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NIT Championship Preview
by Matt Fargo - 04/01/2009
The Betting Numbers
This game opened at LVSC with Baylor -3 and the total set at 136. It would not be surprising to see this line come down as Penn St. is once again likely to have the majority of fan support at the Garden. Surprisingly, Baylor is favored by more points in the championship game than it was favored by in the semifinal game while Penn St. is getting fewer points this time around which does in fact make sense.
This will be just the second ever meeting between Baylor and Penn St. The Bears won the first meeting 72-70 back in 1990 at the Dr. Pepper Invitational.
Baylor was pretty much left for dead toward the end of the regular season as it was supposed to make some noise in the Big XII Conference but limped in with a 5-11 record and a number nine seed in the conference tournament. The Bears used that as motivation as they decided to start over and nearly pulled off the impossible before losing to Missouri, an eventual Elite Eight team, in the championship game. That run got Baylor into the NIT and this group of experienced players had one goal in mind and that was to simply keep playing.
The Bears have now won seven of their last eight games and this senior laden team wants nothing more than to close out the season with a championship, albeit the NIT. The offense is using better ball distribution as Baylor is taking fewer perimeter shots which is the main reason for its 52.2 percent shooting over the last five games. Baylor is 13-3 ATS in its last 16 road games following two or more straight wins. The run through the Big XII Tournament and the win over the Aztecs improved Baylor to 14-3 ATS in its last 17 neutral court games.
The Nittany Lions were one of several teams that were disappointed in not receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and they carried that displeasure over into the first NIT game. They needed a last second three-pointer in regulation to defeat George Mason in overtime but since then, they are playing with focus and motivation as the last three wins have come by an average of 9.3 ppg including the last two which were both away from home. After dropping three in a row at the beginning of February, the Nittany Lions have won nine of their last 12 games.
The victory over Notre Dame gave Penn St. 26 victories, the most wins in program history so it is definitely a special year in State College and that was exemplified at MSG with the enormous fan support against the Irish. Released from the physical and intense defensive style of the Big Ten, Penn State averaged 80 ppg in its first two NIT games and is putting up 74.5 ppg overall in the tournament, a jump of 13.8 ppg over its 60.7 ppg Big Ten average. Penn St. is also doing a great job from the free throw line, hitting 74.5 percent over its last five games after hitting just 64.8 percent prior to that.
Against the Numbers
Expectations were very high for Baylor this season and because of the losses that piled up, backers had their wallets emptied. The Bears started the season going 4-1 ATS but it was all downhill after that. A home loss to South Carolina started a run of 14 losses against the number in 17 games. Baylor has turned it around since the start of the postseason, going 6-2 ATS. The Bears are just 5-11 ATS as a favorite this season and while that includes a 0-3 ATS mark in true road games, they are 2-1 ATS as a neutral chalk, losing only to Wake Forest as a 1.5-point favorite in Anaheim.
Penn St. was expected to be good but the Nittany Lions rose above expectations and with that came a lot of victories and a lot of spread covers. Penn St. is 18-12 ATS on the season but most of that success came early on. They started out 9-3-1 ATS in their first 13 lined games so it has pretty much been a wash since then although they are on a 3-0 ATS run in their last three games. Penn St. is 3-2 ATS in neutral court games but both of those losses came when getting points. The Nittany Lions are 10-4-1 in their 15 games when facing a team coming off a win.
Baylor is 11-1 this season against first-time opponentsâ€¦The Bears are 12-4 over the last two seasons in tournament play including 9-2 this seasonâ€¦The Bears will try for their first championship of any kind since winning the Southwest Conference title in 1950â€¦Penn St. was the only team to have defeated each of the top three teams in the final Big Ten standings during the regular seasonâ€¦Penn St. is 24-2 on the year and 39-7 over the last two seasons when getting more free throw attempts than its opponentâ€¦The Nittany Lions have committed 10 turnovers or less 17 times on the year and they are 6th in the nation, averaging just 10.7 turnovers per game.