Buffalo @ Ball State (-3)
Ball State will finish up a 6 game home stand by hosting a hyper-aggressive Buffalo team in a potential MAC tournament final preview.
These two split last year, oddly blowing each other out on the road. Ball State, one of the more turnover prone teams in the country the past few seasons, only turned it over on just 12% of their possessions en route to a blowout win in Buffalo, scoring 1.24 points per possession. However, the Bulls exacted their revenge by utilizing their far superior athleticism to double the Cards’ turnover rate.
Offensively, the Cards run a lot of ball screen motion for point guard Tayler Persons, who has been fairly efficient in that regard but has struggled shooting. As a result, teams have often resorted to zoning the Cardinals and backing off Persons (unthinkable last year). Head coach James Whitford also has an outstanding high post passer in Trey Moses, one of the best passing midmajor bigs, which allows the Cards to run Persons through myriad screens off the ball.
Ball State has struggled against zone defenses, but I think Buffalo head coach Nate Oats would rather forfeit than resort to a zone. Buffalo showcases their uber athleticism with aggressive man-to-man defense. However, the excessive gambling for steals has taken a toll, as they haven’t held an opponent to under 1 point per possession in nearly a month. They allowed 1.18 points per possession to Toledo in their MAC opener but compensated by scoring 104 points against one of the league’s worst transition defenses. In a previous column, I hypothesized that perhaps the addition of Wes Clark at the point has hindered the defense, which I still think holds true. Clark has actually been a solid on-ball defender, but Oats wants to keep his guards on the floor, which has shifted CJ Massinburg to the 3, where he has struggled to defend longer, athletic wings. Ball State lines up 6’6 Sean Sellers at the 3, but he’s almost exclusively a spot shooter, which Massinburg can handle.
Ball State has played lights out defense during their 6 game home stand, not allowing any team to score over 1 point per possession. In their MAC opener against Eastern Michigan, Ball State held transition reliant EMU to 62 points in just 65 possessions by limiting possessions with their methodical zone offense with two bigs in Moses and Kyle Mallers in the high post, but again, Buffalo will not zone. BSU’s improved defense can be traced to the development of sophomore big Tahj Teague, who can shut down Nick Perkins. However, defense at the 3/4 is a different story, and Buffalo can attack Sellers and Mallers with Massinburg and Jeremy Harris. Per hooplens.com, the Cards allow 1.08 points per possession when Sellers and Mallers line up together, which Buffalo can exploit to win this game.
Pick: Buffalo +3
- Indiana State has issues against motion offenses that utilize their frontcourt outside of the paint, which Niko Medved’s offense specializes in at Drake. In fact, the Bulldogs line up 6’3 Ore Arogundade at the 4, but the ISU frontcourt can’t exploit that perceived mismatch on the other end. Greg Lansing will counter Drake’s small-ball lineup with 6-foot-5 Qiydar Davis at the 4, but he struggles defending ball screens. ISU thrives offensively when guards Brenton Scott and Jordan Barnes can attack in transition, but Drake clocks in as a top 50 defense in taking away transition opportunities, per hoop-math.com. Drake will force ISU to operate their terribly inefficient and poorly spaced halfcourt offense, which means Drake has a good shot of opening MVC play 4-0.
- Roy Williams’ notorious secondary break offense at North Carolina has generally struggled with Tony Bennett’s pack-line defense at Virginia, as the Cavs always take away transition and penetration opportunities. The Heels’ issues against the pack line are compounded by their young frontcourt, and the addition of Cam Johnson hasn’t necessarily helped on either end. Per hooplens, UNC scores at just .97 points per possession with him on the floor, while the defense surrenders 1.07 ppp. It’s unlikely UVA holds UNC to 43 points in 55 possessions like last year at home, but they could come close, especially since Isaiah Wilkins, arguably one of the best individual defenders in the country, will check Luke Maye.
- Texas is possibly the best team in the country at ICing ball screens, as Mo Bamba can hard hedge and recover in time with his athleticism. However, Bamba is foul prone, and Baylor runs their offense through the paint as much as any team. Additionally, the Horns run a horrific zone offense, which is troubling against Scott Drew’s 1-1-3 amoeba zone. Per Synergy, the Horns score just .776 points per possession out of their zone offense, but the return of Andrew Jones will certainly help.
Saturday Afternoon Top Picks
YTD: 209-204-4 (2H: 5-1)
Eastern Michigan -10.5
BGSU/EMU under 151.5
Texas/Baylor under 133.5
ND/Cuse under 130
La Salle -3
*Check back later in the day for tonight’s analysis, and follow me @jorcubsdan for injury updates, added picks, and 2H plays.