Temple @ Georgia
Really intriguing matchup, as Georgia looked dominant in the second half against Georgia Tech, but they’re hard to decipher on a game-by-game basis. The most intriguing development from the Georgia Tech throttling was how well the Bulldogs played against Josh Pastner’s myriad zone looks, and traditional man-to-man coach Fran Dunphy has been using more of the infamous John Chaney matchup zone since he brought former Chaney guard Aaron McKie onto the staff two years ago.
Offensively, Georgia is a heavy pick-and-roll based offense, with Turtle Jackson, Tyree Crump and Teshaun Hightower all grading out above average to excellent as the primary ball handler per Synergy, and Yante Maten is dominant as the roll man. The explosion of Jackson as a more than steady force in the backcourt has been massive for the Dawgs. Jackson has gone from a rotation piece to posting a 116 ORtg while shooting 43 percent from 3. Temple’s defense will focus on ICEing (forcing him away from the screen) him in pick-and-roll, which the Owls can do between Josh Brown, Alani Moore and Shizz Alston. In fact, the Owls only allow the pick-and-roll ball handler to score at .60 points per possession, per Synergy. The flip side is they struggle defending the roller, meaning Maten could dominate at the rim against a soft Temple interior. As I mentioned earlier, Dunphy has implemented more matchup zone as a result, but that might not work against a UGA team that has shredded zones. Regardless, UGA will have plus frontcourt matchups with Maten and Derek Ogbeide.
Temple’s offense has a lot of strong components that don’t mesh well in the halfcourt. There’s a lot of “your turn, my turn” between Alston, Quinton Rose and Obi Enechionyia. The Owl offense devolves into iso-heavy situations between those three. That said, there are matchups for Temple to exploit that way, as Jackson and Juwan Parker are below average defenders, allowing teams to score at 1.06 points per possession when on the court together, per Hooplens.com. However, Rayshaun Hammonds has emerged as an excellent defender in his freshman year, and he can really limit Rose in the halfcourt.
St. Bonaventure @ Syracuse
Huge road game for the Bonnies’ at-large chances, and they’ll get a dead Carrier Dome during the holidays.
As always, the first box to tick is an efficient zone offense, which the Bonnies have, thanks to Matt Mobley and Jay Adams in the backcourt. The Bonnies score at 1.12 points per possession against zones, good for the 90th percentile nationally per Synergy. That comes with a qualifier, though, as they have only seen the zones of Jackson State, UMES and Siena. None of those schools obviously possess the infamous length and athleticism of Jim Boeheim’s vaunted 2-3 zone. Mark Schmidt must decide who will flash the high post against the zone, and the only realistic candidates are Idris Taqqee and Izaiah Brockington, who are both severely undersized against Syracuse’s length. Brockington is the better passer, but he’s more useful on the perimeter, leaving Taqqee; a huge area of concern for the Bonnies.
While Oshae Brissett has developed as a legitimate third scoring option with Geno Thorpe gone, the Orange are still driven offensively by Tyus Battle and Frank Howard in pick-and-roll. Buffalo disorganized Cuse with extended guards defensively, which the Bonnies will do, as Schmidt’s aggressive pack line principled defense allows just .61 points per possession to pick-and-roll ballhandlers, per Synergy. Courtney Stockard’s ability to stay out of foul trouble is key in this regard, as his long arms disrupt ball screens. This is likely another game where Brissett’s offense as the “third option” will have to carry the Orange.
Loyola Chicago @ Missouri State
The MVC season kicks off early this year with two league contenders facing off in Springfield. Typically, the Bears struggle to limit the Rambler offense, as Missouri State head coach Paul Lusk’s defense is designed to induce jump shots (per Hoop-math.com, only two teams in the country allow fewer shots at the rim than the Bears), but Loyola has been one of the better jump shooting teams in the country the past two seasons.
Unfortunately, the Ramblers begin conference play extremely banged up, as they’re without Clayton Custer at the point and likely still down lock down perimeter defender Ben Richardson. The Ramblers struggled to generate offense without him against a Milwaukee defense tailor made for them to excel against.
Offensively, Missouri State might be down J.T. Miller on the perimeter, but Lusk has a deep bench to bolster a dominant frontcourt of Alize Johnson and Obi Church. The Ramblers aren’t necessarily poor in rim defense, allowing a reasonable 61 percent shooting at the rim per Hoop-math, but they lack the athleticism to shut down Johnson, who Lusk’s offense filters through, especially if Christian Negron remains sidelined.
Xavier @ Northern Iowa
There’s familiarity here, as these two played twice in the span of a week last season thanks to a preaseason tournament before their home-and-home series began.
The Muskies are a tough matchup for Northern Iowa head coach Ben Jacobson’s outstanding defensive schemes that completely wall off the paint since X has so many shooters. Jacobson didn’t alter his scheme in the first meeting since he lacked prep time, and thus Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner dominated in a low possession game. The next week, Jacobson designed a game plan to take away Bluiett. Unfortunately, another of Chris Mack’s weapons stepped up in J.P. Macura. Therein lies the rub for a defensively well-prepared UNI team, as XU can throw out Macura, Kaiser Gates and Quentin Goodin on the perimeter against the compact Panther defense. Macura and Gates will be back tonight for Xavier after missing the Marshall game, but frosh wing Naji Marshall is questionable.
