**Liberty vs. North Carolina A&T**
--As of late this morning, most books were listing North Carolina A&T (19-16 straight up, 7-0 against the spread) as a 2.5-point favorite with the total in the 126-127 range.
--North Carolina A&T is back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1995 when it lost to Wake Forest in a first-round game. The Aggies won the MEAC Tournament by beating Morgan St. 57-54 as four-point underdogs. The 111 combined points stayed ‘under’ the 122-point total. Adrian Powell scored a team-high 14 points for the Aggies.
--North Carolina A&T is a perfect 3-0 ATS as a single-digit favorite. The Aggies faced two teams in the NCAA field this year, losing 93-39 at Cincinnati and falling 86-57 at Iowa St. in a pair of non-lined contests.
--Liberty (15-20 SU, 5-3 ATS) is only the second team in NCAA Tourney history to make the field with 20 losses, joining the 2008 Coppin St. squad. The Flames lost their first eight games this season, but they have won five in a row and captured the Big South Tournament title with an 87-76 victory over Charleston Southern as 7.5-point underdogs. John Caleb Sanders was the catalyst with 27 points, seven rebounds and four assists compared to only one turnover.
--Liberty is led in scoring by Sanders, who averages a team-high 13.8 points per game. The Flames probably played their best game on Nov. 14 at Georgetown, losing a 68-59 decision in a non-lined affair. Even though the Hoyas shot 50 percent from the field and went to the free-throw line 26 times compared to Liberty’s nine attempts from the charity stripe, the Flames stayed close by draining 11-of-20 from 3-point land.
--Liberty has an RPI of 289. Georgetown and Iona (87-69 road loss) were the Flames’ only games against schools in the NCAA field, but they played two other RPI Top 100 opponents. They lost 84-42 at Richmond and dropped a 74-56 decision to So. Miss on a neutral court.
--North Carolina A&T has an RPI of 214. The Aggies got their best win on Dec. 19 when they beat Eastern Kentucky (RPI: 66) 78-67 at home. Powell finished with 16 points and eight rebounds.
--With a hat tip to USA Today, Liberty has a pair of notable alumni in ESPN’s Samantha Ponder and former Pittsburgh Pirates and Atlanta Braves first baseman, Sid Bream.
--The ‘over’ is 4-1 overall for Liberty.
--The ‘under’ is 3-2 overall for the Aggies.
--Tip-off is scheduled for 6:40 p.m. Eastern on TruTV in Dayton, Ohio.
**Saint Mary’s vs. Middle Tennessee**
--As of late this morning, most spots had Saint Mary’s (27-6 SU, 15-14-1 ATS) installed as a three-point ‘chalk’ with a total of 132. The Blue Raiders are +140 on the money line (risk $100 to win $140).
--Saint Mary’s has been a single-digit favorite 10 times, posting a 5-5 spread record.
--Randy Bennett led the Gaels to the Sweet 16 several years ago, but they lost a first-round game to Purdue last year. Matthew Dellavedova is this team’s senior point guard and one of the best players in WCC history. He averages 16.5 points, 6.2 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game. His leaning buzzer beater to propel the Gales to a win at BYU was probably the difference in this squad getting an at-large bid.
--Saint Mary’s had won six in a row before losing 65-51 to Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament finals. The Gaels lost to the ‘Zags three times and their other three defeats came at No. Iowa and to Georgia Tech and Pacific on a neutral court at a tournament in November.
--Middle Tennessee (28-5 SU, 14-14-1 ATS) lost 61-57 to Florida International as a 13.5-point favorite in the Sun Belt Tournament semifinals, prompting a long week of angst in Murfreesboro. The Blue Raiders had just one win over an RPI Top 100 foe with 65-62 win over Ole Miss. However, they had the nation’s sixth-best non-conference strength of schedule based on playing at Akron (82-77 loss in overtime), at Belmont (64-49 loss) and vs. Florida (66-45 defeat) in Tampa. Kermit Davis’s team won 75-61 at UCF, beat UAB 84-64 at home and knocked off Vandy 56-52 on a neutral floor.
--Middle Tennessee has been an underdog four times, going 1-3 ATS. The Blue Raiders, who had won 17 in a row until the loss to FIU, are 28th in the RPI Rankings.
--The ‘over’ is on a 7-3 run for Middle Tennessee to improve to 11-9 overall.
--Davis’s top assistant is Monte Towe, the former head assistant at the University of Florida under Norm Sloan in the 1980s. Towe was the floor general and starting point guard for the 1974 North Carolina St. team that won the national championship.
--The ‘under’ is 13-11 overall for Saint Mary’s.
--TruTV will have the telecast 30 minutes after the conclusion of Liberty-NC A&T.
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
--Two of tonight’s CBI games have been postponed until Wednesday: North Dakota at Northern Iowa and Fairfield at Kent St.
--Iowa will play host to Indiana St. in the NIT on Wednesday. The Hawkeyes, who are favored by 12.5, have posted a 5-2 spread record in seven games as double-digit favorites this year. The Sycamores slumped down the stretch, limping to a 1-8 ATS mark in their last nine games. However, they went 6-2 ATS in eight games as underdogs of 7.5 points or more. ESPN2 will have television coverage at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.
--Maryland will host Niagara tonight in the NIT at 7:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2. The total is in the 148-149 range.
--Kentucky is a 3.5-point favorite tonight at Robert Morris on ESPN at 7:30 p.m. Eastern The Wildcats, the defending national champs who are a No. 1 seed in the NIT, will get the winner of Providence-Charlotte is they advance.
--Alabama will take on Northeastern tonight in a 1/8 NIT matchup at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide is favored by 11 or 11.5 with a total of 129.5. The 'over' is on a 6-0-3 run for the Huskies in their last nine games, but the 'under' is 20-7 overall for 'Bama.
Brian Edwards can be reached at email@example.com.
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