Fairfield @ Rider
Fairfield swept Rider last year, but those two wins come with a big shiny asterisk, as Bronc point guard Stevie Jordan played a total of 11 minutes in the series (injury/suspension). Jordan, Rider’s most important player, drives head coach Kevin Baggett’s rim-attacking, transition-heavy offense. Rider also added two key pieces that the Stags didn’t see last year in DePaul transfer Fred Scott and sharp shooter Jordan Allen.
Rider solely focuses on pounding the ball inside, usually through Jordan’s penetration. Per Hoop-math.com, the Broncs have the 28th highest field goal attempt rate at the rim nationally. They can also go inside via Ty Marshall post-ups and side ball screens for Scott, a 6-foot-8 4 with ball skills who should give Fairfield fits. While Scott draws contact at the 44th highest rate in the country, he does only shoot free throws just north of 50 percent.
Fairfield will attempt to slow down Rider in a few ways. First, Sydney Johnson extends full-court pressure at a top-25 rate nationally, per Synergy. Rider hasn’t seen a press this year outside of stretches against Drexel and Hampton, and Jordan struggled against the Dragons’ press. Second, the Stags mix in a lot of zone, which effectively clogged the lane against Rider last year. However, Rider now has the shooters in Scott and Allen to deal with zones. Allen, a long 6-foot-4 volume shooter, has canned 40 percent of his 114 attempts from deep.
Defensively, Rider goes under screens to induce missed jump shots that they can run off of, which generally backfires against Sydney Johnson’s Princeton principled motion offense. Volume scorer Tyler Nelson, poised to become the Stags’ all time leading scorer, has torched the Broncs in his illustrious career. Fairfield’s tempo has also increased in recent years, as Johnson allows his team to push more often in transition, which could burn a Rider team that rarely has anyone to rotate back with so much focus on getting into the paint and crashing the boards.
With the availability of Jordan and the additions of Scott and Allen, Rider can better handle both Fairfield’s pressure and zone. On the other end, Fairfield should have plenty of opportunities from behind the arc with Nelson and Ferron Flavors. I think Rider ultimately gets their revenge tonight at the Zoo in a game that should feature plenty of points.
- Despite Oakland’s slow start in league play, tonight’s tilt with Northern Kentucky could be a Horizon title game preview. While Oakland had all the preseason hype with the addition of Kendrick Nunn, who has exceeded expectations despite injuries, the defending champion Norse remain the team to beat. Oakland swept the Norse last year, largely because NKU couldn’t contain Jalen Hayes at the rim or match up with Martez Walker on the perimeter. Both players return, but the Norse defend much better without Cole Murray on the perimeter. With Murray’s departure, better defenders like Dantez Walton and Jalen Tate see more minutes, and they have the length to at least somewhat contain Nunn and Walker. Accordingly, Northern Kentucky coach John Brannen has extended pressure more this year, but that might backfire against Nunn. Both teams use dribble drive motion and excellent ball movement on offense and extend past the 3-point line on defense. Game of the night.
- Both Niagara and Siena enter tonight’s contest desperately looking to avoid 0-3 MAAC starts. Niagara allows the 11th highest FG attempt rate at the rim in the country, which Siena’s ubiquitous flex motion should exploit, especially since Siena College coach Jimmy Pastos has played more dual posts lately. Per Synergy, Niagara grades out in just the 17th percentile in post defense. The Purple Eagles also can’t defend ball screens, which Roman Penn and Nico Clareth can exploit. Niagara will have ample opportunities in transition with Khalil Dukes and Matt Scott, and can also take advantage of Siena’s poor ball screen defense. Both offenses should thrive.
- Justin Robinson handled Manhattan’s zone press with ease as Monmouth’s point guard, but the Hawks have struggled against ball pressure since his departure. Per Synergy, they score just .62 points per possession in their press offense, and they turn it over at the 18th highest rate nationally. The Jaspers spend 41 percent of their defensive possessions in full-court press, the highest rate in the country. If Monmouth can actually get into the half court, they do have the shooters to score on Manhattan’s 2-3.
Friday Top Picks (YTD 202-197-4):
Fairfield/Rider over 155.5
Rider -(waiting because I think the number will go down)
Akron/Toledo over 153
Elon/Northeastern over 139
*all lines via 5Dimes at time of publication