NCAA tournament eight-vs.-nine seed games, by definition basically, offer up what should be good match-ups. They also make for tough handicapping, considering most such games are expected to be close.
Thursday's tournament “second-round” play offers up one such match-up in the West Regional as the Pitt Panthers take on the Wichita State Shockers in Salt Lake City (1:40 pm ET, TBS).
Panthers-Shockers Betting Lines
Most online sportsbooks we consulted Monday were listing Pitt at either -4.5 or -5 points, with an OVER/UNDER of 125.
According to the Sagarin PREDICTOR ratings at USAToday.com Sports the Panthers should be favored by 5.5 points over the Shockers.
Bettors out there who think Wichita State might win this game outright can get the Shockers at upwards of +175 on some of the various moneylines offered on many college basketball odds boards.
Wichita State went 27-6 last year and won the Missouri Valley championship, but got beat in its first NCAA tournament game by VCU. The Shockers then lost three starters and five seniors. So 27 wins seemed unlikely for this season.
But after starting 9-0, 15-1 and 19-2 and reaching the MVC tournament championship game, Wichita State is darn close, at 26-8.
The Shockers had a chance to win the MVC regular-season title but lost their regular-season finale two weeks ago to Creighton 91-79. State then lost to the Blue Jays in the MVC tournament title game two Sundays ago 68-65.
WSU owns victories this season over VCU, Iowa, Southern Miss and Creighton, while five of its eight losses have come by five points or less.
On the other side of this match-up Pitt, after missing the NCAA tournament last year, was picked by many to finish in the top four in the Big East this season. And that's exactly what the Panthers did, going 12-6 in conference play to finish in fourth place. Pitt went 12-1 through non-conference play, but then lost three of its first four Big East games. The Panthers then went 11-3 the rest of the way, until losing to Syracuse in their opening game of the conference tournament.
Along the way Pitt beat Georgetown, Villanova, Connecticut, Syracuse, Cincinnati and Villanova again, while seven of its eight losses have comes versus teams that made the 2013 NCAA Tournament. And almost every one of those defeats could be categorized as “close.”
As we've heard many times, experienced guard play can be key to winning games in the NCAA tournament. And one thing the Panthers definitely have going for them is senior PG Tray Woodall, who's started 74 games for Pitt and played in 60 more.
But the Shockers are covered in that department themselves with senior Malcolm Armstead, who's started over 80 games playing for Wichita State and, before that, Oregon.
Panthers-Shockers, By the Numbers
Playing what Sagarin ranks as the 80th-toughest schedule in CBB this season Pitt shot 48 percent from the floor, 36 percent from 3-point land but only 66 percent from the FT line. The Panthers also held opponents to 39 percent shooting and out-rebounded foes by about seven boards per game.
Wichita State, playing Sagarin's 105th-ranked schedule, shot 44 percent this season, 34 percent from long range and 69 percent from the line. The Shockers also limited foes to 40 percent shooting, and out-rebound them by about nine boards per game.
Panthers-Shockers Betting Trends
Wichita State is 11-14 on the OVER/UNDERS this season, and Shockers games have averaged 130 points.
Pitt is 13-8 on the totals, even though Panthers games have averaged just 125 points. So obviously books have been posting some rather low totals on Pitt games.
The Panthers will be playing on a full week off, having been eliminated from the Big East tournament last Thursday. But the Shockers will be working on 10 days off, having last played March 10. Will those layoffs have any effect on Thursday's game? We're not sure, but our first thoughts would be that either or both teams might come out a bit rusty in the shooting department. Then again, we could be totally off-base.
Free NCAA Tournament Pick
Pitt deserves to be favored for this game, but we won't be surprised if Wichita State pulls the upset in this spot. Take the Shockers at the +5 points offered at 5Dimes.