Predicting Tuesday’s NCAA Tourney Play-In Games
© Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Time to find out what channel TruTV is on again. The tournament technically starts today (please don’t call it the first round) with the following two play-in games in Dayton, Ohio.
- LIU Brooklyn vs Radford -4.5 (6:40 p.m. ET | TRUtv)
- St. Bonaventure vs. UCLA -3.5 (9:10 p.m. ET | TRUtv)
The first matchup will decide who has the right to lose to Villanova, while the winner of the second could make a little noise, starting with Florida in the real first round. Let’s dive into both matchups to see which teams have the advantage tonight.
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LIU Brooklyn vs Radford -4.5 | O/U: 138
6:40 p.m. ET | TruTV
The first No. 16 seed play-in game features two teams that extend full-court pressure, but with different motives. LIU presses to turn defense into transition offense, while Radford presses to slow down opposing offenses. Radford ultimately wants opposing teams to burn up the shot clock before getting into a half-court set. That’s not to say Radford doesn’t generate turnovers, as it actually has a substantially higher turnover rate than LIU.
I will say that LIU runs a far more efficient press offense than Radford, as LIU head coach Derek Kellogg can put three ball handlers on the floor simultaneously with the guard trio of Joel Hernandez, Jashaun Agosto and Julian Batts.
LIU doesn’t do anything particularly well on the defensive end, but 6-foot-7 forward Zach Coleman can at least stay with Radford’s best player, forward Ed Polite, whose inside-out versatility caused problems for almost every Big South team. Having said that, I just don’t see how LIU will defend Radford point guard Carlick Jones in ball screens. (Jones made the game-winning 3 at the buzzer in the conference championship). Julian Batts plays solid press defense and will gamble for steals, but he struggles defending in man-to-man. Jones should break down LIU’s defense routinely in the halfcourt.
I ultimately think Radford wins this game by dictating tempo, turning this into a half-court contest, where Polite, Jones and senior center Randy Phillips will have the advantage. Like Kellogg’s teams at UMass, the Blackbirds have a much less potent offense when forced to execute in the halfcourt, which we should see tonight. Radford’s defense ranks in the top 40 nationally in terms of denying transition opportunities.
THE PICK: Radford -4.5
St. Bonaventure vs UCLA -3.5 | O/U: 154.5
9:10 p.m. ET | TruTV
My primary concern with the Bonnies in this matchup is their total lack of front-court height. While 6-foot-6 LaDarien Griffin has mostly played out of his mind as an undersized 5, UCLA will present a different kind of test with 7-foot center Thomas Welsh, 6-foot-11 forward GG Goloman, and 6-foot-8 guard Kris Wilkes.
Additionally, the status of injured St. Bonaventure forward Courtney Stockard (hamstring) is of vital importance. The Tuesday draw doesn’t give him a lot of recovery time. (He did practice on Monday and should give it a go). While raw points per possession comparisons certainly have some inherent flaws, the Bonnies have performed 13 points per 100 possessions better in A-10 play with Stockard on the floor. Not only is his length key at the top of head coach Mark Schmidt’s 1-3-1 zone defense, but he’s the only legitimate third scoring option to complement guards Jay Adams and Matt Mobley. Stockard’s length masks a lot of the Bonnie’s defensive deficiencies, which allows Schmidt to go small with Griffin at the 5. If Schmidt has to play a bigger lineup with center Amadi Ikpeze, the Bonnies won’t have the firepower to keep up with the UCLA offense.
UCLA will run a lot of 3-2 zone on the defensive end. While the Bonnies have been a decent zone offense, they prefer to create mismatches with Mobley and Adams in pick and roll. Steve Alford primarily runs a zone in order to protect his bigs from being exposed in pick-and-roll defense. St. Bonaventure also relies heavily on getting to the stripe, but the Bruins don’t foul much in their base zone. The Bonnies did shoot an A-10 best 40.4% from deep, which means they could potentially shoot UCLA out of its zone. However, much of their 3-point success was borne from Mobley and Adams penetrating to force defenders to help off the arc.
Offensively, UCLA guard Aaron Holiday (pictured above) is one of the best players in the entire tournament. He has been absolutely dominant of late running Alford’s transition-heavy offense. Alford’s in-game management catches a fair amount of flak, but there’s no denying he’s an offensive guru. The Bonnies will struggle all night to defend UCLA in transition. Although they allow transition attempts at the 16th-lowest rate in the country, per hoop-math.com, only Pitt and Pepperdine had less efficient transition defenses. I don’t think they can keep Holiday out of the break. Additionally, UCLA’s mobile bigs Welsh and Wilkes can shred Schmidt’s 1-3-1 zone.
How important is the Bonnies’ familiarity with Dayton Arena? Not nearly important enough to make up for Stockard’s potential absence or their lack of height in the frontcourt.
THE PICK: UCLA -3.5
Editor’s note: The opinion on these games is from the individual writer and is based on his research, analysis and perspective. It is independent of, and may not always match with, the algorithm-driven Best Bets from Sports Insights
Photo credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports