NORTHERN IOWA (17-11)
at VCU RAMS (22-6)
ESPN BracketBuster Game
Tip-off: Friday, 7:00 p.m. EDT
Line: VCU -6, Total, 124½
It’s hard to decide which of these two teams is coming off a more heart-breaking loss: While Evansville’s Denver Holmes banked in a 3-pointer with 0.6 seconds left to sink Northern Iowa, 63-62, on Wednesday, George Mason’s Sherrod Wright raced up the court and made a buzzer-beating 25-foot three-pointer in a 62-61 win over VCU. The loss to Evansville was Northern Iowa’s fifth straight road defeat, and the Panthers failed to cover any of those games. VCU has lost only two home games all season and is the pick here to win and cover the point spread.
This three-star FoxSheets coaching trend also like the Rams to win and cover on Friday.
Ben Jacobson is 9-25 ATS (26.5%, -18.5 Units) after having lost 2 of their last 3 games as the coach of NORTHERN IOWA. The average score was NORTHERN IOWA 64.2, OPPONENT 64.9 - (Rating = 3*).
Neither of these teams is in line for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid, but they’ll both have plenty of incentive with this being a nationally televised game as part of ESPN’s BracketBuster series. Northern Iowa is 5-4 in BracketBuster games over the years while VCU is 4-3. And although this will be the first meeting between the schools, the teams do share the common bond of knocking Kansas out of the NCAA Tournament the past two years. VCU is led by senior forward Bradford Burgess, whose 13 points per game leads the team. Expect the Commodores to try to push the tempo of this game and make it a track meet, which would get Northern Iowa out of its comfort zone as a team that prefers a much slower-paced, half-court game.
Northern Iowa’s leading scorer is 6-foot junior guard Anthony James, who comes off the bench for 13 points per game. The Panthers lead the Missouri Valley Conference in scoring defense, holding opposing teams to less than 62 points per game despite playing in a conference in which three teams average 70 points or more. They also take care of the ball well on offense, turning it over just 10.8 times a game. Northern Iowa ranks 28th nationally in offensive turnover percentage and 27th in three-point percentage, shooting 39.2 percent from behind the arc. UNI freshman forward Seth Tuttle leads the Missouri Valley Conference in field-goal percentage (66%). What the Panthers lack, however, is the athleticism to keep up with a talented team like VCU for 40 minutes.