College Basketball NIT Odds & Picks for Cleveland State vs. Xavier: Will Musketeers Be Motivated?
Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Xavier Musketeers guard Paul Scruggs (1) and Xavier Musketeers forward Jack Nunge (24)
- Xavier hosts Cleveland State in the first round of the NIT bracket.
- The Musketeers had a brutal ending to the season, as they lost six of their last seven.
- Will Xavier have motivation tonight? Our staff dives in!
Cleveland State vs. Xavier Odds
|Cleveland State Odds|
-110o / -110u
-110o / -110u
The NIT and CBI tournaments may not have the same buzz as the NCAA Tournament, but for bettors, sometimes these smaller tournaments are an opportunity to find strong angles against unmotivated programs.
This matchup is a prime example of that, as Xavier welcomes Cleveland State. Xavier was wondering what seed it was going to have in the NCAA Tournament back during the holidays. Fast forward two months, and the program found a 1-seed — but in the wrong event.
The Musketeers now face a Cleveland State program that won the Horizon League regular-season championship. The Vikings were upset in the Horizon League Tournament, but will settle for a shot at taking down a Big East program.
Xavier has lost eight of its last 10 games outright. Travis Steele will have his work cut out for him to motivate his program if it wants to cover as double-digit favorites in this matchup.
By Matt Cox
The back-to-back Horizon League champions embody every cliche characteristic associated with “team.” Their unselfishness and balance is a refreshing deviation from many one-man-bands found around college basketball.
As many as 10 players expect to see the floor on any given night, and all of them are capable of making an impact. Per KenPom, the Vikings boast the nation’s 14th-highest assist rate, evidence of how well this team shares the sugar.
Another stat that pops on the KenPom team page: Experience. The senior-laden Vikings are the second-oldest team in the country, and that wisdom shows on the floor.
Dennis Gates, a rising star in the coaching rankings, is the master architect of CSU’s recent revolution. He arms that depth and intelligence in a myriad of defensive fronts aimed at confounding opposing ball handlers. Per Synergy, CSU played zone and press on 25% and 19% of all defensive possessions this season, respectively.
The key angle in this NIT opening round matchup? The Vikings’ mindset. Dennis Gates reiterated that the opportunity to play in the NIT is “special.” In what many view as a consolation prize, motivation can be a key differentiator from a handicapping perspective.
On Christmas Day, if you told any Xavier fan that the Musketeers were playing in the NIT, they would either not believe you — or immediately end the conversation so they could beg the administration to part ways with head coach Travis Steele.
At that time, Xavier was 11-2 with four wins against teams that would go on to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament (plus a good but postseason-banned Oklahoma State team). The inside-out balance of Xavier’s veteran team looked like a potent recipe on offense.
Since that day, Xavier played 10 games against programs now in the NCAA field, winning just three times while also dropping games to DePaul, Butler and St. John’s (twice!).
Xavier’s roster made sense on paper, yet everything unraveled. The Musketeers shot just 31% from deep in conference play while grabbing the third-lowest rate of their offensive rebounds in the Big East.
Defensively, Xavier had no spark and no answers. The lack of offensive rebounds was in part a choice, with Xavier choosing to stop transition looks instead.
The Musketeers allowed the second-lowest percentage of field goals to come in transition, per Hoop-Math. That could be a good thing, but Xavier didn’t capitalize in the half-court, allowing Big East opponents to make more than half of their 2s.
If this team didn’t find something when their NCAA Tournament case was falling apart, it’s hard to see how they’d click in time to play well in the NIT.
Cleveland State vs. Xavier Betting Pick
Xavier has looked like two different programs this season. One team opened the season 14-3, with marquee victories over Ohio State, Creighton and Marquette. The team we’ve seen more recently finished 4-10, with losses coming to nearly every team in the Big East.
Now, the Musketeers welcome in a scrappy Cleveland State program that does all the little things right. The Vikings share the basketball, finding assists on 61% of their made field goals. They also force turnovers at a top-26 clip and crash the offensive glass.
Motivation is a crucial factor when handicapping the NIT. Xavier surely won’t have much reason to get up for this matchup, especially given its recent form.
The Musketeers have won by more than a dozen points just once over the last two months. I will be taking the points with Cleveland State, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this matchup goes down to the wire.
Pick: Cleveland State +11 (down to +10.5)
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