Betting the Bubbly SEC, Plus Three Other Pivotal Matchups

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© Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

Today, I’ll take a look at the following six games, which all could potentially have at-large implications.

  • Florida at Alabama -2
  • Missouri at Vanderbilt -1.5
  • Tennessee at Mississippi State -1.5
  • Oklahoma at Baylor -3.5
  • Davidson at St. Bonaventure -2
  • Boise State at San Diego State -3

Follow me on twitter @jorcubsdan for in-game analysis, injury updates, and second half predictions.

Florida at Alabama (-2)

7 p.m. ET

I think the loser of this game is still fine in regards to an at-large bid. However, since the Tide travel to Texas A&M next, they want to avoid ending the regular season on a potential five game losing streak.

In the first meeting, Florida play arguably its worst 20 minutes of basketball under Mike White in the second half. After leading by six at the half, the Gators were outscored 41-17 in the second half en route to an 18-point home loss.

The Gators have a limited offense that relies on the 3-point shot because they can’t manufacture buckets at the rim. Per hoop-math.com, Florida shoots an SEC low 58.8% at the rim. Basically, the Gators lean on Chris Chiozza’s (pictured above) ability to dribble, penetrate, and kick to either Jalen Hudson or Egor Koulechov. Florida’s offense is essentially just a 4 out ball screen motion, which Alabama can effectively limit with all of its perimeter length and athleticism.

Florida is extremely efficient in ball screen defense, particularly Chiozza and KeVaughn Allen. However, Collin Sexton routinely found Donta Hall and Braxton Key wide open on pick and roll sets, and those two shot a combined 11-11. The Tide shoot 68.8% at the rim, the 14th highest mark in the country, which spells trouble for a Florida team that struggles to defend at the rim.

PICK: Alabama -2

Missouri at Vanderbilt (-1.5)

7 p.m. ET

While a road win at Vandy might not sound like a big deal, Missouri can’t afford a loss tonight. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they look like they’re in the midst of a typical Cuonzo Martin late season swoon. With the exception of his Cal team that had Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb, Martin’s teams typically wear down by the end of the year. His teams expend so much energy with their defensive intensity, and Martin typically sticks to just a 7-man rotation. Kassius Robertson has been phenomenal, but he has looked gassed recently, as he’s been forced into way too much ball-handling duty.

With that said, Mizzou is a difficult matchup for Vanderbilt, which allows a league worst 1.17 ppp in SEC play. Opponents have hit at a 44% clip from deep against the Dores, and Missouri is the second best three point shooting team in the league. Vandy’s poor perimeter defense has been the source of its defensive issues all season. Vandy meanwhile chucks the three at the league’s highest rate, but Mizzou’s perimeter rotations are much more taught. I will say Vandy has been an offensive juggernaut at home, scoring 1.20 points ppp in league play (including TCU).

Of course, all the intrigue surrounding this game revolves around whether or not Michael Porter Jr will return. The rumor is he could play 15-20 minutes, but I would be surprised if he has a significant impact.

PICK: Over 142.5

Tennessee at Mississippi State (-1.5)

7 p.m. ET on SECN

I’m not wavering from my position that the Vols are the best team in the SEC. That said, Mississippi State poses a few significant problems tonight.

Tennessee plays extremely physical and active team defense, but that’s precisely the game MSU head coach Ben Howland wants to play. Tennessee also has one of the most prolific post offenses in the country, filtering the ball on the block through Grant Williams and even Admiral Schofield. Teams that have tried to double the Vols in the post have been toasted by the excellent passing capabilities of Williams and Schofield. Both are also outstanding at reading screens within Rick Barnes’ flex offense. However, Howland won’t need to double, as he has two capable rim defenders in Abdul Ado and Aric Holman. As a result, MSU grades out in the 86th percentile nationally in post defense, per Synergy. MSU is also an excellent ball screen defense, thanks to the Weatherspoon brothers.

While the Bulldogs can matchup on defense, they should struggle on offense. The Vols have the fourth most efficient defense in the country, but have struggled against long athletes in the post like Donta Hall of Alabama and Yante Maten of Georgia. However, Howland doesn’t run much offense through the post, as Holman is a rim facing big and Ado has an inefficient offensive game. This game probably plays out incredibly similarly to MSU’s Saturday’s must-win tilt with a physical South Carolina team, which the Bulldogs pulled out in OT in a grinder.

