The Tigers' 40 Minutes of Hell style eventually wore Cornell down in the second half of Missouri's 78-59 win on Friday. Marquette, on the other hand, barely held on in the second half of their 58-57 win over Utah St., with the Golden Eagles winning the free throw battle by a 19-6 margin. Now the two schools meet at Boise's Taco Bell Arena on Sunday to decide which team will advance to the Sweet 16.
Did you ever handicap a March Madness game before oddsmakers set the line, and were then surprised by the number at which they arrived?
That’s exactly what happened when I broke down Sunday’s West Regional second round matchup between No. 6 Marquette (25-9, 14-14-1 ATS) and No. 3 Missouri (29-6, 18-10 ATS), and then saw the Tigers were only 3-point favorites for the contest in Boise.
I understand why oddsmakers opened the game with Mizzou giving three points to Marquette. It’s a neutral stance to favor the higher seed between two public schools from power conferences; sportsbooks are likely taking a wait-and-see approach to assess where the money lies through Saturday before settling on a number before tip off.
An early look at the market in the six hours after the line was released indicates I’m thinking along the same lines as bettors. Almost 70% of plays against the spread had come in on the Tigers into early Saturday morning, meaning the line is likely on the move. From my vantage point at this stage of the game, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mizzou is pushing -4 by the time this article hits the page.
My handle on Marquette is it’s overrated, especially with starting point guard Dominic James out for the season with a broken foot. James suffered the injury in the Golden Eagles’ 93-82 loss at home to Connecticut back on February 25, as Marquette disappointed backers as 1-point underdogs. Including the defeat to the Huskies, the Eagles are 2-5 SU and 3-4 ATS since James went down.
Don’t get me wrong: Marquette is a solid team from the very competitive Big East, and any season where you finish with single-digit losses in that league you should be pleased. Thing is, a deeper look at their season reveals the Eagles don’t have much of a resume for a school that’s trying to cover against the Big 12 champions on Sunday.
Before Friday’s ATS loss in its 58-57 win over No. 11 Utah State (+6), Marquette’s last win against a (now departed) Tournament team came way back on January 10 at home against West Virginia. The Golden Eagles ran up their record in conference play against the likes of St. John’s, DePaul, Providence, Rutgers, and Cincinnati. They’re not chopped liver, but they’re not Louisville, Pitt, Syracuse, or Villanova, who Marquette did manage to win and cover against on New Year’s Day.
Out of conference, the Eagles didn’t put together much of rap sheet. Marquette fell 80-68 at Tennessee (-5½) on December 16, which came after it got by Wisconsin (+5½) 61-58 on December 6 at the Bradley Center. Missouri gave us more grist for the capping mill, with five notable out-of-conference contests during the preseason, during which the Tigers went 3-2 SU and 2-3 against the number. Mizzou defeated California, USC, and Georgia, while falling to Illinois and Xavier on neutral sites; the third loss ATS came at home against the Bulldogs.
The Tigers’ performance outside of the Big 12 was up-and-down much like their season during the conference schedule. Yes, they cashed the Big 12 crown last week during which they got a payday over Oklahoma State, but that came after Missouri lost at Texas A&M, took out Oklahoma at Mizzou Stadium, and got smoked by 25 at Kansas.
That having been said, the Tigers are riding high following their 78-59 victory over No. 14 Cornell in the opening round of the Dance. Mizzou cashed as 12-point faves in the win, which represented its fourth straight victory against the number and eighth in its last ten games (8-2 SU).
The Tigers might try to press and trap the Eagles into submission on Sunday, especially because James is in a walking cast. Pushing the tempo is Missouri’s bread and butter, which fits into Marquette’s hands to a certain extent because it likes to run-and-gun as well. The problem is the Eagles can’t use that tactic against the Tigers, who are among the nation’s leaders in turnover differential.
Typically schools as endowed on the offensive end as Mizzou (sixth in the country at 81.0 points per game) aren’t as careful with the ball. That could be the difference for Tigers bettors on Sunday.
The total for the Marquette-Missouri matchup opened in the 145½-147 range and was being pushed up to as many as 148½ as bettors made their plays overnight.