NIT Previews



by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

While the mainstream media is obsessed with the 'surprise' Final Four of the Big Dance, featuring a pair of #5 seeds and a notable lack of #1 seeds outside of Duke...there's another postseason tournament that's a testimony to the level of parity in college basketball this year...or the LACK of true quality amongst teams who are supposed to be superior.

Consider that NONE of the #1 seeds in the NIT have reached the Final Four in New York!

That's amazing because:

*The #1 seeds were supposed to be seething about their Dance snubs, and fired up about making a statement to prove the committee wrong.

*The #1 seeds in this event are granted very favorable schedules. They get to play every game at home unless there's an arena conflict.

*The #1 seeds get a virtual bye in the first round, drawing a #8 seed that typically represents a very small conference that has no business playing in the postseason.


Yet, none of the #1 seeds could pull that off.

*Illinois of the Big Ten fell on its home floor in the prior round to a fired up Dayton squad.

*Virginia Tech of the ACC fell on its home floor to a surging Rhode Island team, as two teams from the Atlantic 10 (Dayton and Rhode Island) made it to New York.

*Mississippi State of the SEC lost to North Carolina in Round Two. Sure, that's a tough out for Mississippi State. But, it's not like most of the country had been struggling to beat North Carolina before that.

*Arizona State of the Pac 10 was stunned in its tourney opener by lowly Jacksonville!

Handicappers often tell you to focus on 'who cares' and 'who doesn't' in the NIT. There sure was a lack of fire from the #1 seeds this year. You can be sure the four teams still playing are at peak intensity. They've established that this event is a priority. Three of the four teams have at least one road victory on their slate as well (Dayton and North Carolina have two!).

As promised, we're back today with our previews of the NIT semifinal action. We'll use the same format as last week's quarterfinals...updating two-point defense numbers (the best indicator stat in our view for true quality in college hoops)...the conference edges (because you have to adjust those two-point defensive numbers for strength of schedule)...and the slates played so far in the tourney so you can see the hurdles that were cleared.

We'll take the games in schedule order...

Dayton 44%
Mississippi 45%
Conference Edge: Ole Miss by 3
Tonight's Line: Pick-em, total of 142

We've have to rate these defenses about even once you adjust for schedule strengths. Now, you may believe that the SEC doesn't deserve a full three points vs. the Atlantic 10. That's probably true at the top of the league...but when you get to the A10 dregs, there's some pretty ugly basketball played down there. Dayton's 44% was partially influences by its volume of games vs. dregs. To us, defense is a wash...with both teams grading out well. The total of 142 is that high because of tempo...not because these teams don't guard people.

If you've been with us through the postseason, you know that 44-45% is in the same range as what you've been seeing in the Big Dance. Defense is a strength for each of these teams, disguised by pace.

NIT Results So Far:
Dayton (-7.5) beat Illinois State 63-42
Dayton (+3) beat Cincinnati 81-66
Dayton (+3) beat Illinois 77-71

You have to be EXTREMELY impressed with that slate. The last two games were on the road against opponents the NIT would have much preferred to see in the Final Four. Illinois brings a big Midwestern TV audience. Cincinnati plays in the Big East, and the NIT likes to showcase the Big East when it can. They bent over backwards to boost the Big East this year...only to see Cincinnati, Connecticut, and Seton Hall add to the stunning March debacle for the league.

Dayton covered it's spreads by 13.5, 18, and 9 points, beating oddsmaker expectations by a MILE. The Flyers are playing much better ball right now than the market realizes.

NIT Results So Far:
Ole Miss (-13) beat Troy 84-65
Ole Miss (-4) beat Memphis 90-81
Ole Miss (-9) beat Texas Tech 90-87 in overtime

Ole Miss had an easier path, getting nothing but home games. Sure, Memphis and Texas Tech can walk and chew gum. That's not the same as beating Cincinnati and Illinois on the road. Note also that Ole Miss had to go overtime to beat Tech as a 9-point favorite. As we said, all the Final Four are playing well right now or they wouldn't be here. Ole Miss doesn't quite measure up to the others in our view. They're the only team left who didn't have to play a road game (catching a break in the brackets when Arizona State went out early).

Clearly recent form is pointing slightly toward Dayton. Vegas sees the game as a toss-up. How YOU see the game will largely be influenced by how you rate the A10 vs. the SEC, and how important recent form is in your process. Teams do regress to the mean eventually. If Dayton was playing over their heads, they may hit a wall tonight. If they've found a new level, they'll be playing for the title Thursday Night.