PICK: Under 138

Oklahoma at Baylor (-3.5)

9 p.m. ET on ESPN2

Neither defense matches up well with the opposing offense. Not surprisingly, these two basically played to a draw in Norman, with a total of 194 points and 27-51 shooting from deep in regulation.

At this point, teams have proven you can contain Trae Young in one of two ways:

  1. Hedge ball screens extremely hard or
  2. Blitz him with quick, versatile big men to stop his momentum and force the ball out of his hands.

Baylor can’t do either. Young went for 44 and 9 in the first meeting, while also finding Brady Manek for four triples. Manek showed signs of busting out of his shooting slump in the Kansas State win, which is a good omen for OU tonight.

The Sooners didn’t do much to slow down Baylor either, as they allowed 1.22 ppp on 15-29 shooting from deep. OU’s defense has been a sieve all year, but Drew was forced to go small to match the Sooners’ speed in the first meeting. That meant TJ Maston was relegated to the bench in favor of Tristan Clark, who really isn’t comfortable playing fast. It will be interesting to see if Drew follows that same game plan on Maston’s Senior Night in Waco. The Sooners can’t defend both Maston and Jo Lual-Acuil in the paint, but that lineup can’t defend OU on the perimeter.

PICK: Oklahoma +3.5, Over 155

Davidson at St. Bonaventure (-2)

9 p.m. ET on CBSS

The Bonnies, who are still in must-win mode in terms of securing an at-large bid, have an extremely difficult game with Davidson at the Reilly Center tonight. Despite the fact that SBU scored 1.12 ppp and got 43 points from guards Jay Adams and Matt Mobley, it was completely outclassed by Bob McKillop’s legendary motion offense. Davidson scored 1.28 ppp, thanks to 14-33 shooting from 3 and only six two point misses.

The Bonnies are an extremely good pick and roll defense, which is utterly useless against McKillop’s offense. SBU simply doesn’t have the personnel to guard Peyton Aldridge’s outside-in game in any scheme (especially the 1-3-1 zone it has frequently employed). Since the Bonnies can’t guard Davidson in man or zone, they simply must hope Davidson has an off-shooting night.

The Bonnies shoot the three at 40% in league play, and McKillop has shockingly gone to a 2-3 zone base defense. On paper, that’s a great matchup for SBU, but its lethal perimeter shooting is borne from penetration, which the zone can slow down.

This is a favorable matchup for Davidson on both sides of the ball. Plus, Bona won’t have the luxury of an electric crowd at the Reilly Center, as the students are on spring break.

PICK: Davidson +2

Boise State at San Diego State (-3)

11 p.m ET on CBSS

While Boise State has the No. 2 seed locked up in the MWC tournament, it still has an outside chance of an at-large bid, while the Aztecs are battling Wyoming for the final bye.

SDSU simply couldn’t defend Chandler Hutchison in the first meeting. Brian Dutcher put his best defender in Trey Kell on the Bronco stud, but Hutchison still scored a cool 44 points on 15-21 shooting. Dutcher even tried to zone the Broncos, which of course quickly backfired. BSU finished the game at  1.26 ppp, including 14-28 shooting from deep. Despite the offensive outburst from Boise, SDSU still had a chance to steal a win at the always difficult Taco Bell Arena. The Aztecs actually held a late second half lead, while scoring 1.21 ppp themselves.

In that game, SDSU dominated the less athletic Boise defense at the rim. However, a lot of that interior offense came via Malik Pope, whose status is up in the air tonight. He was caught up in the ongoing FBI investigation, but has recently returned to practice (I personally think he suits up).

Even if Pope remains suspended, frosh big man Jalen McDaniels has been a force in the post of late. He could actually present an even more difficult challenge for a porous Boise State post defense (16th percentile nationally, per Synergy). While there wasn’t a whole lot of misses in the first meeting, SDSU was effective on putbacks against the league’s top rated defensive rebounding team. The Aztecs do lead the conference in offensive rebounding rate.

SDSU has been on fire at Viejas of late, scoring 1.34 ppp over its last four home games (albeit against bottom half MWC defenses). It should get its revenge by dominating at the rim again tonight.

PICK: SDSU -3

 

Photo via Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports