MVC Quarterfinals: Creighton and Northern Iowa play in St. Louis

Missouri Valley Conference Tournament- Quarterfinals
Creighton Blue Jays vs Northern Iowa Panthers, Scottrade Center, St. Louis, MO
Friday, March 4, 2011, 3:35 pm Eastern, TV: Fox Sports Midwest and Kansas City, Comcast Chicago
Opening Line: Creighton -1 1/2
Current Line: Creighton -1 1/2
Opening Total: 125
Current Total: 123 1/2
Money Line: Creighton -125 / UNI +105

Big South Tournament
CReighton and slumping Norhtern Illinis play in the quarterfinals of the MVC Tournament in St. Louis. Creighton is a slight favorite.

Cleverly nicknamed Arch Madness because of it’s St. Louis location, The Missouri Valley Conference tournament is annually one of the first conference tournaments to start. It is also one of the most competitive. Regular season champ Missouri St is the favorite, but Wichita St, Creighton, Northern Iowa and maybe Evansville all have the talent to win this tournament. Four seed Northern Iowa takes on 5 seed Creighton in the quarters. The winner will take on the winner of Missouri St and Southern Illinois in the semis.  Creighton is 18-13 overall and Northern Iowa is 19-12 overall. Both teams are 10-8 in conference. The two teams split the two meetings during the regular season, with each team winning on their home court. Northern Iowa won at home 71-66 January 26, Creighton won last Saturday in the regular season finale for both teams in Omaha 63-55. The win snapped a two game skid for Creighton. Northern Iowa hasn’t been playing very well recently. They have lost 6 of the last 7 to close out the regular season. That was after an 8 game winning streak earlier in conference play. Neither of these teams will make the NCAA tournament unless they win the MVC tournament. It will even be a stretch for them to make the NIT, but  CBI and/or CIT tournament bids are likely for both teams.

Northern Iowa  is the two time defending conference champion. You might remember their memorable run to the sweet 16 last year, upsetting UNLV and Kansas before losing to Michigan St. Michigan St ended up going to the Final Four.  Creighton leads the overall series against Northern Iowa 27-15. Creighton has won 11 of the last 15 and 22 of the last 29 meetings in the series. Ten of the last fourteen games have been decided by 9 points or less. Northern Iowa has won 4 of the last 6 meetings straight up and is 3-3 ATS in those games. Three of those five have gone over the total. Northern Iowa is 22-11 ATS as an underdog teh last 3 seasons. The Panthers are 24-13 ATS versus teams with winning records the last 2 seasons. Creighton is 13-5 ATS in conference games this season. The Blue Jays are 8-2 ATS in road games against teams with winnign records this season.

Creighton reserve forwards Ethan Ragge and Casey Harriman  are both out for the season with injuries. Though neither played a lot of minutes , the losses hurt Creighton’s depth. The Blue Jays are led by Forward Doug McDermott. McDermott averages 14.3 points to lead the team, 7.6 rebounds to also lead the team, and 1.1 assists a game. Guard Antoine Young averages 13.6 points, 2.74 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1 steal a game. He leads the team in assists and steals. Center Gregory Echenique averages 10.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, and leads the team in blocks with 1.8 a game. forward Kenny Lawson, Jr. averages 8.9 points and 5.3 rebounds a game. Creighton is outscoring opponents 68-64 on the season. The Blue Jays are shooting 45.3% from the field and 35.5% from 3-point range. Creighton opponents are shooting 42.3% from the field. The Blue Jays shoot 71.9% from the free throw line. Creighton averages 34.9 rebounds a game and has a rebounding margin of +3.5. They average 13.9 assists and 12 turnovers a game. Creighton forces 9.8 turnovers  a game on defense. The Blue Jays average 4.4 steals and 3 blocks a game.

Northern Iowa’s slide started when they lost forward Lucas O’Rear for the season to an ankle injury. He led the team in rebounding and was one of the top defenders for the Panthers. Though O’Rear only scored 6.6 points a game, UNI Has lost 6 of their last 7 games without him.   Northern Iowa is led by guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe who averages 14 points to lead the team, 3.1 rebounds, and 2.9 assists a game to lead the team. Anthony James averages 12.6 points, and 3.3 rebounds a game. Jake Koch averages 9.8 points, 5.1 rebounds to lead the team in O’Rears’ absence,  2 assists, and  0.9 blocks a game to lead the team. Northern Iowa is outscoring opponents 64-61 on the year. The Panthers are shooting 42.9% from the field and 34.1% from 3-point range. Panther opponents are shooting 44.8% from the field. UNI shoots 76.2% from the free throw line. Northern Iowa averages 29.7 rebounds a game with a rebounding margin of -0.9. The Panthers average 10.5 assists and 9.5 turnovers a game. They force 12 turnovers a game on defense. They average 3.9 steals and 1.6 blocks a game.

During Northern Iowa’s 8 game winning streak, The Panthers were only giving up 59 points a game. Then O’Rear went down, and they are giving up an average of 72 points a game in the last 7. They have gone 1-6 in those games, and fallen out of contention for a  bubble spot for the NCAA tournament. Scoring is the same during the 8 game winning streak and the slump. The Panthers averaged 66.4 points a game during the 8 game winning streak and 66.6 points a game during the slump. Scoring is slightly up because the winning streak included games against slowdown Illinois St. UNI beat Illinois St twice but only scored 46 and 53 points in each game. The Panthers won both of those games by 2 points each. I like Creighton in this game simply because Northern Iowa is not the same team without O’Rear.

Our college basketball handicappers are red hot in 2011. Don’t miss out on any more winners as the regular season winds down and post-season play gets underway.                 

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