NCAA/NIT Tonight: 3/15/2011

First Four! on Tru TV! Feel the excitement! Yes, the games are being hidden on something called Tru TV (formerly known as Court TV). To save time for those of you with Comcast, Tru TV HD is channel 902. You're welcome.

But seriously, I'm actually looking forward to watching some basketball tonight, and not just because I plan to wager on all 67 NCAA tournament games. Aside from the two NCAA games, there's plenty of NIT action on TV as well, including a couple games that have future implications for Northwestern.

#16 UNC-Asheville Bulldogs vs. #16 Ark.-Little Rock Trojans, 5:30 central, Tru TV

Location: Dayton, Ohio
KenPom prediction: UNC-Asheville 69, Arkansas-Little Rock 64
Vegas lines: UNC-Asheville -4, 130 over/under

Not exactly a fascinating match-up here, as a team that finished third in the Big South faces off with a team that finished fifth in the six team Sun Belt West division, all for the right to get blown out by Pittsburgh. ALR has a rather bizarre KenPom page, as they shoot 39.7% from three (12th nationally), but just 42.1% on twos (334th nationally). Shoot more threes, Trojan bros.

I don't have much idea how this game is going to go, but I'll trust KenPom and take Asheville and give the points. Plus, Arkansas-Little Rock beat Northwestern in Bill Carmody's first game at NU, by an ugly 53-43 score, so screw them.

#6 Harvard Crimson at #3 Oklahoma St. Cowboys, 6:30 central, ESPN2

Location: Stillwater, Oklahoma
KenPom prediction: OK State 68, Harvard 64
Vegas lines: OK State -5, over/under 133

Harvard had a tough weekend, losing out on their first ever Ivy League title on a Princeton buzzer beater, and then were the last at-large team into the NIT despite a 23-6 record and a #35 RPI, all while some were arguing they deserved an at-large bid to the NCAAs. How do you like dem apples, Tommy Amaker? But seriously, it's outrageous that Harvard got a 6 seed while Wisconsin-Milwaukee got a 5; Harvard's resume is vastly superior. In fact, you could make a case that Northwestern should be on the road instead of Harvard. Such is life as a perennially terrible mid-major I guess.

After their heartbreaking loss and subsequent shafting, it's hard not to root for the Crimson here, and Amaker was a dominant NIT force while at Michigan, posting a 10-3 record including a 2004 NIT championship. That said, Oklahoma State comes into this one playing well, as they gave Kansas all they wanted in the Big 12 quarterfinals, so it'll be tough for Harvard to advance. But if they can pull a couple upsets, we may see an epic nerd fight between Northwestern and Harvard for a trip to Madison Square Garden.

#1 Boston College Eagles at #8 McNeese St. Cowboys, 8 PM central, ESPNU

Location: Lake Charles, Louisiana
KenPom Prediction: BC 76, McNeese 69
Vegas Lines: BC -5.5, over/under 142.5

It's been a tough few days for Boston area teams, as the Eagles, despite being the higher seed, have to make the lengthy trip to middle-of-nowhere Louisiana because their home gym, Conte Forum, is unavailable. Why, you ask, is Conte Forum unavailable? Well, it turns out the BC men's and women's hockey teams need the building to practice for tournament games coming up this weekend. Here's an exclusive quote on this development from BC's top scorer Reggie Jackson:

Man, we supposed to be in the ACC, and we getting kicked out because of practice? Not a game, not a game, not a game, we talkin' about practice. Not a game, not the game that these hockey players go out there and die for, we talkin' about practice, man. I mean, how silly is that?

I hear you, Reggie, it's ridiculous. But given that you probably had to spent all day yesterday on various planes, trains and automobiles to get to Lake Charles, which isn't near any major cities, and given that McNeese State figures to get a great crowd for the rare chance to host an ACC team, I've gotta take McNeese and the points, and hopefully they can pull off the upset and make Northwestern's path to MSG that much easier.

#12 Clemson Tigers vs. #12 UAB Blazers, 8 PM central, Tru TV

Location: Dayton, Ohio
KenPom prediction: Clemson 61, UAB 58
Vegas lines: Clemson -4.5, 121.5 over/under

The controversial Blazers take the court tonight in an attempt to validate their NCAA selection, but from where I'm sitting, their inclusion is tough to defend, and the odds makers agree, setting Clemson as a significant favorite. Given the razor thin margin separating bubble teams, you'd think the line would basically be a toss up for any neutral court match-up, so it's pretty clear the NCAA messed this one up.

All that said, UAB is still an interesting team, in part due to diminutive senior point guard Aaron Johnson and his incredible 42% assist rate, but more so due to the potential Mike Davis train wreck factor. I still have a hard time believing he took a team to the national championship game while at Indiana. Against Clemson and their 9th-ranked KenPom defense, expect UAB to struggle for open looks and for the Tigers to cruise by 5 or more points. Unfortunately for Clemson though, the NCAA is forcing the winner of this game to play at noon on Thursday afternoon in Tampa, so we'll be betting against them then. You'd think the NCAA could at least let the winner play late on Thursday night, but that would actually make sense.

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