Dave’s Free Play, Wednesday 12/23/15
First, the good news.
The Mountain West Conference has announced that the league basketball tournaments, both the men’s and women’s, will be staying in Las Vegas for the next several years. They’re now signed, sealed and delivered through 2019, and that’s a smart decision on every level. The fans love coming to Las Vegas, the Thomas & Mack remains an outstanding college basketball venue, and the only complaints I’ve ever heard have been from a few coaches who think it’s an unfair advantage for UNLV.
Now for the bad news. MWC commish Craig Thompson announced that a vote was taken and in the future, only the top eight regular season finishers will qualify for the conference tournament.
Don’t get me wrong, from a quality control standpoint, this is not a bad thing. It makes regular season conference wins more important and it does at least eliminate the possibility of a bottom feeder getting hot for a few days and stealing a coveted NCAA Tournament invite. From an idealistic standpoint, I actually like this quite a bit.
But here’s the problem. This isn’t something that big time conferences do, and I doubt that’s about to change. I guess I could be wrong, but I’m not seeing much possibility that the college major leagues suddenly start limiting their conference tournaments to just the top eight teams.
If one of the majors did this, I’d be happy to see the MWC play follow the leader. Instead they’re following the lead of the Big Sky. Really? That’s the company you want to keep?
I saw a story at cbssports.com offering praise to the Mountain West for making this decision. I couldn’t disagree more, for the reason previously stated. Fact is, the MWC gets more mid-major with each passing year, and I don’t see that as a positive for the conference or any of its members. Even if this league isn’t exactly big time presently, they should always strive to be. Taking what amounts to a small-time conference route when it comes to the league’s main event is hardly the way to do it.
I had a really good Tuesday, best day I’ve enjoyed in quite some time. I’m sure not going to make a big deal out of it, as there’s plenty of digging still to be done. But maybe this gets a heater started and getting a big profit day was absolutely a major relief.
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Illinois State worked out nicely as the Tuesday free play. The Wednesday comp is not yet lined, but figuring where the number is going to land isn’t that tough and I’ll be on this game tonight.
761 NORTH DAKOTA STATE @ 762 UTAH STATE
Take: UTAH STATE -6
First off, no line yet on this game, as it’s a tournament pairing that wasn’t officially set until mid-evening on Tuesday night. But Utah State will be the favorite here, and I would estimate the line being Aggies -4, maybe -4.5.
As far as that line is concerned, the kenpom projection is Utah State -3. One of the North Dakota State players is dinged up and his status for this game is presently unknown. I’m also adding one point for the main reason I like this game, which I’ll explain here.
The teams are pretty much a wash. In fact, I think you can make a case the Bison are a shade stronger than Utah State. But I see the home court advantage as stronger than under normal conditions tonight, and that’s the really the impetus for my take here.
This will be the third game in three days for each of these teams. I see that as advantage Utah State. First off, they’ve been able to spread the minutes out a little more over the first two nights, particularly with North Dakota State’s Kory Brown having to sit out last night. Brown got hurt early in the season and he’s apparently still not right. Brown isn’t the best player on this team at this point, but he’s the senior leader on what is a young squad and his appearances and minutes have been sporadic since he got hurt. The same can be said for his production. I don’t know right now what his status is for this game.
But with or without Brown, this is still three games in three nights in some big time altitude for the Bison. This isn’t by any means some kind of a revelation on my part. There’s all kinds of history at both the college and pro levels that shows teams not used to the altitude are more prone to potential fatigue.
I would assume Aggies coach Tim Duryea will be trying his best to exploit the possible weariness on the part of North Dakota State. If the Bison are again down one guy, that task becomes even more achievable.
I would be very surprised if this game gets lined at less than -3. On the flip side, if the guys who post the numbers tack on an extra point or two and send out a -5, that might be viewed as an indicator they’re weighting the factors here similarly. I’ll be siding with the favorite here, Utah State minus the points.
UPDATE: Game indeed opened high, which doesn’t bother me due to the aforementioned factors, and Utah State is on my card.