College Basketball NIT Best Bets: Wednesday’s Top Picks for Every First-Round Game
Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images. Pictured: Kody Stattmann (Virginia)
As mentioned in this file for Tuesday’s games, the NIT can be extremely profitable to bettors. Motivation can be a massive factor in this event, and if you can judge it successfully, there is cash to be made.
After breaking down eight of the nine first-round games on Tuesday, our staff has a best bet for every single opening-round matchup on Wednesday.
So, while the First Four takes center stage nationally, formulate your NIT betting card below.
Wednesday’s NIT First-Round Best Bets
The team logos in the table below represent each of the matchups that our college basketball staff is targeting from today’s slate of games. Click the team logos for one the matchups below to navigate to a specific bet discussed in this article.
|Specific bet recommendations come from the sportsbook offering preferred odds as of writing. Always shop for the best price using our NCAAB Odds page, which automatically surfaces the best lines for every game.|
Mississippi State vs. Virginia
The Bulldogs and Cavaliers had disappointing regular seasons, to say the least. As a result, they will now meet in the NIT on Wednesday.
Mississippi State earned a 3-seed, and as a higher seed, it had the option to host the game. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Humphrey Coliseum is under construction. Now, the game will be played at Virginia.
Location is something that should absolutely be taken into consideration, seeing that Virginia went 10-6 at home this season and just 6-6 on the road. It’s an even bigger blow for the Bulldogs, who were just 1-9 on the road while going 14-3 at home.
Motivation could definitely be a factor in this game. Virginia has a much more experienced team, and two of its best players are seniors.
Both teams operate with a defensive mindset and are ranked inside the top-75 nationally in defensive efficiency.
However, the Bulldogs struggle with turnovers and rely heavily on free throws. Virginia might not be great at creating turnovers, but it ranks fifth in the country when it comes to opponent free-throw attempts, giving up just 12.4 — a far cry from the 21.5 Mississippi State averages per contest.
I think Virginia is going to be more motivated in this game while also having a significant home-court advantage. The Hoos’ defense should be the slow, effective grind it’s always been, and it won’t allow State to shoot its way back in from the line.
I’ll be backing the Cavaliers as high as a three-point favorite in this one.
Pick: Virginia -1.5 (Play to -3)
Dayton vs. Toledo
Dayton saw its ticket to the NCAA Tournament burn in flames when Richmond upset Davidson in the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
The Flyers were the first team left out of the NCAA Tournament and now enter the NIT for the third time in four years.
Dayton will match up with the top team from the MAC in Toledo.
The Rockets dominated the conference, winning the regular-season title with a 17-3 record.
Tod Kowalczyk’s group had the same starting lineup for all 33 games this season, which is pivotal for a program that ranks 355th in the country in bench minutes. The starting lineup contributed to 88% of the Rockets’ total points scored this season.
Anthony Grant’s Dayton program did all it could down the stretch, winning eight of its final nine games of the season. But a loss to Richmond in the A-10 semifinals ultimately doomed the program’s NCAA Tournament hopes.
The Flyers utilize a more well-rounded scoring attack that features eight players who average between six and 13 points per game.
Dayton lost both of its opening-round games in its last two trips to the NIT since 2019. Now, it will sacrifice home-court advantage to Toledo, as the NCAA Tournament will use the University of Dayton Arena for a First Four game.
The Rockets finished 13-1 at home this season while going 9-4 against the spread. I’ll be backing Toledo in this matchup, as the Flyers will likely be demoralized having come so close to an NCAA Tournament bid.
Pick: Toledo -1 (Play to -2)
Towson vs. Wake Forest
Wake Forest ended the season with losses to Clemson and Boston College. That ultimately kept the Demon Deacons out of the NCAA Tournament field in head coach Steve Forbes’ first season.
Towson was the top seed and team in the CAA all season until a loss in the semifinals to Delaware sent it to the NIT. The Tigers don’t turn the ball over often, which is a major focus point against the Deacs in this game.
Wake has an elite transition offense, but Towson runs a slow-paced offense that doesn’t allow many teams to run on it. The Tigers also grab a high percentage of offensive rebounds.
The Tigers are a top-50 defense at guarding in transition, per ShotQuality, and also take away the 3-ball pretty effectively.
The Deacs will struggle to get margin in this game, and Towson — motivated to finish a great season on a high note after a disappointing loss — may be the more focused team here.
Both teams will get to the line a lot by trying to attack the rim, but Towson is more than capable of making up for its lack of size with energy and effort on the glass.
Wake’s perimeter defense is pretty mediocre, too, so Towson should make enough 3s to be competitive here.
Pick: Towson +8 (Play to +7)
Nicholls State vs. SMU
By Alex Hinton
Had SMU beaten Memphis, it would likely be in the NCAA Tournament.
However, with a core of seniors likely playing their last games together, motivation should not be an issue.
In the first round of the NIT, the Mustangs will draw Nicholls State, which won the regular-season Southland Conference title.
This will be a fast-paced game, as Nicholls State ranks 16th nationally in shortest average possession length while SMU ranks 79th.
