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Free Sports Pick: Penn State, Utah Clash in NIT Championship Game

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On Thursday, Oskeim has decided to release a free sports pick on tonight’s NIT Championship game between Penn State and Utah.  Oskeim recommends taking the Utes plus the points as today’s free sports pick.

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My math model favors Penn State by 3.8 points and the Utes apply to a very good 72-32 ATS system that invests on certain .600 or greater underdogs of 3.5 to 9.5 points that have easily covered the spread in their previous three games.

The Utes fall squarely within this situation as they covered their previous three games by a combined 41 points. In fact, Utah arrives in the NIT Championship game following back-to-back upset wins over St. Mary’s (67-58; 6-point underdog) and Western Kentucky (69-64; 2-point underdog).

Utah’s success begins at the defensive end of the floor where it is allowing 68.1 points per game to teams that would combine to average 75.6 points per game against a mediocre defense.

More importantly, the Utes have yielded just 64.0 points on 39.2 percent shooting from the field in their last five games. Utah’s defense will be challenged by a suddenly resurgent Penn State attack that has scored 1.15 points per possession in this tournament.

Part of that efficiency is due to the positive variance surrounding Shep Garner, who has converted 17-of-33 from beyond the arc (which is unlikely to continue). Indeed, Utah’s zone defense extends out to the three-point line where it’s limiting opponents to 31.0 percent shooting in postseason play.

Utah head coach Larry Krystowiak saved Utah’s season by switching to the base zone defense earlier this year.

Krystowiak’s zone has made it difficult for opponents to score inside, which poses a significant problem for a Penn State squad that is ranked in the 57th percentile nationally in zone offense. Utah’s zone has not allowed over 1 point per possession in its previous four tournament affairs.

Overall, Penn State’s offense has been 4.0 points per game better than average in 2017-18, but the Nittany Lions are only averaging 73.2 points on 42.4 percent shooting from the field in their last five games.

Utah is ranked 42nd in the nation in opponent effective field goal percentage (47.9), 46th in 2-point percentage (46.5), 36th in opponent shooting percentage (41.5) and 43rd in opponent shooting efficiency (1.032).

A key factor in tonight’s championship game could be the charity stripe. Specifically, Utah is 39th in the country in free throw percentage (76.0), whereas the Nittany Lions are 231st (70.0).

The Utes are 10th nationally in opponent personal fouls per play (25.9%) and 61st in opponent personal fouls per game (19.6). From a technical standpoint, Utah is a profitable 14-6 ATS following one or more consecutive wins and 4-1-1 ATS in its last six games versus .501 or greater opposition.

In what should be a methodical game defined by both defenses (Utah ranks 320th in average possession length), grab the inflated number with the Utes as Oskeim Sports’ free sports pick for Thursday, March 29.

Oskeim’s Free Sports Pick for Thursday, March 29:

  • Utah (+4.5) (-110) over Penn State