It’s the beginning of champ week, one of the best times of the year. With the power conference tournaments starting later in the week, the mid-majors have the spotlight tonight.
There are just 10 games, but each one has major implications. We will get to about half of them, covering the WCC semifinals, Horizon semifinal, and the Sun Belt and SoCon championships.
The column is below .500 at 20-27 on the year, but we are going to keep punching away. As always all lines are brought to you by our sportsbook partner DraftKings sportsbook. As you can tell by the column record, we aren’t professional handicappers here. So if you fade or tail, we encourage you to wager responsibly. Let’s enjoy this fun postseason slate.
Sun Belt Championship
Matchup: No. 8 Louisiana vs. No. 3 Georgia State
DraftKings Line: Georgia State -3.5
When: Monday, 7 p.m. ET
Let’s start out with the Fun Belt. Louisiana has been the Cinderella of conference tournament season so far. It survived against UT Arlington 67-64 in the quarterfinals, dominated the second half against top seeded Texas State, and beat Troy without breaking a sweat. The Cajuns have won six out of their last seven with their only loss coming against this same Georgia State team. They did this without their second leading scorer Kobe Julien.
It’s been an emotional road for the Cajuns. There were high expectations for them coming into the season, but due to injuries and inconsistent play, they haven’t lived up to them until now. Jordan Brown has been a dominating force inside as he scored 31 against Texas State. Adding to everything else, coach Bob Marlin left the Sun Belt Tournament site late Saturday to be with his ailing mother who passed away Sunday. He returned to the tournament and coached the Cajuns in the semifinals, according to the Lafayette Daily Advertiser.
It really seems like Louisiana is the team of destiny. I don’t want to discount Georgia State, who has won 11 out of the last 12 games. The Panthers are looking like the preseason favorites that were supposed to dominate this conference. Both teams play a physical brand of basketball, and the Panthers are elite at forcing turnovers. I lean on taking the points with Louisiana. They built big leads against Georgia State in both contests before falling in the second half. I think they finish the Cinderella run and punch a ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
The pick: Louisiana +3.5
Matchup: No. 2 Furman vs. No. 1 Chattanooga
DraftKings Line: Chattanooga -2.5
When: 7 p.m. ET
This is a game I have gone back and forth on. Furman is looking to end a four-decade tournament drought, and it seems like it is the Paladins’ time. Chattanooga has been the best team in the conference all year. The Mocs beat Furman in both matchups in the regular season by eight total points. They didn’t have Silvio De Sousa in the second meeting, and they were missing David Jean-Baptiste in the first meeting.
For Furman to have success, it is going to need to be hit 3-pointers. It shoots threes at the second-highest rate in college basketball, and the Paladins covert at the 18th-most efficient rate.
The Mocs defend the 3-point line at the best rate in the conference (30%). But the Mocs have not defended well in the half court, and Furman has one of the best half court offenses in the country. Chattanooga generally creates more mismatches than Furman does on the offensive end. Jalen Slawson is arguably the best defender in the country, but he is too small to guard Silvio De Sousa and not swift enough to handle Malachi Smith. The total in this game got hammered from the opening of 142. I think that’s probably an overreach due to Chattanooga’s slow pace. Both teams have great offensive weapons.
I don’t really want to take a side, especially since Ian Sacks picked Furman in his preview. So with that being said we will take the over here in what will be fun matchup. So we will pick this game to go over the total here.
The pick: Over 137
Horizon League Semifinal
Matchup: No. 4 Wright State vs No. 1 Cleveland State
DraftKings line: Cleveland State -1
When: 7 p.m. EST
This game is my favorite play on the entire slate, so I’m going to cut to the chase. Cleveland State is the pick here. Wright State’s defense has been horrible in every game other than the quarterfinal against Oakland. The Raiders rank in the bottom 250 in two-point defense. Cleveland State has the 6th highest rim finishing rate at the rim per shot quality.
It just seemed like Oakland couldn’t hit water in a barrel. Cleveland State is the gritty team. The Cleveland State pressure forced 41 Wright State turnovers in the previous two matchups. The Vikings’ 32nd best offensive rebounding rate should give them extra possessions as well. Tanner Holden and Grant Basile can score at will. Cleveland State can limit the trouble. Dennis Gates is one of the better coaches in the conference and they have been the most consistent team all year. Give me the Vikings big.
The pick: Cleveland State -1
West Coast Conference Semifinal
Matchup: No. 4 San Francisco vs. No. 1 Gonzaga
DraftKings Spread: Gonzaga -14.5
When: 9 p.m. EST
It’s time for Zag Nation to take their annual spring vacation to the Orleans arena in Las Vegas. USF played Gonzaga as well as they could have, cutting Gonzaga’s transition rates nearly in half and getting offense out of the pick and roll. But Gonzaga does what it does and won by 16 both times.
In this game Dons big Yauhen Massalski is questionable after he couldn’t finish the BYU game. Todd Golden listed is status “day-to-day” and we don’t know if he is going to come out. With the Dons tournament at-large bid virtually locked after their win against BYU, it’s hard to imagine Golden forcing them out there.
Without Massalski I just don’t see a scenario where San Francisco is able to stop the Zags. Gonzaga is coming off their first double-digit conference loss in 10 years. So the Zags will be motivated. USF won’t have an answer inside even if Massalski plays. I can see a motivated Zags team routing USF early.
The pick: Gonzaga first half -7.5
Summit League Semifinal
Matchup: No. 3 Oral Roberts vs. No. 2 North Dakota State
When: 9:30 p.m. EST
DraftKings line: Oral Roberts +1
Long life Max Abmas. I am putting this game here for the entertainment factor alone. These two teams don’t like each other, and the benches nearly cleared the last time they played.
In last year’s semifinal Abmas hit a buzzer beater to lift the Golden Eagles past the Bison. Abmas is averaging 22.7 points per game and scored 34 and 21 in the two games against the Bison this season.
Despite North Dakota State sweeping the season series, things will be different this time out. Beating this Golden Eagles team three straight times, is a tough task. We know what they are going to do: they are going shoot threes all night long. The Bison allow 27% of the points they give up to come from behind the arc. I’ll take the hot Abmas to get a W here.
The pick: Oral Roberts +1
Matchup: No. 3 Santa Clara vs. No. 2 Saint Mary’s
DraftKings Line: SMC -4
When: 11:30 p.m. EST
Santa Clara heads into Monday’s semifinal 21-10 overall after blowing out Portland 91-67 in the quarterfinals. The Broncos have had a fine season but know that their only path to the NCAA Tournament is winning the WCC Tournament.
Despite their earlier win over Saint Mary’s, the Broncos were just 1-5 against the other teams that finished in the top-4 spots inside the West Coast Conference. Santa Clara has won their last three games by 13 points or more and split the season series with the Gaels.
Instead of taking a side, we will go with the under here. Saint Mary’s does a great job of controlling the pace even against up-tempo teams like Santa Clara. Santa Clara is susceptible to getting beat off the dribble, but that isn’t Saint Mary’s game. This game is going to be gritty throughout, and going I’m comfortable taking a late under here.
The pick: Under 138