College basketball notebook: Analyzing Tuesday’s slate
Albany @ Memphis
Albany is one of the oldest and most experienced teams in the country and an annual America East powerhouse under Will Brown. They’ll travel to Memphis to play one of the country’s more patchwork built teams, as Tubby Smith blew up the Lawson family era to rebuild on the fly with mostly JUCOs.
Stylistically, both teams utilize a compact defense, with Tubby alternating between his notorious ball-line defense that denies dribble penetration/entry passes and a matchup zone. Albany, meanwhile, is typically one of the most packed in defenses in the country under Brown, as they usually rank in the 300s in terms of 3PT attempt rate nationally. So which team is the better perimeter shooting threat? Well, that’s a difficult question to answer.
Both offenses are penetration driven, with Memphis more iso based and Albany more motion based. Only seven teams in the country shoot the 3 at a lower rate than the Great Danes, but when 6-foot-4 shooting guard Joe Cremo shoots the triple, he hits at an absurd 56 percent. Unfortunately, for Albany, Cremo is the only shooter on an offense focused on exploiting mismatches on defensive switches within their motion offense between Cremo, fellow ball handler David Nichols and undersized block scorer Travis Charles. Those three are essentially responsible for every Albany field goal attempt, and most come at the rim. Offenses that have had success against the Tigers’ ball-line/zone defense have either had a dominant frontcourt (UAB) or shot the 3 at a high rate. Memphis has faced four teams that shoot the triple at a higher than average rate, listed below with their points per possession scored vs the Tigers:
- Northern Kentucky – 1.09
- Mercer – 1.08
- Samford – 1.02
- Bryant – 1.00
It should be noted that NKU, Mercer and Samford all led by double digits in the second half, and Mercer and Bryant were both missing their leading scorers.
So while Albany shoots the three at nearly 40 percent, that’s all thanks to Cremo’s elite numbers, and Memphis has three aggressive perimeter defenders in Kareem Brewton, Jamal Johnson, and Jeremiah Martin who can all extend out on him.
On the other end, Albany’s defense has profiled to date as one of Brown’s least efficient units to date, but the compact nature of his defensive scheme limits both fouls and offensive rebounds, the two key components of a Tiger offense that really struggles to hit jump shots. Memphis ranks 26th nationally in free throw attempt rate, and ninth in offensive rebounding rate.
Basically, this matchup comes down to who is more capable of hitting jump shots, as both defenses are designed to limit the strengths of the opposing offenses. Cremo is the best shooter on the floor, without question, but Memphis has the athleticism to limit him on the perimeter. That said, outside of the dramatically lower 3-point attempt rate of the Danes, this game profiles similarly in terms of “intangibles” to the three games Memphis played vs NKU, Samford, and Mercer in that those were three of the most experienced teams in the country with veteran backcourts. Memphis lucked out to win all three when each of those respective teams were missing incredibly important players. Albany likely maintains a lead for much of the game, but the athleticism and length of Kyvon Davenport and Jimario Rivers at the rim should be a concern, as Brown has struggled to find a decent rim protector this season.
PICK: Albany +1.5
- Princeton’s rim defense appears to be a season-long issue, and like any UNC modeled offense, Monmouth pounds the ball inside at a high rate. Last year’s game between these two was a thriller, but they were also two of the best mid-majors in the country. Monmouth was able to push in transition off the defensive glass in that game, which is typically difficult to do against a Mitch Henderson team. Defending Myles Stephens on the wing is going to be a challenge, as Micah Seaborn’s defense has suffered due to a meniscus injury, and Monmouth is allowing 1.10 points per possession when he’s at the 3, per hooplens.com.
- Plenty of injuries to watch in Yale and Iona, as Miye Oni is a game-time decision for the Bulldogs, while Zach Lewis missed the last game for Iona with an illness, although he should play. Yale’s poor transition defense and turnover issues could be exploited by the always relentless Tim Cluess spread transition offense and his extended matchup pressure. This simply isn’t the same Yale rebounding team that James Jones typically employs in New Haven that can exploit the Gaels, who are routinely weak on the glass.
- Per hooplens.com, Georgia Southern’s pick-and-roll heavy offense scores at 1.16 ppp with Ike Smith on the floor, and he’s nursing an ankle injury that could potentially keep him out and/or limit him today at George Mason. GMU has been hit or miss defending in pick-and-roll, as Dave Paulsen uses a pack line principled defense but still tends to switch frequently on screens. That can cause issues against big teams, which GSU isn’t. 6-foot-5 Jaire Grayer is often left to defend the post for GMU, and GSU’s offense simply doesn’t filter through Montae Glenn often in a four-out offense. Against William & Mary, GMU simply got caught in too many bad matchups against Nate Knight, a rim facing big — that’s not in Glenn’s repertoire. GMU will have some challenges with their own four-out offense however, as Tookie Brown and Mike Hughes are two of the best on ball defenders in mid-majordom and could limit Otis Livingston and Justin Kier’s penetration.
