Gulf Coast Showcase, Estero, FL
UMKC vs. Manhattan
Two pressure schemes here, as both Kareem Richardson and Steve Masiello are off the Rick Pitino coaching tree and utilize similar zone pressure schemes. The Roos have younger and smaller guards in Brandon McKissic and Xavier Bishop, but Zavier Turner and Aaron Walker aren’t much bigger for the Jaspers. Between Isaiah Ross, Broderick Robinson and Jordan Giles, the Roos look like their typical run-and-chuck offense, but the problem is they collectively can’t make a shot. Masiello used a lot of zone in the halfcourt against Harvard, and I would suspect he does the same against UMKC. Rich Williams, Zane Waterman and Calvin Crawford all have plus matchups offensively with their length and ability to play on the perimeter.
PICK: Manhattan -6.5
Georgia Southern vs. Missouri State
Expectations are high for the Bears this year, but I’m not sure Paul Lusk can deliver. MSU laid an egg at home against North Dakota State last time out. Alize Johnson put up a 20/20 performance, but that was literally it, as MSU struggled to .83 points per possession. Now they face a veteran GSU team with three outstanding guards in Tookie Brown, Ike Smith and Mike Hughes. No team utilizes pick-and-roll more than the Eagles with their backcourt, and that means Johnson and Obi Church are going to have to guard some smaller, quicker guards today. Conversely, MSU has a big advantage on the other end against the four-out scheme, and Jake Allsmiller can be picked on routinely in the half court. Lusk is essentially running the entire offense through Johnson at this point (and against NDSU, the Bears went 1-17 from 3 and had a single assist), which means much improved Montae Glenn has to stay out of foul trouble, but even 6-foot-3 bulldog defender Hughes could see time on Johnson despite the height mismatch. It can’t get much worse than the NDSU game for MSU, so a bounceback is likely, but GSU is a tough matchup.
PICK: Georgia Southern PK
Northern Illinois vs. Penn
NIU has only played one game thanks to a tilt with St. Francis College being cancelled due to a wet court, but they looked like the same old Huskies under Mark Montgomery against Green Bay, extending some trapping zone pressure schemes and attacking the rim heavily with what appeared to be a much improved Eugene German and two tweener forwards in Levi Bradley and Lacey James. As for Penn, it looks like Steve Donahue is pretty intent on making this bigger lineup, where he slides AJ Brodeur to the 4 with Max Rothschild at the 5, work. I’m not sure that’s the best course of action against NIU, as their defense puts a lot of pressure on your guards and leaves a lot of open shots on the perimeter. Penn likely struggles offensively to start this game as Donahue figures out a rotation.
PICK: Northern Illinois +4.5
Towson vs. FAU
Pretty interesting matchup. FAU projects to be a strong rebounding team with twin towers Ron Delph and William Pfister, meaning they can go big and mitigate the relentless offensive glass crashing of the Tigers. What doesn’t project well for FAU is that Towson will likely get those two in foul trouble. Michael Curry’s defensive scheme places a high premium on taking away the 3-point line, which might as well not exist for rim attacking Towson. Anthony Adger and Payton Hulsey look like like a plus perimeter defense for Curry, but they’ll have trouble staying in front of the big, physical guards of the Tigers. Towson’s steal and turnover rates might not reflect it, but Pat Skerry is extending pressure full court for large stretches, and that’s really going to test Adger on the ball, who hasn’t seen anything like that yet on the D1 level.
PICK: Towson -9
Cayman Islands Classic
Louisiana vs. Iowa
Iowa looked less than impressive defensively against a smaller, quicker Grambling team and inexplicably didn’t utilize their size advantage in the paint until later in the game. ULL is a much stiffer test, and they can really exploit the plodding Iowa defense that looked incredibly slow footed, especially getting back in transition — and that’s where the Cajuns excel. Bob Marlin’s backcourt depth allows him to withstand the loss of someone like Johnathan Stove, as Ced Russell and P.J. Hardy provide some shooting that his previous teams have lacked, which in turn opens up the floor for athletic bigs Bryce Washington and Jakeenan Gant. South Carolina transfer Marcus Stroman has had some issues with ball control at the point, and Fran McCaffery will extend a 1-2-2 three-quarter court trapping zone press to disrupt him. The Hawkeyes look stout at the rim defensively, but freshmen Luka Garza and Jack Nunge haven’t been tested against two SWAC teams and tiny Chicago State, and they certainly will be against attack-heavy ULL. Garza got banged up against Grambling but should be good to go. If the Hawkeyes can keep Washington and Gant at bay, they should be able to pull away late from an explosive Cajun squad.
