NIT Semi-Finals Preview

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    College basketball’s craziness continues in New York in the National Invitational Tournament. While the NCAA tourney only saw one of its top seeds advance to its Final Four, none of the four teams that were seeded at the top of their bracket moved on to Madison Square Garden, the last three all losing at home in prior round. This sets up a wide open finish for the NIT.

    (2) Mississippi vs (3) Dayton 7:00E ESPN2

    The Dayton Flyers (23-12, 16-15 ATS) came stumbling down the stretch with 3-6 SU record (1-7-1 ATS), being eliminated in A-10 Tournament by eventual champion Xavier. The Flyers were picked to be conference champions, but limped to 8-8 record in a league that was much tougher than expected. For whatever reason, Dayton took flight and has won and covered three games in a row by a margin of 14 points per game.

    The Flyers are still playing great defense (holding three teams to 37.3 percent or less shooting), but it has been the offense that has brighten up, shooting over 48 percent in this tournament compared to 44.6 percent on the season. Dayton is 8-1 ATS after playing consecutive road games over the last three seasons.

    Mississippi (24-10, 18-11 ATS) saw Arizona State fall in their very first contest in the NIT, which opened the door to three encounters at home for the Rebels. They took advantage of the situation and are running away from the competition. Ole Miss has average 88 points per game, trying to force opponents to keep up, which they have not been able to do. Terrico White and Chris Warren are living up to reputation as a guard tandem. With defense not the primary concern, the Rebels are 12-3 ATS after allowing 75 points or more in back to back contests.

    Bookmaker.com had opened Ole Miss as a favorite, but the line has fallen to a one-point underdog and the total of 142 seems about right if these teams were playing 35 minutes instead of 40. This should be true up and down affair, with plenty of dunks and speed from both clubs and Dayton is 19-10 ATS versus good shooting teams making 45 percent or more of their shots. Mississippi is 11-3 ATS away from Oxford off a home win scoring 85 or more points.

    (4) North Carolina vs. (2) Rhode Island 9:20E ESPN2

    Both of these teams come in the second semi-final really feeling good about their prospects after winning on enemy floors in really challenging environments, where not many opposing teams escape victorious. The Tar Heels (19-16, 12-20 ATS) went into a real hornets’ nest at Alabama-Birmingham and made enough offense plays while playing great defense (UAB shot 28.8 percent) to come away with the win 60-55 as 4.5-point underdogs. Much maligned point guard Larry Drew provided steady ball-handling and leadership. While coach Roy Williams would like to believe his guard is finally figuring out what he has been preaching all year, Drew offers this reason for improved judgment and play.

    I just don’t want to lose,” he told the Raleigh New & Observer. “I just don’t want to go home. I just don’t want to stop playing. I’ve done my share of my things wrong this season, and I’ve made my share of mistakes. And I just want to turn things around for myself, and the team.” North Carolina is sensational 7-0 AT in road post-season tournament games the last two seasons.

    Rhode Island (26-9, 12-17 ATS) is at its best when it has a three-pronged scoring attack of Delroy James, Lamonte Ulmer and Keith Cothran are making outside shots, which has been the case in the NIT. The Rams overcame a big deficit at Virginia Tech and won going away 79-72. Rhode Island is 26-15 ATS in road games after one or more Over’s.

    Similar to North Carolina, this tournament has been therapeutic for Rhode Island, who started 19-3 and looked like a sure-fire NCAA team in early February. The Rams are a one-point favorite with total of 150.5, but are 2-9 ATS after a game where they covered the spread this year. The Tar Heels are in the same boat against the spread with crummy 4-13 ATS record after one or more Under’s this season.

    Common opponents might be a telling factor in the nightcap with UNC 2-2 & 1-3 ATS (+3.5 point margin) and URI 3-0 & 2-1 ATS, winning by 6.6 PPG.

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