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Steve Merril’s College Fullcourt Report (Mar. 28)
Many sports fans are looking to the Final Four this weekend in the NCAA Tournament, but another Final Four begins tonight with the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
The first game between Old Dominion and Michigan involves a CAA team from a conference that suddenly gained national notoriety thanks to George Mason’s incredible Cinderella run.
Tonight’s final game features last year’s NIT champion in South Carolina as the Gamecocks attempt to win back-to-back titles. Head Coach Dave Odom is looking to qualify for the NIT Finals for the fourth time in the past eight seasons as he also won the tournament in 2000 with Wake Forest and lost in the 2002 Finals with South Carolina .
OLD DOMINION (-1, 136) vs. MICHIGAN – 7:00 p.m. ET (espn2)
An interesting line move in this game as Michigan opened as a 2-point favorite and enough money came in on Old Dominion this week to move the Monarchs to a 1-point favorite.
It’s very likely that the Big Ten’s poor showing and the Colonial Athletic Association’s strong showing in the NCAA Tournament, especially Connecticut’s shocking George Mason’s upset on Sunday, played a big role in that line move.
All six Big Ten teams failed to advance to the second round of the Big Dance, as CAA rep NC-Wilmington held a 14-point lead over George Washington and George Mason beat Connecticut, in North Carolina, and fellow Big Ten, Michigan State.
Old Dominion was a preseason favorite to win the CAA title, but this veteran Monarch team has underperformed this year. ODU turned things around in the NIT with an impressive road win in Colorado and a home win over Manhattan. Perhaps the most impressive victory for the Monarchs was their 61-51 victory at Hofstra last Wednesday, as Pride enjoyed a 21-game winning streak at home and beat George Mason twice in the past month. .
Although the oddsmakers seem to back Old Dominion, keep in mind that Michigan is better than their overall record and season stats would indicate, as the Wolverines have battled numerous injuries over the season. Three of the team’s top five scorers have been out at various times over the past two months, but now Dion Harris (11.5 ppg), Lester Abram (10.7 ppg) and Chris Hunter (8, 0 points per game) are all back together.
SOUTH CAROLINA (-2, 124 ½) vs. LOUISVILLE — 9:20 p.m. ET (espn2)
A strong improvement in the streak explains why South Carolina and Louisville reached the NIT Final Four. Louisville is 7-1 ATS in its last eight games, while South Carolina is a perfect 8-0 ATS in the same span.
South Carolina’s road to New York is more impressive as the Gamecocks were expected to win consecutive games as an underdog on the road and are now playing their third straight road game. South Carolina was lucky to grab a Western Kentucky team without their starting point guard, Courtney Lee, in the first round after the Gamecocks played four games in four days and lost just barely to Florida in the first round. the SEC tournament three days earlier.
After the easy 74-55 home win over the Hilltoppers, the Gamecocks cruised to a 69-68 overtime victory at Florida State and then secured another narrow road victory at Cincinnati 65-62. The Gamecocks were once again lucky as two of Bearcat’s top scorers, James White and Jihad Muhammad, were ruled ineligible just hours before kick-off.
Louisville’s road to the NIT Final Four was easier as the Cardinals were able to play their first three home tournament games on solid ground where Louisville went 19-3 SU this season. The most recent win was an impressive 74-56 loss to a Missouri State team that many pundits say should have been part of the Field of 65.
Louisville has struggled away from home this season, going just 2-9 SU in road and neutral-court games. The Cardinals rely heavily on three-point shooting, as more than 41% of their field goal attempts come from beyond the arc. They should have success against a suspect South Carolina perimeter defense that has allowed 36.2 percent from three-point range this season (vs. opponents who averaged just 35.7 percent overall).
STEVE MERRIL is a professional sports handicapper and a documented member of the Professional Handicappers League. Get its Premium games here.
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