Minnesota @ Providence
The biggest concern for PC has to be their young and shorthanded frontcourt taking on Jordan Murphy and Reggie Lynch. Murphy put up a pedestrian 35 and 14 in the opener against USC Upstate, but I’m sure Ed Cooley has noticed on tape that the Gopher guards struggled with an Upstate matchup zone that doesn’t have the length or perimeter talent that the Friars can throw out in a similar scheme. NCAA Tournament game at the Dunk tonight.
PICK: Minnesota +2
Eastern Kentucky @ Ole Miss
I was impressed by Ole Miss against ULL on Friday night, particularly the defense from the frontcourt against a highly athletic duo of Bryce Washington and Jakeenan Gant. Andy Kennedy isn’t really looking for offense from his 7-foot Drake transfer or from Furmanavicius, he’s just looking for someone to clog up the lane defensively, and the addition of Markel Crawford allows Ole Miss to improve dramatically on defensive switches and rotations. The backcourt firepower at Kennedy’s disposal is top notch, and that is evidenced by the fact that Deandre Burnett comes off the bench now. Plus, Devontae Shuler looks like a star in the making as a freshman off the bench. EKU has a very good 1-5 duo in Asante Gist and Nick Mayo, but they’re a team that needs a little more time for Jackson Davis to get healthy before I think they realize their potential.
PICK: Ole Miss -16
Old Dominion @ James Madison
So much for Jeff Jones’ up-tempo talk in the preseason. The Monarchs played their typical grinder style en route to a tough win over Towson in a 63-possession game. JMU, meanwhile, is a wait and see type of team with 11 new faces on the roster, three of which are starting in Gerron Scissum, Stuckey Mosley and Develle Phillips – all D1 transfers. Two freshmen wings, Matt Lewis and Darius Banks, are the first two off the bench for Lou Rowe. ODU doesn’t have much depth compared to JMU, so the Dukes will send waves of bodies at Stith and Porter in the frontcourt. Like I said, JMU is an unknown at this point, but on paper, they’re more talented and athletic than last year’s squad; they’re probably more cohesive as well as as the roster starts to populate with more Rowe guys rather than Brady guys.
PICK: James Madison +5
La Salle @ Penn
I’m not going to glean too much from La Salle’s defense against St. Peter’s, as the Peacocks project as one of the worst offenses in the country. Meanwhile, I’m not going to glean too much from Penn’s offense after they couldn’t get a 3-pointer to fall against Fairfield. Can La Salle guard A.J. Brodeur, especially when Donahue goes to two bigs? Probably not. Can Penn guard B.J. Johnson on the wing? Also probably not.
PICK: Penn +2
South Dakota @ Bowling Green
This is a different BGSU team than USD saw last year. They’re much more athletic, even without Lillard for now, and they have an outstanding off-ball scorer in Justin Turner in the fold. Huger is also extending pressure, and it rattled Kurk Lee in a comeback win over Drexel. I’m not sure I trust USD point guard Triston Simpson, and BGSU could severely disrupt Craig Smith’s four-out motion.
PICK: BGSU +2.5
Brown @ Quinnipiac
Baker Dunleavy wants to incorporate a more spread pick-and-roll offensive scheme, but his debut looked like a Tom Moore game, with Quinnipiac dominating the offensive glass. Kelly and Washington looking like a dynamic PG duo, while Brown is likely without Okolie tonight. That said, I think the Bobcats are likely exposed in transition by the Bears – if they can grab some defensive rebounds and in the halfcourt against a more well-oiled version of their own offense.
PICK: Brown -2
Central Michigan @ Michigan
There’s some interesting stuff from a scheme perspective going on in this one. CMU figures to be better defensively without undersized Keene and Rayson at the top, and Keno Davis had to have watched the way UNF’s zone slowed down Michigan’s prolific pick-and-roll offense. You would think Davis goes to a zone after practicing it against Siena Heights in a blowout, especially considering the Chips were arguably the worst pick-and-roll defense in the country last year. This year’s Chips should be more similar to Davis’ CMU teams with Chris Fowler and his Drake team in that the ball movement and spacing will be much more evident, as Keene and Rayson were so iso dominant. CMU was 349th in assist rate last year. It will be interesting to see if Beilein keeps Jaaron Simmons on the bench – after all, he has dominated this CMU team in the MAC.
