ESPN Events Invitational Tournament Preview | Bracket, Odds, Betting Picks & Predictions
James Gilbert/Getty Images. Pictured: Kermit Davis, head coach of the Ole Miss Rebels basketball team.
Often lost amidst the pandemonium that is Feast Week, the ESPN Events Invitational is an underrated side dish to the bevy of elite entrees served up all week and weekend.
Formerly known as the AdvoCare Invitational (aka the Pyramid Scheme Classic), it admittedly lacks the national title contender headliners that Phil Knight roped in for his birthday.
However, there’s plenty of meat on this bone.
This event is also frequently the warm comfort blanket that helps with Feast Week withdrawals. The Sunday championship round provides some peace with Maui and Atlantis in the books.
Of course, with both PK85 brackets mirroring the ESPN Events schedule, this one may remain off the radar for most fans.
That should not be the case for bettors, however. One future stands out as a major value play, and several game-by-game wagers should be worth a shot, as well.
2022 ESPN Events Invitational Bracket
2022 ESPN Events Invitational Odds
Um, oof. It’s hard to find nice things to say about the Seminoles, who are currently 1-4 overall and against the spread. They suffered outright home losses to Stetson and Troy.
If Louisville were not actively self-immolating on national TV, the Noles’ futility would be getting way more attention.
Of course, FSU’s struggles are slightly more understandable.
Brown transfer Jaylan Gainey, expected to be a key part of the frontcourt rotation, is out for the year with a knee injury. Freshman Jeremiah Bembry is still working back from a knee injury of his own. And star freshman Baba Miller is in NCAA-imposed timeout due to a rules misunderstanding.
Still, there are clear problems here. FSU lacks the lottery-level NBA talent that has buoyed its success over the years. Point guard is an alarming void currently filled by scoring wings. And the typically-stingy switching defense has been cut to ribbons.
I don’t think we currently know how bad these Seminoles are. Have they hit rock bottom? Or is that still to come in Orlando?
Siena’s conference, the MAAC, serves as the event’s sponsoring league. Thus, it always sends a representative to this tournament that is otherwise populated by power-conference luminaries.
Remember Iona beating Alabama last season? That was at the ESPN Events Invitational.
Will these Saints find similar success? They certainly landed the right matchup to start, as FSU looks mighty vulnerable to kick off the year. After all, Siena sits at 254th in KenPom as of this writing. Stetson, which won at Florida State, is 253rd.
Stylistically, the Saints want to play through skilled big man Jackson Stormo in the post or via sophomore guard Javian McCollum attacking in ball screens.
Both routes could be dicey against FSU’s athleticism, as could Siena’s non-existent interior defense (currently 341st nationally in 2-point percentage defense).
The Saints’ pinpoint perimeter accuracy will need to be a difference-maker. They are currently 18th in the country in 3-point percentage, with former UNC transfer Andrew Platek and wing Jayce Johnson leading the way at 50% each.
Stetson beat FSU by shooting over the top (14 made triples). Siena must do the same.
The Rebels have looked sharp so far this year. Kermit Davis’ squad is off to an undefeated 4-0 start, including a solid win over Florida Atlantic.
Even more impressively, the Rebels have done that without point guard Daeshun Ruffin, who has been dealing with a bone bruise. His status is unclear for this event, but even if he cannot play, freshmen guards TJ Caldwell and Amaree Abram have earned valuable experience thus far.
Most importantly, the Rebels have stabilized their interior defense compared to last season. The 2021-22 Rebels ranked 302nd nationally in 2-point percentage defense, per KenPom. This year’s version is 26th in the same stat.
Up-transfers Theo Akwuba (Louisiana), Jayveous McKinnis (Jackson State) and Myles Burns (NAIA Loyola-New Orleans) have all made an impact on that end of the floor.
The Cardinal might be in a make-or-break year for head coach Jerod Haase. The early returns on that are inconclusive.
Stanford has done what it needs to do: beat Pacific and Cal Poly. The Cardinal fell to Wisconsin and San Diego State in their big early tests, though, with both losses coming by double-digits.
