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First Four Betting Preview: Back Drake to Bulldog Their Way Into the Big Dance

March Madness kicks off this Thursday when Drake and Wichita State battle for the West Region’s #11 seed.

Drake Wichita State Betting
Photo: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

Game Information:

  • Date: Thursday, March 18th
  • Time: 5:27 pm CST
  • TV: TBS
  • Location: Mackey Arena – West Lafayette, IN

Breakdown

DrakeWichita State
Season Record25-4 (15-3, 2nd in MVC)16-5 (11-2, 1st in AAC)
Current Line (www.BetRivers.com)-1.5 (-112)+1.5 (-108)
Public Trend: Bet %30%70%
Public Trend Money %78%22%
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TEAM PREVIEWS

DRAKE

The Drake Bulldogs were one of college basketball’s biggest surprises in 2021, garnering national attention after starting the season with 18 straight wins before finally losing to Valparaiso in the second of back-to-back road battles at the ARC. On the season, Drake recorded a combined 6-2 record against Quad 1 and 2 teams.

Drake briefly broke into the top 25 in early February and spent one week at #25 before that aforementioned road trip before falling back out a week later. It was their first top 25 ranking since the 2007-08 season when they topped out at #14. This will be Drake’s first NCAA tournament appearance since that same season where they entered as a #5 seed only to be bounced in the first round by #12 Western Kentucky. You can bet Bulldog fans still have a chip on their shoulder regarding that one.

The 2020-21 Bulldogs feature a high-scoring offense, leading the Missouri Valley Conference with 77.4 PPG and a .494 FG%. Their only problem… injuries. Shortly after tearing through the first 18 games of the season, Drake lost their top assist guy in Roman Penn for the remainder of the season due to a foot injury. They also played the final nine games of the season without their leading scorer and rebounder in ShanQuan Hemphill, who does appear to be on track to play.

Some may question whether that time off with hurt Hemphill, but my response to that… this is the NCAA tournament, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for some of these guys. He will find a way to be ready.

The only silver lining surrounding Hemphill’s injury was that it provided sophomore Joseph Yesufu more than a chance to shine. He IMMEDIATELY stepped in and averaged a cool 23 points in 36 minutes per game during Hemphill’s absence.

Drake ended their season with a loss in the MVC championship to the eventual #8 seed Loyola Ramblers.

WICHITA STATE

First-year coach Isaac Brown has the AAC regular-season champion Shockers back in the big dance (kinda) after the team missed the tournament completely in 2018-19 and had their 2019-20 hopes snuffed out due to COVID. This is a good Wichita State team getting a lot of love from public bettors, but these aren’t the Shockers who earned five top-ten tournament seeds over the past ten seasons.

Wichita State scored 72.4 points per game this season, which ranked third in the AAC behind Houston and SMU. They also allowed 67.4 points per game on the other end of the court. The team never cracked the top 25.

In their defense, the Shockers certainly played a tougher schedule than the Bulldogs with tough early-season matchups against Missouri and Oklahoma State and a conference that included eventual #2 seed Houston. Wichita State did split the season series with the Cougars after a 68-63 win at home on February 18th. Their pre-dance season ended with a heartbreaking one-point loss to Cincinnati in the semifinals of the AAC tournament.

This team can certainly shoot the three-ball, and they do just that by averaging over 24 attempts per game from beyond the arc. Wichita State is spearheaded by 2020-21 AAC Player of the Year, Tyson Etienne, who averaged 17 points per game this season. Etienne is a force on the perimeter but also has the ability to penetrate and get to the line, part of the reason Wichita State averaged just shy of 22 free throw attempts per game.

Feeding Etienne along with 6-foot-8 center Morris Udeze is All-AAC guard and UCONN transfer, Alterique Gilbert, who averaged 4.1 assists per game while adding ten-plus points.

My concern with this team lies in its depth. Other than Etienne and Gilbert, no other player averaged double-digit points this season and the dropoff in scoring beyond the starting five is significant.

SUMMARY

This is a good matchup and I think Vegas is right in predicting a close one. But in the end, I’m going with Drake to cover the spread. The return of Hemphill is a major shot in the arm for this Bulldog team, and that’s saying something considering the way Yesufu seamlessly filled in during his absence. The confidence he gained during that stretch makes this already deep team even deeper in terms of quality play. Drake will need to find a way to contain Etienne and play a clean game to keep Wichita State off the charity stripe while avoiding foul trouble. If either of these things don’t happen, there could be trouble for the Bulldogs.

These two teams are battling for their lives. Nerves will be HIGH and adrenaline will be pumping, and I think that bodes well for teams that rely less on the three-ball, which we all know can be quite fickle. Ultimately I’m riding with the deeper and more well-rounded team in this matchup.

Don’t just take my word for it though; look at the discrepancy between public bet % and money % in the above breakdown. Sharps are backing Drake as well. ALWAYS. FOLLOW. THE MONEY!!! I see this line climbing to Drake -2, and I may even wait until that happens, hoping the odds fall to -110 along with it.

PICK: DRAKE -1.5 (will play up to -2)

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