JIM HURLEY will be working very closely with his New York sources to make sure clients get the right side in this one...and the nightcap we're about to discuss. Be aware that the 'right' play late in tourneys is often a total rather than a team.

The NIT's been lurking under the radar throughout March, but for a select group of Network handicappers it's been front and center! With 31 bettable games, we have no intention of letting the money slip through our fingers. It started on March 16, when we racked up a win in our annual NIT Opening Parlay on Western Carolina over Marshall and UAB over Coastal Carolina, it's continued throughout with wins like Nevada/Rhode Island (Over 155), and it's reaching a rip-roaring conclusion in Madison Square Garden. The semis go tonight with Dayton-Ole MIss and North Carolina-Rhode Island the hardworking, but mostly unnoticed handicappers in our office who've been working the NIT are just like the four teams themselves--they're ready for center stage and to go 2-0!

Rhode Island 51%
North Carolina 45%
Conference Edge: North Carolina by 6
Tonight's Line: Rhode Island by 1, total of 149

Rhode Island has been the ONLY postseason team this year to keep winning despite having a very soft inside defense. They've managed to light up the scoreboard as a way to counter-act that...and first round draw Northwestern isn't exactly an inside power house anyway.

North Carolina has had many problems this year. Inside defense hasn't been one of them. Critics have derided their defense because the team does allow a lot of points. Just remember this team pushes tempo...which can create the illusion of soft defense. Butler's defense isn't as great as the scoreboard makes it look over in the Big Dance. North Carolina's defense isn't as bad as the scoreboard makes it look in the NIT.

Is six points fair for the ACC over the Atlantic 10? Duke is in the Final Four of the Dance, but nobody else even made the Sweet 16. One thing to keep in mind here is that Rhode Island was near the top of the Atlantic 10 standings, while North Carolina was near the bottom of the ACC (10th of 12 teams). If it's 'best vs. best' then 6 points is defensible (maybe low if Duke is facing Temple or Richmond for example). If it's 'worst vs. worst,' the ACC entry would be a lot more than -6 vs. the bottom rung team in the A10. In the middle of the pack? Six makes more sense. Adjust to taste based on where Rhode Island and North Carolina finished in their respective standings.

NIT Results So Far:
Rhode Island (-6) beat Northwestern 76-64
Rhode Island (-8.5) beat Nevada 85-83
Rhode Island (+6) beat Virginia Tech 79-72

The Rams had a home game they had to sweat (much like Ole Miss vs. Texas Tech), but that road win at Virginia Tech was very impressive. You may have watched on TV. Tech had a packed house, and the crowd was ready to put on a show. Against a few thousand enemies, Rhode Island kept its composure and proved the classier side. Since Tech finished MUCH higher than North Carolina in the ACC standings...that's a pretty big issue for handicappers to consider!

NIT Results So Far:
North Carolina (-9) beat William & Mary 80-72
North Carolina (+7) beat Mississippi State 76-74
North Carolina (+4) beat Alabama-Birmingham 60-55

Carolina didn't cover its first game because William & Mary was red hot from long range. They posted covers of nine points on the road in the next two though...suggesting this young team is starting to get the hang of things a little bit. Note that they defeated smart teams in slow-down games in the process. Nobody wants to run with North Carolina even in their down years! It's a credit to the Heels that they're hanging tough when so many other disappointments threw in the towel.

Conflicting indicators over all here. North Carolina is the more dangerous side, and has a HUGE edge in terms of two-point defense, our favorite indicator stat. That being said, Rhode Island beat a team on the road that finished several spots higher than North Carolina in the ACC. You're going to rule that out?!

NETWORK will be working very closely with its sources to find an on-site edge in this one. Vegas sees both games as a toss-up. That brings into play late game strategies as well in our computer simulations. Winning the last 3-4 minutes may be the key to who gets the money.

We're not taking the week off just because the Big Dance is taking a nap until Saturday. We've got BIG JUICY WINNERS going tonight in the NIT and NBA (plus a possibility in the finals of the Insider Tournament). Call 1-800-323-4453 for details. You can also buy day game selections here at the website with your credit card.

We'll have a special NBA update for you tomorrow here in the NOTEBOOK. Thursday we'll preview the NIT championship game with a look at Phantom Scores from tonight's action. Baseball's just around the corner. So much going on...make sure you're with us EVERY DAY so you know what's REALLY going on in the world of sports!

This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by and For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.


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