NIT Championship Betting Preview: Stanford Cardinal vs Minnesota Golden Gophers

2012 National Invitation Tournament Championship
#6 Minnesota Golden Gophers vs #3 Stanford Cardinal
Madison Square Garden – New York City, New York
Thursday, March 29, 2012, 7:00 pm Eastern, TV: ESPN

Opening Line: Pick
Current Line: Minnesota -1
Opening Total: 130 1/2
Current Total: 132
Opening Money Line: Minnesota -110 / Stanford -110
Current Money Line: Minnesota -115 / Stanford -105

Minnesota and Stanford will meet for the 2012 NIT Championship Thursday night in new York. The Gophers are a slight favorite.

After going 3-8 down the stretch to close out the regular season, the 23-14 Minnesota Golden Gophers are playing the kind of basketball they did when they started off the season 12-1. The Gophers finished tied for 9th in the Big Ten. Minnesota, coached by Tubby Smith, has advanced to the NIT Championship game against the 25-11 Stanford Cardinal. In the NIT, Minnesota won 3 road games to get to the semifinals. The Gophers won at LaSalle 70-61 in the first round, at Miami-Florida 78-60 in the second round, and at Middle Tennessee St 78-72 in the quarterfinals.

In the semifinals, Minnesota won a thriller against the Washington Huskies 68-67 in overtime. Washington was down by 15 late in the first half and went into the locker room down 38-26. Minnesota was up 53-42 with 8 minutes to go but the Gophers scored only 8 points for the rest of regulation as Washington forced overtime. Minnesota guard Andre Hollins scored 5 of the 7 points the Gophers scored in overtime. He put Minnesota up 68-65 with less than a minute to go and the Gophers held on for the win. Hollins had 20 points, 3 rebounds, and 5 assists. Forward Rodney Williams had 18 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks for the Gophers.

Stanford, coached by Johnny Dawkins, finished 7th in the Pac 12. The Cardinal won 3 home games to get to the semifinals. The Cardinal beat Cleveland St 76-65 in the first round, Illinois St 92-88 in overtime in the second round, and destroyed Nevada 84-56 in the quarterfinals.

In the semifinals, Stanford beat Massachusetts 74-64. Despite going 24/65 from the field, the Cardinal led for most of the game. UMass took the lead with 8 minutes to go, but the Cardinal went on a 11-3 run to take control of the game, and never trailed again. Guard Anthony Brown scored a season high 18 points, including 13 in the second half, when the rest of teammates were ice cold. Forward Josh Owens had 15 points, and 12 rebounds in the win.

Minnesota leads the series against Stanford 4-0 but they haven’t played since 1975. Minnesota won the NIT in 1993 and 1998, and Stanford won it in 1991.

Minnesota has wins over Bucknell, South Dakota St, DePaul, Indiana St, Virginia Tech, USC, Central Michigan, North Dakota St, Indiana, Penn St, Northwestern twice, Illinois, and Nebraska twice. The Gophers started off the season 12-1 but went 8-13 for the rest of the season after leading scorer and rebounder Trevor Mbakwe went down for the season with a leg injury. Minnesota has losses to Dayton, Illinois, Michigan, Iowa twice, Purdue, Michigan St 3 times, Wisconsin twice, Ohio St, Northwestern, and Indiana.

Stanford has wins over Fresno St, Colorado St, Oklahoma St, North Carolina St, San Diego, UCLA, USC twice, Oregon St twice, Utah, Colorado twice, Arizona St twice, and Cal. The Cardinal have losses to Butler, Oregon twice, Washington St, Washington, Cal twice, Arizona, UCLA, and Utah.

Minnesota is outscoring opponents 68-65 this season. The Golden Gophers are shooting 46.5% from the field, including 35.8% from 3 point range. Minnesota makes 69.9% of their free throws. The Gophers average 35 rebounds a game, and have a rebounding margin of +4. Minnesota averages 15.1 assists, 14.5 turnovers, 4.9 blocks and 7.1 steals a game. Minnesota opponents are shooting 41.2% from the field including 34.4% from 3 point range. Minnesota is forcing  12.9 turnovers a game.

Williams averages 12.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.4 blocks a game. He leads the team in scoring, steals, rebounds, and blocks. Julian Welch is averaging 9.6 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists to lead the team, and 1 steals a game. He shoots 44.6% from 3 point range. Austin Hollins averages 9.1 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.1 steals a game. Andre Hollins averages 8.9 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 1.9 assists a game. Ralph  Sampson III averages 7.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.3 blocks a game. He is probable with a knee injury after missing the last 6 games with a knee injury. Forward Maurice Walker is questionable with a knee injury, but hasn’t played yet this season. Forward Oto Osenieks is questionable with a head injury. Leading scorer and rebounder Trevor Mbakwe is out for the season with a torn ACL.

Stanford is outscoring opponents 72-64 this season. The Cardinal are shooting 44.4% from the field, and 37.7% from 3 point range. Stanford makes 66.5% from the free throw line. The Cardinal average 37.1 rebounds a game with a rebounding margin of +4.6. Stanford averages 12.8 assists, 13.8 turnovers, 6.5 steals and 3.4 blocks a game. Cardinal opponents are shooting 41.4% from the field and 33.7% from 3 point range. Stanford forces 14.9 turnovers a game.

Stanford  guard Chasson Randle averages 13.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1.2 steals a game to lead the team. He is shooting 43.4% from 3 point range.  Forward-center Josh Owens averages 11.8 points, 5.9 rebounds a game to lead the team and 1.2 steals a game to lead the team. Aaron Bright averages 11.6 points, 1.6 rebounds, and 3.6 assists to lead the team. He makes 43.4% of his 3 point attempts. Anthony Brown averages 8 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.1 assists a game. Josh Huestis leads the team in blocks with 1.2 a game and also averages 4.7 rebounds a game. Reserve guard Gabriel Harris is out for the season with a knee injury.

Stanford is 18-15 ATS and the total is also 18-15 this season. Minnesota is 19-13-2 ATS and the total is 17-16-1 this season. The Cardinal are 4-1 ATS in neutral site games, 5-2 overall, and against teams with winning records, 10-4 in non-conference games, 3-8 after a cover, and 4-12 in Thursday games. The Golden Gophers are 7-0-1 overall, 6-0-1 against teams with winning records, 4-0-1 after a straight-up win, 3-0-1 in non-conference games, 4-1-1 against Pac 12 teams, and 3-1-1 in neutral site games.

Though both of these teams have their flaws and are inconsistent, they are playing some of their best basketball right now. Because of upsets, Stanford has worn their home whites for every game in the tournament, and that will include the championship against Minnesota. Despite being banged up on the front line, Minnesota just keeps winning. I like Minnesota to win a close game and win their third NIT championship.

Our college basketball handicappers are red hot in March and are releasing winners and key plays every day until they cut down the nets in New Orleans next month.

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