Pittsburgh Panthers (24-9), +1.5, 133 vs. Marquette Golden Eagles (24-8), -1.5, o/u 133, Madison Square Garden, New York, NY, 9 p.m. Eastern, Friday
By Oracle at Predictem.com
The Pittsburgh Panthers and the Marquette Golden Eagles have something big in common heading into the semifinals of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden they aren’t suppose to be there.
In a microcosm of what has happened all year throughout the NCAA the No. 5 seed Golden Eagles and No. 7 seed Panthers both beat teams they weren’t necessarily suppose to in order to be in the position they’re in.
Marquette finished off a potent Notre Dame team on Thursday night, 89-79, while Pitt upset No. 2 seed Louisville, which had the first round of the tournament off, 76-69, in overtime.
Madison Square Garden is Pittsburgh’s home away from home. Head coach Jamie Dixon said that his team goes through their team preparations as if they’re playing a home game at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh. Considering the Panthers have five players on their roster from New York, including starters Ronald Ramon (Bronx), Lavance Fields (Brooklyn) and Keith Benjamin (Mount Vernon). Tyrell Biggs (Nanuet), who gave Pitt some quality minutes in their upset win against Louisville, is also from New York.
Neither Benjamin, Ramon nor Fields did much of anything in the first meeting against the Golden Eagles. They combined for just 15 points on 5-of-20 shooting. Sam Young, who has come into his own this year, scored a team-high 18 points in the contest, although the Panthers fell way short, 72-54, in their second-lowest scoring game of the year.
Young has scored at least 19 points in 8 of his last 10 games, including 21 in both Big East tournament games. He also grabbed 12 rebounds against Louisville for a double-double.
Fields has slowly made his way back from a foot injury and will be an important factor against the guard-oriented Marquette squad. Fields was just coming back from the injury when his team matched up with Marquette in February and his rust showed, going 1-of-7 from the floor. He’s shaken off the rust lately, scoring double figures in the last five games and was one assist and one rebound away from a triple-double against DePaul just a week ago.
Marquette’s quickness and pesky defense led to a 1-of-11 shooting night form beyond the arc for Pitt. They also forced 15 Panther turnovers.
Their balanced scoring attack was led by Jerel McNeal’s 17 points, while center Ousmane Barro took Pitt freshman DeJuan Blair to school. He had one of his best games of the year, scoring 14 points on 6-for-6 shooting, and also grabbed 12 rebounds in 30 minutes.
Barro normally doesn’t play that many minutes, but head coach Tom Crean tried to use Pitt’s lack of height to his team’s advantage. Junior guard Dominic James, who has been inconsistent since suffering a wrist injury earlier in the year, was just 2-of-11 from the field, but made up for it by dishing out 12 assists.
The big match up in Friday night’s showdown will be between the veteran guard play of both teams. James and McNeal will look to dominate Fields and Ramon as they did in the first meeting.
Betting sites around the net see the similarities between these two teams, seeing as how the line is a small one with Marquette as the slight favorite 1.5. The line opened up at 2 for Marquette and has ballooned up to 2.5 in some cases. Most sportsbooks have the over/under at 133 as well.
The Panthers have had a tough time covering in back-to-back games. Having an 0-6 mark ATS following an ATS win.
The Golden Eagles, on the other hand, have been good for bettors lately, going 7-1 in their last 8 games as a favorite of .5 to 6.5 points. They also don’t mind playing on even ground, having an impressive 5-0 record ATS at their last 5 neutral site games.
Bettors will be interested to know that Pittsburgh hasn’t done well covering the spread in their head-to-head meetings with Marquette, going 1-6 ATS in the last seven meetings.
The over has been a trendy play for both squads. It’s 4-1 overall in the last five games for Marquette. The over is an even more impressive 8-0 in Pittsburgh’s last eight Big East games. Also, when these two teams match up, the over is 6-1 in the last seven meetings.
Both teams have secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament, so right now they have nothing else on their minds except for the coveted Big East Championship. One thing fans and bettors both know is that whoever wins this game, they weren’t supposed to be in the Big East finals anyway.
Oracle’s Pick: The over is a trend bettors can’t ignore. The over/under mark of 133 isn’t a huge mark, considering the offensive firepower both of these teams have shown in the tournament. Take the over!