Wednesday's NIT Previews
by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor
Night two of the NIT quarterfinals sees a pair of Atlantic 10 teams hoping to make headlines on the road against top seeds from the ACC and Big Ten. Two of the Final Four were determined last night. The final pair battling for this respected title in Madison Square Garden in New York will be determined this evening.
Let's run through some numbers for Rhode Island/Virginia Tech and Dayton/Illinois. If you're new to the site, we focus on two-point defense as the single best indicator stat in the sport of college hoops, and we throw in conference adjustments because it's easier to play good defense in soft conferences than it is in tough ones!
Both Rhode Island and Virginia Tech barely survived second round games this past Monday Night, each winning on their home floor by two points (in games they had been expected to win by more). Let's start with that one...
*RHODE ISLAND AT VIRGINIA TECH
Rhode Island 51%
Virginia Tech 44%
Conference Edge: Virginia Tech by 6
Rhode Island is fortunate to still be playing given their very soft internal defense. You can deduce they do some other things well to overcome that kind of weakness. Still, they drew Northwestern in the first round...a team that was borderline at best for a postseason invite. Rhode Island's second round win was a high scoring shootout with Nevada. They'd BETTER pick up the pace defensively or they will be ending their season tonight.
Virginia Tech has a nice 44% number while playing in the ACC. We noticed during the Big Dance that many ACC teams had stronger defensive numbers than you would have expected. Given that only ONE team is still alive over in that event (Duke), we can probably assume some offensive weakness across the league. Tech's defense isn't as good as that 44% makes it look...but is clearly better than Rhode Island.
NIT Results So Far:
Rhode Island (-6) beat Northwestern 76-64
Rhode Island (-8.5) beat Nevada 85-83
Virginia Tech (-13) beat Quinnipiac 81-61
Virginia Tech (-4.5) beat Connecticut 65-63
Both teams were favored to advance, and have turned home court advantage into the tie-breaker that put them past Nevada and UCONN. If you watched the games, you'd have to be skeptical that either could have won had those games been played on the road. Tech had to rally from a halftime deficit...then had to sweat the ending so much you thought their head coach was going to faint. Great crowd support from a boisterous student body. Not really a great performance though in the scheme of things. Connecticut has been in a long slump. Tech barely beat them at home.
We already talked about Rhode Island above. They obviously care about the NIT because they're finding ways to win. This isn't a team right now that you can point to as being 'hot' or 'on a roll' or anything. Nevada hosted the WAC tournament, but couldn't reach the finals. They took Rhode Island to the very limit.
These Conferences in the Dance: Each league has one team left. Xavier will play in the Sweet 16, having outlasted regular season and tournament champion Temple (a first round loser to Cornell) and Richmond (dispatched with surprisingly easily by St. Mary's in the first round). We'd have to say that the A10 as a whole has been a disappointment in the Dance, with Xavier clearly having a chance to make up for that. And, should the A10 road dogs win tonight in the NIT, the A10 will surely be seen as a postseason success story in the big picture.
Over in the ACC, Maryland almost joined Duke in the Sweet 16, losing at the buzzer to Michigan State. The rest of the conference kind of washed out. Wake Forest and Georgia Tech won first round games before falling to superior opponents the next time out. Florida State and Clemson dropped their openers. Can't say there are any insights to be found overall regarding Virginia Tech from what we've seen so far. A lot of inconsistency in this league again this year.
What's it all mean? We went to press before a line had been posted. Line value will definitely be critical here. Virginia Tech has the better defense, and home court advantage. That's usually a potent combo in this event. But, they were supposed to take care of business against UCONN and barely survived. Our on site sources will be of great value here. And, we have to let you know that our A10 guys have been GOLD so far in the postseason tourneys. If there's an edge to be found here, NETWORK clients will be on it!
*DAYTON AT ILLINOIS
Conference Edge: Illinois by 4
Tough call here in terms of the superior defense. Dayton has the better number, but played in the softer conference. Neither team is a pushover. Neither team can slam the door on command. We're going to call it a defensive tie, and acknowledge that home court advantage is the biggest trump card for Illinois right now.
NIT Results So Far:
Dayton (-7.5) beat Illinois State 63-42
Dayton (+3) beat Cincinnati 81-66
Illinois (-7) beat Stony Brook 76-66
Illinois (-8) beat Kent State 75-58
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It's easy to skim over the results. Don't make that mistake with Dayton. The Flyers beat Illinois State of the MVC by a whopping 21 points. Whenever you hear pundits talk about how Northern Iowa dominated a strong conference this year...remember that Illinois State was part of that respected conference. Kent swatted them away like they were gnats. Then, Monday Night, Dayton had to play on the road against Cincinnati of the Big East. Dayton took the game by the throat and never let up. They won by 15 outright, ON THE ROAD. Sure, the Big East isn't as good now as it seemed a couple of weeks ago. That's still a big performance, particularly in the second round of the NIT.
Illinois had the misfortune of having to open on the road as a top seed because their arena had been booked. They hosted Kent State and won rather easily. Illinois, and actually both home teams tonight, have a right to feel snubbed by the Big Dance. Here's a chance to make up for it by living up to their #1 seed status in the NIT and reaching New York. The fact that Illinois won both of its games by double digits confirms that they showed up with a purpose. BOTH Dayton and Illinois did. It's a shame one of them wont' get to play in the Garden!
These Conferences in the Dance: We already talked about the Atlantic 10. The Big Ten looks strong with three teams left in the Dance (more than any other conference). Just be aware that Michigan State needed to hit a buzzer shot to advance, and Purdue had to go overtime to beat Texas A&M. It was almost only one team in the Sweet 16. Wisconsin was a big disappointment, sneaking by Wofford and getting routed by Cornell. Minnesota was squashed by Xavier in a slowdown game. We'd have to say the Big 10 is certainly competitive. They're not playing as well as that 'three teams in the Sweet 16' factoid might suggest.
This may be the game we're most looking forward to of the quarterfinals. Both teams care, and are playing well. That's all you can ask for.
Don't forget that our exclusive TEAM HANDICAPPING approach often yields very strong totals plays at this juncture of the season. You can expect something very special tonight in the NIT...probably something in BOTH games if history is an indicator. There are other matchups to play with as well in the lesser tourneys as you build your bankroll for Thursday's Sweet 16 openers.
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