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Minnesota, SMU play for NIT title Thursday
By: Mark Kern - StatFox
Published: 4/3/2014  at  4:29:00 AM
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MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS (24-13)

vs. SMU MUSTANGS (27-9)

Postseason NIT - Championship Game
Madison Square Garden - New York, NY
Tip-off: Thursday, 7:00 p.m. ET
Line: SMU -2.5, Total: 131.5

Both Minnesota and SMU look to end their seasons with a win on Thursday night when the schools collide for the NIT Championship at Madison Square Garden.

Minnesota has won six of its past seven games (5-2 ATS), including Tuesday night’s 67-64 overtime victory in the semifinal round against Florida State. Gophers SG Austin Hollins has been on fire as of late, scoring 17 points in the win against the Seminoles after scoring 32 in the previous round. However, Minnesota did not make it easy on Tuesday night, as it shot 16-of-25 from the free throw line, including some big ones that allowed FSU to send it to overtime. However, the Minnesota defense was tough all game, forcing 18 Seminoles turnovers and holding them to only 38% FG. The team is now 16-17-1 ATS overall (7-6-1 ATS in non-conference play) and 2-3 ATS on a neutral court. SMU continued its strong postseason run despite the disappointment of not making it to the NCAA Tournament. The Mustangs were in big trouble on Tuesday night against Clemson, but were able to come back from a 12-point halftime deficit to earn the 65-59 victory. That makes them 20-12 ATS (63%) overall this season (8-5 ATS in non-conference play) and 2-3 ATS on a neutral court. SF Markus Kennedy continued his strong postseason run, coming just one rebound short of another double-double, as he finished with 21 points and nine rebounds. A big reason why the Mustangs were able to advance to the championship game was because of their ability to dominate the glass, as they outrebounded the Tigers 35-25. Both teams have positive betting trends for Thursday night, as Minnesota is 13-4 ATS (77%) versus slow-down teams (53 or less FGA per game) over the past three seasons, while SMU is 15-7 ATS (68%) versus poor pressure defenses (forcing 14 or less TO per game) this season.

Minnesota comes into the game ranked 147th in the country in scoring (71.6 PPG) while shooting 44.6% from the field (151st in Div. I). The Golden Gophers have a lot of guys that can get out and run, and that is fueled by the ability of the team to create havoc by forcing turnovers (7.6 SPG, 36th in nation). The Minnesota defense isn't that special though, as it allows 67.9 PPG (114th in Div. I) on 42.4% FG (112th in nation) and 34.3% threes (172 in nation). Andre Hollins (13.6 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.4 APG) has really struggled thus far in the postseason for the Gophers, and he must play up to his potential against SMU to get the victory. He is a very talented scorer that can also affect a game in many different ways. With Austin Hollins (not related) playing so well in the tournament, the Mustangs will be focused on slowing Austin down. This will give Andre some one-on-one opportunities, and he must capitalize on them. Deandre Mathieu (11.8 PPG, 4.1 APG, 2.8 RPG) has played terrific basketball in his first year playing for Minnesota. He is undersized at 5-foot-9, but is fearless when driving the ball to the basket. He is also a big time three-point shooter, connecting on 20-of-41 from deep (49% threes). Mathieu is the most important player in this game, as the Mustangs have a terrific defense. If he is able to hit some early shots from the perimeter, the lanes should open up for him and the other Gophers to attack the rim. Maurice Walker (7.9 PPG), Malik Smith (7.5 PPG) and Joey King (7.2 PPG) are all solid contributors off the bench, who have all had big games scoring this season. The biggest key for Minnesota will be how they handle the frontcourt of the Mustangs, who have a lot of talent there.

SMU has shown the ability to make it extremely tough for its opponents to score the ball, ranking seventh in the nation in opposing field goal percentage (38.2%), while allowing only 62.2 PPG (22nd in Div. I). That defense was the key to get the victory against Clemson on Tuesday night, as the Mustangs allowed only 21 second-half points to help complete the comeback. While they do not score a lot of points with 71.2 PPG (166th in nation), the Mustangs do a terrific job of shooting the ball, ranking 18th in the nation at 48.3% FG. Larry Brown’s team does a great job of sharing the ball too, averaging 15.2 APG, good for 34th in Division I. Nic Moore (13.5 PPG, 4.9 APG) is a terrific scorer that can take over a game on the offensive end. He does a great job of attacking the rim, but he is also an accurate shooter from the outside (45% threes). While he does not have elite height, he has the athleticism and speed to make up for it. Kennedy (12.2 PPG, 7.0 RPG) is the difference maker on this team. He has terrific size and is absolutely relentless on both ends of the court. He has a nice variety of moves on the low block, and he also can finish at the rim against the best shot-blockers in the country. Nick Russell (9.8 PPG, 3.4 RPG) is an experienced shooting guard that has played in many big games in his career, and has drained 40% threes this season. With Moore attacking the rim as well as he has, it allows Russell to hang out on the perimeter where he is a terrific spot-up shooter.

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