Northern Iowa will have a puncher’s chance against XU’s own pack line principled defense and morphing zone looks, but the UNI offense grinds to a screeching halt when you collapse on Bennett Koch. Koch has dominated teams that try to front him (see UNLV), and been less than pedestrian against double teams and zones (see Iowa State). XU’s defense rarely gets beaten in the post (per Synergy they allow just .60 points per possession on post plays), and Koch simply isn’t a good enough passer out of double teams. UNI runs offense through the post on 15 percent of their possessions, the 10th-highest rate in the country per Synergy. That said, UNI shoots well enough to bail them out with a neutralized Koch, and XU has had issues rotating on the perimeter. Xavier also looked tired at the end of the Marshall game (although Macura and Gates should be fresh), while UNI has had nearly a week to prep for a massive home game.
Diamond Head Classic Breakdown:
MTSU vs. Princeton
Both offenses have advantages in this matchup. Princeton shreds zones to the tune of 1.12 points per possession, and MTSU’s morphing 1-3-1 can be exploited by the Big 3 of Amir Bell, Myles Stephens and Devin Cannady (although the recent play of Sebastian Much has given Princeton’s offense a much-needed fourth option). If Princeton can force MTSU out of zone with their shooting, they will have a few offensive advantages in man to exploit.
Akron vs. USC
At this point, I’m not sure who will suit up for USC. You would think Bennie Boatwright’s plantar wart wouldn’t keep him out of an important tournament, but the Trojans were down four regulars by the end of the Princeton game. Akron actually presents a lot of the same problems that Princeton did. Head coach John Groce goes small with Dan Utomi at the 4, and they fire a lot of 3s out of a fairly simple ball screen motion offense around an emerging post presence in Emmanuel Olojakpoke. Defensively, however, the Zips get caught in a lot of bad matchups at the 3 and 4, and struggle in transition. Allowing an adjusted 1.06 points per possession against the ninth-easiest OOC schedule isn’t encouraging.
Davidson vs. New Mexico State
Chris Jans is an excellent game planner for NMSU, and he’s had nearly a week to prep for Bob McKillop’s top shelf motion offense. Jans also already scouted McKillop’s offense as a Wichita State assistant in 2013. The Shockers won that game with ease, holding the Wildcats to sub-1.00 points per possession. However, that doesn’t negate a few scheme disadvantages for the Aggies. NMSU overplays and overextends on the perimeter with solid one-on-one defenders like Sidy N’Dir and Jemerrio Jones, and two very good motion offenses in St. Mary’s and San Diego exploited that this year. Jones and Eli Chuha will need to check Peyton Aldridge, a tough ask for either. Davidson isn’t elite defensively by any measure, but they’re decent in ball screens, which NMSU runs a good deal of through Zach Lofton. The Aggies must exploit Davidson in the post, but Chuha and Johnathon Wilkins have been hit or miss. One of the more interesting matchups tonight.
Miami @ Hawaii
Not a great matchup for Hawaii, as Eron Ganot’s flex motion offense will run into trouble against one of the best interior defenses in the country that effectively switches on every screen. The Hawaii offense runs almost exclusively through Mike Thomas and Gibson Johnson in the paint, and Miami is just too long around the rim.
- Few teams defend the post and in transition better than Clemson, two keys to slowing down Louisiana’s rim-attacking offense. That said, Clemson’s press offense has struggled, and Bob Marlin will surely extend pressure.
- North Carolina A&T hasn’t faced much full-court pressure, and Radford extends their press at one of the highest rates in the country. Radford’s defensive numbers don’t accurately reflect how effective their press can be, as they’ve played a very tough schedule. Ed Polite, coming off a horrible three-game stretch, should be a matchup nightmare for NCA&T.
- Lamar can create some “extra possession” points with their press against a UC Davis team that struggles with pressure (essential against a suffocating UCD half-court defense). Lamar is weak in the post defensively, but UCD block bulldog Chima Moneke has been battling back issues and was rested in the second half at Nevada.
- Charleston has Jarrell Brantley back, a major plus for a scuffling offense. Coastal Carolina will throw Cliff Ellis’ junk zones at a poor Cougar zone offense, but Brantley was effective in this matchup last year. The Cougars are getting closer to the team that was projected as one of the best in mid-majordom.
- Against Georgia Southern, you must guard in pick-and-roll, as they use more ball screens between their guards Ike Smith, Tookie Brown and Mike Hughes than anyone. ETSU has been average defending pick-and-roll, but they could be down one of their best perimeter defenders in Devontavius Payne.
- Western Michigan was atrocious offensively against Idaho’s pack line defense, and they will face another defense that packs the paint at Milwaukee. Limit Thomas Wilder’s penetration and you’re halfway home against the Broncs. That said, it’s hard to rely on WMU shooting that poorly again.
- Texas’ offense is a nightmare, and their defense is as impressive as any in the country. That said, if you extend out on Collin Sexton, you’ll get torched, and Mo Bamba, while extremely gifted, can be bullied by more physical bigs. Enter Donta Hall and the Alabama frontcourt.
Top Picks (YTD: 139-140-3):
Temple/UGA over 141.5
Lamar/UC Davis under 130.5
St. Bonaventure +6
EKU/Marshall over 160
San Francisco -5.5
Xavier/UNI under 137
Missouri St -5.5
*all lines via Pinnacle at time of publication
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