#2 Utah vs. #4 Western Kentucky NIT Final Four Preview

By College Basketball

Villanova and Western Kentucky were two of the teams I was most looking forward to backing in March this season. Both schools are in a Final Four and have covered all seven of the games they’ve needed to win to get there — Villanova in the NCAA Tournament and Western Kentucky in the NIT.

They are two of the biggest reasons we’ve been rolling this March. I wrote up Michigan and Loyola’s Final Four matchup already and will get to Villanova and Kansas later this week. Today, I want to focus on Western Kentucky’s game with Utah tonight from Madison Square Garden.

The Hilltoppers are favored by 1-2 points, depending on where you do your shopping, after opening as a pick. The total is 139.5.

Free Pick

I can’t help but at least lean Western Kentucky in just about every game it plays. I’ve been hypnotized a bit, but I recognize it. Utah has impressed me enough too that I’m going to hold off from picking a side in this game.

Instead, I’m keen on the total, which feels low to me. Utah’s pace is flexible; it has been all season. The Utes only give up 63 points per game but that includes some low totals allowed to overmatched teams in the non-conference and the more deliberate teams out West, including Saint Mary’s, which only managed 58 in the quarterfinal last week.

But Western Kentucky is an aggressive offensive team that will force the action and that has me thinking Utah will oblige. Utah gave up 83 and 78 in two games against UCLA, 80 and 77 in two games against ASU, and 84 and 74 in two games against USC. I liken Western Kentucky’s athleticism, skill and pace to those three opponents from the Pac-12.

Plus, WKU’s offense has been cooking in the NIT with 79, 79 and 92 in three games. The seven guys in Rick Stansbury’s rotation are all healthy and shoot 50 percent as a group. Utah’s defense isn’t going to scare them.

Meanwhile, Utah averages over 70 a game and WKU gives up over 70 a game; it doesn’t exactly dig in for 40 minutes, but try to force things and get out in transition. I would certainly bet on Utah cracking 70.

So what am I missing here? It seems to me we should expect both teams to at least hit 70 and if that happens, it’s going over. And even if one fails to get there, there’s enough offense on both sides for one to make up for it.

Free Pick: Over 139.5

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