UT Arlington @ Creighton

Interesting matchup in Omaha, as there are a few advantages for the Mavs tonight in a hostile road environment (which might be a little less hostile during the holiday break).

First and foremost, Erick Neal is likely to play after missing UT Arlington’s matchup with Texas-Rio Grande Valley due to personal matters. He made the trip to Omaha, so I would be shocked if he doesn’t suit up. Obviously this whole preview goes out the window if one of the best point guards in the country ends up not playing.

Second, UTA’s ball-line defense is one of the best lane-clogging defenses in the country, thanks to the addition of 7-footer Johnny Hamilton. Per Hoop-math.com, they allow the 30th lowest field goal percentage at the rim, while allowing shots at the rim at the 26th lowest rate. That’s absolutely essential against Creighton, who runs one of the most efficient “paint-touch” offenses in the country, shooting 73 percent at the rim, the ninth best mark nationally per Hoop-math. Teams that run a lot of offense through the lane have tended to struggle against the UTA defense. That said, Creighton can obviously shoot from the perimeter, and they’re particularly lights out at home. But a lot of the open looks come from being able to suck in help defenders, which is tough to achieve against UTA’s defensive scheme, which is heavy on penetration and entry pass denial.

Third, while Khyri Thomas is an elite defender, Creighton has been susceptible to off-ball motion and teams that can expose them at the 4 (see what T.J. Maston and Killian Tillie/Johnathan Williams did to the Bluejays). That’s precisely where UTA excels with Neal’s court vision and NBA prospect Kevin Hervey’s versatility at the 4. Hervey has a mega plus matchup against Ronnie Harrell, as uber defender Thomas is too small to guard him in the post, and Toby Hegner/Martin Krampelj aren’t agile enough when he’s facing the basket.

PICK: UT Arlington +13

Bullet Points:

