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NCAAB-March Madness-NIT Semifinals games preview

This season’s NIT men’s basketball tournament heads to Madison Square Garden in New York City this Tuesday night for the two semifinals matchups leading to Thursday night’s championship game.

Action on the right side of the bracket gets underway at 7 p.m. with No. 4 Western Kentucky taking on No. 2 Utah. In a slated 9 p.m. tip, No. 4 Mississippi State will face No. 4 Penn State.

Semifinals #1

No. 4 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers vs. No. 2 Utah Utes (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET)

Opening Odds: PICK, 140

Betting Matchup

The Hilltoppers lost to Marshall 67-66 in the Conference USA Tournament title game as 5 ½-point favorites, but they have made the most of their NIT bid with a three-game winning streak both straight-up and against the spread as the No. 4 seed in Region 3. After rolling over Boston College by 17 points as a four-point home favorite, Western Kentucky went on the road to get past No. 1 USC and No. 2 Oklahoma State as underdogs. The total went OVER in those two road games and it has gone OVER in six of its last nine games overall.

In last Wednesday’s 92-84 victory against the Cowboys as 6 ½-point underdogs, the Hilltoppers got a huge effort from freshman guard Taveion Hollingsworth. His 30 points and eight rebounds led the way among five starters in double figures. Western Kentucky averaged 78.8 points per game this season and it has met or exceeded that average in all three NIT games.

Utah led a host of Pac-12 teams in the NIT this season as the No. 2 seed in Region 4. After failing to cover in a 10-point victory against UC Davis as 12 ½-point home favorite in their first tournament matchup, the Utes lived up to lofty expectations with a 95-71 romp over LSU as five-point favorites at home.

Heading on the road for the quarterfinals, they stunned No. 1 St. Mary’s 67-58 in overtime as six-point underdogs. The total stayed UNDER 141 points in that game and it has stayed UNDER in nine of Utah’s last 12 games.

Junior guard Sedrick Barefield scored three of the Utes’ four three-point buckets in overtime against St. Mary’s as part of his 19 points in last Wednesday’s win. Senior guard Justin Bibbins has been Utah’s leading scorer this season with 14.7 PPG and he started this tournament by scoring 21 points in the opening round. The Utes are averaging 73.8 PPG overall while allowing 68.2 points on defense.

Betting Trends

— The Hilltoppers are 7-2 ATS in their last nine games following a SU win and the total has stayed UNDER in six of their last eight neutral-site games.

— The Utes have failed to cover in five of their last six games played at a neutral site and the total has gone OVER in four of their last five games against a team from C-USA.

— This will be the first meeting between the two.

Semifinals #2

No. 4 Mississippi State Bulldogs vs. No. 4 Penn State Nittany Lions (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET)

Opening Odds: Penn State 2 ½, 134 ½

Betting Matchup

The Bulldogs are the pride of the SEC as the only team in that conference still playing basketball this week. Going back to a SU SEC Tournament win against LSU as 2 ½-point favorites, they have covered in each of their last five games. Mississippi State won its last two NIT games as a road underdog including a big 79-56 romp against Louisville as a six-point underdog. The total has stayed UNDER in five of its last seven games.

Mississippi State’s defense put the clamps on the Cardinals in the second half of last Tuesday’s win by holding Louisville to 28 points. On the other side of the ball, junior guard Quinndary Weatherspoon responded with 19 points and 14 rebounds, while going 6-for-10 from the field. He has led the Bulldogs in scoring this season with an average of 14.7 PPG.

Penn State has won its last four games SU when closing as an underdog. Following a six-point win at home against Temple as 9 ½-point favorites in the NIT opener, the Lions beat Notre Dame by 10 points and Marquette by five points as road underdogs in the next two rounds. The total went OVER 151 points against the Golden Eagles last Tuesday after it had stayed UNDER in four of their previous five contests.

Sophomore forward Lamar Stevens is a big reason why Penn State is playing at MSG on Tuesday night after pouring in a game-high 30 points in the win against Marquette. He went 14-for-22 from the field in that game. Sophomore guard Tony Carr remains the Lions’ leading scorer this season with 19.7 PPG and he added 25 points in Tuesday’s winning effort.

Betting Trends

— The Bulldogs have gone 5-1-1 ATS in their last seven neutral-site games and the total has stayed UNDER in three of their last four games closing as underdogs.

— The Lions have posted a 0-4-1 record ATS in their last five games against the SEC and the total has stayed UNDER in five of their last six nonconference games.

— The only time these two teams played one another was back in 1997 with Mississippi State squeezing out a slight 58-57 win.

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