College Basketball Notebook: MACtion Begins

College Basketball Notebook: MACtion Begins article feature image

Ohio @ Central Michigan

Last year, CMU gained national attention with the high-octane backcourt of Marcus Keene, who led the nation in scoring, and Braylon Rayson. While Keene and Rayson were fun to watch, the Chips were completely unlike a typical Keno Davis team that features excellent ball moving and spacing. Keene and Rayson dominated the ball (the Chips were 349th in assist rate), and played no defense (CMU ended at 345th nationally in defensive efficiency rating). CMU finished the year on an eight-game losing streak, but Rayson graduated and Keene left to play pro ball in Italy.

The Chips, while not a top-tier MAC contender, have improved this year on defense. Davis extends pressure full court at a high rate, as CMU enters MAC play with the 11th highest percentage of time spent in press, per Synergy. The press hasn’t generated many turnovers, but in combination with a 2-3 zone, has at least forced teams to execute offensively. As a result, the Chips’ defensive average possession length has increased by nearly two seconds this year.

The Chips welcome a severely shorthanded Ohio team, especially in the frontcourt, as star big man Jason Carter has suffered another injury. Despite all the injuries, Saul Phillips has navigated the Bobcats through a fairly successful OOC season, buoyed by freshman guard Teyvion Kirk, point forward Gavin Block and sharpshooter Jordan Dartis, while Kevin Mickle and Doug Taylor have shouldered the load in the frontcourt.

Offensively, despite not having a “traditional” point guard, the Bobcats have excelled against pressure, scoring in the 99th percentile per Synergy. Ohio’s offense thrives in transition, but CMU’s new-look defense limits offenses in transition. Phillips runs a paint touch heavy offense, even without Carter, and I suspect he will attack Luke Meyer in the post with Mickle and Taylor. However, keep an eye out for the possible return (academics) of DaRohn Scott, CMU’s best post defender. If the CMU zone keeps the ball out of the paint, Dartis, Block and Mike Laster will have to shoot the Bobcats to victory.

Defensively, Ohio will rebound and keep teams off the foul line. Kirk has emerged as one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, and the Bobcats have excelled at ICEing ball handlers (forcing the ball handler away from the screen) in pick-and-roll, a key against CMU PG Shawn Roundtree, who initiates the Chips’ offense. CMU’s best offense has come via Cecil Williams moving off the ball in Davis’ motion offense, where he’s scoring at a remarkable 1.45 points per possession, per Synergy.

Both of these teams are likely due for some 3-point shooting regression on the defensive end, as OOC opponents have hovered around 30 percent shooting against both.

All in all, shorthanded Ohio matches up fairly well on the road against the new-look Chips, but it could simply come down to how many jump shots Dartis and Block can hit over the CMU zone.

Other MACtion Notes:

  • Ball State usually shreds Eastern Michigan’s trapping Syracuse 2-3 zone, as James Whitford exposes the zone with two bigs in the high post, one a shooter (Kyle Mallers this year) and the other an outstanding passer (Trey Moses). It also helps to have an outstanding point guard like Tayler Persons. Last year, the Cardinals posted 1.11 and 1.16 points per possession in a sweep of EMU, even forcing Eastern Michigan head coach Rob Murphy out of the zone in Muncie. These two have had some high-scoring battles the last few years, as EMU’s length in the post gives the Cards problems, as has their ability to generate turnovers out of the zone. This year, however, Tahj Teague and Mallers have morphed into excellent post defenders.
  • Kent State at Northern Illinois will likely be tough to watch at times. Northern Illinois head coach Mark Montgomery doesn’t zone a ton, but will most like against KSU given their lack of shooters. NIU initiates their predictable offense with a high ball screen for Eugene German, but KSU’s pick-an-droll defense has been one of their few strengths.
  • There’s no question Toledo head coach Tod Kowalczyk is a motion offense guru, and his ability to space his bigs away from the rim at Toledo and open drive-and-kick shooting lanes for his guards and wings is always outstanding action. What the Rockets don’t do is defend, especially in transition and in ball screens. Per Synergy, Toledo grades out in just the seventh percentile nationally defending ball handlers in pick-and-roll. Those numbers are a major concern against transition- and rim-attacking heavy Buffalo. Buffalo head coach Nate Oats has a bit of a problem on his hands. Former Mizzou PG Wes Clark gained eligibility three games ago. Here are Buffalo’s efficiency splits with Clark on and off the court since being eligible, per


On Floor: Clark, Wes

Selected Lineup
Other Lineups
Selected Lineup
Other Lineups
Points Per Pos 1.05 0.90 1.10 1.00
Possessions 167 63 173 61
Four Factors
eFG% 47.7 46.2 55.8 40.2
Turnover% 17.4 22.2 21.4 14.8
Off Reb% 33.7 40.0 40.6 27.0
FTA/FGA 0.226 0.327 0.434 0.451
Shooting Breakdown
2FG% 39.5 44.4 60.6 27.8
3FG% 37.8 32.0 26.7 46.7
FT% 80.0 52.9 82.1 87.0
3FGA/FGA 0.477 0.481 0.233 0.294

