College basketball notebook: Intriguing Sunday slate
North Carolina @ Tennessee
Interesting game of the day that has a few advantages for the Vols, besides being at TBA. UNC rallied from a 15 point deficit in Chapel Hill last year, but also played without Joel Berry and Theo Pinson.
First, Tennessee can shoot the ball. With essentially three point guards on the floor at times in Jordan Bone, James Daniel, and Lamonte Turner, the Vols have the second highest assist rate in the country, and take turns finding each other on penetrate and kick action, with wings Admiral Schofield and Jordan Bowden hitting triples at a high rate off spot ups as well. We all know Roy Williams tends to sag off the perimeter defensively to force jump shots and grab misses and get out in transition, but that could very well be an issue against a Tennessee team that can fire away from multiple positions.
Second, Tennessee is actually the nation’s 6th most prolific post-up offense, per Synergy, and don’t run a whole lot of PnR, which is the strength of UNC’s defense. Undersized Grant Williams is the primary post target, and he’s also effective in pick and pop situations, where he’s scoring at 1.34 points per possession away from the rim, utilizing his speed and athleticism against bigger defenders effectively. UNC always has two bigs on the floor, and they’re annually one of the best interior defenses in the country, but Williams’ speed could be an issue for Sterling Manley and Garrison Brooks.
Third, Tennessee is a very good PnR defense, which is essential against Luke Maye. Maye is scoring at an absurd 1.62 points per possession as the roll man (per Synergy), but thanks to the versatility and athleticism of Rick Barnes’ “positionless” system, the Vols grade out in the 97% percentile in PnR defense (again, per Synergy). That said, look for an expanded role from Jalek Felton in PnR for the Heels. Granted it’s been against WCU and Tulane in blowouts, but Felton has been outstanding as the ball handler in PnR, and if he can move Berry off the ball more, UNC’s offense could have a different look. That’s an interesting subplot in this game.
Fourth, both teams are prolific in transition, but UNC more so, as they attempt shots on the break at the 16th highest rate in the country, per hoop-math.com. However, Rick Barnes teams are typically sound in transition defense, and this year’s iteration of the Vols is no different, as they allow the 7th lowest eFG% in transition (per hoop-math).
However, Tennessee’s excellent PnR defense and outstanding rim protection defense (allowing just 47.5% shooting at the rim, good for 9th nationally per hoop-math), could all be undone by UNC’s ability to play volleyball on the offensive glass against a poor defensive rebounding team. If the Vols can have a modicum of success in grabbing UNC’s misses, they should have a very good chance at coming away with a win. Interesting side note, Barnes and Roy have a significant history against each other, and while Barnes hasn’t beat him at Tennessee, he won 5 times against the Heels while at Texas.
PICK: Tennessee +2
- There’s some hope for Fairfield today. Old Dominion isn’t the greatest matchup on paper, but the Stags, particularly Tyler Nelson, have shot the ball at an unsustainable poor rate from 3. At some point, Nelson is going to get hot, and the only way to beat Jeff Jones’ cement mixer compact interior defense is to bomb away from outside. Expect Sydney Johnson to be in zone almost exclusively against the Monarchs.
- UNCW’s PnR defense has been atrocious, and the transition into the CB McGrath era seems to have gotten off to a rocky start off the court, as JaQuel Richmond was dismissed from the team, and there have been a few first-half suspensions. Furman is a very good transition defense, which is key against a team modeled after the Tar Heels, but the Dins lack a solid post defender against Devontae Cacok and should have trouble defending him as the roller in PnR.
- Arizona State isn’t a good matchup for Vandy in any regard, as ASU’s hyper-aggressive backcourt on both ends should dominate young Saben Lee, and they can attack Riley LaChance off the dribble all the day. That said, it will be interesting to see how ASU responds after some time to rest on their laurels, so to speak. Bobby Hurley’s teams always play with a “us against the world” mentality, but now they are the world after winning at Phog Allen.
- Not a whole lot to like about George Mason today, even at home. GMU REALLY struggles against zones and handling any sort of ball pressure, both of which were exposed to dramatic effect against Georgia Southern, who was shorthanded to add salt to the Patriot wound. Penn State has a height/athleticism advantage 1-5, and they’re a plus PnR team, where GMU gets caught in bad switches too often against teams with size, and Tone Carr could have a big game. Pat Chambers will also extend pressure and likely keep his foot on the gas after the Nittany Lions were depantsed at home by GMU last year.
- La Salle’s offense is essentially just iso spots for Pookie Powell and BJ Johnson, which isn’t the best way to beat Mercer’s compact zone defense. Mercer’s a veteran team with 5 senior starters with Ria’n Holland back from injury, and the Explorers are coming off a loss to Big 5 rival and #1 Villanova where they were more than competitive for 30+ minutes.
- Marcus LoVett sounds questionable at best for St. John’s today, and Tim Cluess’ Iona team is a difficult to extend pressure on, as they practice against it every day and they’re scoring at 1.2 points per possession against pressure (per Synergy). Cluess will run out an extended matchup zone press, but the Johnnies have actually been more efficient against zones than man. The good news for Iona is that St. John’s is going to expose their weakness on the glass.
- Too much injury variable with San Francisco tonight, as Souley Boum, Matt McCarthy, and Erik Poulsen are all banged up/out. McCarthy and Poulsen would be vital against Stanford’s dual big offense of Reid Travis and Michael Humphrey, and Boum is Kyle Smith’s best shot creator. Per hooplens.com, USF scores at 1.02 points per possession with Boum, and .99 without him.
- UCSB coach Joe Pasternack is well familiar with USC, a team Arizona typically throttled while Pasternack coached the Zona defense on Sean Miller bench. However, guarding PnR heavy USC could be an issue if Marcus Jackson is unable to go, as he’s been having issues with his hip again. That said, I think UCSB can score tonight, as USC has been abysmal in PnR defense, and Max Heidegger can torch you if he gets lost off screens, which tends to happen a lot in Andy Enfield’s defense. Heidegger has arguably been the best midmajor player in the country a third of the way through the season.
Sunday Top Picks (YTD: 130-125-1):
Penn State -11.5
*all lines via 5Dimes at time of publication