College basketball notebook: Monday action
Michigan @ Ohio State -2
John Beilein and the Wolverines have very rarely fared well in Columbus, but there’s reason for optimism in this year’s trip. For one, Thad Matta is no longer there, and I think Beilein has a distinct coaching edge over Chris Holtmann. Second, the Buckeyes are quite sound defending in the paint, but have had major rotation issues in their perimeter defense. Offensively, the 3-point averse Buckeyes rely heavily on Jae’Sean Tate’s bullying to the rim. Kaleb Wesson has developed as a legit post threat already, which has opened up the floor for outstanding wing Keita Bates-Diop, one of the premier stat stuffers in the Big Ten. Turnover prone C.J. Jackson forced Holtmann into making a switch on the ball, with Tate and even Bates-Diop moving to the point, which in turn freed Jackson up as a shooter off the ball. Consequently, the Buckeyes posted a hyper-efficient 1.31 points per possession at Wisconsin last time out. That’s clearly unsustainable going forward, but moving Jackson off the ball does indeed portend more consistency in Big Ten play, as his turnovers were a significant hindrance to the offense.
For Michigan offensively, they’re simply going to need a stellar night shooting from the perimeter to win. UM hasn’t shot the ball well to date, but as I mentioned earlier, there are holes in the rotation to exploit against the OSU perimeter defense. Defensively, the Wolverines should struggle. The lowlight of an otherwise solid win over Indiana was Moe Wagner’s post defense against Juwan Morgan. While Morgan is a savvy vet and Wesson is just a freshman, he’s already shown an arsenal of solid post techniques – his wide body could give Wagner issues on the block once again. OSU is also outstanding on the offensive glass, but that has hurt their transition defense – a possible area Michigan can exploit, if they can grab OSU misses.
In short, the post bullying of Wesson and the length of Tate and Diop on the wing could provide major issues for Wagner and UM’s perimeter defense. There’s some distinct variance risk with UM though, as they’ll eventually start shooting the 3 better, and OSU’s defense will allow it.
PICK: Michigan +2
Appalachian State @ Western Carolina +6
Larry Hunter’s WCU squad is a bit of an enigma. They suffered through an injury-plagued season in 2016/17 that forced Hunter to use his freshmen way earlier than expected, as few programs rely more on “apprenticeship” than WCU. (Hunter’s spread motion offense takes time to learn.) They’re healthier this year, but they’ve played an incredibly difficult slate to date, making it tough to get a read. They played Charleston relatively close last time out, but C of C has been disappointing early, and they weren’t at full strength.
App State, meanwhile, has been a pleasant surprise, highlighted by Jim Fox throttling his mentor Bob McKillop’s Davidson squad. ASU also relies heavily on a spread motion offense, but the Mountaineers will have easily the most dynamic player on the floor in 6-foot-5 uber penetrator Ronshad Shabazz. There’s certainly reason to think ASU will regress offensively, and the defense still struggles mightily in containing dribble penetration, but they should routinely exploit a poor WCU transition defense.
Visually, I think WCU is a little better than the numbers show, which are skewed by the fourth-toughest schedule in the country, while App State’s numbers have likely peaked. This one might be a bit closer than expected, but App State does have some revenge in mind from a blown lead at home against WCU last year.
PICK: WCU +6
Missouri St @ North Dakota State +2.5
This will actually be the second meeting this season between these two teams, as North Dakota State picked up a 57-54 road win at Missouri State in November.
The Missouri State frontcourt of Alize Johnson and Obi Church, arguably the most athletic in all of mid-major basketball, will pose a significant challenge to an NDSU frontcourt that is limited at the 5 athletically and plays A.J. Jacobson out of position at the 4. The Bison rely heavily on jump shooting from the 6-foot-6 duo of Jacobson and Paul Miller (and the MSU defensive scheme encourages jump shots), but both have dramatic issues containing dribble penetration. Dave Richman’s Bison also lack a PG, which forces Miller on the ball way too much for comfort. The strength of NDSU is clearly a trio of 6-foot-6 wings, but two of them play out of position, and the athleticism of Johnson and Church quickly negates their length (see what they did to Mike Daum on Saturday).
The Bears can survive a cold shooting night on the road with a superior advantage on the offensive glass. The Bears shot 1-17 from 3 in the first matchup in Springfield, and they still almost won with Johnson dominating the frontcourt on a bad knee. Look for the Bears to get their revenge tonight.
PICK: Missouri St -2.5
Iowa @ Indiana -6
A true battle of Big Ten mediocrity here, as both the Hawkeyes and Hoosiers look like mid- to bottom-tier league teams. Offensively, Iowa shouldn’t have any issues finding perimeter looks against an IU defense still struggling to rotate in Archie Miller’s pack line defense. Isaiah Moss and Jordan Bohannon could both get unreasonably hot tonight, and 6-foot-11 stretch 5 Jack Nunge could pose a significant problem for IU.
Iowa is a poor defensive team, and Fran McCaffery’s soft 2-1-2 zone press likely won’t exploit the turnover issues that plague the IU backcourt. Additionally, Juwan Morgan and De’Ron Davis could have a field day in the post, as Luka Garza is too slow footed for the savvy Morgan, and Davis is too physical. The post feeds from the IU guards have been one of few early season strengths for the Hoosiers, which should pay major dividends tonight.
PICK: Indiana -6
Florida State @ Florida -9
The Gators have lost three straight in this rivalry, but they’re well rested and at home. Oh, and it helps that they’re one of the best offensive teams in the country. What has given Florida issues in the past matchups has been the length of the FSU frontcourt, which has forced Mike White to suck down in the paint with his guards, which in turn has created far too many one-on-one situations for the bevy of 6-foot-7 wings and guards that always populate Leonard Hamilton’s roster. Plus, and forcing defenses to defend the Noles’ athleticism in iso situations is Hamilton’s over-arching offensive philosophy (if you can call it a philosophy).
With Kevarrius Hayes representing the only post defender against Phil Cofer and Mfiondu Kabengele, the same issue remains. Jalen Hudson and Egor Koulechov simply can’t limit penetration from Terance Mann or Braian Angola without help defenders. On the other end of the floor, the length of the Noles’ backcourt is an issue for the much smaller Chris Chiozza and KeVaughn Allen, but it’s hard to envision the senior bulldog Chiozza not having a significant offensive game in his final crack at FSU.
PICK: FSU +9
Other notes to consider:
- Steve Henson is facing his mentor Lon Kruger when UTSA visits Oklahoma (-23.5) tonight. Henson is modeling his program exactly like Kruger’s high-octane, efficient transition offense. The Sooners are electric with Trae Young at the point, but they have some pretty glaring defensive issues on the perimeter.
- Steve Prohm “fixed” Iowa State (-15.5) by moving Nick Weiler Babb on the ball and sliding talented frosh Lindell Wigginton off of it. NIU brings a frenetic zone press to Hilton, and the well-rested Clones should score at will, but they do have the Iowa game on deck.
- Road weary Columbia (-11) heads home to Levien for the first time this year. The Lions are off back-to-back heartbreakers against UConn and Albany. Quinnipiac can’t guard Mike Smith in ball screens.
- Penn State (-4) doesn’t have to double Ethan Happ thanks to Mike Watkins, and the Badger offense looks incapable of creating offense if it isn’t filtered through or provided by Happ. It’s a major issue for Wisconsin and the main reason they look likely to finally fall out of the top four in the Big Ten.
Monday’s Top Picks (YTD: 100-95)
Missouri State -2.5