NIT Semifinals: UAB vs. Utah Valley

UAB Blazers vs. Utah Valley Wolverines

Line: UAB -3

Total: 151.5

Where: Orleans Arena, Paradise, Nevada

When: Tuesday, 3/28 at 9:30 p.m. ET


Utah Valley has been one of the most profitable college basketball teams in the country this season, particularly in March.

The Wolverines enter their NIT semifinal matchup against fourth-seeded UAB with a sparkling 24-9 record against the spread, covering in seven of their last eight games. UAB has been cashing tickets as well this postseason to the tune of a 5-1 clip.

The Blazers punched their trip to Las Vegas with a 67-59 win over red-hot Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals last Wednesday, while Utah Valley took down Cincinnati at home. This will be the second head-to-head meeting between these schools, as the Wolverines sprung a 66-55 upset as 8-point road underdogs on Nov. 15, 2019.

Caesars Sportsbook opened UAB as a 1.5-point favorite, but the early betting action has pushed the Blazers to -3. The total has dipped slightly from 152 to 151.5 as of Monday evening—UAB has gone ‘under’ in five of its last six games, while Utah Valley has cashed the ‘under’ in seven of its last 10 games.

The Wolverines have relied on their defense throughout the season, ranked No. 30 in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency ratings and fourth in defensive field goal percentage behind WAC Defensive Player of the Year Aziz Bandaogo. They have allowed 70 points or less in seven of their last eight games, with the outlier being a devastating loss to Southern Utah in the WAC Tournament semifinals.

Their latest win came in a 74-68 decision against Cincinnati in a game that they led for nearly 39 minutes, booking the program’s first trip to the NIT semifinals. Bandaogo blocked four shots, adding to the school’s tally of 237 this season, which leads the nation. They will have a height advantage on Tuesday night, ranked No. 37 compared to UAB at No. 185.

Utah Valley has not been as impressive on the other end of the court, ranked outside the top 115 in adjusted offensive efficiency. The Wolverines are No. 262 in turnover rate and No. 189 in 3-point percentage (33.6), offsetting a 2-point percentage that is No. 70 (52.7). They have four players scoring in double digits, paced by junior guard Justin Harmon’s 13.9 points per game.

Senior guard Trey Woodbury, a Las Vegas native, has scored at least 17 points in four of his five games this postseason, including a 29-point showing in the loss to Southern Utah. He finished with 17 points, seven assists and six rebounds in the win over Cincinnati. UAB ranks No. 43 in defensive field goal percentage and No. 52 in adjusted efficiency.

The Blazers have similar numbers on the offensive end, ranked No. 44 in efficiency and eighth in offensive rebounding. Their shooting splits are the opposite of Utah Valley’s, as they are No. 94 in 3-point percentage (35.5) and No. 218 from inside the arc (49.4).

They cruised to blowout wins over Southern Miss and Morehead State in the opening rounds of the NIT after losing to Florida Atlantic in the Conference USA Tournament title game. They added a win over Vanderbilt as 1.5-point favorites to get to Vegas, despite shooting 37.5% from the floor.

Senior guard Jordan Walker had 21 points, seven rebounds and seven assists against the Commodores, while senior center Trey Jemison had 17 points and 12 boards. Walker has been one of the best mid-major players in the country this season, averaging 22.5 points and 4.0 assists. Former Ole Miss Rebel KJ Buffen is adding 10.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.

The pick: UAB -3

Utah Valley blew a big lead in the semifinals of the WAC Tournament, which will certainly be a mental hurdle to overcome as the Wolverines return to Vegas for another semifinal game. Their height and defense should allow them to hang with UAB on Tuesday night, but the Blazers’ experience (fifth in CBB) will ultimately be the difference here. They are led by an elite scorer and have the eighth-best offensive rebounding percentage in the country, so they have been able to overcome any height mismatches that they have faced. Utah Valley has been dealing with turnover issues all year, and this will be one of the top defenses that the Wolverines have played against. It’s tough to fade either team here due to their recent ATS numbers, but UAB has the talent and experience to warrant a bet as a small favorite.

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