on Saturday. Kentucky shot just 37 percent and was outrebounded 45-38. But then UC is a fabulous defensive team that rebounds well. Down 24-21 with 3:16 remaining in the first half, UK closed the half on a 10-0 run to take a lead it would not relinquish. Kentucky now has the longest win streak to begin a season in Division I history.
Key trends: WVU is 5-0 ATS in its past five nonconference games. It is 0-5 ATS in its past five vs. the SEC. Kentucky is 2-5 ATS in its past five after an ATS loss. The under is 8-3 in WVU's past 11 after a win. The under is 13-3 in UK's past 16 nonconference games.
Why take the favorite: I'm not real high on the Big 12 right now after what happened in the first two rounds.
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