Evansville is the NCAA Basketball Pick vs. Northern Iowa

LT Profits Sports Group

Thursday, January 1, 2015 3:34 PM GMT

Each day LT Profits Sports seeks an overlay side that has a better chance of cashing than its spread, offering long term value. Here is their Side Value Play for Thursday.

 

The nationally ranked team could be in trouble it its Missouri Valley Conference opener on New Year’s Night Thursday when those Northern Iowa Panthers (11-1, 2-1 away) pay a visit to the Evansville Purple Aces (10-2, 6-1 home) at the Ford Center in Evansville, IN at 8:00 ET in a game available on ESPN3.

The point spread at Pinnacle Sports has Evansville as a home underdog for this contest with the current line at +3½ with odds of -106.


Lost Only in Double Overtime at VCU
Northern Iowa has burst onto the national scene this early season as it was off to a 9-0 start before suffering its only loss in double overtime 93-87 in a hostile environment at VCU! The Panthers rebounded from that loss by beating a good Iowa team 56-44 in Des Moines before closing out the non-conference portion of their schedule at 11-1 by beating South Dakota State on Sunday. Northern Iowa has caught the attention of pollsters as they are ranked 23rd by the AP.

Not to be outdone, Evansville finished non-conference play at 10-2, only being the losing NCAA Basketball picks by just two points at home vs. Murray State and also by two points to Wisconsin-Green Bay on a neutral floor in Florida. Plus the Missouri Valley Conference is famous for have a stronger home court advantage than many other conferences, so the Purple Aces could be a major thorn in Northern Iowa’s side in Evansville.


Biggest Threat to Wichita State?
Obviously the Wichita State Shockers are the favorites to win the Valley again this season, but the Panthers of UNI could provide a bigger challenge than was believed before this season started. Yes Northern Iowa’s loss came in its stiffest challenge so far but there is no shame in taking VCU to double overtime in Richmond and the Panthers do have three wins over major conference schools in Iowa, Northwestern and Virginia Tech.

The Panthers are very solid on both sides of the court as they rank 25th in the country in offensive efficiency and 45th in defensive efficiency. They are 19th in effective field goal percentage offensively at 55.5 percent thanks to making 54.4 percent of their two-point shots and 38.2 percent of their three-pointers, while simultaneously allowing an effective field goal percentage of 45.5 percent defensively.

If you are looking for a negative, one would think Northern Iowa would grade out a bit better defensively for a team that is allowing only 58.1 points per game. The reason it does not is because VCU and Iowa are the only two teams UNI has faced ranked in the Pomeroy Top 100, as even the other two major wins over Northwestern and Virginia Tech came over lower echelon teams in their respective conferences (Big Ten and ACC).


Evansville Can Match UNI Offensively
Now, Evansville does not possess the defensive numbers that Northern Iowa does, but the Purple Aces can score as believe it or not they rank higher than the Panthers in effective field goal percentage in 15th at a blazing 56.3 percent! That is because the Aces do not miss many shots closer to the basket, ranking eighth in the entire land in two-point percentage at 56.3 percent while also shooting a good 37.3 percent from three-point range.

Even looking at just the raw numbers, Evansville is 24th in the country in scoring with 79.2 points per game, second in field goal percentage at 52.7 percent overall and fourth in assists with 19.0 per game. They are led by a preseason All-Missouri Valley selection in junior guard D.J. Balentine, who has impressively now scored at least 20 points in eight straight games to move up to fifth in the county in scoring with his 22.5 points per game.

And Balentine is part of an experienced bunch as Evansville returned all five starters from last season as well as over 90 percent of its scoring from the 2013-14 roster!


Not Surprisingly a Home Series
As you would expect from just about any series inside the Missouri Valley Conference, the home teams have had the edge in this matchup recently going 7-3-1 ATS in the last 11 head-to-head meetings and the Purple Aces are also 12-5 ATS in their last 17 home games vs. any team that has a winning record.

Look for that pattern to continue for at least one more game on New Year’s Day with Evansville giving 23rd ranked Northern Iowa all that it can handle and possibly even pulling an upset at home on Thursday.

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NCAA Basketball Pick: Evansville +3½ (-106)