NIT Final Preview

NIT Final Preview

NIT Final Preview
Brian Edwards

The NIT finals will not feature a rematch of last year’s national championship game between Ohio State and Florida. The Buckeyes did their part, but Massachusetts wouldn’t allow it to happen, dominating the Gators in the second half to advance to the title match.

ESPN will provide television coverage from Madison Square Garden Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Las Vegas Sports Consultants opened Ohio State (23-13 SU, 17-14 ATS) as a two-point favorite with a total of 149. By Wednesday night, most spots had the Bucks at 2½ or three.

Thad Matta’s squad advanced to the finals by jumping on Ole Miss early and often en route to an 81-69 victory as a 2 ½-point favorite. The 150 combined points jumped ‘over’ the 142-point total. Jamar Butler and Evan Turner scored 17 points apiece for the winners.

The Buckeyes have taken the cash in all four NIT games to date.

UMass (25-10 SU, 17-14 ATS) is 3-1 versus the number in the second-tier tourney, failing to cover as a home ‘chalk’ in a win over Akron. The Minutemen also beat Stephen F. Austin at home before qualifying for a trip to NYC by rallying from a 22-point deficit to win at Syracuse.

It was Travis Ford’s second win at the Carrier Dome this season. Like UMass did against the ‘Cuse, it fell behind early to UF. Billy Donovan’s team led by a 36-27 count at intermission, but that was fool’s gold.

UMass was clearly the aggressor in the second half, erasing the deficit quickly. The Minutemen went on to capture a 78-66 win as four-point underdogs.

Gary Forbes, a NYC native, produced a game-high 19 points, but it was Dante Milligan who was the catalyst. Milligan, a senior who is also a Big Apple product like Forbes, finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds.

The pace of the game had an ‘over’ written all over it, but Florida – which shot 71 percent from the free-throw line on the season – clanged 13 of its 21 attempts at the charity stripe. Therefore, the 144 combined points fell ‘under’ the 154-point tally. Gamblers backing the second-half ‘over’ picked up a fortunate cover by just “a hook.”

The Minutemen are 8-4 ATS as underdogs this season. They can be had on the money line for a plus 130 return (risk $100 to win $130) in this spot.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

--The ‘under’ is on a 6-1 run for UMass, while the ‘over’ has cashed in four of Ohio State’s last five games.

--For what it’s worth, there are rumors circulating about the future of Ford at UMass. He’s a possible candidate for open jobs at both Marquette and LSU (just for starters).

--After what Stephen Curry did in the NCAA Tournament, you would have to think that some of the nation’s elite unsigned recruits might suddenly have an interest in signing with Davidson, right? Now the school does have high academic standards, but you’d think any players considering a Vandy or Stanford might now include the Wildcats in the mix. For those of you who might be wondering (I know I was), Davidson loses point guard Jason Richards and forwards Thomas Sander and Boris Meno. Yes, those are big losses, but plenty of talent returns to join Curry and there’s no reason to think Bob McKillop’s squad won’t be a serious Sweet 16 contender again.

--Tennessee picked up a huge oral commitment Tuesday when five-star recruit Scotty Hopson pledged to become a Volunteer. Obviously, Bruce Pearl will be staying put at UT and most likely for an extended period of time. The AP story didn’t say as much, but I’m thinking Scotty is the son of Dennis Hopson, who played in the NBA after a stellar career at Ohio St.

vegasinsider.com.

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Re: NIT Final Preview

Massachusetts (25-10, 17-14-1 ATS) vs. Ohio State (23-13, 17-14-1 ATS)

Ohio State, which reached last year’s NCAA Tournament final before losing to Florida, made it to the NIT title game by breezing past Mississippi 81-69 Tuesday as a two-point chalk. The Buckeyes are 4-0 SU and ATS in the NIT, with all four wins by double digits. The end-of-season surge followed a 2-5 stretch (2-4-1 ATS) that kept Thad Matta’s team out of the NCAA Tournament.

Massachusetts knocked off two-time defending national champion Florida 78-66 as a four-point underdog in Tuesday’s other semifinal to spoil a rematch of last year’s NCAA Tournament championship game. The Minutemen, who rallied from a nine-point halftime deficit against the Gators for their second straight upset win, have been sterling for five weeks now, going 10-1 SU and 8-3 ATS in their last 11 outings.

These two teams met twice earlier this decade, with Ohio State winning both games and the two squads splitting the cash. The Buckeyes won 54-51 at home as an 11-point chalk in December 2000 and 70-62 in January 2002 as a four-point road favorite.

The Buckeyes are on a 7-0 ATS tear in non-conference play and sport additional positive ATS trends of 5-0 as a favorite, 5-1 against winning teams, 4-1 after a SU win, 7-2 as a neutral-site chalk and 10-4 in postseason play. On the negative side, though, they are 2-6-1 ATS in their last nine as a chalk of less than seven points.

