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What to look for in the NIT Season Tip-Off

By Jeff Fogle  ( 

November 20, 2018 06:39 PM

Wednesday night’s NIT Season Tip-Off semifinals at the Barclays Center are a reminder of the great college basketball “connectivity” handicappers can use to their advantage.

Those matchups (ESPN2, 5 and 7:30 p.m. ET) are #5 Tennessee of the SEC vs. Louisville of the ACC, and #2 Kansas of the Big 12 vs. Marquette of the Big East.

All four combatants are very likely to matter in their conferences and the postseason. Current computer ratings suggest that Kansas is Final Four material in the NCAA tournament, Tennessee is Sweet 16 or Elite 8 quality (slightly less optimistic than the current AP poll), Marquette has “round of 32” potential, and Louisville will at least be in the discussion for a bid even if the program has been trending in the wrong direction. 

Neutral court showcases are ideal for evaluating tournament potential. This holiday week features several TV tourneys designed to promote power schools and power leagues. You’ve probably been watching Duke in the Maui Invitational on TV since Monday. Maybe you went out to watch the Legends Classic in person at Barclays Monday and Tuesday (St. John’s, California, Temple, and VCU).  

As we noted this past weekend, college football DOESN’T have much in-season connectivity involving top contenders. So, there’s still some uncertainty even now in the final stages of the season how various powers might match up. Would one-loss Georgia or Oklahoma be favored over undefeated Notre Dame? Is Alabama a field goal better than Clemson, or a touchdown?

Sharp bettors can take advantage of what college basketball is offering, even when they don’t bet. We’re looking forward to crunching big game numbers for you when the schedule permits. Here are some questions to ponder as you scout Wednesday’s twinbill, and then Friday’s Final Round (also on ESPN2) where Wednesday’s winners and losers pair off:

*Does Tennessee really deserve its high poll ranking? The Vols are just 1-1 ATS this season, with the non-cover a 66-53 win in Knoxville over Georgia Tech laying -15.5. Great to have TWO cracks to evaluate this question vs. quality opponents in this event.

*Does new Louisville head coach Chris Mack (formerly with Xavier) have the talent to get the Cards back to the NCAA’s after an NIT flame-out last season (lost 79-56 at home to Mississippi State in the quarterfinals). 

*Were un-fixable weaknesses for Marquette exposed recently in a stunning 96-73 loss at Indiana as a 5-point underdog? That was the largest market miss this season for any of Brooklyn’s four guests. Marquette’s soft defense allowed a 74% shooting mark on two-pointers to the Hoosiers.

*Can Kansas stay focused for 40 minutes in a big game, or 80 minutes over a “dance weekend” simulation? Worth asking because the Jayhawks blew a big mid-game lead in a 92-87 win over Michigan State in Indianapolis, then failed to cover high spreads after slow starts in two home games. In Lawrence, Kansas only beat Vermont 84-68 as a 22-point favorite, then Louisiana 89-76 as a 21-point favorite. 

Enjoy the Tip Off tourney. As you watch, think about how the market is currently perceiving these teams based on game-day point spreads…and how YOU would rate these teams on the eye test.

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