Mercer Bears vs. UNC-Greensboro Spartans
Monday, February 8th, 2020 – 7:00 PM ET at Allen Fieldhouse
● Mercer Bears: 18-10
● UNC-Greensboro Spartans: 20-8
Stakes of the Matchup
On Monday night, Mercer faces UNC-Greensboro in the Southern Conference Championship Final. Most Southern Conference games are inconsequential, as only one team will typically make the NCAA Tournament. There are ten southern conference teams, and usually, only the conference champion gets a tournament invitation. That is because the Southern Conference is ranked as the 13th strongest conference out of 32 conferences according to basketball analytics website KenPom. To make it to the NCAA tournament, teams must either win their conference or make it as an at-large team. Typically, teams in weaker conferences like the Southern Conference do not have teams good enough to make the tournament on their own merits as an at-large team.
There are 68 teams that make the NCAA Tournament, and UNCG is rated as the 102nd best team in the country, and Mercer is rated as the 127th best program according to KenPom’s ratings. The Spartans who are widely projected to win Monday’s championship game are projected to make the tournament as a 13th seed according to Jerry Palm of CBS Sports.
Currently, UNCG has a 20-8 overall record, while Mercer is 18-10. In conference play, the Spartans led the Southern Conference with a 13-5 record, while the Bears had an 8-9 losing record. That is part of the reason why UNCG is favored to win by five points despite having a nearly identical overall record to Mercer.
How UNCG and Mercer Match Up
Despite having a losing record in conference play, KenPom ranks Mercer as the 127th best team in the country, while UNCG is the 102nd best. The Spartans have an average scoring margin of +6.1 points, while Mercer wins their games by a nearly identical 5.4 points on average. In addition to both teams being nearly equal in strength, both teams play at the same moderate tempo on offense. What is going to decide the game is how well Mercer’s offense does against UNC-Greensboro’s defense.
Mercer has the best adjusted defensive efficiency in the Southern Conference and the 77th best in college basketball. Mercer has the 3rd best adjusted offensive efficiency in the Southern Conference and the 100th best in the country. Against the best offense in the conference during the regular season Furman, UNCG split the season series 1-1. Against the second-best offense in the conference in VMI, the Spartans split that season series as well 1-1. UNC-Greensboro has been dominant on defense all season, but they have had trouble against strong offensive teams like Mercer despite beating Mercer in both of their regular-season games.
Monday night’s game will be much closer than the spread suggests. Mercer as a five-point underdog would cover the spread even if they lose 72-69 as KenPom projects. UNCG may win, but they are going to have a tough time handily beating a formidable Mercer team.
While I really like the Bears to cover the spread as five-point underdogs, I like them, even more, to win outright as +170 moneyline underdogs. To break even on Mercer’s +170 moneyline odds, Mercer must have a 37% chance of winning. According to KenPom, Mercer has a 41% chance, and I believe those projections are too conservative. Based on Mercer’s offensive strength, I believe that they will give UNCG a run for their money and might even win. If they do not win, it will be one of those epic conference championship games that comes down to the last minute. That is why I am backing both Mercer to cover a five-point spread and to win outright as the +170 underdog on PointsBet.
College Basketball Pick: Mercer Bears Spread +5 (-110) at PointsBet & Mercer Bears Moneyline +170 at PointsBet