NIT-picking: Tuesday's late games
So I had this idea that I should try to cover conference teams across the tournaments again this year, and maybe I'd also do more covering of all NIT games because that would be pretty cool, and then suddenly it was 8:00 Tuesday night and the Illini play at 9, so I thought it would be more reasonable to dash off something about the games that, uh, haven't started yet. We already have our crack basketball staff on the Boilers' upcoming opponent, and there's plenty of time for me to preview NCAA games. SO. (As always, remember: all advice on this page is for entertainment purposes only. Do I look like the kind of guy who makes his living in Vegas? I do? You're late for your eye exam, aren't you?)
#3 Illinois (19-13, kenpom 65) at #6 Alabama (18-14, kenpom 61), 9:00 on ESPN
At Alabama because Illinois has a sales convention booked in Champaign or something like that.
Common opponents: Missouri (Illinois 62-59 (neutral), Alabama 62-49 (at Alabama))
Drinking games: when Illinois turns it over (15.1%, 5th in DI), when they miss a free throw (.794, 1st)
For experts: when Illinois takes a bad two (.448 from two, 294th), when Alabama misses a three (.321, 258th, but 40.8% of attempts are from three, 38th)
kenpom spread: Alabama -4
Who you should take: Alabama. These teams are pretty much even anyway; playing at Alabama instead of at Illinois makes a difference.
#6 UTEP (22-10, kenpom 97) at #3 Murray State (27-5, kenpom 73), 9:00 on ESPN2
Common opponents: Xavier (UTEP 77-73 (neutral), Murray State 62-89 (at Xavier)), Alcorn State (UTEP 78-45 (at UTEP), Murray State 94-56 (at Murray State)), Western Kentucky (UTEP 66-71 in OT (at WKU), Murray State 93-81 (at Murray State)), Middle Tennessee (UTEP 83-70 (at UTEP) and 50-53 (neutral), Murray State 68-49 (at MTSU))
Drinking games: when Murray State shoots with more than 20 on the shot clock (avg. possession length 16.4, 19th in DI), when UTEP goes to the line (43.5 FTA/FGA, 36th)
For experts: when UTEP misses a free throw (.657, 292nd), when they have the ball with 15 or less to shoot (avg. length 19.1, 252nd)
kenpom spread: Murray State -6
Who you should take: Murray State. The Miners' height advantage won't be as much of a factor against a team that likes to run like the Racers do, and even though Murray State isn't deep, they can still rotate in players to foul Vince Hunter (.536 eFG but .595 from the line).
#7 Montana (20-12, kenpom 162) at #2 Texas A&M (20-11, kenpom 50), 9:00 on ESPNU
Common opponents: none that I saw
Drinking games: when Montana gets an offensive rebound (27.9%, 279th in DI), when they hit a three (.365, 76th, but A&M allows .303, 18th)
For experts: when Montana sends A&M to the line (44.3 FTA/FGA, 306th), when the Aggies record an assist (60.3 A/FGM, 34th)
kenpom spread: Texas A&M -11
Who you should take: A&M. The Big Sky is like the PCL of DI basketball: high-scoring (eFG .523, 1st among DI conferences; .384 from three, 1st; .495 from two, 2nd) in a way that is context-specific. Just like the MLB equivalents for PCL slash lines are significantly lower, so too will the Grizzlies' offensive performance be lower against reasonable DI competition. Four Big Sky teams are ranked in the 300s and four more are in the 200s, with Sacramento State and Northern Arizona - who tied at 13-5, one game back of Montana and Eastern Washington - at 198 and 190, respectively. EWU has a better shot at beating Georgetown than Montana does of winning at Texas A&M.
#7 UC Davis (25-6, kenpom 93) at #2 Stanford (19-13, kenpom 48), 11:00 on ESPN2
Common opponents: Washington State (UC Davis 83-90 (at WSU), Stanford 71-56 (at Stanford) and 88-89 (at WSU))
Drinking games: when UC Davis gets a steal (Stanford gives up a steal 7.0% on offense, 9th in DI; UCD steals it 7.6%, 312th in DI), when Stanford gets an assist (49.1 A/FGM, 261st)
For experts: when UC Davis hits a three (.444 from three, 1st; Stanford allows .377, 315th), when Stanford gets an offensive board (33.6%, 96th; UCD allows 33.5%, 285th)
kenpom spread: Stanford -8
Who you should take: UC Davis. Stanford seems like they should be able to take advantage of UCD's size, but the Cardinal ended up in the NIT largely because of shot selection: Stefan Nastic is 162-338 from two, with an eFG of 47.9%, and Chasson Randle, the other player with more than 24% of possessions and shots, is worse: .421/.358/.896, eFG 47.4%. Stanford will get their rebounds and putbacks, but they also aren't the kind of team to run away from a weaker opponent, and UC Davis is built for a comeback. Stanford doesn't give up a ton of threes (32.0 3PA/FGA, 104th), but that's partly because they're 19-13, so they didn't have quite enough leads to protect. They'll get one tonight, but I don't think they'll cover.