Nicholls State likes to run, but it does not shoot the ball well. The Colonels are ranked 236th in 3-point percentage and 356th in free-throw percentage. They do rank 28th in 2-point percentage, but they will meet their match against an SMU defense that sits 11th in effective field goal percentage defense, 16th in 3-point percentage defense and 30th in 3-point percentage defense.
At the other end, SMU likes to fire away from deep and ranks 49th in 3-point percentage. Guard Kendric Davis can get his shot off against anyone, and he gets to the foul line. He averages 19.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game.
Davis could have a big night, as Nicholls State ranks 200th in 3-point defense and 210th in adjusted defensive efficiency overall.
SMU is the better team on both ends of the floor, and it will also have the advantage of playing on its home floor with a quick turnaround. I would be comfortable taking the Mustangs as big favorites.
Pick: SMU -15 (Play to -16.5)
Northern Iowa vs. Saint Louis
By Alex Hinton
If you like watching good guard play, Northern Iowa and Saint Louis will be a good matchup for you.
Northern Iowa’s A.J. Green won Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year honors after averaging 18.8 points per game and shooting 37.3% on 7.8 3-point attempts per game.
Forward Noah Carter averages 14.6 points and converts 57.8% of his 2-point attempts.
Those two lead a UNI offense that ranks 51st in adjusted offensive efficiency.
The Panthers also finished second in the MVC at 74.4 points per game.
Saint Louis will counter with one of the nation’s best floor generals in Yuri Collins. He averages 11.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and a nation-leading 7.9 assists a night.
With Collins at the helm, the SLU offense ranks 60th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 44th in offensive rating.
Guard Gibson Jimerson averages 16.2 points and shoots 41.9% from beyond the arc.
He had trouble getting loose against Davidson, but he may find a little more success against Northern Iowa. The Panthers are 331st in both effective field goal percentage and 2-point percentage, while ranking 277th in 3-point defense.
It will also be interesting to watch what happens at the free-throw line. Saint Louis is prone to fouling, but has had luck on its side, as opponents have shot 67% at the charity stripe. Northern Iowa shoots 79% to rank eighth nationally.
Considering Saint Louis is also a good free-throw shooting team, this should be a high-scoring game.
Pick: Over 146.5 (Play to 148.5)
Iona vs. Florida
Florida enters the NIT after missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six years. The Gators will be without head coach Mike White after news broke Sunday evening that he will be moving on to lead the Georgia program.
Iona also had a disappointing finish to the season after getting upset by Rider as 12-point favorites in the MAAC Tournament. But that shouldn’t overshadow the impressive season that Rick Pitino’s unit put together.
The Gaels finished 25-6 in the regular season and 17-3 in conference play. They defeated Alabama at a neutral site and hung tough with Kansas shortly after.
Iona isn’t built like a typical MAAC program.
The Gaels have a pair of experienced guards in Tyson Jolly and Elijah Joiner, who average a combined 26 points per game. Nelly Junior Joseph is a dominant rim protector who averaged 13 points and 8.2 rebounds per contest.
He will have his hands full against Florida’s Colin Castleton — the heartbeat to the Gators’ offense. 6-foot-11 Castleton averaged 16 points and nine rebounds to go along with 2.4 blocks per game this season.
But Florida’s offense took 46% of its shot attempts from behind the arc, where it converted at just 31% (308th nationally). Iona has played with a dominant perimeter defense this season, holding opponents to 30% from deep, which is a top-30 rate in the country.
The Gators spiraled down the stretch, winning just three of their final eight games.
Assistant coach Al Pinkins will be leading the Gators in this game. He matches up against Pitino, who will surely have his squad fired up for another chance to take down a marquee program.
And if Iona pulls off the upset, maybe Florida doesn’t let Pitino leave town.
Pick: Iona +7 (Play to +6)
Long Beach State vs. BYU
By Alex Hinton
While BYU won 20 games for the 16th time in the last 17 seasons, it was unable to get back to the NCAA Tournament. It will now host Long Beach State in the first round of the NIT.
Long Beach State wants to get up and down the floor and shoot a ton of 3s, ranking 10th in shortest average possession length on offense and 69th in 3-point percentage.
However, when the 3s aren’t falling, offense can be a struggle. It ranks 273rd in 2-point field goal percentage and 220th in effective field goal percentage.
BYU defends the 3 well, ranking 35th in 3-point percentage defense. While it’s not as good at defending the paint, it will have an advantage against LBSU, particularly with neither team holding a size advantage.
That will also work to BYU’s advantage, as it ranks 13th in defensive rebounding percentage.
At the other end, BYU senior guard Alex Barcello’s eyes will enlarge when he sees the Long Beach State defense. He shoots 43.9% from beyond the arc, and Long Beach State is 279th in 3-point percentage defense.
He leads a BYU offense that ranks 52nd in adjusted offensive efficiency, and he will be looking to go out with a bang.
Long Beach State has had six games against teams in KenPom’s top 65. It lost those games by an average margin of 23 points per game. While those games were early in the season, BYU ranks 51st, per KenPom.
Getting 11 points here is good value. I expect the Cougars to win comfortably.