Second round play in the NIT will continue this evening with Dan Muller and the number 1 seeded Illinois State Redbirds hosting Johnny Dawkins and the UCF Knights. UCF advanced past the first round with a 79-74 win over Colorado (19-15) of the Pac-12, while Illinois State made easy work of the Big West’s UC Irvine (21-15), 85-71. The Knights have made it to the NCAA Tournament only 4 times in school history (last appeared in 2005) and have yet to advance past the first round. With its win over Colorado, UCF not only made its first NIT appearance, but also notched its first tournament win. Last appearing in 1998, the Redbirds have 6 NCAA Tournament appearances with 3 wins under their belt. They do have an extensive history in the NIT, however, appearing 14 times and advancing all the way to the elite 8 twice.
Illinois State’s trademark this year has been defense, and it was their defense along with an impressive shooting performance that got them the win over UC Irvine in round 1. Deontae Hawkins headed the three-point clinic, going 6 for 6 from downtown with 22 points total, while the team as a hole went 13-25 from beyond the arc (52%). The Redbirds shot 53% inside as well, going 19-36, while holding Irvine to 42% inside on 36 shots and 43% from 3. They will hope to keep up the sharp-shooting against UCF tonight, but may find it to be more of a challenge against what was the 2nd best FG% defense in the nation this year.
It too was defense that got the Knights their win in round 1 over Colorado, holding the Buffaloes to 27% shooting from the perimeter on 33 attempts. UCF, contrastingly, shot 53 percent from the arc on 22 attempts (55%), while getting to the free-throw line for 32 attempts compared to Colorado’s 6. BJ Taylor was the man on fire for the Knights, going 5-8 from downtown, and accounting for 26 of UCF’s points. Similar to Illinois State, UCF will come into tonight’s game red hot in terms of shooting, but like UCF, the Redbirds also have one of the better FG% defenses in the country (5th).
On the offensive side of the ball, UCF has been mediocre (170th), shooting a cumulative 50.9% field goal percentage (167th) this year. They have been strong on the offensive glass (66th), and this is mostly due to the presence of 7’6’’ Tacko Fall, one of the tallest humans currently residing on planet Earth. The Knights have also been efficient in terms of free-throw attempts generated (50th), but unfortunately when they get there, they only shoot 65.4% (316th). They have also been one of the most turnover prone teams in the country (334th), which could be an issue against the Redbirds, who have been known to come up with steals on occasion (38th). Key to this matchup will be UCF’s shooting, and whether they can generate enough offense to keep pace against a Redbird defense (18th), that can limit teams both inside (4th) and out (39th). Another key will be whether Illinois State has an answer for Tacko Fall. They do have seven footer on roster in Daouda Ndiaye, who is rarely used but could get some minutes tonight; and as mentioned, the Redbirds do have one of the better interior defenses in the country, rating 12th in blocked shots, so I think they can matchup here.
The Illinois State offense (115th), certainly isn’t as special as their defense, but they are solid from 3 (87th), and this is how they like to do most of their damage (61st). They will need the threes to be falling tonight, because UCF’s defense (20th), does not give up many points inside (2nd). That is not to say UCF isn’t good on the perimeter (15th), but it’ll tough getting to the basket against this zone when Tacko is out there and the Redbirds haven’t been great inside (186th). Where Illinois State has struggled this year is at the free-throw line (305th), and in getting there (298th), which can certainly hurt in close games, but UCF doesn’t send teams to the line much anyway, as they are one of the better teams in the NCAA at keeping teams off of the line (3rd). The key to this matchup will be three-point shooting for the Redbirds, they will need to be hot and they likely won’t be able to count on many second chance opportunities either, as UCF should hold a substantial rebounding advantage (32nd to 127th).
UCF is 5-1 ATS in last 6 games vs. winning teams.
UCF is 1-4 ATS following a win.
UCF is 1-4 ATS in last 5 road games vs. a team with a home winning % > .600.
Illinois St. is 4-1 ATS in last 5.
Illinois St. is 1-4 ATS in last 5 games vs. a team with a winning % > .600.
Illinois State has received 59% of the spread bets thus far as the 5.5 point favorite, with no line movement yet of which to speak. Pinnacle is showing a slight lean towards UCF, charging -111 on +5.5, and only -101 on the Redbirds.
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