PICK: CMU +22.5
Vandy @ Belmont
I’m not terribly concerned about the Dores not having MFD (if he’s unable to go again), as Saben Lee was solid in his debut. What is concerning is that Baptiste isn’t the same defender as Kornet against Byrd’s inverted motion. That said, the athletcism of the Vandy wings was hard for Belmont to match up with last year.
PICK: Vandy -3
Oral Roberts @ Tulsa
Pretty big spread for a bitter rivalry. Paul Mills has already stamped his identity on ORU, as they’ll play a variety of zones and crash the offensive glass. Where Tulsa has an advantage is in the backcourt against the young ORU guards, but the strength of each team is certainly in the frontcourt. DeQuan Jeffries will now play on both sides of the Mayor’s Cup, as he was at ORU two years ago.
PICK: ORU +12
MTSU @ Murray State
Walters will be back for MTSU, giving Kermit Davis the two big base he prefers. The Racers were terrible defensively last year at the rim, and shoring that up was an offseason point of emphasis. Stark had no issues against MTSU’s morphing 1-3-1, and he has Byron Hawkins as a running mate this year to relieve some ball handling duties. The Racers will score, but can they defend and rebound enough?
PICK: Murray St +3.5
North Texas @ Nebraska
Grant McCasland is running four- and even five-out lineups, just like in Jonesboro. Tim Miles added elite size and athleticism to the Huskers, and Nebraska should be able to overwhelm UNT with their length on the wing.
PICK: Nebraska -15
St. Joe’s @ UIC
Without Lamarr Kimble for the final seven games last year, the Hawks finished 1-6 and only climbed over 1 point per possession twice while only holding lowly SLU and Duquesne below that same threshold. Concern for the Flames is that they have to hit jump shots consistently with solid spacing and ball movement against a packed-in scheme, which isn’t how McClain’s offense operates.
PICK: UIC -1.5
Charlotte @ Oklahoma State
Big test for Mark Price, who has repeatedly said his program has turned the corner. With Jon Davis and a slew of scoring wings, the offense isn’t the issue. For Charlotte to compete, shot-blocking additions Haslam and Bryant have to dramatically improve a Niners’ interior that allowed the highest field goal percentage at the rim in the entire country last year. Bryant could block 15 shots per 40, but he would pick up just as many fouls. OSU, meanwhile, has their own issues with Jeffrey Carroll sitting due to the FBI probe (although it looks like he’ll be back soon) and Davon Dillard hurt/suspended as well. If Haslam/Bryant can stay on the floor against Solo, the Niners have a chance in Stillwater. The Pokes looked pretty jump shot reliant against Pepperdine on Friday night.
PICK: Charlotte +14.5
Chattanooga @ UAB
I think this one could get ugly for the Mocs. New scheme, new faces, new coach, new everything for UTC, while UAB returns Nick Norton to the fold and has the best frontcourt in CUSA. Only London could potentially guard Lee’s mobility, but he has to stay on Cokley with UTC’s lack of overall height, and the young Mocs are coming off an altitude game against a fast-paced Wyoming squad where the final score was misleading thanks to so many injuries to the Pokes.
PICK: UAB -11
Charleston @ Wichita State
What looked like a major tilt when the schedule came out has lost some luster with Brantley out for C of C and McDuffie still on the mend for Wichita State. Obviously Gregg Marshall has the depth to withstand the loss of McDuffie, but Earl Grant doesn’t have that luxury, and the Cougar offense looked pretty wonky against Siena, although the defense was still there, holding the Saints to 0.77 points per possession. It seems unlikely that the Cougars find enough paths to offense, especially without Brantley (doubtful tonight). The Cougars were a net -.06 points per possession last year with Brantley off the floor.
