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No. 8 seed Eastern Kentucky will face No. 9 seed Cleveland State in the first round of the CBI Tournament in Daytona Beach on Sunday morning. The Colonels came up short of the NCAA Tournament when they lost to Liberty in the Atlantic Sun Tournament earlier this month. Cleveland State had its Big Dance hopes dashed in a loss to Northern Kentucky in the semifinals of the Horizon League Tournament.
Colonels hoping for improved shootingEastern Kentucky put together a solid season in the Atlantic Sun, going 12-6 in conference play to finish in third place behind Liberty and Kennesaw State. The Colonels had their NCAA Tournament chances come crashing down in a loss to Liberty in the conference tournament, but they covered the 12.5-point spread in the 79-73 final. They were ultimately unable to overcome 29 points from Liberty’s Darius McGhee, who was the conference player of the year. Eastern Kentucky was able to extend its season by accepting an invite to this event, though.
.@devontaeblanton makes it a 3-point game late pic.twitter.com/l8AxQHz07E— EKUHoops (@EKUHoops) March 3, 2023
The Colonels have been struggling to shoot the ball with consistency throughout the season, ranked No. 305 in effective field goal percentage. They are shooting 31.5% from 3-point range, 47.8% from inside the arc and 65.1% at the charity stripe. Eastern Kentucky has been able to salvage some of its possessions with a low turnover rate and a high offensive rebounding percentage. It is facing a Cleveland State defense that is No. 73 in effective field goal percentage and No. 58 in turnover rate. The Vikings are No. 358 on the defensive boards, though. Junior guard Devontae Blanton leads Eastern Kentucky with 16.6 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. Junior forward Michael Moreno is also in double figures with 11.5 points and 6.5 rebounds.
Vikings barely miss out on NCAA TournamentCleveland State was one of the top teams in the Horizon League throughout the campaign, winning eight games in a nine-game stretch from the end of January to the end of February. The Vikings opened the conference tournament with a 93-80 win over Milwaukee in the semifinals before losing to Northern Kentucky by two points in the championship. The Norse punched the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament by taking the lead with less than 14 minutes remaining and never trailing again. They were unable to cover the spread as 2.5-point favorites, though. Cleveland State scored twice in the final 10 seconds, but the shot that covered the spread came with just 0.2 seconds remaining.
CLE ✈️ MCO— Cleveland State Men’s Basketball 🏀 (@csu_basketball) March 17, 2023
We have arrived in Orlando! Time to get to work @CBITourney #HEART | #GoVikes pic.twitter.com/ntJ0ttUI9Y
The Vikings have not been a hot-shooting team this season either, ranked No. 227 in effective field goal percentage (49.5). They are particularly bad from the perimeter, listed at No. 334 in 3-point percentage (30.8). Cleveland State has struggled at the charity stripe as well, ranked No. 296 (68.5). The Vikings have excelled on the offensive glass (No. 15) and have a low turnover rate. They are facing an Eastern Kentucky defense that is No. 121 in field goal percentage. Junior forward Tristan Enaruna leads Cleveland State with 15.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, while junior guard Tae Williams is chipping in 11.0 points and 6.0 boards.
Best Bets for this Game
Full-Game Side Bet
Part of picking these tournament games is evaluating the strength of the conferences that each team competes in, which is one factor pointing me to Cleveland State on Sunday. The Vikings played in a tougher conference overall, and they have a big size advantage in that matchup. They rank No. 151 in average height, while Eastern Kentucky is No. 308. Cleveland State has been terrific on the offensive glass and has better shooting numbers than Eastern Kentucky overall, and I do not expect that to change given the height advantage. The Colonels have only covered the spread once in their last seven Sunday games.
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Full-Game Total Pick
The poor shooting numbers might steer some bettors to the under in this game, but I think the offensive rebounding stats are underrated. Both teams have been attacking the glass throughout the year, and neither team has great defensive rebounding numbers. There should be plenty of second chances in this matchup, which will do a lot to boost the overall scoring. Eastern Kentucky loves to push the pace as well, ranked No. 67 in tempo. The Colonels are able to do that without turning the ball over very often, giving them plenty of quick shot attempts. Cleveland State has gone over in four of its last five games, and I expect that to continue Sunday morning.