PICK: Iowa -8
South Dakota State vs. Wyoming
SDSU’s strength is the ability to invert opposing bigs with the versatility and stretching ability of the Dauminator Mike Daum and Reed Tellinghuisen, but against positionless Wyoming, that’s quickly mitigated. Between Justin James and Alan Herndon, Allen Edwards has two bigs who can guard anywhere on the floor, and Herndon particularly is an athletic rim protector who can get outside of the paint and defend. The Pokes are lethal in transition with multiple ball handlers and long shooters everywhere — especially if Alex Aka Gorski is available for this tournament. These two met last year in Laramie, and Daum went for 24 and hit five 3s, but Wyoming posted 1.12 points per possession and scored easily in transition.
PICK: Wyoming -2
Richmond vs. UAB
The Spiders have struggled already against any length and athleticism (see Jacksonville State), and UAB oozes length and athleticism, especially in the frontcourt with Chris Cokley and HaHa Lee, where the Blazers will have a massive advantage. Richmond has had a week off since the JSU disaster, and De’Monte Buckingham, Jacob Gilyard and Nick Sherod offer a potent backcourt offensively and will have to carry the Spiders, but I don’t see how Grant Golden and the frontcourt competes on the glass and at the rim today. Richmond certainly isn’t as poor as they’ve shown early, but I’m going to wait on a Spider bounceback until Khwan Fore returns.
PICK: UAB -7.5
Buffalo vs. Cincinnati
These two teams mirror each other in a lot of ways, as both are attack-heavy offensively and utilize their versatility and athleticism to overwhelm opponents. Of course, Cincy does it with a much higher caliber of athlete. Defensively, Buffalo is active and aggressive, fighting through every screen and disrupting passing lanes. Cane Broome and Justin Jenifer have to show a lot of poise, as this will be their first test against a big, athletic backcourt. Offensively, Buffalo works through penetration into the paint and feeding Nick Perkins, but with Cincy’s switching pack line principled defense and the athleticism and versatility of Gary Clark and Kyle Washington, it’s going to be difficult for Buffalo to get anything consistent at the rim, as the Bearcats are annually one of the best rim-protecting defenses in the entire country. Cincy looks like they’re willing to strike quickly offensively this year, as Mick Cronin seems like he’s delivering on his offseason promise. The Bearcats should find some creases against a Buffalo defense that oddly doesn’t switch on screens despite their versatility.
PICK: Cincinnati -15.5
MGM Resorts Main Event, Las Vegas
Prairie View A&M vs. Eastern Kentucky
The status of PG Asante Gist’s ankle is still unknown for the Colonels, but I’m not sure Dan McHale will need him against PVAM, as EKU should be able to overwhelm the Panthers in the paint with the talented Nick Mayo, who can also essentially run the offense without Gist. Byron Smith will, however, extend a lot of ball pressure, especially with ball hawk Dennis Jones, and without Gist the Colonels struggled for 30 minutes against a D2 team when they extended pressure. Zach Hamilton is a potent wing scorer for PVAM, and the EKU perimeter defense hasn’t exactly set the world on fire. The Panthers probably compete here for at least a half.
PICK: EKU -10
Georgia State vs. Eastern Washington
GSU can attack off the dribble like few other mid-majors thanks to the outstanding triple double threat D’Marcus Simonds, and EWU’s backcourt has MAJOR issues containing dribble penetration. First-year head coach Shantay Legans essentially has no choice but to zone GSU today, as even Andy Kennedy and Ole Miss had to go to a basic 2-3 against Simonds and the constant high ball screen action. The Eagles also have a lack of solid ball handlers despite their low turnover rate. Bogdan Bliznyuk is a unique point forward, but the Panthers can overwhelm him with Ron Hunter’s aggressive 1-3-1 trapping zone.
PICK: Georgia State -7.5
Rice vs. UNLV
UNLV should overwhelm the Owls with their length and athleticism, especially in front of a hometown crowd. Rice has had major issues with turnovers, and they’re entirely reliant on the 3-point line offensively, which a Marvin Menzies defense always takes away.
