Today's Free Picks for
Posted at 2:45 PM EST.
7:00 PM EST. After making their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2016-17, everything was lined up for these Norsemen to make a run at the Big Dance again last season, as they returned much of the lineup from the year prior, but that dream was shattered in the first round of the Horizon League tournament by lowly Cleveland State. This contest has been billed as a "revenge" game for the Norse, but there are few angles that are more overvalued by the pundits than that one. Sure, it makes for a great story, but the reality is, Northern Kentucky is not the same side it was last season after losing much of its veteran talent with the seniors moving on and Carson Williams transferring to WKU. Williams was expected to play a significant role this year, but it says a lot that he chose to sit out his junior season to join the Hilltoppers in 2019-2020. While preseason prognostications are not the be all, end all, the Norse were expected to be looking up at the top of the Horizon, as opposed to looking down on the rest of the competition, however, they have the best overall record at 14-4 and have started league play at 4-1 with the only blemish being a two-point loss to Oakland. Thus, on the surface, it appears as though not much has changed in Highland Heights, but a closer look shows that the Norse have padded their record with cupcake victories. NKU has played a weak schedule that ranks 288 of 353 Division I schools and while it cannot control the quality of its Horizon league brothers, the Norse’s non-conference schedule is still a weak 268th. A third straight win is not out of the question here, as the Norse are heavily favored against the Vikings, but winning and covering are two different beasts.
We're not going to sugarcoat Cleveland State's 2018-19, as expectations were relatively high after a surprise run to the Horizon League finals. Often bottom feeders, the Vikings were supposed to take a step forward and be competitive, but it hasn't turned out that way, as they have won just five games and are 0-6 to start league play. The schedule makers didn't do them any favors, as four of those six games were played on the road. Cleveland State has yet to see its home floor in the new year, but it has been a far better squad at the Wolstein Center, where it has won all five of its games this season. To give you an idea of how far the Vikings already meager standing in the market has dropped, they were priced in a similar range on the road at Green Bay, Indiana-Purdue and Illinois-Chicago the last three games. When Cleveland State opened Horizon league play, it was favored against both Oakland (which beat the Norse) and Detroit Mercy (which leads the Horizon at 5-1). Cleveland State proved last season that anything can happen when conference foes get together, but we'd rather put this pile of points in our back pocket while rooting for a Vikings victory. Win or lose, this is pure value at its best
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#620 CLEVELAND ST +9 -101 (Risking 2.02 units - To Win: 2.00)