- Cincinnati has shown vulnerabilities in both their transition defense and ability to defend dribble penetration when Cane Broome is on the floor, as he struggles to defend bigger guards, which Mississippi State has with the Weatherspoon brothers. Cincinnati’s typically stout interior defense can be exposed by teams who can run, move the ball crisply, and shoot. MSU can do the first, but neither of the latter, as they’re an iso-heavy, penetration-based offense. MSU has also failed to rebound well on either end against one of the weakest schedules in the country, which could spell disaster against the Bearcats.
- BC is certainly a candidate for both “letdown” and 3-point regression after shooting the lights out in their Duke win. Columbia is a solid pick-and-roll defense that can shoot, but have been on the wrong end of a number of close losses. They could be dealing with fatigue, but BC’s bench is even shorter, especially with Teddy Hawkins out. BC essentially played six guys against Duke and will likely have to sag/zone to conserve legs/fouls; the Lions can take advantage with Mike Smith and stretch Lukas Meisner.
- I’m not going to take too much from Indiana State’s struggles with U of Indy last time out, as Greg Lansing and Indianapolis coach Stan Gouard have history. (Interestingly, Gouard could very well be the ISU head coach next year.) Needless to say, the Greyhounds were pumped up and well prepared. ISU has struggled to defend dribble penetration, but that’s not a strength for Green Bay outside of Khalil Small. The extremely young Phoenix are really struggling to defend in the halfcourt, as this team isn’t grasping Linc Darner’s RP40 extended pressure yet, and the Trees are extremely guard driven behind Brenton Scott and Jordan Barnes.
- Louisiana is healthy with Frank Bartley, Marcus Stroman and Johnathan Stove all back in the backcourt, but Bob Marlin’s gamble-heavy defensive scheme will likely get routinely toasted in transition and off the dribble by Louisiana Tech and outstanding PG DeQuan Bracey. Key for Louisiana Tech defensively is the ability of Joniah White to stay out of foul trouble against Jakeenan Gant, Bryce Washington, and the relentlessly attacking Cajun offense. The ULL scheme simply leaves too many opportunities for athletic LA Tech to exploit.
- North Dakota really missed Cortez Seales‘ defense against rival NDSU, but he should be back tonight against South Dakota State penetrator David Jenkins. The real issue is UND’s inability to guard anyone at the rim, which is extremely problematic against Mike Daum.
- Murray State’s small backcourt and porous frontcourt struggles to defend penetration from bigger guards, and that’s about all Saint Louis can accomplish offensively between Jordan Goodwin and Javon Bess. SLU hasn’t played well since the win over Virginia Tech, and they have no depth whatsoever. However, the most recent loss to Houston is a bit misleading, as that game really turned on some bizarre officiating and a scuffle that took away the Bills’ best rim protector, Hasahn French. It wouldn’t surprise me to see SLU get a much-needed win tonight.
- Lamont Smith is one of the most underrated coaches in mid-majordom, and his San Diego team extends man to man well past the 3-point line and gets back in transition religiously, the latter being a key against Tad Boyle’s Colorado team, as they love to push off misses. The Toreros are fundamentally sound in every facet. USD is, however, exploitable on the wing (even with the return of Tyler Williams), and George King and Namon Wright could really make hay offensively tonight.
- Brutal travel for Eastern Washington, going from San Francisco to Vermillion, South Dakota, and now to the altitude of Laramie to take on run and gun Wyoming, all in the span of six days. Additionally, EWU was without Sir Washington and Luka Vulikic against South Dakota, and their availability is unknown, although new head coach Shantay Legans has been experimenting with several different rotations. Schematically, the Eagles match up pretty well, as they have solid perimeter length against Allen Edward’s spread pick-and-roll that routinely inverts the Pokes’ height.
- It would be near criminal if John Beilein didn’t use his 2-3 zone look that he utilized against Ohio State, as Texas’ zone offense is downright dreadful,even with a healthy Andrew Jones. That said, Michigan (particularly Moe Wagner) has really struggled to score against long, athletic defenses, and with Mo Bamba, that’s Texas to a tee.
- Oregon State has been unquestionably better since Jaquori McLaughlin left the team, and the offense has been running exclusively through Tres Tinkle as a point-forward and the Thompson brothers. That said, the Beavers will have some issues scoring at the rim, where they’re almost solely reliant, as Ray Harper’s 3-2 matchup zone at Jacksonville State is tough to penetrate, and in man to man they have outstanding rim protection from Chris Cunningham, Jacara Cross, versatile wing Jamall Gregory and Norbertas Giga. However, the 7-foot Giga is suffering from an upper back injury that held him to just seven minutes against ULM on Saturday. JSU is an elite rim protecting defense not just in mid-major basketball, but on a national level (I took a deep dive on JSU a few days ago). Offensively, Malcolm Drumwright makes JSU impossible to zone, and the Wayne Tinkle 1-3-1 would be a terrible idea, as JSU has shredded a 1-3-1 twice already this year. As for Giga’s absence, it would be more detrimental defensively than offensively, as his on/off splits per Hooplens.com are 1.13/1.15 offensively, and .85/.96 defensively.
Tuesday’s Top Picks (121-113-1):
Green Bay/Indiana State over 146
George Mason +1.5
ULL/Louisiana Tech over 160.5
UND/SDSU over 164