Travelling for the holiday today, so only have time for some Quick Hitters in today’s column:
- Wichita State’s PnR defense has certainly been poor, but there are reasons to think it improves. One, Landry Shamet hasn’t been able to effectively pressure ball handlers as well as he typically does as his foot isn’t quite 100 percent yet. Two, the return of Markus McDuffie mitigates a lot of the pick and pop coverage issues the Shocker bigs have had this year. That said, it sounds like Gregg Marshall’s plan is have McDuffie on a minutes limit again today at UConn. The WSU ball screen defense will certainly be tested by the Huskies today, as few teams in the country run PnR as their primary offense more than Kevin Ollie does with Jalen Adams at the point of attack.
- Speaking of running ball screens, only one team in the country runs more than Wake Forest, but North Carolina is always outstanding in PnR defense, and the Heels are limiting teams to .63 points per ball screen possession, per Synergy. On the other end, Doral Moore is one of the country’s best post defenders, which is always essential against a Roy Williams offense. The Heels are coming off a loss to Wofford during which they looked like they would rather be anywhere else other than the basketball court, so you would certainly expect a better effort today. Danny Manning has been using a lot of zone this year, and while UNC hasn’t seen a lot of it this year, they’re scoring at 1.17 points per possession when they do. The 2-3 zone has also weakened the Deacs on the defensive glass, which is an area that has to be shored up against the Heels.
- Per Synergy, Western Carolina’s press offense grades out in just the 6th percentile. That’s a problem against Duggar Baucom’s Loot and Shoot at The Citadel. Per hoop-math.com, only five teams in the country are allowing more FGAs in transition than the Catamounts. Also a major problem vs The Citadel.
- Great matchup between Tennessee and Arkansas, as both are similarly constructed. Both are loaded with quick athletes in the backcourt and frontcourt, and both will extend pressure full court quite a bit, but both are extremely good press offenses. Tennessee is an elite ball screen defense, while Arkansas is dominant at denying post points, which is actually a significant portion of the Vols’ offense, despite being undersized in the frontcourt. However, the few times Dan Gafford and Adrio Bailey have been tested on the block, they failed (see Houston and UNC). There’s also the small matter of Tennessee having to play at Bud Walton.
- Is this the game Lon Kruger finally works Kris Doolittle back into the rotation at Oklahoma? TCU’s Kenrich Williams (playing through a bone bruise today) is a mismatch at the 3/4 for Brady Manek with his ability to score and distribute at all three levels, and Doolittle’s athleticism could limit him. TCU’s has been surprisingly subpar in transition defense, which is of course where Trae Young and the Sooners excel. TCU is excellent at running its offense through the post, but OU is always an elite lane-clogging defense.
- Southern Utah’s guards outside of Dre Marin are extremely poor defending against dribble penetration, which will be exploited by Ahmaad Rorie and Mike Oguine. Montana is completing the Flagstaff to Cedar City altitude tour, which isn’t ideal, but they were very good on this trip last year, and it generally takes the body 36 hours to fully adjust to altitude (or so the scientists say). The T-Birds have Dwayne Morgan in tow finally, and he fouled out with 15 points and 4 boards against Montana State in his debut.
- For once, a St. Bonaventure game isn’t necessarily about Jay Adams and Matt Mobley. UMass is an excessively ball screen reliant offense, and Bona has three outstanding defenders in PnR in Idris Taqqee, Izaiah Brockington, and Courtney Stockard. Per Synergy, Bona is allowing just .595 points per possession to ball handlers in PnR. That’s a major difference maker against the Minutemen, who rely almost solely on Luwane Pipkins’ ability to create off ball screens.
- BYU will have issues defending St. Mary’s outstanding motion offense, but who doesn’t? Where this game will get interesting is in the post. Dave Rose has been running a plethora of offense through Yoeli Childs, and the Gaels have been routinely exposed this year defending on the block without Dane Pineau.