The Minutemen are in the midst of pointspread tears of 6-2 against winning teams, 6-2 as an underdog and 5-2 ATS after a spread-cover. However, despite Tuesday’s win, UMass is still just 2-5 ATS in its last seven as a neutral-site pup, and 1-5 ATS in its last six Thursday starts.

Both teams are averaging 74.4 points per game over their last five contests, but Ohio State (49.5 percent) is shooting the ball much more efficiently than UMass (44 percent) over this stretch. Defensively, the Buckeyes are yielding 64.2 ppg in their last five (42 percent shooting), while the Minutemen are allowing 67 ppg (39.4 percent shooting).

For Ohio State, the over is on runs of 4-1 overall, 4-0 as a neutral-site chalk, 7-3 at neutral venues overall and 8-0 when playing on Thursdays. On the flip side, the under is on streaks for Massachusetts of 6-1 overall (3-0 last three), 6-0 after a victory and 6-2 as an underdog. However, the overall is 18-9-1 in UMass’ last 28 non-conference clashes.

ATS ADVANTAGE: MASSACHUSETTS

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Butler leads Buckeyes into NIT championship game against UMass
By ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK (AP) -Jamar Butler didn't expect his college career to end in Madison Square Garden, in the title game of a tournament that masquerades as the consolation prize for all those teams with good but not great seasons.

A year ago he was on college basketball's biggest stage, playing for a national championship under the brightest of lights. On Thursday night, he'll lead the Buckeyes into the finals of the NIT against Massachusetts.

''This is still a tournament and a way to keep playing,'' said the 6-foot-1 guard, who's played a school-record 138 games in a career that often seems longer than four seasons. ''We have young guys stepping up and we're playing the best we have all year.''

Butler arrived at Ohio State with coach Thad Matta, together inheriting a program that was successful under Jim O'Brien but had landed on probation. The Buckeyes won 20 games his freshman season but sat at home come March, unable to participate in any postseason tournament.

A year later, they won 26 and reached the NCAA tournament's second round.

Then came last year, and the arrival of heralded freshmen Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook. Along with Butler, they led the Buckeyes to the Final Four in Atlanta, where they lost to a Florida team that seemed destined for a second consecutive title.

A few weeks later, the freshmen were off to the NBA and the Buckeyes were back to building.

The one constant, though, has always been Butler, the steady hand guiding a team that again relies heavily on freshmen. He raised his scoring average to a career-best 14.9 this season, and set Ohio State career records for assists (572) and 3-pointers (239) while breaking the single-season mark for 3s (101).

He's been at his best in the NIT, responding to the disappointment of not making the NCAA tournament by going for 21 points and 10 assists a couple days later against UNC-Asheville. He followed with 20 points against California and 12 points and seven assists against Dayton.

His four 3-pointers and 17 points helped Ohio State (23-13) knock off Mississippi in the semifinals Tuesday night.

''Jamar Butler is their engine,'' said Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy, after watching the sprightly senior confound his team with penetrating layups and pull-up 3s. ''Every time they needed a play it went through him. That's what seniors should do.''

UMass (25-10) knows something about senior leadership, too. The Minutemen start three fifth-year seniors - all transfers from other schools - alongside a junior and a sophomore.

Those veterans, led by Atlantic 10 player of the year Gary Forbes, have combined for 129 starts this season. Luke Bonner, a fourth-year junior and often the first man off the bench, has also started 15 games.

All that experience has helped the Minutemen keep their poise. They had to rally from eight down with 8 minutes left to beat Akron, and 22 down in the second half to beat Syracuse in the Carrier Dome, becoming the first team to beat the Orange there twice in a season.

UMass again found itself behind against Florida in the semifinals, trailing by nine at the half against a team that was so dominant when playing with the lead the past couple of years. But like the Buckeyes, the Gators were crippled by the NBA draft and their young starting cast couldn't hang on against the Minutemen's hot shooting and halfcourt pressure.

''This is not something we want to keep relying on,'' said UMass coach Travis Ford. ''These guys know that if that happens, they know they can come back, but it's not a guarantee you are going to come back. That is not a situation you want to put yourself in.''

The championship game should be a homecoming of sorts for UMass, which has four players in the starting lineup from the New York area. Forbes grew up in Brooklyn, Dante Milligan in Harlem, and Chris Lowe and Etienne Brower in suburbs just outside the city.

''This school has never played for a championship. It means a lot to us, especially winning it at Madison Square Garden,'' Forbes said. ''We talked about it when we were on the bus that we are playing in April. ... All of the hard work obviously paid off.''

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