The dying message of Jim Valvano still holds true 25 years later and his memory and legacy live on through, among other things, the Jimmy V Classic. The first game in this year’s tournament features the Oklahoma Sooners and the West Virginia Mountaineers with a 7 p.m. tip-off at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
In this How to Bet article, we’ll take a look at what we’ve seen from the two teams through the first seven games of the season and finish with some picks and predictions for the action.
For the most part, Oklahoma heads into this game healthy. The top seven players in minutes played have suited up for all seven games. Elijah Burns has missed the last three games for the Fighting Irish because he has decided to transfer. Outside of that, Robby Carmody is the only other player on the injury report. He plays about 12 minutes a game and is questionable with a shoulder injury.
The Sooners opened a three-point favorite with a total of 142.5 and are now a 3.5-point favorite with a total of 143.5. Neither team is ranked and neither team is as good as last year’s version, as Oklahoma is going through life without Trae Young and Notre Dame had some significant losses as well, including Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell, last season’s two leading scorers.
What’s At Stake?
These showcase games always matter, especially for a couple of teams that may end up on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Oklahoma lost by 20 to Wisconsin earlier this season, so a win here would go a long way in putting together a resume.
Notre Dame squeaked past a marginal Illinois team in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and could also use something of a name-brand win. The loss to Radford earlier this season looks a little better with Highlanders winning over Texas, but still. The Fighting Irish don’t have anything that would be considered a good win and it’s too early to tell if this will qualify.
Oklahoma hasn’t played in a week, so it is a pretty decent spot for the Sooners. Their last appearance on the floor was a 16-point win over North Texas. The Sooners play Wichita State next, which may have been more of a look-ahead in previous seasons. The next four games for Oklahoma will all be on the ESPN family of networks with Notre Dame, Wichita State, USC, and Creighton. It is important to show well in those games because those are the ones people are paying attention to and optics are a big deal come Selection Sunday.
Notre Dame has also had a week off after the nail biter over Illinois. This is the first game outside of South Bend for the Fighting Irish. They’re one of very few teams that haven’t played any neutral-site tournaments or anything like that, so this is their first foray outside of campus. They’ll be in Los Angeles to face UCLA on Saturday. With less experience than usual, that could be problematic for Mike Brey’s team.
Finding consistent scorers has been a problem for both teams. Oklahoma is averaging 73 points per game and Christian James has 19.1 of those points per contest. James is shooting almost 53 percent from the floor and 43 percent from deep. The senior has taken on a much larger leadership role without freshman Trae Young on the floor and he’s also been more assertive with his shot selection. One problem is that he only has 15 assists against 15 turnovers because not many others are knocking down shots.
Fellow senior Jamuni McNeace has picked up his pace, at least on the glass. McNeace has seven boards per contest and ripped down 10 in his first double-double of the season against North Texas. Oklahoma is a top-40 team in KenPom, but ranks 69th in offensive efficiency and 28th in defensive efficiency. That’s not what we would typically expect from Lon Kruger’s team, but suffice it to say that things have had to change this year.
This could be a down year for Notre Dame. Bonzie Colson averaged a double-double per night and his absence has been a big deal thus far. Notre Dame has played one of the worst schedules in the country and still ranks outside the top 50 in offensive efficiency. TJ Gibbs, John Mooney, and DJ Harvey all average double figures, but Gibbs leads the team in scoring while shooting 34.4 percent from the floor and 24.4 percent from distance. MSG is typically a tough shooting backdrop and that probably won’t help a team firing at only 31.5 percent from distance, especially with a home-happy schedule.
This could be something of a pace war, as Oklahoma likes to push the tempo a little bit and Notre Dame does not. Maybe the bright lights of NYC will trap Notre Dame a little bit, but this is a program that regularly plays in big venues and big spotlights. This is a homecoming of sorts for Gibbs, who is a Scotch Plains, New Jersey native. Keeping in mind hellacious NYC traffic, the 27-mile trip from Scotch Plains to MSG takes well over an hour, but he should have plenty of friends and family on hand.
The homecoming for Gibbs may not be a good thing for the Fighting Irish. Giving an inefficient shooter more to worry about in a notoriously tough backdrop for scoring seems like a recipe for disaster. Oklahoma only has one go-to scorer, so foul trouble is always a worry in that scenario, but the spot sets up a lot better for the Sooners, who have already played neutral-site games in the Bahamas and road games in Texas.
Oklahoma appears to be the right side here and I agree with the move from 3 to 3.5. We may see some Notre Dame buy back given their history at a place like MSG and some public money in the markets with college football on hiatus and the NFL not back until Sunday. Maybe this line moves down, but the sharp side is Oklahoma in early wagering and with good reason.