How to Bet Tuesday’s Five Ticket-Punching Conference Championships
© Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports
Okay, more like 4.5 tickets, since Gonzaga will dance regardless of the result tonight in Vegas. March is officially in full swing with five conference championships tonight in the CAA, Northeast, Horizon, Summit and previously referenced WCC. Let’s get right down to business and look at the following matchups in each title game:
- LIU Brooklyn at Wagner -8 | 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2
- Northeastern vs Charleston -3 | 7 p.m. ET on CBSSN
- Cleveland State vs Wright State -9 | 7 p.m. ET on ESPN
- South Dakota vs South Dakota State +1 | 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2
- BYU vs Gonzaga -9.5 | 9 p.m. ET on ESPN
Follow me on twitter @jorcubsdan for in-game analysis, injury updates, and second half predictions.
LIU Brooklyn at Wagner (-8)
7 p.m. ET on ESPN2
As the league’s top seed, Wagner has the privilege of hosting tonight’s NEC title game. Fortunately for the Seahawks, they haven’t lost on their home floor all season. However, the Spiro Center hasn’t exactly been the “Friendly Confines” for Wagner in recent postseasons, having lost on its home floor in five of the past six conference tourneys. Head coach Bashir Mason’s squad will certainly need to exorcise some demons tonight to punch their ticket.
LIU is probably the one matchup that Wagner wanted to avoid in the title game. The Blackbirds and Seahawks split in the regular season with a total margin of victory of six points. Simply put, these are two evenly matched teams. Let’s take a look at five reasons why LIU matches up so well against the top seed:
- The Blackbirds have an excellent press offense, led by the three-headed ball handling monster of guards Jashaun Agosto, Joel Hernandez, and Julian Batts. Wagner plays ferocious extended man-to-man pressure, which helped them lead the league in defensive efficiency rating, but LIU is one of the few NEC teams that can matchup with Wagner guard for guard.
- Wagner’s 4 out lineup of JoJo Cooper (6’0), Blake Francis (6’0), Romone Saunders (6’3), and Devin Liggeons (6’3) doesn’t have the length that LIU has struggled against all season.
- Not only is LIU more effective in its press offense, but the Blackbirds have been just as prolific and efficient as Wagner in press defense, a staple of head coach Derek Kellogg’s teams during his time at UMass.
- While Wagner plays elite rim defense (per hoop-math.com, it allows the 4th lowest FG% at the rim nationally), forward AJ Sumbry doesn’t have the mobility to face-guard LIU’s outstanding junior guard Raiquon Clark, who would routinely post up the smaller Wagner guards.
- Wagner’s foul rate vs LIU’s penetration from all four positions is an issue. The Blackbirds drew the most contact in the NEC, while Wagner had the third highest foul rate in the entire country. To wit, LIU owned a plus-14 free throw attempt advantage in the series this year. If the Blackbirds can get a fair whistle on the road, that trend should continue tonight.
Wagner finally pulls out a major win at home, but it won’t be easy.
THE PICK: LIU +8
Northeastern vs Charleston (-3)
7 p.m. ET on CBSSN
The CAA final has the potential to be an instant classic between two teams on a roll. In fact, since the last meeting between Charleston and NU on Feb. 1, these two teams have combined to lose just one game.
Charleston swept the Huskies in the regular season, thanks to its pick and roll offense, specifically 1-4 PnR between guard Joe Chealey and forward Jarrell Brantley. Charleston has a prolific and efficient pick and roll offense. The Cougars ran PnR at the 11th highest rate nationally, while grading out in the 97th percentile in efficiency, per Synergy. NU’s entire roster has struggled to defend PnR, which the Cougars exploited in the first two meetings.
However, NU runs an excellent pick and roll offense itself, thanks to the inestimable guard Vasa Pusica. After watching Charleston center Nick Harris try to hard hedge against William & Mary last night, you can understand why I think Pusica can pick apart C of C’s defense tonight.
Head coach Earl Grant built his early reputation at C of C on defense, but Northeastern has actually been the best defensive team in the league this year. The Huskies have looked even better on defense in the postseason against Delaware and UNCW. The Cougars will have the home crowd behind them, but I think Northeastern’s pick and roll defense has improved enough (with more meaningful minutes for guard Bolden Brace) to pull out a win.
