First the negative.
Both of these teams fell short in their conference tournaments. Unquestionably they feature talent worthy of the NCAA Tournament, however due to a lackluster efforts last week, they find themselves relegated to the NIT. I'm not informed enough to speak on Conference USA, but I'm more than capable of forming an opinion on the Mid-American Conference. Not every year should we be a multiple bid league. Far from it. This year is the exception. Toledo is an NCAA Tournament team and I think they should be playing in the field of 64, or 65, or 68, or whatever it is now. Maybe things would've been different had they not been blown out against Western Michigan. We'll never know.
Now the positive.
Because both of these team were unceremoniously left of the Big Dance card, we are presented with what may end up being the premiere matchup of this week of tournament play. Don't let the seeding fool you. Both Toledo, a six, and Southern Miss, a three, feature top talent that would be a twelve seed in the NCAA Tournament all day. As it is we get them in the NIT. Ignore the context. This will be a fun one. The only thing that makes it more fun is betting money you can't afford to lose on a dewy-eyed freshman's ability to hit free throws. It's the third of three on Wager Wednesday let's get paid! Your Toledo vs. Southern Miss picks:
Toledo (+9) at Southern Miss
Toledo entered the MAC Championship game against Western Michigan as a three point favorite. They were promptly run out of the building. The Broncos flew by the Rockets 98-77, outscoring UT by 19 points in the second half. The championship game appearance was Toledo's first since 2006, and certainly didn't end the way coach Tod Kowalczyk and his squad intended. Toledo enters Wednesday night's game at Southern Miss with and overall record of 27-6 and 14-4 in MAC play. Toledo's season has been impressive to this point. The Rockets started the season 12-0, played a tight one in Lawrence against then number sixteen ranked Kansas, and finished the season undefeated at home for the first time in 47 years. For the vast majority of the conference season the Rockets were the hottest MAC team not named Western Michigan, and man would they be a sexy upset pick in the first round of the NCAA Tournament (ok, I'm done.)
Any MAC fan knows the names. Toledo features four players that average in double figures. Julius Brown, Rian Pearson, Justin Drummond, and J.D. Weatherspoon all average 10 or better led by Brown at 14.8. The MAC's top scoring offense is also the MAC's top shooting offense, both from the field and behind the arc. On the glass it's J.D. Weatherspoon ripping down 6.7 boards per contest with Rian Pearson pulling in 5.3. Juice Brown is also the top distributor in the league, tallying 6.1 assists per game.
There's not many positive things to say about Toledo playing on the road against the spread. To this point in the campaign the Rockets are 12-15-1 overall ATS, including 6-6-1 at home and 6-9 when playing away from Savage Arena. The numbers have only gotten worse of late. The Rockets have failed to cover once in their last five road games. Straight up Toledo is 11-6 in the last 17 road games, and it's important to remember how many points the Rockets are getting. The nine going to Toledo will be the most points the Rockets are getting since before conference play began.
Like Toledo, Southern Miss had the talent to win their conference and an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. Unlike Toledo, Southern Miss was tripped up early. USM finished in a four way tie atop Conference USA with a 13-3 record, but earned just a four seed in the top heavy league. After sending UTEP home 64-56, the Golden Eagles found their Big Dance dreams dashed at the hands of Louisiana Tech, 88-70. Southern Miss enters Wednesday night's matchup with Toledo with an overall record of 27-6 and, like Toledo, a sub 40 RPI.
Southern Miss spreads it around. Michael Craig leads all Golden Eagles scorers with and 11.3 average, followed closely by Neil Watson at 10.4, Daveon Boardingham at 10.3, Aaron Brown at 9.8, and Jerrold Brooks at 9.6. Michael Craig is also the team's leading rebounder at 7.4 a game. Defensively Southern Miss put Conference USA opponents on lock down. The Golden Eagles allow under 63 points per game, second only to the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders. Efficient shooting and top notch defense have allowed USM to get out in from of opponents, and stay out in front, as they're second in conference scoring margin at 9.4 points per game.
Southern Miss makes for a good bet. Overall the Golden Eagles are 20-10 against the spread including 11-4 at home. They trending to the bettor's favor, 5-2 ATS in the last 7, and 9-2 ATS in the last eleven home games. In four of the last five games the Golden Eagles have played the favorite, managing to cover in three of them. In three of those five games the game has hit the under. Most recently in the game against Louisiana Tech, USM hit the over.
The pick: So obviously all of the preceding information would lead to you take the Golden Eagles right? Wrong. Cut that spread in half and I'll take Southern Miss. Nine is just too many damn points. I think this is just giving away money. This line was written with the team that got blown out by Western Michigan in mind, not the team that played Kansas to the wire and completed a perfect 16-0 at home. This will be a fun one, entirely watchable, and a game where you'll find yourself rooting for offense, offense, and more offense. Wednesday night at Reed Green Coliseum, take the Rockets, and the points, and bet the over.