NBA prospect Harrison Ingram has been poor, shooting just 34% from the field. Quite simply, Stanford cannot compete with high-level competition if Ingram is a nonentity on offense.
Spencer Jones and Michael Jones have tried to pick up the slack.
The “brothers” (they are not at all related) are deadly from deep, and Spencer is rounding into form after missing the season opener with injury. He finally re-entered the starting lineup against Cal Poly and has averaged 12.5 points per game over the last two.
The buzzer-beating opening-night loss to Sam Houston was an eyesore, no question. Results since then have been encouraging, though.
OU fended off a pesky Arkansas-Pine Bluff squad and beat two solid mid-majors in UNC Wilmington and South Alabama. Plus, Sam Houston won at Utah and remains undefeated — perhaps it was not a bad loss after all.
Porter Moser’s team has talent, but getting the pieces to mesh correctly was always going to be a challenge. Transfer guards Grant Sherfield and Joe Bamisile are both ball-dominant, but the offense works best when it’s run through star center Tanner Groves.
The offense remains a work in progress.
Nebraska has been well short of perfect this season, but it has avoided losing a buy game thus far. Considering the Cornhuskers have dropped five of those in the last three seasons, that’s worth noting.
Still, Fred Hoiberg’s squad looks a step (or three) behind in the Big Ten. The Huskers’ three buy-game wins have all come against teams ranked 329th or worse by KenPom, and they only covered one of those contests.
Most embarrassingly, St. John’s eviscerated the Huskers in the second half in Queens to the tune of 50-23.
Key forward Derrick Walker has been absent due to an unspecified health issue, and he would certainly help reinforce the Huskers’ interior.
But the biggest problem has been the perimeter play. Nebraska is sub-30% from beyond the arc so far — a disastrous formula against some of the stout defenses the Huskers will see in Orlando.
Penny Hardaway’s Tigers continue their early-season gauntlet in Orlando. They have yet to play an opponent outside of KenPom’s top 100, notching wins against Vanderbilt and VCU while losing at Saint Louis.
One of the most experienced teams in the country already, Memphis enters the tournament battle-tested.
Kendric Davis has stabilized the point guard spot, and the Tigers’ defense looks stout once again.
However, the numbers may be inflated by playing a VCU team that was missing star point guard Ace Baldwin.
Under new boss Shaheen Holloway, the Pirates have become a terror on the defensive end. Against three mid-major foes, Seton Hall has allowed 0.66, 0.65 and 0.69 points per possession. That’s suffocation to the highest degree.
Of course, Iowa’s supernova offense scorched the Pirates for 1.19 points per possession, so they are not immortal. Comparing any offense in this field to Iowa’s would be folly, though.
The Pirates are long and athletic, and Holloway is a fantastic defensive mind. Dre Davis missed Seton Hall’s most recent win, though, and Alexis Yetna has yet to play this season.
ESPN Events Invitational Betting Angles
“Auto-fade Florida State” is probably too easy, but it’s tempting. The Noles did manage to (barely) cover a game before this tournament, beating Mercer by nine as a 7-point favorite.
KenPom and Bart Torvik’s T-Rank have the FSU/Siena line at nine and eight, respectively. I am nowhere near confident in my own FSU rating, so I may risk half a unit.
Seton Hall and Memphis should be a rock fight efficiency-wise, but the tempo could be high. Both teams are liable to push the tempo, which scares me off the under.
I could make a compelling case that the opening-round Memphis vs. Seton Hall matchup features the two best teams in the field. Oklahoma has the loss to Sam Houston, but the Sooners can be formidable, as well. Thus, the value must be on the other side of the bracket.
Given Florida State’s foibles, that half looks plenty vulnerable. The Seminoles are laughably mispriced at +325 — both Ole Miss and Stanford are clearly better teams at this stage.
Either the Rebels (+500) or the Cardinal (+700) look worth a wager due to their path to the title game. I prefer Ole Miss and its overhauled defense.
ESPN Events Invitational Picks
- Siena small vs. FSU (a little on the moneyline)
- Ole Miss or Stanford laying up to 5 in Round 2 against FSU
- Ole Miss to win the tournament +500