NCAA Tournament odds: No. 14 Northwestern State vs. No. 3 Florida

If you go simply by advanced metrics, the University of Florida is the best team in the country, ranking in the Top 5 in offensive and defensive efficiency. But all of Florida’s losses have been in close games, meaning UF could be vulnerable Friday in Austin. UF opened as a 20.5-point favorite on Check our current lines.

Northwestern State beat regular-season champion Stephen F. Austin in the Southland Tournament final. Shamir Davis scored 19 points, DeQuan Hicks added 13 points and made the last-second steal that clinched it. The Demons (23-8) earned their first NCAA tournament invitation since 2006 and their third overall.

The Demons led the nation in scoring for a reason. They have four players who average double figures and rotate 10 players who see at least 15 minutes per game. With so many fresh legs and scoring options, the Demons hit the 90-point plateau eight times this season. Hicks has come off the bench for much of the season, but that hasn’t stopped him from pouring in 14.1 PPG in only 20.1 minutes per game. He also pulls down 5.8 boards per game, the second-highest tally on the squad. The team isn’t good on defense, allowing more than 71 PPG. In most of their losses, they had trouble putting the ball in the basket, and their defense was unable to pick them up.

The Demons won an opening round NCAA Tournament game over Winthrop in 2001 in Dayton, Ohio, before falling to Illinois. In 2006, 14th-seeded NSU stunned No. 3-seed Iowa, the nation’s No. 15-ranked team, 64-63 in Auburn Hills, Mich., before falling in the round of 32 to West Virginia.

Florida won the SEC regular-season title but has dropped two of its past four games after being upset by Ole Miss in the conference tournament championship game. With their 3-point loss to Ole Miss in that game, the Gators remain winless in games decided by less than 10 points this season. Florida is 0-6 in games decided by single digits this season and have lost their last eight contests decided by less than 10 points going back to last season. The Gators’ last win in a game decided by less than 10 points was a 66-63 over Alabama during last year’s SEC Tournament (March 9, 2012).

This team has firepower. Eight players average between 5.5 and 12.5 points per game. There are five legitimate 3-point shooters, including two game breakers, Erik Murphy and Michael Frazier II. And there’s size in the post. Erik Murphy has the best package of skills on a team loaded with talent. He’s become a true inside-outside player. At 6-foot-10, he shoots .466 from 3-point range, which led the SEC, but he’s also improved his post game. Murphy also shoots free throws at an 82.5 percent clip.

UF has played suffocating defense this season, holding four opponents to 40 points or fewer, 12 under 50 points and 23 under 60 points. Florida ranks third in the country in scoring defense, allowing 53.7 points per game and is second with a +17.9 scoring margin. The Gators have never faced Northwestern State in program history.• Florida is 4-0 all-time against current Southland Conference teams, including 1-0 in NCAA Tournament play. trends: Demons are 5-2 ATS in their last 7 games vs. a team with a winning S.U. record. Demons are 2-5 ATS in their last 7 Friday games. Demons are 1-5 ATS in their last 6 non-conference games. Gators are 16-5 ATS in their last 21 NCAA Tournament games. Gators are 2-7 ATS in their last 9 games overall. Gators are 1-4 ATS in their last 5 games following a S.U. loss. Gators are 1-4 ATS in their last 5 neutral site games.


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