College basketball notebook: Saturday afternoon edition
UTSA vs. Bradley
The freshmen shooting additions of Keaton Wallace and Jhivvan Jackson plummeted back to Earth, shooting a combined 3-19 from 3 in an unfamiliar gym against a funky zone – and the Runners looked like the offense of last year, which shot the 3 at the lowest mark in the entire country. Bradley has morphed into an extremely disciplined defense, typical of a Brian Wardle team, but the offense is still a constant struggle outside of Darrell Brown creating and Nate Kennell shooting. They’re also shorthanded on a quick turnaround without Koch Bar, the Braves’ top rim protector who had passport issues en route to the Bahamas. UTSA doesn’t really have a post threat to speak of, especially with Adrian Rodriguez out, but they will try to attack in transition as Steve Henson attempts to implement his Lon Kruger transition scheme. While Wardle has talked about opening up the offense, his defense has been consistently denying transition attempts defensively (it’s early, but they’re allowing the fourth-lowest transition rate in the country, but they’ve also played two slugs in Vermont and the burn offense of Delaware). I can see this game having a looser flow, as can happen on the quick turnarounds in these tournaments, but I can also see both offenses going scoreless for long stretches.
PICK: Bradley -7.5
Houston @ Liberty
Talk about a disappointing opening game for Houston in this tournament, as a team with at-large aspirations blew a lead against Drexel. Rob Gray dominated, but Devin Davis was the only other Cougar in double digits, and he scored 10 (mostly on putbacks). Now they face the Ritchie McKay’s pack line defense with no prep. The good news is that Gray and Armoni Brooks are the type of shooters and ball handlers that can break down the pack line, but they can both be extremely one-on-one heavy, which won’t get it done against the excellent help defense of the Flames within the scheme. The biggest issue for Houston yesterday was the extremely poor defensive effort, and they face a 180 from Drexel’s quick-strike offense to Liberty’s methodical motion.
PICK: Houston -7.5
Boston College vs. Texas Tech
Interesting game here, as BC is actually set up pretty well to handle the explosive wing corps of the Red Raiders, especially with the additions of Teddy Hawkins and Steffon Mitchell to Ky Bowman and Jerome Robinson. Not only are Hawkins and Mitchell key on the defensive end, but they can break down Chris Beard’s pack line defense with their versatility. Mainly interested to see how BC performs against real competition more than anything else. This either turns into a rude awakening against a team that’s top-25 caliber, or we realize BC is poised for a massive turnaround this year. For what it’s worth, BC hasn’t really sniffed 1.00 points per possession against UVA’s pack line under Jim Christian, but those were far less talented Eagle squads. However, my biggest concern for BC today isn’t the offense, but their at times poorly executed defense. With Mitchell and Hawkins in the fold, Christian is trying to switch on everything in man to man this year, but after reviewing some of their possessions against lesser competition, they seemed disorganized and slow to rotate, especially the frosh Mitchell. That will quickly be exploited by an athletic and versatile Texas Tech offense.
PICK: Texas Tech -8.5
Harvard @ Manhattan
Tough quick turnaround for Harvard, as they have to face Steve Masiello’s press after coughing the ball up on 33 percent of their possessions against Holy Cross’s active zone, with Bryce Aiken counting for seven of those turnovers. The Jaspers surprisingly struggled against a bad St. Francis College team, but Rich Williams is back for Masiello, and he’s the heart and soul of the Jaspers. Aiken has to be able to hold on to the ball today, as so much of Amaker’s offense is reliant on him simply creating off a high ball screen. Defensively, Harvard is consistently one of the least foul prone teams in the country, and that’s a detriment to a Manhattan offense that really relies on being able to draw contact. This one should look pretty clunky offensively on both ends of the court.
PICK: Harvard -3.5
William & Mary @ UCF
Based solely on rumors and speculation, it sounds like Tacko Fall will make his debut, a much-needed boost for a UCF team decimated by injuries to B.J. Taylor and Aubrey Dawkins. However, Nathan Knight poses a tough matchup for him, especially if his hip injury limits his mobility. Johnny Dawkins likes to run an amoeba zone around Fall, which could be an issue against Tony Shaver’s four-out motion, and the Tribe have yet to shoot the ball the way they’re capable of shooting it. Interesting side note, Terrell Allen will run the point in Taylor’s place, and he’s a face well familiar to William & Mary and vice versa, as he came over from CAA foe Drexel. Allen actually torched W&M PG David Cohn in his last game vs. the Tribe as a Dragon, leading a really bad Drexel team to an upset in Bruiser Flint’s last season.
PICK: William & Mary +13.5
Seattle vs. Detroit
Early indications suggest Jim Hayford is going back to a spread pick-and-roll in his first year at Seattle, which was the hallmark of his most successful teams in Cheney. That means SU is going to chuck a lot of 3-pointers and go away from 7-foot-3 Aaron Menzies in the post, with Hayford preferring to use Josh Hearlihy and Matej Kavas as floor-stretching bigs with ball skills. That means we could have a potential track meet on our hands in Nashville, with Bacari Alexander extending pressure with his athletic wings. Jaleel Hogan could bully his way at the rim with Menzies not likely to see much run in this scenario.
PICK: Detroit -4
Furman @ Butler
Bit of a tough spot for Butler. They have a very polished and veteran Furman squad at Hinkle, and the Bulldogs are in between a trip to Maryland and heading to Portland for PK80. Furman runs a four-out motion with deadly shooters, and Butler has been slow to rotate on the perimeter in the early going. Butler can win inside, but Furman might have a lot of open looks from the perimeter.
PICK: Furman +12
Weber State vs James Madison
Weber got blitzed by Iona’s full-court pressure last night in the Bahamas, and now they’ll face another extended pressure team in JMU. When Weber didn’t turn the ball over, the backcourt of Jerrick Harding and Ryan Richardson scored at will, posting a combined 58 points. WSU also got nothing from their vaunted frontcourt of post scorer Zach Braxton and stretch Brekkott Chapman, as they simply couldn’t get the ball into their hands vs. the frantic Iona press, and Chapman was in early foul trouble. The final score of JMU’s contest against NKU last night is not indicative of how thoroughly they were worked, and with Gerron Scissum apparently in Lou Rowe’s doghouse, this could be a big bounceback game for Braxton and Chapman.
PICK: Weber State -3.5
Quinnipiac vs. Wake Forest
Hard to say Quinnipiac will bounce back from a devastating buzzer beater against Colorado, but Wake Forest is horrific defending pick-and-roll. Baker Dunleavy is running a lot of spread pick-and-roll early, and the Bobcats can still board with leftovers from the Tom Moore era.
PICK: Quinnipiac +14
Northwestern vs. La Salle
Northwestern struggled to defend against Creighton when they went small with Toby Hegner injured, and Doctor John will certainly run out a small lineup with electric scorer B.J. Johnson at the 4. That said, Pookie Powell grades out as a below average defender, and if you can’t slow down Bryant McIntosh in pick-and-roll you’re going to struggle to stop Northwestern offensively, although Johnson can contain Vic Law.
PICK: La Salle +7.5
Saturday Afternoon Top Picks (YTD: 30-30):
Weber State -3.5
Seattle/Detroit over 154.5
Texas Tech -8.5
Harvard/Manhattan over 143.5