Liberty coach Ritchie McKay, right, waves to the Missouri bench after Missouri’s 69-60 win in an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)
The Liberty Flames (6-4) — the only team in the country in the last three seasons to win its regular season and conference tournament title — take on the East Carolina Pirates (8-2) Friday at the Spectrum Center. Tip off is at 1:30 pm ET on ESPN+.
Liberty enters the contest as slight favorites according to oddsmakers and KenPom predicts the Flames will win 66-64.
|Team||Moneyline||Spread at FanDuel||Total|
|Liberty||-152||-3 (-110)||O 128.5 (-110)|
|East Carolina||+126||+3 (-110)||U 128.5 (-110)|
Odds as of December 16th, 2021.
Prior to the 49-point carving of Carver, Ritchie McKay’s club suffered a 63-51 defeat to Stephen F. Austin that snapped a four-game win streak that included a victory over Missouri. Senior guard Darius McGhee leads the Flames in scoring, averaging 18.8 points per game.
Meantime, Joe Dooley’s club is currently riding a four-game win streak of its own thanks to that 11-point win over the Aggies. Vance Jackson had a season-high 23 points in the win, while JJ Miller added 20 for the Bucs. Miles also grabbed eight rebounds in the win.
Light It Up?
To say the Flames like to slow it down would be a significant understatement. Liberty ranks 348th out of 358 Division I teams in adjusted tempo. But that brand of ball has generally worked, as McKay’s club ranks No. 4 in the country in scoring defense, allowing 54.4 points per game and fourth in defensive 2-point field goal percentage.
— Liberty Men’s Basketball (@LibertyMBB_) December 14, 2021
When you have senior leaders like McGhee and Keegan McDowell on your roster, you can get away with taking the air out of the ball. McDowell is shooting 47.3% from distance this season, good for 19th in all of Division I. He’s put up double figures in seven games this season, already a personal-best for the 6-foot-6 forward from Cincinnati.
Liberty enters Friday’s tilt as the class of the A-Sun, rated 126th overall by KenPom. That’s not saying much though, as the conference is the 22nd-rated league (out of 32) in all of D-1 hoops. But the Flames do have a recent history of success, as one of only eight programs in the country to wins 20-plus games in each of the last five seasons.
Argh Ya Free Friday?
East Carolina features three players averaging in double-digits, let by junior guard Tristan Newton’s 17.8 points per contest. Junior forward Brandon Suggs is putting up 11.2 a game and Jackson is averaging 10.0 an outing. The trio comprise the core of a team that has only lost two games by a combined 14 points.
Somebody call 911, because the Pirate offense is on 🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/cWwF2wykL4
— ECU Men’s Basketball (@ecubasketball) December 8, 2021
Dooley’s team has had a 10-day layoff between its victory over North Carolina A&T and Liberty and scored 45 points in the second half against the Aggies, a season high for the squad. The Pirates are the 158th-rated team overall by KenPom, which puts them in eighth place in the AAC (well behind the likes of Houston, Memphis and Central Florida).
ECU is one of the better 3-point shooting teams in the country, rated 31st in offensive 3-point field goal percentage. The Bucs are also well-above average at defending shots inside the arc, boasting a 49th-best defensive 2-point field goal percentage.
With Liberty’s ability to utterly bring the game to a screeching halt, the under is a tempting play in this spot.
But, based on recent history and senior savvy, I’m lighting it up for the Flames to take care of business in Charlotte.
Pick: Liberty -3 (-110)