A pretty good team that doesn't get a lot of coverage because of where it's located and its home conference starts what it hopes is a lengthy run through this NCAA tournament as the Lobos of New Mexico, the three seed in the West, tangle with the 14th-seeded Crimson of Harvard Thursday night in Salt Lake City (9:50 pm ET, TNT).
College basketball odds makers have opened New Mexico as a fairly considerable favorite over the Ivy League champs. Can the Lobos pick up not just a victory, but a cover, or can Harvard play Cinderella?
Lobos-Crimson Betting Lines
Most of the online sportsbooks we sampled Monday opened New Mexico at -11 for this game, with an OVER/UNDER of 125. In the early betting many books bumped the Lobos to -11.5, and the total to 126.
According to Sagarin's PREDICTOR ratings at USAToday.com New Mexico should be favored by nine points for this game. Does this give us any insight as to where we should place our sports picks in this matchup?
New Mexico returned three starters this season from a team that went 28-7 last year, but some experts were picking the Lobos to finish as low as fourth or even fifth in the Mountain West. Instead, led by conference POY Kendall Williams and seven-footer Alex Kirk, UNM started this season 12-0, later won six in a row into March, and, after claiming another Mountain West regular-season title, beat UNLV in Vegas last weekend to win the MWC tournament. Along the way the Lobos beat NCAA tournament entries Davidson, Valparaiso, New Mexico State (twice), Cincinnati, UNLV, Boise State, Colorado State, Boise State again, Colorado State again, San Diego State twice and, as mentioned above, UNLV again.
They also beat a pretty good NCAA ineligible team in Connecticut back in November.
Of New Mexico's five losses four came against teams that made the NCAA tournament, and the last came on a 3-pointer with three seconds left in the regular-season finale, an 89-88 loss to Air Force.
Sagarin ranked the Mountain West as the fifth-best conference in college basketball this season, ahead of the Pac-12, SEC, Atlantic 10 and Missouri Valley, among others.
The Ivy League ranked 18th, just behind the Big West.
Harvard returned three starters this year from the team that won the Ivy League last year, earning its first NCAA tournament bid since 1946. Most “experts” picked the Crimson to win the Ivy against this year, and that's just what they did.
Harvard got through its non-conference schedule at 8-6, beating, among others, Boston College and Cal and losing to, among others, St. Joe's, UConn, St. Mary's and Memphis. The Crimson then won the Ivy League by going 11-3 in conference play, earning a second straight automatic invitation to the Big Dance.
Last year Harvard lost to a pretty good Vanderbilt team in the first round of the tournament 79-70.
Lobos-Crimson, Statistically Speaking
New Mexico, which played Sagarin's 35th-toughest CBB schedule this year, is shooting 43 percent from the field, 35 percent from 3-point land and 72 percent from the FT line. The Lobos are also holding opponents to 39 percent FG shooting and out-rebounding foes by about two boards per game.
Harvard, which played a schedule ranked No. 153 according to Sagarin, is shooting 48 percent from the floor, a nifty 40 percent from long range and 72 percent from the line. But defensively the Crimson are allowing opponents to shoot 44 percent, and they're getting out-rebounded by about a board per game.
Let SBR be your 2013 NCAA Tournament betting headquarters.
Lobos-Crimson Betting Trends
New Mexico is 10-17 on the OVER/UNDERS this season, as Lobos games have averaged 128 points.
Harvard is 10-11 on the totals, as its games have averaged 133 points.
The Crimson are 5-1 ATS this year when getting nine or more points on the spread.
But New Mexico is 5-2 ATS this season when favored by between eight and 12 points.Free NCAA Tournament Pick: Like all the Ivy League champs that play in the NCAA tournament the Crimson are a nice story, but they'll have their hands full with the Lobos. New Mexico is bigger and better and battle-tested, and while they might be over-priced by about a basket, we'll risk it. Take New Mexico at the -11 points offered at BetOnline.