PICK: Wichita State -16.5
Western Michigan @ South Carolina
WMU has a dynamic PG in Thomas Wilder and a playmaking wing in Reggie Jones that can handle the extremely active USC 3-2 matchup zone. Can Johnson/Dugan/Lamont keep USC off the offensive glass, which is generally their most efficient path to offense, especially post Thornwell and Dozier? Last year WMU was one of the better defensive rebounding teams in the MAC. Interesting matchup.
PICK: Western Michigan +10.5
UC Davis @ Northern Colorado
A few things at play here. UCD lost four starters from what was the luckiest team in the country last year, but the Aggies still played hard-nosed man-to-man defense with some matchup zone principles mixed in. They also return Chima Moneke in the paint, and he figures to be a major problem for UNC’s four-out structure. That said, the four-out motion of Jeff Linder is a solid scheme, especially with Spight and Johnson joining Davis and Radebaugh. They stayed competitive against Colorado despite an absolutely miserable shooting performance, and Linder was extremely disappointed in the ball movement in postgame comments. It sets up well for UNC in a return to Greeley against an overrated UCD team.
PICK: Northern Colorado -7
Montana State @ Utah State
The USU faithful are probably pining for the return of Stew Morrill, as the Aggies are off to another slow start in the Tim Duryea era. MSU struggles to contain dribble penetration, and that’s the strength of McEwen’s game (6-foot-3 Omaha guard Daniel Norl managed to go 12-12 from two against the Bobcats, which is practically unheard of). MSU also doesn’t have the post threat that tortured the weakened USU interior defense when they played at Weber State, as they’re very Hall/Frey centric in the backcourt. That said, it’s hard to give the USU offense too much benefit at this point.
PICK: Montana State +5.5
Wyoming @ Oregon State
Potential sleeper game of the night, as Wayne Tinkle might be willing to run with the uber transition-reliant offense of the Pokes. Tinkle has actual firepower this year with the return of his son and the Thompson brothers. These two teams are both massive across the board and use their height in an inverted, positionless (buzzword!) manner. Wyoming, however, is pretty banged up to start the year, and James clearly didn’t look 100 percent against UTC. That said, the Wyoming interior defense is incredibly stout and can match up with the versatility of the OSU wings, even if Moemeka is out
PICK: Wyoming +7.5
Rhode Island @ Nevada
This is clearly the odds-on favorite for game of the night, as both teams are similarly constructed and extremely talented. URI is more of a four-out scheme with Martin and Iverson gone, and Hurley used that to extend pressure in a dismantling of a good UNCA team, turning the Bulldogs over at a 36 percent rate, with 13 steals (including seven from Stan Robinson). Nevada, meanwhile, is a hard team to pressure because of the big ball handlers in Drew and Cody Martin. Nevada has the edge in athleticism and length 1-5, plus they don’t have to travel across the country into decent altitude. That said, URI is one of the most experienced teams in the country – and one of the toughest mentally and physically. Should be a great game.
PICK: Rhode Island +2
CSUN @ Fresno State
I like Terrell Gomez as a Big West point, but this one could get ugly for the diminutive frosh, as the Fresno pressure comes in physical and from multiple angles with length. It’s essentially a carbon copy of San Diego State’s best defensive teams, and I don’t see CSUN handling it well. At all.
PICK: Fresno State -18
Troy @ Hawaii
Pretty good matchup here in the title game on the island. Hawaii has a big advantage in the paint with Mike Thomas and Gibson Johnson, and Jack Purchase is one of the best passing bigs in the game, especially in big-to-big situations with Thomas. Troy, meanwhile, has a massive edge at the 2/3 with Person and Varnado. Hawaii is small and less athletic on the wings.
PICK: Troy +2
MONDAY’S TOP 8 PICKS (YTD 5-11):
Jacksonville State +4 (from twitter)
Bowling Green +2.5
Murray State +3.5
Fresno State -18