SUN BELT

UT Arlington @ Coastal Carolina

In three meetings last year, these teams combined for an astounding 210 3-point attempts, as both defensive schemes encourage chucks, and both offenses will oblige.

Cliff Ellis, known for junk zones, will always have Coastal sag off the 3-point line in man-to-man. Last year, Coastal allowed the highest 3-point attempt rate in the country, while Scott Cross’ defensive scheme, heavily influenced by Tubby Smith, denies penetration and entry passes at the cost of leaving the perimeter quite open. Not much has changed this year, as both defenses rank in the top 40 in terms of limiting field goal attempts at the rim, per hoop-math.com.

Games between these two essentially boil down to who hits jump shots, and tangentially who can rebound their own misses better. Both offenses have been efficient against zones this year, with each firing at over 1 point per possession, per Synergy.

The difference for UTA this year is the presence of a legit rim protector in 7-foot grad transfer Johnny Hamilton, who has helped catapult the Mavs to the 17th lowest FG percent allowed at the rim, per Hoop-math. That could disrupt Coastal, which restructured their offense around Zac Cuthbertson as an efficient roll man in pick-and-roll. Both Hamilton and outstanding NBA prospect Kevin Hervey excel defending in pick-and-roll defense. I also worry about Jaylen Shaw’s turnover rate against UTA’s quick-handed perimeter defense.

Offensively, UTA can overwhelm teams with their high-major level athleticism, which they should do against a Coastal defense that grades out in just the 26th percentile, per Synergy. UTA can get a little jump shot happy in the halfcourt, negating their athletic advantage over SBC teams, but they have one of the best point guards in the country in Neal, and Hervey has next-level potential at the 4. Cross uses Hervey and Hamilton in A-set screens for Neal, and both have scored at nearly an absurd 1.5 points per possession on that action, per Synergy.

Assuming UTA doesn’t shoot 7-33 from 3 like last year in Conway, the Mavs should win their SBC opener, especially with the changes in Coastal’s offense running into the strength of the Mavs’ defense with Hamilton in the fold.

Other SBC Notes:

  • Jordon Varnado will return for Troy in limited minutes against Georgia Southern. In an ironic twist, the Trojans might match up better without him this weekend against both GSUs, as both heavily utilize ball screens in a four-out alignment. In fact, no team in the country ran their guards off ball screens more than the Eagles. Backcourt mate Ike Smith has battled a nagging injury all year, but I expect him to suit up for SBC play after some rest. That said, Varnado can’t really hurt a pick-and-roll defense that grades out in just the 20th percentile, and his ability to rebound and score at the rim is a game changer. Defensively, GSU will extend some pressure and zone at times, but neither will bother Troy, as Wes Person absolutely shreds zones.
  • Defensively, South Alabama can defend ball screens with their smaller lineups, a key against Georgia State’s uber penetrator D’Marcus Simonds. However, USA’s horrifying motion offense grades out abysmally against zone defenses (second percentile). If you don’t have a PG (USA doesn’t), and can’t shoot consistently from outside, you will struggle against Ron Hunter’s hyper-aggressive, morphing 1-3-1 matchup zone.
  • Texas State has major issues on offense, but Danny Kaspar’s always sound man-to-man defense effectively shut down Appalachian State’s motion offense in both meetings last year. App State, coming off an embarrassing 33-point loss to Hampton, runs drag screen transition motion that simply doesn’t match up well with Texas State. Defensively, the Mountaineers can’t defend the post (although the addition of Hunter Seacat helps) or off the dribble, which spells doom against Texas State.
  • Little Rock runs arguably the worst offense in the country. Wes Flanagan has even turned to little-used walk-on Ryan Pippins at the point. On defense, Little Rock will mix in zone pressure, which Louisiana will shred. ULL should dominate this game at the rim.
  • Arkansas State likely lost their best rebounder and rim protector after the recent arrest of Tristin Walley. His loss will crush a Red Wolves team that had no height to begin with. Fortunately, UL Monroe has just as little height and rim protection as ASU. ULM has started to catch on to Mike Balado’s Pitino-esque zone press, but the smaller four-out Warhawk offense can handle both zones and pressure.

