N.I.T. Final Four Preview

IT’S CLEMSON, SMU, FLORIDA STATE, AND MINNESOTA IN NIT FINAL FOUR

It’s not exactly MARCH MADNESS, but there are very interesting storylines in play when the last four teams in the NIT go to battle Tuesday Night in Madison Square Garden to see who will play for the tournament championship Thursday Night.

  • SMU was the most obvious snub in the NCAA’s…as most computer rankings had they safely into the Big Dance (seemingly EXTREMELY safe). Often, it’s that team that makes a statement in the NIT by running the table. Here, we have the side story of Larry Brown’s return to prominence on the sidelines, and you know how well his teams have performed in the spotlight during his career.
  • Clemson and Florida State represent the storied ACC. In fact, they’re the only two teams still playing from the storied ACC! Virginia couldn’t live up to its #1 seed in the Dance. Duke was humiliated by Mercer. Newcomers Pitt and Syracuse couldn’t carry the banner when needed. Clemson and FSU could save a lot of face by reaching the finals to face each other!
  • Minnesota represents the Big 10, a league reeling after Michigan and Michigan State both lost Sunday in the Elite 8 round. Wisconsin will play this weekend. Could Minnesota and Wisconsin provide a tournament sweep for the Midwest?

Let’s get to the computer rankings and see how things might play out. As always, our preview numbers come from the publicly available rankings of college basketball guru Ken Pomeroy and USA today computer whiz Jeff Sagarin.

Computer Rankings-Game One--7 p.m. ET on ESPN2
Clemson: #46 in Pomeroy, #45 in Sagarin
SMU: #31 in Pomeroy, #30 in Sagarin

SMU is best of all four teams according to the computers, and is exactly 15 spots better than Clemson according to both computer assessments. We should note that SMU hasn’t quite played to that level so far in the NIT. They’re getting results at home…but not really the kind of results that the number THIRTY team should be getting on their home floor. They needed a buzzer beater to advance out of the quarterfinals against a team well behind them in the computers.

Computer Rankings-Game Two--9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2
Florida State: #37 in Pomeroy, #39 in Sagarin
Minnesota: #53 in Pomeroy, #44 in Sagarin

The computers agree that Florida State is about 15-16 spots better than the Gophers. You’ll see in a moment that the betting markets DON’T agree with that. Also worth noting that the computers have Minnesota as the worst team left in the brackets. By computer rating, SMU is in a 1-3 game while Florida State is in a 2-4 game.

Offensive and Defensive Rank Game One
Clemson: #142 on offense, #16 on defense
SMU: #76 on offense, #18 on defense

Two very even defenses…virtually identical in quality when you adjust for pace and schedule strength given the margin for error amongst about 350 teams. Both teams struggle on offense relative to what you’re used to seeing in the postseason. Those are very poor ratings by tournament standards. Both are still playing because of their strong defenses. Can Clemson score enough to win/cover given that a very poor postseason offense is facing a quality postseason defense?

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Offensive and Defensive Rank Game Two
Florida State: #42 on offense, #58 on defense
Minnesota: #38 on offense, #98 on defense

Florida State is the only team left that could be called balanced. Unfortunately, that balance means they’re unimpressive on both sides of the floor! Minnesota has the worst defense in the Final Four by a mile, which is the key reason the computers dislike them so much.

Pace Rankings
Florida State: #143
SMU: #192
Minnesota: #240
Clemson: #348

This just isn’t a year for “fast” teams to excel in the brackets. The NCAA has been very methodical because most of the fast teams were knocked out early. Florida State will seem fast by comparison to recent telecasts just because they’re slightly above average. SMU is fractionally below average. Minnesota is slow. Clemson is one of the slowest turtles in the whole zoo. Whoever forces their preferred pace on festivities will likely cover. Clemson and Minnesota will try to slow things down, while hoping that a tight second half encourages slow play anyway. FSU and SMU will try to pull away early with cheap points against defenses that haven’t set up yet.

Against the Spread
SMU: 19-12
Florida State: 18-14-1
Clemson: 15-12-3
Minnesota: 15-16-1

Only Minnesota failed to play to expectations this season. They were supposed to be much more competitive in the Big 10 than it turned out. SMU still has a great full-season mark. But, they definitely peaked early based on what’s been happing from the final week of the regular season to now. The line caught up just as they were slowing down.

Vegas Lines:
SMU by 3, total of 120
Minnesota/FSU pick-em, total of 137.5

Interesting that the computers rated these games very similarly, but the markets don’t see it that way at all. The computers would have SMU and Florida State favored by about 2-3. The markets are more optimistic about SMU as a favorite, but are very skeptical of FSU in that role. Note also that the markets expect Clemson to take the air out of the ball given that very low Over/Under.

You can purchase all the big winners on Tuesday’s ticket (NIT and MLB) right here at the website with your credit card.  If you have questions, call any time during normal business hours Tuesday at 1-800-323-4453. Sign up now for a longterm baseball package, and the rest of basketball can be yours for a nominal fee.

Back Wednesday to talk more sports handicapping. We’ll preview the NIT Championship game in our Thursday report. Then, we’ll do expanded previews for the NCAA Final Four after that. We’ll look at Florida/Connecticut in Friday’s report, then Wisconsin/Kentucky on Saturday.

It’s CHAMPIONSHIP WEEK in basketball…so you need WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!

 

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