  • Kent State has had nine days off to rest Jaylin Walker, who returned for 30 mostly ineffective minutes against Wright State. Kent State isn’t a good 3-point shooting team, but Walker certainly helps with spacing, and Rob Senderoff likes to run a lot offense through Danny Pippen and Adonis De La Rosa in the post, where Northeastern is extremely poor defensively. Defensively, KSU should be able to match up well against Bill Coen’s pick-and-roll heavy attack, as KSU can switch on most screens with a versatile four-out lineup that features lengthy frosh BJ Duling at the 4. Per Hooplens.com, KSU limits opponents to .96 points per possession. I mentioned KSU has struggled to shoot from the perimeter, hitting just 31 percent from 3, but NU has also been the recipient of some poor shooting performances from opposing offenses. A healthy Walker and a post-heavy attack should cause some problems for the Huskies.
  • Both offenses in Idaho/Western Michigan should be able to score tonight, as WMU has struggled to defend motion offenses similar to Don Verlin’s with the Vandals, while Idaho’s pack line/zone bases have been susceptible to pick-and-roll heavy teams, which is WMU to a tee thanks to outstanding PG Thomas Wilder. Steve Hawkins doesn’t press much at WMU, but it’s a good idea against Idaho to disrupt their motion, much like CSUB accomplished twice, as the Vandals were held to .82 ppp and 1.01 ppp in two losses to the Runners. Idaho came out sluggish in a tuneup vs Simon Fraser,  a team that runs a burn offense, so I would expect them to be a little sharper after a bit of a wake-up call.
  • Cliff Ellis always runs myriad sagging defenses and junk zones at Coastal Carolina, which can make it difficult for an extremely pick-and-roll heavy team like Wake Forest to run their offense. Both teams will go zone a fair amount, but both offenses have been shredding zones with good perimeter shooting this year. Ellis has been shifting Jaylen Shaw more and more off the ball, moving Zac Cuthbertson to a “point-forward,” and his passing would be key against Wake’s 2-3. Wake could return stud frosh Chaundee Brown from a foot injury, and per Hooplens, he’s been a net +.14 points per possession when he’s on the floor.
  • Since Michael Perry took over for Jeff Lebo at ECU, the Pirates have gone small, shifting B.J. Tyson off the ball to the 3, and running Ike Fleming and frosh Shawn Williams. That small ball alignment, with Kentrell Barkley at the 4, has produced at 1.08 points per possession per Hooplens, and they’ve won three straight at home (albeit against less than stellar competition, and not by convincing margins by any stretch). Perry is running way more pick-and-roll than Lebo, with Fleming the main beneficiary, and Charlotte’s one of the worst pick-and-roll defenses in the country. Now Charlotte comes in with their own baggage obviously, as Mark Price was unceremoniously “pick-axed” (get it? Niners, pick axe, fired). Houston Fancher takes over for Price, and the general sense from Charlotte fans is that while the process of dismissing Price was handled poorly, this could be a positive for the Niners overall. Fancher annually ran of the most up-tempo offenses in the country when he was in charge at Appalachian State, and with Jon Davis at the helm, the Niners are set to run; they’ve scored at 1.14 points per possession in transition per Synergy. Of course, the main issue is whether or not Fancher can get the Niners to defend at all, which is where Charlotte is expected to see the most immediate difference. Per Hoop-math.com, no team in the country attempts field goals at the rim at a higher rate than the Pirates, and Charlotte has allowed teams to shoot at 72 percent at the rim, the ninth-worst mark in the nation.
  • Indiana should get some revenge after last year’s loss in Fort Wayne. The undersized Dons haven’t seen an offense that runs through the post as much as Archie Miller filters offense through Juwan Morgan and De’Ron Davis. Defensively, the Hoosiers are still struggling to grasp Miller’s pack line as they allow a lot of open looks from the perimeter with poor close outs and rotations, and they’re a middling transition defense, where the Dons thrive. It’s likely you’ll see both offenses thrive at times, as the Hoosiers have to extend out on John Konchar, but he’s an excellent passer. Bryson Scott has been horrific shooting the ball, however, and he’ll have to be able to hit jump shots if the Dons are to pull off another upset, as he’ll be sagged off on all night.
  • We’ll find out tonight what Tim Jankovich plans to do with Jahmal McMurray when SMU hosts Boise State. McMurray is a high-scoring combo guard who transferred in from South Florida, and could be a much-needed scoring option in a small ball Pony lineup. However, Jankovich has given some indication that McMurray might redshirt, which would seem like a strange decision unless it was somehow related to academics. SMU is an immediate contender in the AAC, and McMurray has proven he can score at this level. As for the game itself, this one likely comes down to who hits more jump shots. Both squads are reliant on the 3, and both defenses tend to be very compact. SMU runs a pack-lined principled scheme that really clogs up the lane, while Leon Rice has been using a fair amount of extended 2-3 with a 3/4 court soft zone press. SMU had trouble with the length of Chandler Hutchison last year in Boise, and managed to hit just one 3-pointer.
  • Montana State has had nine days off to rest Tyler Hall’s ailing ankle, while Denver has been on the other end of the spectrum, playing their third game in five days, all on the road. MSU is incredibly small in the frontcourt, and the Pios run as much post offense as anyone in the country through Daniel Amigo. 
  • Both Idaho State and Youngstown State can only score efficiently in transition. YSU hasn’t faced a zone yet this year, and Bill Evans still runs out his old 1-1-3 with a fair amount of frequency. YSU, meanwhile, under Jerrod Calhoun has alternated between a matchup full-court press and sitting back in a soft zone in the halfcourt. The Bengals haven’t played anyone of note since Jared Stutzman became eligible, but per Hooplens, he’s had an immediate impact on both ends, as ISU is scoring at 1.07 points per possession with him on the floor and just .88 with him off. Defensively, the Bengals have held teams to .89ppp with Stutzman on the floor and 1.10 with him off. Again, that sample size includes two non-D1 opponents as well as Seattle, SJSU and CSUN, so take it with a grain of salt. YSU doesn’t have a point guard, as Francisco Santiago lost his job under Calhoun and then got hurt, which has shifted uber-scorer Cam Morse on the ball, which in turn has destroyed his efficiency so far.
  • Per Hooplens, Valpo’s offense hums at 1.11 points per possession with Tevonn Walker on the floor, and just 1.01 when he’s off. Additionally his defensive prowess on the perimeter spurs a lot of offense, and the Crusaders hold teams to .82ppp when he’s on the court. Walker is out with mono but is reportedly feeling better, so while a return tonight at Santa Clara is unlikely, he is at least traveling with the team. Santa Clara is a very fundamentally sound transition defense, which hurts the Crusaders, especially without Walker in the halfcourt, and they run a lot of pick-and-roll between dual PGs KJ Feagin and Matt Hauser, another area where Walker’s absence smarts. Valpo does have a bit of an axe to grind against the Broncs, as Santa Clara won the at ARC in a 2OT thriller, one of just two home OOC games Valpo has lost in the past three years.

Monday’s Top Picks (YTD: 132-127-2):

UTA +13

Kent State +1.5

Santa Clara -1

Quinnipiac +8.5

Idaho/WMU over 141.5

*all lines via 5Dimes at time of publication

Be part of the Action

Download the Sports Action app at the App Store or Google Play

Follow Jordan Majewski on Twitter
@jorcubsdan
THE ACTION NETWORK