PICK: UNLV -14
Utah vs. Ole Miss
Utah looks ahead of where I thought they’d be offensively at this point. The Utes can spread the floor with big shooters and open things up for David Collette (also useful in pick and pop) and the dual PGs Sedrick Barefield and Justin Bibbins. Ole Miss’ defense doesn’t pose much of a threat, as Andy Kennedy’s team has trouble containing dribble penetration, even in his 1-3-1. Ole Miss is mainly comprised of three attacking guards and a shooter in Devontae Shuler, and those dribble attackers can all shoot as well with the exception of Markel Crawford. That makes Ole Miss incredibly hard to matchup with, and Utah has some holes defensively, even in their matchup zone, between Barefield and sharp shooter Gabe Bealer. Plus matchup for the Utah frontcourt offensively, and a plus matchup for the Ole Miss backcourt offensively.
PICK: Ole Miss +1
Marquette vs. VCU
It seems like VCU is pressing just for the sake of branding at times, as it has mostly been ineffective, and it’s a particularly poor strategy against Marquette’s lethal guard/wing-heavy offense. (It looks like Wojo has settled on Andrew Rowsey as the primary ball handler and Markus Howard of it.) That said, Marquette’s defensive issues are far more dire than VCU’s, and the small Rowsey/Howard backcourt can be completely overwhelmed by athleticism and length, which VCU has. Additionally, while Matt Heldt is a solid rim presence, he can’t defend effectively in pick-and-roll. Marquette’s defensive issues are glaring and essentially exist 1-5. It’s early, but the wing corps of Issac Vann, De’Riante Jenkins, Malik Crowfield and Khris Lane has to be more aggressive, as VCU is getting to the free throw line at one of the lowest rates in the country. They all have height/athleticism advantages today against Marquette, and that has to be exploited. The same holds true for Justin Tillman, who seems intent on showing off a stretch game this year.
PICK: VCU +4
Cal vs. Wichita State
With Markus McDuffie out, there has been some early concern about Darral Willis’ ability to guard outside the lane against stretch 4s. That won’t be a concern against stationary Marcus Lee and Kingsley Okoroh, and Willis has proven capable regardless with improved conditioning and athleticism in the offseason. Willis and Shaq Morris should be more than fine on that end against the Cal frontcourt, but they could have some issues offensively against the dual rim protectors. The WSU perimeter defense is the same typical oppressive Gregg Marshall style, and with Don Coleman taking nearly every shot out of the Cal backcourt, Wyking Jones’ offense is easy to game plan against, and Marshall has had a week to do so.
PICK: Wichita State -19.5
Notre Dame vs. Chaminade
I’m not going to pretend to know much about the Silverswords, but they have a sharpshooter in former undersized UNLV guard Dantley Walker, a stretch big in Erik Sheive, and a versatile wing in Austin Pope, so they can potentially put up a few points against the Irish.
Michigan vs. LSU
Easily the most interesting opening game on the island, as Michigan’s switching man-to-man defense will face a massive challenge against stud freshman point guard Tremont Waters in the Tigers’ pick-and-roll offense. Will Wade has shown he’s going to switch defenses frequently, from a man-to-man matchup press, to a 2-3, to a 2-1-2 zone press, and that has the potential to keep John Beilein’s excellent two-guard offensive sets off balance all night. I really liked Michigan’s matchup against Southern Miss last time out because it was the first time they would be able to face a strictly man-to-man defense and thus run their sets unabated by a lane-clogging D. The Wolverines had wide open look after wide open look, but couldn’t knock much down, though they still finished at 1.13 points per possession in a slog fest. LSU has been crashing the offensive glass relentlessly as well, but they’ve also rarely missed against Alcorn State and Samford, both of whom run four guard sets, and the latter was missing their only big. Mo Wagner and Jon Teske have been rebounding incredibly well defensively, and the hot shooting over smaller opponents and cleaning up any miss likely ends today against the Wolverines.
PICK: LSU +5
Progressive Legends Classic
Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma State
Clearly the premier matchup in Brooklyn, as Texas A&M far exceeded expectations without J.J. Caldwell and Rob Williams, and Williams will be back tonight, as will Jeffrey Carroll for the Pokes. With Williams back alongside Tyler Davis, the OSU frontcourt of Mitchell Solomon, Cam McGriff and Lucas N’Guessan faces their first real challenge. Davis and Williams played together on only roughly 700 possessions last year, but the defense was elite when they did, holding opponents to under 1.00 points per possession. Brad Underwood had to uncharacteristically revert to a pack line defense when his new team couldn’t pick up his deny-heavy man-to-man, but it appears Mike Boynton has gone back to the aggressive man in Underwood’s stead. That’s probably a good idea against Admon Gilder, who struggled on the ball last year and was set to move off of it this year until J.J. Caldwell was handed his suspension. That said, Gilder was absolutely sensational against Press Virginia, amassing seven assists and a stunning bagel in the turnover department. Plus, the addition of Duane Wilson certainly helps as a secondary ball handler. Kennedy runs a lot of HORNS sets, and that will really force the OSU bigs to defend away from the rim, and I’m concerned about Solomon and N’Guessan in that regard. OSU’s wing corps gets a huge boost with the return of Carroll. The offense was already firing on all cylinders, and he could find a lot of open shots against Billy Kennedy’s morphing 2-3 zone. Teams that could fire away from the perimeter with excellent ball movement gave the Aggies issues last year, and OSU’s spread-motion offense certainly fits that ball, especially with Carroll back.
