CIT Championship Betting Preview: Illinois-Chicago at Northern Colorado
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports
One more day until the Final Four, but we have some business to attend to first. On Friday, we have two tournament finals: the CBI rubber match between North Texas and San Francisco, and the CIT championship. If that doesn’t excite you, just remember that we only have five more college basketball games to bet on this season. You’ll miss it when it’s gone.
After starting with 20 teams, only two are left standing in the 10th annual CIT tournament. The championship will be decided on the home floor of Northern Colorado, which will host the University of Illinois-Chicago. UNC will benefit from staying home in the altitude of Greeley after playing at home in the semifinals. Conversely, UIC played on the road at Liberty (in Virginia) on Wednesday. Fatigue could be a factor, but this is the last game of the season for both teams. Let’s take a deeper look at the matchups on both ends of the floor and then finish up with a prediction. Let’s get to it!
(You can read more about the CBI matchup in my series preview.)
When UIC Has The Ball
The Flames have a freewheeling, transition-reliant offense that works best when they can work downhill and attack the rim. UIC ranks in the top 50 nationally in attempt rate at both the rim and in transition. I mentioned in the semifinal preview that UIC has actually played more cohesive offensively without forward Dikembe Dixson, who skipped the tournament to commence his pro career. That was readily apparent in its blowout win over Liberty.
On paper, Liberty’s pack line, transition-denial defense almost perfectly matches up with UIC’s offensive attack, but the Flames still scored 1.05 points per possession (ppp) in that game. That doesn’t sound overly impressive, but I anticipated much worse given the matchup in a fairly raucous road environment. Thanks to big-bodied point guard Tarkus Ferguson, the Flames have morphed into a reliable half-court offense in this tourney. Without Dixson, UIC coach Steve McClain has moved to a smaller lineup with three ballhandlers in Ferguson, Marcus Ottey and sharpshooter Godwin Boahen. That change should help immensely against a guard-heavy Northern Colorado squad.
While the UIC backcourt can hang with the Bears, it may actually have a more pronounced advantage in the paint. Northern Colorado’s glaring weakness defensively is at the rim, as it lacks a true rim protector. While UIC center Tai Odiase is known more for defense, he can still exploit that deficiency. McClain’s offense doesn’t focus on feeding Odiase, but he’s shooting a hyper-efficient 15-of-21 in the CIT. UNC’s defense focuses on chasing teams off of the perimeter. In fact, it allows the lowest 3-point attempt rate in the country, but that leaves it vulnerable at the rim. Odiase can capitalize.
Flying from Virginia to the mile-high altitude of Greeley, Colorado, isn’t ideal for the Flames. However, if they can find their legs for the season finale, they have exploitable matchups on offense.
When Northern Colorado Has The Ball
UNC and UIC are constructed in an uncannily similar fashion on both ends of the floor. Northern Colorado thrives on the strength of its backcourt play from Andre Spight and Jordan Davis. UNC’s offense ranks in the top 10 nationally in both ball-screen and isolation rates, mainly thanks to Spight and Davis. Spight in particular has been unstoppable in this tournament, averaging 29 ppg. He has especially been on fire from deep, hitting 19 triples in three CIT games.
While Sam Houston State lacked capable perimeter defenders against UNC in the semis, UIC’s smaller lineup has excelled defensively in this tourney. With Ferguson, Ottey and Boahen on the court together, UIC has allowed just .90 ppp in three CIT games, per hooplens.com. Ferguson and Ottey are particularly strong individual defenders. Their ability to stay in front of Spight and Davis in isolation will help slow down the Bears. The rim defense of Odiase, one of the country’s most effective shot blockers, will also help tremendously in this matchup. Odiase’s presence has allowed UIC to maintain the country’s sixth-lowest FG% allowed at the rim.
CIT Championship Prediction
UIC can limit the Bears from efficiently working inside-out, which has ultimately been the source of UNC’s efficient offense this tournament (1.15 ppp). While Spight and sharpshooter Jonah Radebaugh can carry UNC to victory from the perimeter, UIC can keep this within single digits.
THE PICK: UIC +9.5
Northern Colorado junior reserve forward Ibrahim Sylla pictured