It’s a good thing that I added a Dayton vs. VCU preview so that we were able to grab a winner on one of the two spotlight games yesterday. Bobby Morris came up short against St. Francis (PA) by a pretty large margin, as we should have followed the smart people on the over instead.
In any event, today is a new day and the sun is out and we’re excited for another round of college hoops. There are lots of options tonight, but there is only one game in mind for me. That is the SoCon battle between Furman and East Tennessee State. ETSU is seriously worthy of at-large consideration, but the Selection Committee will probably end up taking some .500 major conference team instead. A win here would really help, as ETSU probably can’t afford any setbacks.
If you do want other games to consider, I would point you to this week’s college basketball situational spots article to see what else is on the docket for tonight.
The Buccaneers are -6 at Bovada with a total of 137.5 against the visiting Paladins. This line did open -5.5 on the overnights, but has been bet up a tad based on the early action out in the market. There are a lot of games on the card this evening, but I could make the case that the team with the most to gain is ETSU.
Why? Because ETSU lost to Furman earlier this season. My guess is that the Selection Committee would look a little more favorably on a team that avenged one of its losses, especially in conference play. It does seem like that element has influenced this line a little bit, as Bart Torvik has ETSU like more of a four-point favorite.
Furman won 65-56 in the first meeting. To this day, it ranks as the third-worst offensive performance in terms of points per possession for the Bucs. They scored 55 points in the game against Mercer in a stunning home loss on January 29 and only 49 points in the win over Wofford on New Year’s Day. The Bucs only had .849 points per possession against the Paladins on the road and went just 5-of-23 from deep.
Furman is a solid defensive team, but Bob Richey’s squad is known more for its offensive prowess. In fact, the Paladins are third in the nation in 2P% at 57.4% and 68th in 3P% at 35.3%. They rank seventh in eFG% on offense. Defensively, Furman is terrible at defending the paint and the midrange. Opponents are shooting 53%, which ranks 301st in the nation. On the flip side, opponents are only shooting 30.6% from 3. Furman also ranks in the top 25 in TO% on defense.
In the first meeting, however, ETSU actually only had 12 turnovers to Furman’s 19. The Buccaneers are 31st in TO% on defense, but they couldn’t make the most of their extra possessions in that game. As a general rule, ETSU is very good offensively themselves. Steve Forbes brings a bunch that ranks in the top 75 in adjusted offensive efficiency, TO%, ORB%, free throw rate, and 2P%. In fact, ETSU is ninth in 2P% offense. They are 38th in eFG% offense.
These are two good teams and the SoCon is a really good conference as a whole. The top teams in this league are among the best in the mid-major world. ETSU played a pretty awful non-conference schedule, which is why their at-large chances at hanging in the balance. They did lose at Kansas, but their win over LSU on the road is pretty impressive for a team that is right on the cut line. They have to play with a greater sense of urgency in these last four games. They’ll have to beat Wofford on the road on February 26 and at least win a few games in the conference tournament. Obviously if they won it all, that would be their ticket into the tournament.
Furman has close losses to Alabama and Auburn on their ledger, but also played a weak non-conference schedule. The only good win on the non-con is a 24-point blowout win over Loyola Chicago, who has a good opportunity to win the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
These spotlight games in conference are really important for both teams. It does seem like the lackluster non-conference schedule hurt Furman early on. Up until mid-January, the Paladins were consistently allowing well over a point per possession. Over their last six games, they have allowed more than one point per possession once and that was to Western Carolina, who shot 14-of-29 from 3. Even with WCU’s barrage, opponents have only shot 28.2% from 3 in the last six games.
Save for Saturday’s look-ahead spot at home against Chattanooga, Furman’s offense had been rolling with 1.206, 1.21, and 1.182 PPP in the previous three games.
The loss to Mercer seemed to wake up ETSU’s offense. In the five games since, the Bucs have 1.26, 1.298, 1.03, 1.323, and 1.098 PPP.
As such, I’m expecting a higher-scoring game here than the first meeting. So, too, are the oddsmakers and the bettors with a total of 137.5. That is a lofty number, but I’m going over the total here. These are two high-efficiency offenses. Furman likes to chuck from 3 more often than ETSU does, but both teams are excellent from 2 and both defenses are better at defending the three-point line.
As I said, I do think this line is a touch inflated on the ETSU side with a lot more fanfare for the Bucs, but I don’t want to step in front of the number just yet. If this one keeps climbing to -7 or -7.5, I may take a small piece of Furman.
For now, we’ll look at the over.
Pick: Over 137.5