College basketball notebook: Analyzing a light Thursday slate
Texas Tech vs Seton Hall
Should be a good one. Seton Hall could very well struggle against Texas Tech’s stifling pack line defense that both generates a plethora of turnovers and jump shots, since point guard play and consistent perimeter shooting are two overwhelming weaknesses of the Pirates, especially with Jordan Walker out. However, the Pirates could mitigate those deficiencies with the offensive glass. Interesting matchup, but I ultimately think the Pirates have too many issues vs the pack line on one end, and containing the depth and athleticism of the Red Raiders at the 3/4 within Beard’s motion offense on the other.
PICK: Texas Tech +3
North Dakota State @ Mississippi State
The Bison are an odd team, as Dave Richman doesn’t have a point guard. As a result, he relies on his trio of 6’6 wings to facilitate all offense; any team that extends pressure should have success, just ask SFA, who terrorized NDSU into nearly 30 turnovers. Richman’s motion offense in the halfcourt, however, is top notch. When NDSU doesn’t turn it over, they’re going to run their sets to get a good look from beyond the arc, and that 4 out perimeter length has translated to a pretty stifling defense early. So can MSU take advantage of NDSU’s turnover issues? Well, it might depend on the availability of point guard Lamar Peters, who is currently suspended. In three games with the ball hawk Peters, the Bulldogs turned teams over at rates of 21%, 25%, and 31%. In the last two games without him? Just 16%. This one probably plays out similarly to the Jacksonville State game for MSU, as they’ll be forced to defend a methodical halfcourt offense, but the athleticism of the Weatherspoon brothers and NDSU’s inability to defend at the rim should result in enough offense for the Bulldogs.
PICK: NDSU +10
Western Carolina @ Charleston
Thanks to frosh Matt Halvorsen, this WCU team is starting to resemble a classic spread motion, transition heavy Larry Hunter offense. Charleston, meanwhile, returns from a disappointing Alaska trip, and the offense has seemingly regressed without Jarrell Brantley. Earl Grant’s defense has been getting uncharacteristically torched from beyond the arc, but some of that is just bad luck, and I expect WCU’s hot shooting start to regress soon, and the C of C defensive numbers to normalize, possibly starting tonight. WCU is an even weaker rebounding team than the Cougars, so no concern there. Assuming C of C’s legs aren’t rubber from the travel, this is a good opportunity for the Cougars to get back on track defensively.
PICK: C of C -15.5
Notre Dame @ Michigan State
Mike Brey with this much prep is dangerous, and he just faced a Wichita State team that’s modeled after Tom Izzo’s program. Somewhat lost in Sparty’s win over UNC was how awful MSU was offensively (thanks to UNC’s historically awful offensive performance). Sparty will struggle when they can’t work inside out, and turnovers remain a massive issue between Cassius Winston and TumTum Nairn. Notre Dame’s defensive rebounding and transition defense are also areas of concern. Michigan State is looking to get into their offense quicker than any Izzo team I’ve seen before, but the Irish transition defense has been sound early, allowing FGAs at the 11th lowest rate in that regard, per hoop-math.com. Offense might be an issue for the Irish however, as Izzo’s defense simply won’t allow them to work through Bonzie Colson, which means TJ Gibbs and Matty Farrell must continue their lights out perimeter play.
PICK: Notre Dame +6.5
South Florida @ Elon
USF has a lot of height, and as is typical for a Brian Gregory defense, he’s worked it into a stingy interior unit. Unfortunately, that won’t matter much against a perimeter heavy Elon motion offense that spaces out their bigs effectively. Elon also plays a compact defense that will force the Bulls into jump shots, where they really struggle. USF couldn’t muster anything against EMU’s zone when they couldn’t get to the rim or the free throw line, scoring just 18 points in the second half. The Phoenix defense isn’t on that level, but it should be effective tonight. USF has even more height with Isaiah Manderson available, but he nearly fouled out in 9 minutes in his season debut against EMU.
PICK: Elon -9.5
Harvard @ Northeastern
Harvard’s issues have been myriad, but I think they will soon start hitting perimeter shots (they’ve been missing a lot while taking them at a high rate), and their bad luck on “defending” them will normalize (teams are hitting at a high clip, while Tommy Amaker’s defensive scheme is still limiting attempts). Both teams have severe turnover issues, but the structure of Bill Coen’s defense shouldn’t force them out of the Crimson. The biggest issue for Harvard tonight will be their weakness against stretch bigs (see what Jackson Rowe did in Fullerton, and what Ryan Funk could have done for St. Joe’s), and that can be a staple of Coen’s offense with Bolden Brace. Coen will have an interesting decision in terms of defending Bryce Aiken off ball screens, as Shawn Occeus is his only plus perimeter defender, but he loses a lot of offense with him (per hooplens.com, the Huskies are scoring at just .92 points per possession when he’s on the floor).
