Middle Tennessee vs. Saint Mary's Picks and College Basketball Odds
by Alan Matthews - 3/18/2013
In my humble opinion, easily the best of the First Four games is the nightcap Tuesday in Dayton when No. 11 Middle Tennessee takes on No. 11 Saint Mary's, with the winner facing Memphis in Auburn Hills, Mich. Clearly the Blue Raiders and Gaels were two of the last four teams in the Big Dance, behind only No. 13 seeds Boise State and La Salle, who play Wednesday night.
I think Saint Mary's (27-6) got a bit jobbed by having to play in this play-in game. The Gaels (27-6) have lost to just one team since the calendar flipped to 2013: Gonzaga (three times). They have a very good No. 30 RPI with wins over NCAA Tournament teams Harvard, Pacific and Creighton. It's the second straight Big Dance for Saint Mary's, which lost its opener last season to Purdue.
Middle Tennessee (28-5, a school record for wins) likely was sweating bullets on Selection Sunday after the Blue Raiders were stunned 61-57 by Florida International in the Sun Belt Conference semifinals to end their national-best 17-game winning streak. Middle Tennessee dominated that league in the regular season with a 19-1 mark. According to NCAA selection committee chair Mike Bobinski, Middle Tennessee's strong road record of 11-3 was what got it an at-large bid. It has an RPI of 28 and beat SEC Tournament Champion Mississippi. This is the Blue Raiders' first NCAA Tournament since 1989.
This is the first meeting between these schools, although the two head coaches have a history. Middle Tennessee's Kermit Davis and Saint Mary's Randy Bennett were on the same staff at Idaho in 1986-87. Davis was an assistant and Bennett a graduate assistant under Tim Floyd.
Middle Tennessee vs. Saint Mary's Betting Story Lines
Middle Tennessee is a deep club, with Davis playing usually 10-11 guys. Nine players average more than 12 minutes per game. Ten different Blue Raiders have been the leading scorer in a game this season. The Blue Raider bench has outscored its opponent in all but two games. The star is senior guard Marcos Knight. He leads the team in scoring (12.7 points per game, the only player in double figures) and rebounds (5.8). MT has a Vinnie Johnson-type off the bench in Raymond Cintron. The senior from Puerto Rico led the Sun Belt in three-point shooting and averaged 8.7 points in just 21.8 minutes per game. The Blue Raiders are an excellent defensive club, leading the Sun Belt in opponents' field-goal percentage (39.4) and No. 2 in points allowed (61.4). They will head to Conference USA next season.
Saint Mary's is led by Aussie senior guard Matthew Dellavedova, one of the best players in school history. The three-time first-team WCC pick leads the team in scoring (15.8) and assists (6.4). I'm guessing that Davis will stick Bruce Massey, the Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year, primarily on Dellavedova. Once concern for the Gaels is that Dellavedova has totaled just nine points on 3-for-20 shooting in the past two games, an overtime win over San Diego and a 14-point loss to Gonzaga. The Cousy Award finalist is the school's all-time leader in scoring, assists, three-point field goals, games played and free-throw shooting.
There is one key injury to be aware of. Saint Mary's guard Jorden Page hurt his knee in that loss to Gonzaga and is doubtful for this one. Also an Aussie, Page averages 6.4 points in 19.1 minutes per game.
Middle Tennessee vs. Saint Mary's NCAA Tournament Betting Odds and Key Trends
At BetOnline, Saint Mary's is a three-point favorite with the total at 132. Saint Mary's is 15-14-1 ATS (7-3-1 away from home) and 11-13 “over/under” (4-4 on road). Middle Tennessee is 14-14-1 ATS (4-9 on road) and 11-9 O/U (5-4 on road).
Saint Mary's is 1-4 in its past five neutral-site games. Middle Tennessee is 0-3-1 ATS in its past four neutral site games. It is 4-9 ATS in its past 13 vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 7-0 in the Gaels' past seven after an ATS loss. The over is 7-3 in MT's past 10 overall
Middle Tennessee vs. Saint Mary's Picks and Betting Predictions
You have to like that Saint Mary's has the experience of playing in the NCAA Tournament, with four starters back off that team, while none of the Blue Raiders can say that. Still, MT has six seniors and five juniors in the rotation, making it the second-most experienced team in the nation behind Valparaiso.
I just wonder where the offense will come from. In its five losses, Middle Tennessee averaged 57.6 points per game. It also hasn't beaten anyone of note -- sorry, I don't think all that highly of Ole Miss. Unless Dellavedova gets into foul trouble, I think the Gaels cover rather easily. Also take the under.
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