- I would expect a lot of zone from Tony Shaver’s William & Mary Tribe today, as Hofstra’s zone offense has been excessively poor to date. On paper, this looks like a matchup where a lot of points will be put on the board, but Rokas Gustys has been an elite post defender for the Pride, and that’s key against Nate Knight, who gets a lot of single coverage post looks thanks to Shaver’s 4-out offense. So while these are both offense-forward teams with poor overall defenses (and their matchups are typically high scoring barn burners), there’s reason to believe that this one might be held to the low 80s on each side for once.
- Charleston runs a massive amount of ball screens for Joe Chealey and Grant Riller, as does Towson for Zane Martin. The bad news for both offenses is that both sides are elite in PnR defense. Should be yet another slug fest between these two that’s decided on the glass and the free throw line, and the Cougars are typically the much better FT shooting team.
- It will be interesting to see if LaVall Jordan adopts the same game plan against Villanova as his predecessor at Butler did, which was to absolutely and positively not help on Jalen Brunson. The moment you help on Brunson, Villanova has too many skilled shooters and passers to burn you from anywhere on the court. It’s a simple approach, but it held the Wildcats to two of their four worst offensive games of the year and two of their three regular-season losses. The difference is this year’s Wildcats are somehow even better, with Omari Spellman as a lethal, versatile 5 (when Jay Wright goes with Mikal Bridges at the 4 alongside Spellman, it’s truly not fair), and the defense is playing at an incredibly high level as well. Offensively for the Bulldogs, they no longer have Andrew Chrabascz, who spun the constantly switching Nova defense in circles with his high post passing.
- Clemson’s press offense hasn’t seen much action, but it hasn’t been pretty when they have been pressed, which is a problem against NC State’s full-court zone pressure schemes. However, that might be NC State’s only opportunity to score, as they’re incredibly reliant on extra shots from turnovers and offensive putbacks. Clemson is an excellent defensive rebounding team, and they don’t allow much at the rim in general.
- Tough to envision an extremely well coached Wofford team experiencing any “letdown” after the UNC win, as they open SoCon play against a team they’ve had some intense matchups against (and Mike Young and Wes Miller have exchanged some words in recent meetings), including in last year’s SoCon tournament when the Spartans knocked out the Terriers. Against UNCG, it’s all about your press offense, and that’s where I have concerns for Wofford today. Gone is Eric Garcia, and in his place is a frosh point in Storm Murphy. Young might have to move uber shooter Fletcher Magee on the ball more, which will really reduce his ability to get open looks from outside.
- Assuming Chris Cokley is a go for UAB, this is another great frontcourt battle in this MTSU/UAB rivalry. Unfortunately for the Blazers, Kermit Davis’ morphing zone schemes will once again prove to be a challenge. Nick King is a fundamentally sound scorer, but his athleticism is questionable. That’s an area HaHa Lee needs to exploit. If Lee finally starts hitting some perimeter shots to get King out of the lane defensively and force Davis out of his zone, UAB has a great chance.
- It sounds like Dru Smith could be back for Evansville, which means they’ll finally be at full strength again at Loyola today. The Ramblers meanwhile could have perimeter defensive stalwart Ben Richardson back but are still without Clayton Custer. Richardson would be key against Evansville’s constantly screening motion offense, as he helped shut the Aces down twice last year.
- Assuming there are no last minute suspensions from Texas A&M, they should be extremely effective in ICEing Collin Sexton on ball screens, which is Alabama’s primary offense. In fact, the Aggies are allowing just .44 points per possession at the point of attack on PnR. Per Synergy, that’s the best mark in the country. Duane Wilson and Admon Gilder have both been phenomenal in that regard, but TAMU will be without the latter tonight. Without him, Buffalo’s backcourt was able to find a few gaps in the defense, and Sexton is on another level. I don’t know where Big Bob Williams’ offense went, but you can score on the Tide in the post.
Out of time and space, but please feel free to hit me up on twitter @jorcubsdan, and I’ll get to as many questions as I can. Thanks for reading!
Saturday’s Top Picks (YTD: 169-160-3):
Wichita State -10.5
Towson/Charleston under 131.5
Idaho State/Weber State over 142
San Francisco -5.5
*all lines via 5Dimes at time of publication