College Basketball NIT Odds & Best Bets: Tuesday’s Top Picks for First-Round Games (March 15)
Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images. Pictured: Brandon Horvath (Utah State)
In fact, we’re covering it in full. If you are able to judge motivation — or lack thereof — there can be excellent value in this event from a betting perspective.
So, with first-round games tipping off Tuesday night, our staff has a best bet for nearly every matchup.
Tuesday’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.|
Princeton vs. VCU
VCU and Princeton will both be disappointed that they came up just short of the NCAA Tournament.
The Rams dropped an A-10 quarterfinal game to Richmond, which ended their at-large hopes. Princeton lost the Ivy League final to Yale by one possession despite being the favorite to win Ivy Madness.
If styles make fights, then this matchup should be a fun one.
The Tigers have an elite motion offense that shoots at an elite rate from the perimeter and does not turn the ball over. VCU boasts an elite ball-pressure defense with lengthy athleticism and struggles to score.
The strength-on-strength matchup is the VCU defense against the Princeton offense. VCU’s defense has been a bit fortunate defensively guarding the 3-point line. Because of the ball pressure, VCU concedes a lot of open 3s, and teams haven’t made any open looks against it.
The defense — which ranks third in the country at guarding the 3 — is a bit inflated in the metrics because of those missed open looks. Princeton could be the team to exploit this and score more points from the perimeter.
At the other end, VCU’s primary issue is turnovers, but the Tigers don’t turn anyone over and don’t apply any ball pressure to force mistakes. VCU should be able to grab plenty of second-chance rebounds and get enough shots up for this game to go over the total of 138.
I don’t expect this game to be played in the half-court at all, and the offenses match up pretty well with the opposing defenses in this one.
Pick: Over 138 (Play to 140)
Missouri State vs. Oklahoma
The highest-ranked KenPom team to not make the tournament, Oklahoma, will host Missouri State in the opening round of the NIT.
The Sooners’ Big 12 Tournament upset of Baylor — a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament — wasn’t enough for the committee to overlook their 7-11 record in conference play.
And after likely feeling robbed of a ticket to the Big Dance, you have to wonder if motivation will be lacking for Oklahoma.
Missouri State, meanwhile, put together an impressive season in a very talented Missouri Valley but fell just short in the conference tournament to Drake.
The Bears’ strength of schedule doesn’t hold a candle to Oklahoma — which had the fourth-toughest SOS in the country — but I don’t think the Bears will be an easy opponent for the Sooners.
Missouri State is the 25th-most efficient offense in the country, ranking inside the top 25 in nearly every shooting category. It’s led by two of the top five scorers in the MVC in Isiaih Mosley and Gaige Prim.
Missouri State also ranks sixth in the country in free-throw shooting at 79.6%.
I don’t know if they’ll win the game outright, but I definitely believe the Bears can keep pace with the Sooners in this one behind their two stars.
I would back Missouri State at +5 or better.
Pick: Missouri State +6 (Play to +5)
Texas State vs. North Texas
For the first time in Mean Green program history, they will play in the NIT.
North Texas ran into the lightning rod that is Jordan “Jelly” Walker and UAB in the the C-USA Tournament, which ultimately resulted in an NIT ticket instead of a spot in the Big Dance.
Texas State will also be making its first-ever appearance in the NIT after winning the Sun Belt regular season title. It then suffered a shocking upset to 8-seeded Louisiana in the conference tournament.
As a 2-seed, the Mean Green will host Texas State. Outside of maybe the crosstown game between Vanderbilt and Belmont, I expect this to be one of the most attended first-round games in the NIT.
North Texas has played Texas State more than any other team in program history — 87 games in total — and the Mean Green hold an impressive 59-28 all-time series lead. However, this renewed rivalry will be their first game since 2010.
Both of these teams had historically good regular seasons and are led by two of the best coaches in their respective leagues. I don’t see motivation being a factor for either of these squads.
Defense, however, will be the biggest factor.
The Mean Green are the best scoring defense in the country, holding opponents to 55.8 per contest. The Bobcats were the second-best in the Sun Belt and limited teams to just 63.1 per game. However, I don’t think the Bobcats’ defense will be able to do as much damage as the Mean Green.
I’ll back the North Texas as high as a 10-point favorite here, and I’ll also be placing a wager on the under at any number better than 118.
Pick: North Texas -9 (Play to -10)
Cleveland State vs. Xavier
No program ended its season with more heartbreak than Xavier.
The Musketeers spiraled down the stretch, winning just two of their final 10 games of the season.
Then, a mental error in the first round of the Big East Tournament ended the program’s hopes of an NCAA Tournament bid. Paul Scruggs purposely fouled with less than five seconds remaining, thinking his team was up by three points and not two.
THE IRON WAS UNKIND AND XAVIER… FOULS BUTLER????? pic.twitter.com/BOzCvSKYDT
— Mr Matthew CFB 🇺🇦 (@MrMatthewCFB) March 9, 2022
Now, Xavier will match up with Cleveland State, which won the regular-season Horizon League title.
The Vikings are a veteran-led squad that ranks second in the nation in terms of experience. The offense plays with terrific ball movement and finds assists on 61% of its made field goals, good for 14th in the nation. It converts on 55% of its 2-point field goal attempts, which ranks top-20 in the country.
It’s tough to back Xavier given its recent form. The program lost 10 of its final 14 matchups to end the year.
It will likely have little inspiration, while Cleveland State was competitive against tough opponents in its non-conference schedule. The Vikings took Oklahoma State to overtime and were competitive against BYU to open the season.