THE PICK: Northeastern +3
Cleveland State vs Wright State (-9)
7 p.m. ET on ESPN
For the second straight year, the Horizon League Tournament has gone bonkers in Detroit. No. 10 seed Milwaukee advanced to the title game last year, and No. 8 seed Cleveland State (with 22 losses) will play for an automatic bid this year.
CSU actually split the season series with No. 2 seed Wright State. It also owned a double digit lead on the road in the game it lost. (Head coach Dennis Felton’s squad also played that game without stud freshman point guard Tyree Appleby). Appleby ranks first in the league in assist rate, and second in both usage and free throw rates. His speed on the perimeter routinely broke down the slower Raiders’ backcourt. It’s fair to speculate that the Vikings would have gone 2-0 against WSU if he played in both games.
Felton has done an excellent job with CSU defensively, using a variety of looks to keep teams off balance. Regardless of the defensive scheme, the Vikings use their team speed to fly to the ball. They’ve also been better overall since junior guard Dontel Highsmith went to the bench. In the semifinals, CSU limited Oakland to 43 points in 62 possessions, which allowed it to overcome an equally poor offensive showing to score the upset.
There’s certainly some concern about four games in five days for the Vikings, but Felton utilizes a fairly deep bench. The biggest concern for CSU has to be limiting Loudon Love at the rim. The heaping Wright State big man shot 14-23 against CSU this year and has terrorized the field all tourney. Tired legs and an inability to get easy buckets against a stout Wright State defense ultimately keeps the Vikings from pulling off another upset, but this is too many points in what should be another ugly Horizon game.
THE PICK: Cleveland State +9, Under 127
South Dakota vs South Dakota State (+1)
9 p.m. ET on ESPN2
Ah, nothing like a heated in-state rivalry with everything on the line. Mostly everything I stated in this preview ahead of the second meeting between the Yotes and the Jacks still holds true. Tyler Hagedorn is still one of the few big men capable of at least somewhat slowing down SDSU star big Mike Daum and USD’s Matt Mooney is still the best guard in the league.
The Yotes simply got off to a terrible start in that second meeting, but battled back to even take a four point lead in the second half. One big difference in tonight’s rubber match for all the marbles is USD will have the services of bulldog perimeter defender Carlton Hurst, who missed both regular season games due to injury. Hurst still isn’t ready to go 25-plus minutes, but his ability to stay in front of guard David Jenkins for even just 15 minutes will be critical in what’s likely to be a tight, back-and-forth battle. I think we’ll see USD go dancing for the first time in program history, denying the Jacks a three-peat in the process.
THE PICK: South Dakota -1
BYU vs Gonzaga (-9.5)
9 p.m. ET on ESPN
I’m extremely bullish on the Zags come NCAA Tournament time. Last night’s offensive domination of USF of course did nothing to move me from that position. A slew of ACC and SEC bubble teams will be watching this game with bated breath, as BYU will certainly steal a bid if they spring the upset.
BYU big man Yoeli Childs (pictured above) dominated St. Mary’s in the post last night, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given Jock Landale’s disdain for defense. Childs won’t go for 33 on 13-18 shooting again, but he has had offensive success against the outstanding Gonzaga frontcourt. However, his poor defense in the post (and in pick and roll) will be fully exploited by a red hot Gonzaga offense.
The International flavor has the Zags offense rolling. With the way that French forward Killian Tillie is currently playing inside-out, Gonzaga is unquestionably a Final Four team. The Zags are scoring a silly 1.24 ppp when Tillie is paired with freak athlete forward Rui Hachimura (Beninese-Japanese), which allows Tillie to spread defenses. I haven’t even mentioned frontcourt mate Johnathan Williams yet. Simply put, BYU’s frontcourt will be severely overmatched on the defensive end tonight.
If Dave Rose tries to mix in the 3-2 matchup zone that Heath Schroyer brought with him in his return to Provo, the Zags won’t be phased. Gonzaga is the third most efficient zone offense in the country, per Synergy. I think the Zags roll en route to their sixth straight conference championship.
THE PICK: Gonzaga -9.5
Photo credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports