How to Bet the CIT: Capping Coaches and Measuring Motivation
While we count down the hours until Thursday (and to the play-in games to a lesser extent), we will have some other other tourney action to help pass the time. The College Invitational Tournament (CIT) actually starts today with four opening round matchups, the first of which tips at noon ET. While you were sleeping, I decided to take a look at all four CIT matchups because that seemed like the right thing to do.
As always with these lesser postseason tournaments, it’s all about judging motivation, handicapping coaching angles and determining who will even play. (Some seniors have said “no thanks” when it comes to playing in the CIT and CBI in the past).
- Hugh Durham Classic: Central Michigan at Fort Wayne (12 p.m. ET)
- Lou Henson Classic: Abilene Christian at Drake (2 p.m. ET)
- Jim Phelan Classic: NC A&T at Liberty (8 p.m. ET)
- Riley Wallace Classic: Hartford at San Diego (10 p.m. ET)
(I will update this analysis with spreads once they become available. Also, I have no idea why all four games are randomly named after coaching legends).
Follow me on twitter @jorcubsdan for in-game analysis, injury updates, and second half predictions.
Central Michigan at Fort Wayne
12 p.m. ET
I have no idea how many people could possibly show up for a CIT game starting at noon on a Monday in Fort Wayne. Tickets are only $1 and Fort Wayne’s spring break is at least over so maybe a few kids decide to go.
CMU can actually be a tricky team to prep for, as the Chips extend pressure full court and run a 2-3 in the halfcourt. Fort Wayne has excelled in its press offense with big ball handlers like guard John Konchar, but the Dons have oddly struggled in zone offense all year. CMU is incredibly weak in rim defense (hence the zone), but Fort Wayne rarely looks to score in the paint.
Fort Wayne only lost two games at home this year, which came against the Summit League’s top dogs South Dakota State and South Dakota. Both were tight contests, but again, who knows what the crowd presence will look like in this scenario. Keno Davis (pictured above) is coaching with a little extra motivation, as he gets a bonus if CMU reaches 20 wins (the Chips currently have 19 wins).
THE PICK: Central Michigan +3.5
Abilene Christian at Drake
2 p.m. ET
Head coach Niko Medved (pictured above) led a remarkable turnaround in his first season at Drake. He is looking to completely change the culture in Des Moines, so I think he’ll have his Bulldogs ready, even after a heartbreaking loss to Bradley in the final seconds at Arch Madness. Drake is the rare CIT team playing with experience, as all five starters are seniors. Typically, coaches with young teams accept these invites to get their teams postseason experience. With Drake, I think it’s more about letting a senior class who never won anything have a crack at postseason success.
Abilene Christian meanwhile is in its first season as a full time D1 member, and thus this is the first D1 postseason appearance of any kind for the Wildcats. Offensively, ACU runs a lot of offense through the post between bigs Jalone Friday and Jaren Lewis. Drake hasn’t been particularly strong in post defense, but I have less confidence that ACU’s defense will be prepared for Drake’s outstanding motion offense on short notice.
THE PICK: Abilene Christian +10
North Carolina A&T at Liberty
6 p.m. ET
You normally want to avoid teams in the CIT (and CBI) that lost in their conference tournament on a buzzer beater. Liberty fits that criterion. After losing at Radford in the Big South tournament final on a Carlick Jones buzzer beating three, it will now host NC A&T in a CIT game the day after not seeing its name on the bracket.
NC A&T meanwhile enjoyed the biggest single season turnaround in the country, jumping from a single D1 win last year to 20 this year. Head coach Jay Joyner’s club will certainly be ecstatic to take part in any postseason tournament. You can expect a motivated NC A&T team to take the two hour bus ride from Greensboro to Lynchburg for this one.
Schematically, however, the Aggies will have some issues. NC A&T is an attack heavy offense with a dire dearth of perimeter shooters. That’s problematic against Liberty, as head coach Ritchie McKay’s Flames are known for their pack line defense. McKay also mixed in a lot of 3-2 zone over the last few weeks to turn the Flames’ season around. The Aggies use a lot of zone defense themselves, but Liberty has a plethora of shooters on the perimeter. 6’7 forward Scottie James has turned into a monster inside for Liberty, but NC A&T does have an excellent post defender in Femi Olujobi.
Interestingly, despite their proximity, these two teams have met only once before, which came in the 2013 NCAA Tournament First Four. NC A&T won that game by a single point, but none of the current players for either team (or even Joyner and McKay) were involved in that game.
THE PICK: NC A&T +11.5, Under 140 (top ATS prediction)
Hartford at San Diego
10 p.m. ET
Talk about unknown motivation. I have no clue how the Toreros will respond after the ugly off the court incident that led to head coach Lamont Smith’s resignation. Smith was a rising star in the mid-major coaching ranks, and his departure was sudden and swift. The Toreros only lost by six to BYU in the WCC Tournament in their first and only game without Smith, but that final margin isn’t indicative of how badly BYU outplayed USD.
Hartford meanwhile enjoyed a renaissance season, which moved head coach John Gallagher from the hot seat to a contract extension. Gallagher is known in mid-major circles for his extreme optimism. I suspect he’ll have his team eager and ready to play, even if it means flying across the country for a game nobody else in the world cares about (except for a few of you and myself).
While the two teams might have wildly different mindsets, each has a distinct offensive scheme advantage. Hartford runs a spread pick and roll offense with outstanding guards JR Lynch and Jason Dunne. (Big Irishman John Carroll has also been an extremely efficient roller). The Toreros have not defended efficiently against the pick and roll this year. Hartford has also struggled in pick and roll defense, which has forced Gallagher to rely on a lot of zone. That could spell trouble against San Diego, which is one of the most three point reliant offenses in the country.
Maybe USD rallies, but I mostly get the sense it just wants this nightmare final few weeks to end.
THE PICK: Hartford +9.5 (top ATS prediction)
Photo credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports