The Wyoming Cowboys led the Mountain West Conference in the very early portion of the conference season. Then they suffered a major loss but were able to get a key player back in time for the conference tournament, which they won. Can they continue their hot streak into the NCAA tournament against Northern Iowa and cover the college basketball spread?
The Wyoming Cowboys Can Win Because…
Their best player is back, which is something you should consider when looking at the NCAA Basketball odds. Larry Nance was leading Wyoming to a first-place finish in the Mountain West regular season, until he came down with mononucleosis and missed an extended period of time. The Cowboys were terrible without him, losing several games after rarely losing in the Mountain West when he was on the floor. Wyoming was not going to be an NCAA Tournament at-large team due to all the games it lost without Nance in the lineup. The team had to win the Mountain West tournament to make March Madness. Fortunately, Nance returned to the lineup a week before the conference tournament. Coach Larry Shyatt was able to integrate Nance back into the rotation. He was able to blend in with the team and feel his way around before the three games Wyoming absolutely had to win.
Nance gave the Cowboys a long interior defender. He was a dependable but not spectacular scorer in the Mountain West tournament. What was more valuable is that his energy and activity near the rim made him a big source of help on offense and defense. Nance became an important rebounder, and he glued together the Cowboys’ defense, giving them the muscle needed to shut down cold-shooting San Diego State on Saturday in the Mountain West title game. The stats don’t really matter with Nance, because he’s missed so much time. The key thing is that Wyoming is winning again with its full lineup. Nance will make it very hard for Northern Iowa to score against the Cowboys. This game could be a lot like the San Diego State game, and if Nance, a 16-points-per-game scorer, can increase his level of offensive production, Wyoming should have a great chance to win this.
The Northern Iowa Panthers Can Win Because…
The Panthers have a low-post player every bit as good as Nance, if not slightly better. The matchup everyone is going to focus on in this game is Nance versus Seth Tuttle. Northern Iowa depends on Tuttle to get big baskets, and with good reason. Tuttle not only averages 15.3 points. He averages 6.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists. If defenses collapse on him, he passes the ball and finds the open man to create more offense for Northern Iowa. His strength on the glass gives Northern Iowa looks at second-chance points. If Tuttle wins the matchup against Nance, even by only a slight margin, the Panthers should feel good about their prospects.
The other big reason to pick Northern Iowa as the team to advance into the second round against the winner of Louisville vs. UC Irvine is that it is an efficient offensive team. The Panthers were a top-20 team in the nation in shooting percentage, two-point shooting percentage, and three-point shooting percentage. They were also a top-20 team in points scored per possession. This is a well-drilled team which doesn’t make many mistakes. It’s the right kind of team to go up against Wyoming and its aggressive defense.
UNI is a poor man’s Virginia, which means they play solid defense and take quality shots. This is a really good matchup for them as Wyoming is one of the lowest scoring teams in the country. Wyoming will hang around for a bit but not long enough to cover the college basketball line, so take UNI with your NCAA Basketball picks.
NCAA Basketball Free Pick: UNI -6.5 at Pinnacle