As you can see, the Bulls’ offense has been stellar. The defense… not so much. Of course, two of those games came against Syracuse and Texas A&M, but the third was at home against NJIT, where the Bulls allowed 1.04 points per possession in an OT win. The sample size is too small, but it’s something to keep an eye on, especially since the Bulls generate so much offense through their defense. Toledo waxed the Bulls to open last year’s MAC season, scoring 86 points in 70 possessions in a 32-point blowout win as the Rockets blew by the aggressive Buffalo perimeter defense after the Bulls guards picked up several quick hand check whistles.

  • Akron can’t stop teams at the rim, as Manny Olojakpoke, the only interior force, is thin and very foul prone. All of Western Michigan’s offensive sets are predicated on the exceptional Thomas Wilder getting into the lane either via ball screen or breaking his man down one on one, but Akron does have one outstanding individual perimeter defender in Malcolm Duvivier, as the Oregon State transfer grades out in the 83rd percentile nationally, per Synergy. John Groce has installed a pick-and-roll heavy, space-and-pace offense revolving around Duvivier, Daniel Utomi and Jimond Ivey. That’s troublesome for WMU, who is poor in transition defense with their reliance on pounding the ball deep inside, and the Broncs only have one solid perimeter defender in ball screens in Bryce Moore.
  • Bowling Green operates under the space-and-pace premise, attacking the rim in transition and off pick-and-roll, but the Falcons will pound it into the post as much as any MAC team, especially to Demajeo Wiggins, which should give Miami fits. However, Darrian Ringo, who currently has the nation’s third-highest steal rate, can shut down Rod Caldwell. The issue is whether anyone else on the RedHawks can defend, especially against Wiggins and Justin Turner on the wing.

Other notes:

  •  It might seem counterintuitive to 1-3-1 Butler, the team that just shot 15-22 from 3 against Villanova, but the Bulldogs have poor ball movement and spacing, which makes it easier to help off of them on the perimeter. Look for Xavier to attack subpar defenders Tyler Wideman and Nate Fowler early in the post.
  • Drexel might finally be healthy tonight, which spells trouble for UNC Wilmington. Few teams run pick-and-roll and drag screens more than the Dragons, which UNCW struggles to defend.
  • JMU has major issues defensively, especially against motion offenses, and coach Tony Shaver’s four-out motion at William & Mary is among the best in the country. The Dukes’ weak post will struggle to defend uber-efficient Nate Knight thanks to the Tribe’s weapons on the perimeter.
  • Northeastern and Hofstra each run pick-and-roll heavy offenses; neither can defend it, however.
  • Elon’s press offense has been decent, which helps against Towson, but the Phoenix struggle in terms of ball screen defense, which is all Towson runs. Elon did finally look like the most experienced team in the country in their CAA opener against shorthanded Drexel.
  • Delaware limps into Charleston banged up, and I’m not sure of Kevin Anderson’s status. The Hens have been lost defending in pick-and-roll, and College of Charleston head coach Earl Grant runs both Joe Chealey and Grant Riller off a litany of ball screens. Ryan Daly is essentially the entire offense for Delaware, but this is a plus matchup for Eric Carter in the post.
  • Kansas against a pack line defense like Texas Tech’s is a frightening notion if you’re a Red Raider fan. TTU’s motion offense works strictly via paint touch, which Kansas can defend.
  • Jo Lual-Acuil might not play, but Bylor will have issues defensively regardless. TCU can shred the 1-1-3 thanks to a high post threat like Kenrich Williams.
  • Tennessee, despite their lack of size, runs a highly efficient post offense as a result of their “positionless” versatility. Defensively, Tennessee shuts down transition and pick-and-roll, which should worry Auburn. The Tigers, one of the best post defenses in the country, have issues in perimeter defense that the Vols can exploit.
  • Wisconsin rarely doubles the post, but they might have to tonight against block-oriented Indiana. Ethan Happ can’t afford to get in foul trouble against De’Ron Davis and Juwan Morgan, and you don’t need to stay at home on IU’s shooters. The Badgers always look to take away the 3-point line, which is superfluous against the Hoosiers. Offensively, Happ can terrorize the IU pack line by passing out of quick doubles. The Kohl Center will continue to haunt IU if the Badgers hit jump shots tonight.

Tuesday Top Picks (YTD: 185-178-3):

Ohio +2

Akron +7


EMU/Ball State over 149

Hofstra/Northeastern over 149.5

William & Mary +2

Drexel +3

IUPUI +2.5

Nebraska +8


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