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No. 2 Saint Mary’s vs. No. 3 Western Kentucky preview, picks for first round of 2021 NIT

The Saint Mary’s Gaels and Western Kentucky Hilltoppers meet at the Comerica Center in Frisco, Texas in the first round of the 2021 National Invitation Tournament. We’ve got everything you need on both teams ahead of the game here.

Gonzaga v Saint Mary’s Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The second game of an NIT doubleheader will feature the Saint Mary’s Gaels against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers on Wednesday, March 17th. Saint Mary’s comes in as slight favorites in this game, which will get started at 9 p.m. ET from the Comerica Center in Frisco, Texas. The game can be seen on ESPN2 and via live stream at WatchESPN.

No. 2 Saint Mary’s: 14-9 (4-6 WCC)

KenPom rating: 75 OVERALL, 198 OFFENSE, 9 DEFENSE
NET ranking: 62, (0-6 vs. QUAD 1)
Leading scorer: Logan Johnson
Key stat: Saint Mary’s averages 67.1 possessions per game, which is No. 325 among 347 teams in the country.

There is a drastic difference between what Saint Mary’s can do on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. The Gaels have a lock-down defense, but scoring really hasn’t been their thing this year. Part of it has to do with their slow style of play, but Saint Mary’s averaged the least amount of points per game this season in the West Coast Conference while also allowing the fewest.

No. 3 Western Kentucky: 20-7 (11-3 CUSA)

KenPom rating: 94 OVERALL, 113 OFFENSE, 81 DEFENSE
NET ranking: 81 (1-3 vs. QUAD 1)
Leading scorer: Charles Bassey
Key stat: Western Kentucky shoots 79% from the free throw line, which is the seventh highest in college basketball.

Western Kentucky ranks right around the middle of the pack in most major categories across Conference USA. Their biggest strengths come in rebounding and making their free throws, making them a tough out in this tournament. However, they have the highest number of turnovers per game in the conference this season.

Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook

Point spread: Saint Mary’s -2
Point total: 125
Moneyline: Saint Mary’s -136, Western Kentucky +112

Betting splits

Here are the updated sportsbook betting splits heading into the game.

Western Kentucky: +2: 86% of action, 50% of bets
Saint Mary’s: -2: 14% of action, 50% of bets

Over: 124.5: 100% of action, 89% of bets
Under: 124.5: 0% of action, 11% of bets

The Pick

Against The Spread Pick: Western Kentucky +2
Point total pick: Under 125
Pick to Win: Western Kentucky

A solid money maker this season has been riding Saint Mary’s unders, which cashed 15 times out of 23 games this season. That’s where we’re going with this one despite the low number. Even as the favorites coming into this game, the Gaels don’t quite have the fire power offensively to come away with the win, so we’re going with Western Kentucky to earn an outright win with second chance points and free throw shooting being the difference.

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