Butler and Purdue ran the total over in their game on Sunday for our fourth win in five NCAA Tournament plays thus far. But while the Big Dance takes a few numbers off this week, the NIT is popping off and there’s an especially big opportunity to cash on Monday night.
Western Kentucky impressed me earlier in the season so I kept tabs on how it was doing throughout. The Hilltoppers had a fine season both in and out of Conference USA, playing a number of powerful programs competitively and then losing just three regular season conference games.
They seemed to catch a break when Middle Tennessee lost early in the conference tournament but ended up losing by a point to Marshall in the championship game. WKU didn’t play well in that game, either.
Of course, Marshall went on to knock out Wichita State in what’s been an NCAA Tournament full of not just upsets, but particularly surprising upsets. I feel like WKU would have had a great chance to be a part of that fun, had things gone differently in that championship.
Instead, it was awarded a 4-seed in the NIT and trounced Boston College in the first round, which was played in WKU’s home gym. Tonight’s game will be at USC but I highly suggest staying behind the Hilltoppers, who are getting four points.
That’s because I think Western Kentucky can play just about any team in the country straight up. It’s also clearly two feet into this tournament, where USC appears to have other interests.
That’s at least the case for its best player, Chimezie Metu, who has decided to shut it down after USC’s double-overtime win over UNC Asheville in the first round. Metu didn’t get hurt in that game but he will be a first round pick in the NBA Draft a few months from now and doesn’t want to risk it.
USC was a top-10 team in the preseason poll but it has lost significant talent, first when Bennie Boatwright went out for the season with a knee injury and now with Metu’s decision. Those two were the Trojans’ two leading scorers and supposed to be a dominant high-low combination. Now USC is dangerously thin in the front court.
Nick Rakocevic was having a tremendous season as a sixth man before he took on extra responsibility, replacing Boatwright in the starting lineup. Now, he’s all USC has down there. He scored 24 points against Asheville and 13 on 6-of-7 shooting in the game before against Arizona, but is he up for doing it by himself tonight?
He did play 41 minutes in that 24-point performance so perhaps I shouldn’t doubt his stamina but that was UNC Asheville and this is Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers can run you and then bang with you in the post. Rakocevic has to play a fine game and if he doesn’t USC is in a lot of trouble.
With the home court, USC isn’t any more than a pick to win this game, in my opinion. Western Kentucky plays just about everybody close so to get four points in a game like this one is gravy.
Free Pick: Western Kentucky +4