MAAC Notes:

  • It sounds like David Knudsen, a key piece in the Marist motion offense, could play tonight at home against Siena. Interestingly, Jimmy Patsos has gone smaller more often this year at Siena (he’s traditionally a dual post, flex motion coach) with Kadeem Smithen at the 4, which actually could work well against Marist.
  • Niagara matches up well against Iona’s matchup zone press, as they have dominant scorers in Kahlil Dukes and Matt Scott who can handle the ball. That said, Niagara’s poor defense struggles in transition, which won’t work against a Tim Cluess offense.
  • Neither Canisius nor Rider’s defense matches up well with the opposing offense. Rider has typically struggled with Reggie Witherspoon’s excellent motion offense, particularly with the Griffs’ mobile bigs. Conversely, Canisius struggles defending the post and pick-and-roll, which will hurt tonight against a Rider offense that either pounds the ball inside or runs outstanding PG Stevie Jordan off ball screens.

Big 12 Notes:

  • My biggest concern for Oklahoma State against Press Virginia is that Kendall Smith has mostly looked like a former CSUN point guard against top tier competition. However, Smith and Brandon Averette had solid games against UTRGV’s full-court press last game, and OSU’s press offense scores at 1.1 points per possession, per Synergy). But WVU runs an entirely different phylum of press. The Pokes have relied on their defense this year, as Mike Boynton has been switching successfully between denial-heavy man, zone and zone traps (see win over Florida State). That said, OSU has struggled on the defensive glass as a result of the switching defenses, which WVU can fully exploit.
  • While Mo Bamba possesses one of the rarest combos of length and athleticism in recent memory, he struggles with strong, aggressive post players, which describes Udoka Azubuike to a tee. Kansas can struggle with hyper-athletic 4s, but this is a good matchup for Svi Mykhailiuk. Quick, four-out offenses with multiple shooters that can get Lagerald Vick isolated in ball screens have given KU trouble as well (see Arizona State), but even with the likely return of Andrew Jones, that isn’t a strength of the Horns either, as you can sag off Matt Coleman and Kerwin Roach.
  • Iowa State’s likely going to be shorthanded tonight, but realistically the game comes down to how Nick Weiler-Babb and Lindell Wigginton handle the hyper-aggressive Kansas State backcourt. ISU has been outstanding in their pick-and-roll offense since Weiler-Babb moved to the point, which took the pressure off frosh Wigginton. The problem for the Clones tonight is that KSU grades out in the 97th percentile in defending pick-and-roll ball handlers, per Synergy. That’s elite. Additionally, ISU has struggled defensively against lesser motion offenses than KSU’s.
  • Texas Tech’s HORNS heavy motion can get bogged down against zones, and that’s where the strength of Baylor lies tonight with Scott Drew’s morphing 1-1-3 zone. Baylor doesn’t necessarily rely on the 3, but they have multiple shooters (and stretch 4 Nuni Omot) to attack Texas Tech’s pack line defense. That said, Baylor’s offense relies heavily on post touches through Jo Lual-Acuil, which won’t work against a Red Raider defense with the seventh lowest FG percentage allowed at the rim, per Hoop-math and a post defense that limits teams to .69 points per post possession, per Synergy.

Friday’s Top Picks (YTD: 161-157-3):

UTA/Coastal over 152.5

Texas State +3.5

Baylor/Texas Tech under 138

ULL -10.5

GSU/USA under 131.5

Georgia Southern -1

UL Monroe +3.5

Idaho/North Dakota under 149.5

EWU/UNC over 150

Kansas State -1.5

*all lines via 5Dimes at time of publication

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