Villanova and Liberty will meet Tuesday night in the first round of the NIT, with the Flames opening up as a -1.5 point favorite. This line has since climbed to 3 despite Liberty getting just 36% of the bets at Fanduel. The reverse line movement is a small indicator of Liberty being a sharp play.
No Wright Is So Wrong
This isn’t the Villanova of old. In the Wildcats’ first year without coach Jay Wright, Villanova failed to make the NCAA tournament. They finished just 17-16 on the year, missing Justin Moore and Cam Whitmore for parts of the season. There is potential for both of them to miss this game, Moore with a leg injury and Whitemore with an eye injury.
Both players are unsure of their future with the program. Moore has a year of eligibility left due to COVID that he may choose to spend elsewhere. He was brought in to play under Jay Wright alongside this core group, none of which will be there next year.
As for Whitemore, he is a first-year Freshman with a ton of NBA upside, and I can easily see him bypassing this game for “precautionary” reasons to focus on the draft. Both players are “game-time decisions” for Tuesday night’s contest. Without Moore and Whitmore, Villanova is arguably missing their two best players.
Caleb Williams and Eric Dixon may be the teams leading scores, but a big part of that is a result of the circumstances around Moore and Whitmore, who missed a portion of the season due to injury. All in all, it has been a very disappointing season for Villanova, and I question the level of effort they will have in this game.
Favored for a Reason
The Flames, meanwhile, were an NCAA tournament-caliber team this year, falling just short in the ASUN championship game, where they lost to Kennesaw State by a point. Liberty had a great year winning 26 games and being led by Senior Point Guard Darius McGhee, who averaged 22.5 points per game this year.
Flaming Hot at Home
Villanova does not grade out very well away from their home floor. Villanova went just 5-8 on the road this year in comparison to 10-4 at home. The Flames, meanwhile, were on fire at home, going 18-1 on their home floor and covering over 70% of their games at the Vines Center. Liberty won by an average of 19 points per game on their home floor, outscoring their opponents 76-57.
These teams grade out fairly even in a lot of metrics, but Liberty still holds an edge. In Kenpom, Liberty (48) comes in six spots ahead of the Wildcats (54). In large part due to Villanova’s 90th-ranked defense. Liberty’s offense ranks 50th nationally, according to Kenpom, coming in ahead of TCU, Kansas State, and Arkansas.
Liberty shoots nearly 38% from three as a team, and four of their five starters are north of 38% from beyond the arc. The Flames and Darius Mcghee should win this game. In the very real chance that Whitmore and Moore are out, I see this number only getting larger; take Liberty on the moneyline -150.