Photo Cred: Sportsbettingdime.com
First off, I'd like to admit I was wrong about Nova! Jay Wright showed why he's one of the best in the business, and they game planned perfectly against a strong Winthrop squad. Well done! With their 2nd round game only a few hours away, I wanted to send a quick thought about a few things I'll be watching as the Wildcats face North Texas.
Nova vs North Texas:
I'm not sure what was more impressive. Nova looking great on defense and securing a win without their leader in Gillespie, or North Texas taking down a Purdue squad that has looked strong all season. Two key players to watch are Senior guard for the Mean Green, Javion Hamlet, who had 24 points and 12 boards in their first round upset. For Nova, I was very impressed with Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who will look to step up again for the Wildcat's offense. Additionally, losing Gillespie certainly proved to be a tough adjustment for Nova at the end of the season, but Justin Moore stepped in and had a solid outing against Winthrop.
One concern I have for the Wildcats are their ability to stop the outside shot and a post presence. Winthrop shot 36% from the field, and, once Burns fouled out of the game, they lost that post presence to keep the Nova defense honest. The Mean Green are built similar to Winthrop. Simmons, although maybe not as strong as Burns, could still give Nova some concerns in the paint. Additionally, North Texas was 26th in the nation in 3-point percentage, while Nova is 242nd in 3pt defense. The Mean Green shot 42% from downtown vs Purdue. If that continues against the Wildcats, then Nova may have a long evening in front of them. Lastly, North Texas' real strength is within the arc, as they are ranked 13th in 2-point defense, which may give the Wildcats some issue if they can't make long distance buckets (stats per actionnetwork.com).
The line is currently at +5.5, but it opened at +6. There is certainly some steam coming in on North Texas, so the smarter play may be to either A) Wait for the line to continue to drop in Nova's favor, or to place a Live Play if North Texas comes out a bit cold. Ultimately though, I think Nova is well coached enough to squeak this one out!
- Mike Barrera