I anticipate Xavier to continue the free fall that we’ve seen the last two months, and can’t envision it turning things around to make a run in the NIT.
I will continue to fade the Musketeers all tournament long, starting by taking the points with Cleveland State.
Pick: Cleveland State +12 (Play to +10.5)
Alcorn State vs. Texas A&M
Texas A&M was probably the biggest snub of any team that missed the NCAA Tournament field.
Most bracketologists and experts saw the Aggies as a tournament team following victories over Florida, Auburn and Arkansas in the SEC Tournament, but the committee didn’t seem to weigh recent wins too heavily, which left the Aggies on the wrong side of the bubble.
It’s critical to handicap motivation and whether or not teams will be up for a potential first-round home game against the worst team in the 32-team NIT field.
The Aggies also have to be feeling some type of fatigue after four consecutive games in four days against physical SEC opponents. There’s not much rest on a quick turnaround with a game on deck just two days later.
With that being said, the matchup doesn’t favor Alcorn State and its turnover issues.
The Aggies’ ball pressure and ability to turn teams over is among the best in the nation, and Alcorn State ranks 292nd in turnover rate on offense. That could lead to easy transition opportunities for the Texas A&M offense if the defense produces steals and gets out to run.
A&M’s aggressive defense does allow plenty of shots at the rim and it struggles to rebound, which means that the Braves could get some second-chance looks and easy points to keep this game competitive.
And if the Aggies aren’t quite up for this game, the Braves should be able to hang around and stay inside the number.
Pick: Alcorn State +20.5 (Play to +20)
Oregon vs. Utah State
This is one of the biggest motivational mismatches of the entire first round of the NIT.
Oregon is a perennial tournament team that expected to be one of the best in the Pac-12 and badly underperformed its expectations. I doubt Oregon star Will Richardson returns for an NIT game after missing the Pac-12 Tournament.
Plus, the Ducks have to travel up to elevation for a difficult matchup against Utah State in Logan.
The Aggies expected to be in a bit of a rebuild after losing a lot of players and head coach Craig Smith from last season’s NCAA Tournament team.
Utah State’s close-game record is quite poor because it went 2-10 against quality opponents and 3-8 in close games. Both are among the worst in the country, but the underlying metrics like KenPom and ShotQuality have liked the Aggies all season, and they are the considerably better team in this matchup.
The Aggies can expose a weak interior defense, and Ryan Odom’s complex offense can make life difficult for an undisciplined Oregon defense that has been extremely inconsistent this season.
Even if the Ducks do show up for this road game at elevation, I’m getting the better team with an excellent home-court advantage that is likely to be more motivated and matches up well offensively.
This line is too short for the Aggies here.
Pick: Utah State -4.5 (Play to -5)
Santa Clara vs. Washington State
By Alex Hinton
Washington State started the season 14-7, but a five-game losing streak ended any chances of it making the NCAA Tournament.
It then closed the year by winning five out of six before losing to UCLA in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament.
Now, the Cougars draw a tough matchup against a dangerous Santa Clara team in the first round of the NIT.
Santa Clara ranks 31st in scoring offense at 78.1 points per game and 26th in adjusted offensive efficiency.
The Broncos are led by Jalen Williams, who averages 18 points per game and shoots 40% from 3. The 6-foot-6 wing should be able to rise up and get his shot off against the smaller Washington State perimeter defenders.
Santa Clara ranks 17th in shortest average offensive possession length and 24th in adjusted tempo. It will look to push the pace against a Washington State team that prefers the game much slower.
If the Broncos can create easy baskets and open 3s in transition, that could spell trouble for Washington State. Santa Clara ranks fifth nationally in 3-point percentage, while Washington State sits 105th in 3-point defense.
Santa Clara does not defend the 3-ball well, ranking 246th in 3-point percentage defense, but Washington State’s offense is 162nd in the category.
The Broncos will find success if they run the Cougars off the 3-point line because Wazzu ranks 302nd in 2-point field goal percentage and 250th in effective field goal percentage.
Santa Clara is a live dog and comes into this matchup after nearly knocking off Saint Mary’s in the WCC Tournament.
I’ll take the points here and would feel comfortable at +3. However, I would not be surprised if the Broncos win outright.
Pick: Santa Clara +4 (Play to +3)
St. Bonaventure vs. Colorado
I hated the Bonnies getting ranked inside the top-25 preseason poll then, and I hate it more now. It’s a shame this team — loaded with senior talent — doesn’t get one more shot at the tournament. But after a loss to Saint Louis in the conference tournament, another ticket to the Big Dance was all but gone.
Now, they will travel as a 5-seed to take on 4-seed Colorado.
The Buffaloes had an impressive season — going 20-10 overall — but fell short of a ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
Colorado is nearly the polar opposite of St. Bonaventure, with just two seniors serving as major contributors to the squad. The NIT will be another opportunity for a young team to get better rather than a half-hearted final hurrah.
With five different players averaging in double digits, anyone on the floor for the Bonnies is a scoring threat. But Colorado has shown its ability as one of the 50 most efficient defenses in the country.
And not only do the Bonnies struggle from deep, but they attempt just 18 triples per game — one less thing for Colorado to worry about.
The Buffs attempt about the same amount of 3s, but they make nearly double and come in as the 30th-best 3-point shooting team in Division I.
The altitude of Boulder could also play a serious factor for a team like the Bonnies, who aren’t used to the thin air. They’re last in the country when it comes to bench minutes, relying heavily on four players who play more than 37 minutes. That’s not good news in the mountains.
Back the Buffaloes here at -6 or better.