PICK: Oklahoma State +6
Penn State vs. Pitt
PSU comes into the game heavily banged up, most notably do-everything scorer Tony Carr battling an ankle injury. It sounds like Carr and Josh Reaves were held out of the “tune up” with Columbia to rest up for this one. Pitt was tabbed to struggle this year, but a 1-2 start against mid-majors (none of which were even projected to win their league) is about the worst case scenario for Kevin Stallings. Pitt’s two strengths offensively are Ryan Luther inside and penetration from freshman wing Shamiel Stevenson. Unfortunately, PSU’s defense is built around an opportunistic backcourt that gambles for turnovers knowing that elite shot swatter Mike Watkins is behind them. Pitt likely struggles to find offense tonight, even if Carr and Reaves sit again (which seems unlikely).
PICK: Penn State -10
Oral Roberts vs. Montana
Montana is clearly the better team, but there’s some concern for the Grizz here. They’re heavily dependent on penetration from lightning quick Mike Oguine, but ORU is trying to implement the shifting 1-1-3 zone of Paul Mills, a former Baylor assistant. Ideally it limits penetration, and Mills does have two rim protectors on the back end with Albert Owens and Javan White. Mills also has Jontray Harris back on the wing, but ORU is still struggling to fully adopt the new scheme early, surrendering an absurd 1.40 ppp to Oklahoma State last time out. That said, Poke assistant Scott Sutton obviously had a good pulse on ORU and took the scout for that one. ORU’s point guard situation is tenuous at best, and Ahmaad Rorie is a ball hawk on the perimeter.
PICK: Montana -8
UCSB @ Pepperdine
Marcus Jackson is supposedly ready to return for the Gauchos, which gives Joe Pasternack a potent wing scorer. Pepperdine, meanwhile, really needs shooter Eric Cooper to return from a shoulder injury and point guard Amadi Udenyi to clear concussion protocol. Both defenses have been utilizing a lot of zone early, but UCSB can light it up from the perimeter with Max Heidegger, Leland King, Gabe Vincent (who is basically relegated to spot shooting after injuries), and potentially Jackson, while the Waves are entirely reliant on penetration and have a serious dearth of shooters.
PICK: UCSB -3.5
Hall of Fame Classic, Kansas City
Baylor vs. Wisconsin
Ethan Happ’s uncanny ability to recognize and anticipate the defense behind him is the key here against Baylor’s morphing zone looks and icing side ball screens (peep what he did against a similar strategy from Xavier). Happ is so good in pick-and-roll facing the basket and finding open shooters when the defense collapses with his back to the basket (or simply scoring when they don’t) that I think Baylor has some issues defensively. Scott Drew has been trapping quite a bit out of the 1-3-1, and that might be an effective strategy against some inexperienced ball handlers for Wisconsin, but they’ll get burned if D’Mitrik Trice can get some help from Khalil Iverson in that regard. Happ doesn’t have much help around him this year, but he just needs guys to knock down shots when he finds them. Baylor offensively will have to connect on first looks, as Wisconsin isn’t going to give up the offensive rebound often, a staple of any Drew offense. I think Baylor has more paths to offense, but Happ is the clear best player on the floor and can put Jo Lual-Acuil in some difficult positions.
PICK: Wisconsin +1.5
UCLA vs. Creighton
Khyri Thomas can limit Aaron Holiday or Jaylen Hands, but not both, and I don’t see how Creighton slows down Kris Wilkes at the 4. No question that this should be a fun one, and it likely comes down to whoever has the ball last.
PICK: UCLA +3
Monday Tournament Top Picks (YTD: 41-43):
VCU/Marquette over 158
Oklahoma State +6
Rider +5.5 (from twitter)
Delaware/UNCG over 138 (from twitter)