Today's Free Picks for
Posted at 2:00 PM EST.
MERRIMACK -3½ -110 over Sacred Heart
7:00 PM EST. We get the favorite here at a deflated price because they have yet to play a game this year. That’s correct, Merrimack is 0-0 and will play a Sacred Heart team that is 2-3 after five games. Sacred Heart lost to Long Island in the first game of back-to-backs, 75-55 and they also lost to Wagner in the first game of back-to-backs, 74-46. Sacred Heart’s two victories came in the second game of both sets against that aforementioned duo and we’re going to trust that Both LIU and Wagner torched Sacred Heart so badly in the first game that they figured all they had to do was show up in the rematch.
Sacred Heart returns the fewest number of minutes in the NEC and that’s before taking Zach Pfaffenberger, a potentially productive forward who tore his Achilles in October, out of the equation.
What we like is that Anthony Latina (Sacred Heart) had an excellent team last season that competed for an NEC title and set the program single-season wins record. They have some recent pedigree but we wonder if the market is aware that the Pioneers lost four starters plus Cameron Parker from last year’s success story. Parker took his talents to Montana, Koreem Ozier went to UL Monroe, and EJ Anosike is now a Tennessee Vol. KenPom projects this iteration of Sacred Heart to be the worst in Latina’s 8-year tenure; the long-time head coach will be heavily reliant on freshmen for production.
Merrimack was last year’s toast of the town among low-major Division I college basketball. In their first season at the adult table, the Warriors won the NEC outright despite being picked dead last in the conference’s preseason poll. Merrimack’s non-conference performance was also a mini-adventure in itself, as the Warriors began their DI careers getting trounced by Maine of all teams by a whopping 20 points, only to follow that game up with a road win at Northwestern two days later.
There is a clear lack of individual talent on this roster but having individual talent doesn’t always result in winning ball games. Head coach Joe Gallo accomplished what he did with defense – the Warriors played a relentless zone not commonly seen in the DI landscape that drove their #1 NEC Adj. DE ranking. Gallo has one of the most unique and effective defensive systems in the country and that alone should allow his team to compete in the thick of the NEC for a second straight season. His shapeshifting zone defense stymied the entire NEC. No one could solve Merrimack’s amorphous defensive structure, as the likes of Juvaris Hayes, Jaleel Lord and Idris Joyner preyed on perplexed ball handlers all year long. Hayes, the steal king, is now gone, as are Lord and Joyner. However, a silver lining for Merrimack exists. The Warriors were able to install all of their offensive sets and plays early in the preseason before the recent COVID disruption put players and coaches on their own islands during December. There is not a coach or team in the country that is more jacked up to get back on the court than the Warriors, who are going to treat this one like it’s the first game of March Madness. Motivation counts for something and so does being the superior team. Underlay.
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MERRIMACK -3½ -110 (Risking 2.2 units - To Win: 2.00)