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It’s a 16-seed play-in game here as the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights will battle the Prairie View A&M Panthers for the right to play Gonzaga in the round of 64. Both teams finished the year on big winning streaks, so each side has a ton of momentum. Oddsmakers opened Fairleigh Dickinson as just 1.5 point favorites, so it should be a tight one. It’ll be televised on TruTV.
Fairleigh Dickinson Riding High
The season started off pretty bumpy for Fairleigh Dickinson, as the Knights went just 8-7 in non-conference play. But they really turned things on when NEC play started and managed to win the conference tournament to get this spot.
They got better as the year went on, and enter this one on an eight-game winning streak. Still, I’m not really sold on them despite the positive momentum. They play in one of the worst conferences in D-I basketball and still lost six games in conference play. That stands in stark contrast to the Panthers, who went 17-1 while dominating their conference. They have a bunch of bad losses on their resume’ and won many of the games on their recent run by very narrow margins. They also haven’t performed well in tournament settings, as they’re just 1-7 against the spread in their last eight games played on neutral courts.
FDU coach Greg Herenda has come a long way. Last year Herenda had a serious medical scare that resulted in blood clots and forced him to spend 15 days in the hospital.
Herenda reflected on his journey back and the success this year, saying:
“I was in a bed, I was in a wheelchair, a walker, a cane,” Herenda said. “And now we’re dancing.”
“I just thought of my team in a TV timeout,” Herenda said. “Every time I talk to them about getting back and working hard and chipping away at it. That’s how I got out of this,” he explained. His players made it clear they appreciate his work ethic, as senior forward Mike Holloway Jr. said:
“He would die to be out there on the floor with us. That honestly motivated me as a player. Coach doesn’t even know that. He motivated me with him going down because I love that guy.”
Fairleigh Dickinson relies entirely on their offense to carry them, as they have a very poor defense. Their defense ranks 295h in efficiency on Kenpom, and if their three-point shot that they rely so heavily on every night isn’t falling, they aren’t in good shape. Their deep shooting has been their strength all season long, but I’m skeptical that they’ll be able to continuously hit at a 40+% clip, especially when things tighten up so much under the bright lights of the NCAA Tournament.
Prairie View Underrated
The Panthers have come out of nowhere this season. They finished last year 16-18 and ranked 269th on Kenpom. They weren’t expected to compete for the SWAC title last year, but they shocked everyone with their dominance.
After a so-so start to the year in non-conference play, they took over during the conference slate and played lights out. Unlike Fairleigh Dickinson, they dominated the SWAC and went 17-1 in conference games. They continued to roll in the conference tournament and beat a very good Texas Southern team to advance to March Madness. They shot 42% from three in that game and forced Texas Southern to commit an eye-popping 24 turnovers. They’ve been just as good against the spread lately as they have been straight up, covering the number in six straight games.
— PVAMU Panthers (@PVAMUPanthers) March 4, 2019
Panthers head coach Byron Smith was elated to make the big dance, saying after the game:
“This was truly a remarkable night and I am so proud of this team and the accomplishment we made tonight.” “All I can do is thank the man upstairs for making this happen. We had a rough start but the ending is a fairy tale within it’s self,” he continued. Smith also talked about the defensive versatility his team has, explaining “If you look at our roster, you’ll see we don’t have a lot of size,” “so we’ve got guys who can guard 1 through 5, which kind of helps us.”
Unlike FDU, they aren’t one trick ponies who rely on one thing. They can beat you in a variety of different ways, both from outside and in the paint. The Panthers are very fast, and I think their speed will pose serious matchup problems for the Knights. The strength of this Panthers team is their defense, and if they can shutdown FDU on the perimeter, they should easily advance to the round of 64.
- 6-0 ATS in their last 6 games overall
- 12-4 ATS in their last 16 neutral site games
- 3-0-1 ATS in their last 4 games vs. a team with a winning straight up record
- 4-1 in Knights last 5 overall
- 4-1 in Knights last 5 games following a straight up win
- 4-0 in Knights last 4 games following an ATS win
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
I love the Panthers here. I think this Prairie View A&M team was the much more impressive squad down the stretch, and they dominated their conference while FDU was more mixed. The Panthers will shutdown FDU’s three-point shot, which is akin to shutting down their entire team. They’ll cover this spread and win this one outright.
Prediction: Prairie View A & M +1.5
Full-Game Total Pick
I also like the under a lot here. FDU’s defense is so bad, that oddsmakers overreacted and have started making their totals too high. As such, the under is actually 4-1 in their last five games. I think their three-point shooting will go cold in such an intense environment, and this one will be pretty low scoring.