PICK: Harvard -1.5
Memphis @ UAB
Nick Norton, Zack Bryant, and Nate Darling have to eventually start hitting jump shots, because teams will continue to collapse on the UAB frontcourt. I’m assuming Norton sat against Mississippi College for simple rest, but Tubby Smith’s infamous ball-line defense denies penetration and packs in the paint to limit entry passes, precisely the type of defensive scheme UAB has struggled with when HaHa Lee and Chris Cokley can’t get the ball at the rim. The good news for the Blazers is that Memphis is an even worse jump shooting team, and entirely reliant on getting to the rim and FT line. Their offense has also been buoyed by rebounding their misses at a high rate, which isn’t likely to continue against one of the better defensive rebounding teams in the country. First true road game for Memphis against a team that can match their athleticism should work out well for the Blazers, but this team has been frustrating to watch, especially with a lead.
PICK: UAB -4.5
UNCW @ ECU
After a brutal start to the season, Jeff Lebo resigned yesterday. Lebo is a brilliant x’s and o’s guy, but the lack of a point guard killed his offense early this year (although Isaac Fleming is getting acclimated to playing out of position). The transition to Michael Perry as head coach should be pretty seamless, as he took over when Lebo missed a good portion of last year after hip surgery. As bad as ECU has been offensively, UNCW has been their equal defensively. The Seahawks are getting absolutely torched from outside; they are allowing 46% shooting from 3, as they struggle to pick up CB McGrath’s more compact, underscreening Roy Williams defense. UNCW still has a high powered offense, thanks to the devastating PnR combo of Jordon Talley and Davontae Cacock. With Cacock’s efficiency as a “roller”, Talley has tallied the nation’s highest assist rate to the start the year. Defensively, ECU played a lot less of Lebo’s unique zone schemes when Perry took over, so I expect the same this year, and the offense could receive a boost simply by playing UNCW, but it’s hard to know how the Pirates will react to Lebo’s resignation.
PICK: UNCW -4.5
South Carolina vs Temple
The Owls are talented and long in the backcourt/wing, but they’re a little soft defensively at the rim and on the defensive glass, two areas that a Frank Martin squad will attack. Assuming Chris Silva doesn’t find himself in early foul trouble, he and Maik Kotsar should have a field day. Hassani Gravett’s development at the point, along with the production of a pair of freshmen wings, have made the Gamecock backcourt more efficient than I thought they would be early in trying to replace Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier. The Gamecocks are also familiar with MSG, and generally play well there.
PICK: South Carolina -1.5
Missouri @ UCF
Impossible to like any aspect of the UCF offense without BJ Taylor, but Cuonzo Martin and Johnny Dawkins certainly know each other from their Pac12 days; Dawkins dominated the Cal/Stanford series, holding the typically poor shooting Bears to sub 1 point per possession in 3 of the 4 meetings with his amoeba zone, going 3-1 in the process. Martin’s Mizzou team has been shooting well, but I still don’t fully trust a Cuonzo zone offense, and I certainly don’t trust this current UCF offense.
PICK: Missouri -4.5
Northern Arizona @ Santa Clara
Hard to imagine Santa Clara favored by double digits against anyone, but NAU can’t shoot against Herb Sendek’s zone, which offenses have been hitting an absurd 50% from deep against. NAU is horrific in transition defense, as they rely so heavily on penetration/offensive glass to bolster the poor shooting, but you have to wonder if snail Santa Clara will exploit that.
PICK: Northern Arizona +12
Weber State @ Fresno State
Weber has struggled with turnovers against ball pressure teams like Iona and JMU thanks to a makeshift situation at the point, and Rodney Terry certainly brings a lot of aggressive extended pressure with his guards. Fresno also switches on every screen and really disrupts on the perimeter against three point heavy teams, like Weber State. However, Brekkott Chapman is off his best game as a Wildcat (albeit in a glorified exhibition game), and Fresno can struggle with effective stretch 4s that can relieve some of the ball pressure and exploit guards in the switching Bulldog defense.
PICK: Weber State +11.5
Pacific @ UC Riverside
Dennis Cutts is an effective coach in terms of his ability to shift his defense from man to zone, and you have to zone rim-attacking Pacific, who can put 5 players on the floor at all times to beat you off the dribble. Damon Stoudamire is compensating for his team’s lack of height with his own zone, typically a shifting 3-2, that can extend some pressure on ball handlers, and Riverside comes in as one of the worst shooting teams in the country. While PG Dikymbe Martin is talented, he has his turnover issues.
PICK: Pacific -3.5
San Diego State @ San Diego
The Aztecs have always hated this game, while the Toreros have relished it. Fortunately, they won’t play on a baseball field (one of the worst decisions in the recent history of college basketball), but rather at Jenny Craig Pavilion. SDSU is far from healthy, as typically banged up Malik Pope is a game time decision, as is Trey Kell, and Max Montana is unavailable. USD, meanwhile, is getting healthier with the return of Lamont Smith’s captain, Tyler Williams. Smith’s team plays a hard nosed man that’s aggressive on the perimeter, and he has an influx of height with Portland State transfer Isaiah Pineiro and Belorussian big man Yauhen Massalski, who had a breakout performance in a fairly stunning win at Grand Canyon in front of the Havocs. SDSU wants to play much faster offensively under Brian Dutcher, but that’s hard to accomplish against a very disciplined USD defense.
PICK: San Diego +4
Thursday’s Top Picks (YTD: 85-78):
- Texas Tech +3
- South Carolina -1.5
- Pacific -1.5
- San Diego +4
- Missouri/UCF Under 136.5
- NDSU/Miss St Under 136.5
all lines via 5dimes at time of publication