The NIT may have the center of attention on the Tuesday card, but the best NCAA Basketball Pick of the night looks to be in the CIT where Rice looks like an overlay in a toss up game vs. Oakland.
As oftentimes happens in lesser tournaments that draw very little attention, those are the ones that offer the best value and we think such is the case Tuesday night when the Rice Owls (19-15 overall, 7-6 away) travel to their head coach Ben Braun’s old stomping grounds to take on the Oakland Golden Grizzlies (19-15 overall, 11-5 home) in the College Insider Tournament from Athletics Center O’Rena in Rochester, MI at 7:00 ET.
Braun was a long time coach in the state of Michigan, most recently at Eastern Michigan, and he has many close friends in this area. So much so that when Oakland visited Texas to faces Houston earlier this season, Braun allowed the Golden Grizzlies to use Rice’s gym. To further thicken the plot, Oakland’s former video coordinator now works for Braun at Rice.
Could Braun have gained some inside information at that practice that could help Rice’s chances on the NCAA Basketball odds tonight? Maybe, maybe not, but the Owls don’t look like they need much help the way their youngsters have been playing.
Rice went 8-8 inside Conference USA this season, but they opened this CIT with a nice road win over Louisiana-Lafayette, and they then beat Drake out of the Missouri Valley Conference at home 74-68 on Saturday with four freshmen getting the bulk of the playing time at the biggest moments, which bodes well for the Owls’ future. The fact that Rice is one game over .500 in true road games also points to the fact that its kids do not get intimidated in enemy territory.
Oakland comes out of the Summit League, and it hopes of a return trip to the NCAA Tournament was squashed by an upset loss in the first round of its conference tournament to Southern Utah, asSouth Dakota State went on to win that tournament and then give Baylor fits in the Big Dance.
Oakland’s offensive numbers match up well with any team in the country but its defense has been awful and kept teams in games. Rice is strong on the interior defensively and it is a good rebounding team, so we do not see this game being decided until the final possession, making getting this many points valuable.
Oakland ranks seventh in the country in scoring at 79.9 points per game, as the Golden Grizzlies rank 24th in offensive efficiency and 17th in effective field goal percentage, and they love playing fast, ranking 22nd in the country with a tempo rating of 70.4 possessions per game. Consider though that Oakland did not play a particularly strong schedule, as its slate ranked 165th in SOS according to the Pomeroy Ratings.
So surely, with a great offense and a weak schedule, Oakland must be blowing out its opponents? Well, the Golden Grizzlies are only winning their games by an average of +1.8 points because their defense allows points as quickly as the offense scores them! There are 345 Division I teams and Oakland ranks 340th in points against at 78.1 per game, 314th in defensive efficiency and 339th in effective field goal percentage against.
Now Rice is by no means an offensive juggernaut, but it does come for a much better conference as Conference USA is ranked as the 10th best conference in the country by Pomeroy while the Summit League reports home just 19th overall. Thus, the Owls have been accustomed to facing better defenses and should improve tonight vs. an Oakland defense that has struggled with far worse teams than Rice.
The Owls scored 74 points on a Drake defense that is ranked 82nd in efficiency in their last game and that comes out of a stronger conference, which bodes well for Rice’s chances for some offensive success on Tuesday.
The biggest key will be Rice containing the Oakland offense, and while the Owls may be vulnerable on the perimeter, they rank a very good 44th in the country in two-point defense at just 44.2 percent. Rice also does not allow many second opportunities, as it ranks 46th in defensive rebounding percentage. Thus, if the Golden Grizzlies are not hitting their three-point shots, they could be in big trouble here vs. a better opponent than they usually face.
Finally, with an 11-5 home mark, Oakland has only one fewer home loss that Rice has road losses, so we are not sure the Golden Panthers really enjoy that big of a home court advantage here. Perhaps more importantly, Oakland’s average home winning margin of +4.5 points, mainly due to generous defense, would not be good enough to cover this number.