Middle Tennessee @ Tennessee State

Preseason, the concern for MTSU was how Kermit Davis would replace JaCorey Williams and Reggie Upshaw. In reality, the problem for the Blue Raiders early has been the guard play of Giddy Potts and Tyrik Dixon. Davis even tried to shake things up against Belmont by bringing Dixon off the bench, but he was ultimately a nonfactor in the loss. Solid guard play is essential against Dana Ford’s extended zone that constantly pressures the ball handler with Armani Chaney while sagging down with the other four defenders to limit penetration. A few things don’t line up well for TSU though, as this team is short on shooters against MTSU’s own amorphous, pressuring zone, and Chaney can be quite loose with the handle. Additionally, MTSU is looking to rebound after a rivalry loss, and they’re seeking to avenge a bad loss at home to his TSU squad last year. I wouldn’t be shocked to see another lineup shakeup from Davis today.

PICK: MTSU -7

Fort Wayne @ UIC

Should be plenty of points in this one, as both teams play in transition and both teams have elite wing scorers in Dikembe Dixson and John Konchar. The difference is UIC has an interior threat they can utilize inside against a lacking Dons frontcourt in Tai Odiase.

PICK: UIC -5

Houston Baptist @ Belmont

Not sure why Josh Ibarra didn’t play in Houston Baptist’s last game. It was against a non D1 team, so it could have been rest. That said, this is kind of a weird spot for the Bruins, as they’re coming off a tough opening three-game stretch that saw them go to Seattle for a heartbreaking loss to Washington, then back home to Nashville to beat big brother Vandy and then turn around and win at MTSU. Now they host HBU before heading off to another big game at Providence. HBU presents a unique challenge, as Ron Cottrell typically extends his guards and forces teams off the 3-point line, which could disrupt the always potent Rick Byrd motion. If Ibarra plays, HBU might stick around for a bit, especially if they can pressure Austin Luke into some mistakes, which he’s prone to committing. Or Belmont could Belmont and rain 3s all day and blow the Huskies out. We’ll see.

PICK: Houston Baptist +18

Idaho State @ Washington State

Ernie Kent is back to his run-and-chuck ways in Pullman, as Wazzu is likely going to be one of the fastest teams in the country with one of the highest 3-point attempt rates as well. Kent is running out five shooters and using an active 1-3-1 to initiate transition. As for Idaho State, I’m still unclear as to what Bill Evans’ plan is. I haven’t seen him use much of his infamous 1-1-3 zone, although the sample size is quite small, but I don’t think he wants to play as fast as he did the past two years with Ethan Telfair running the point. It is, however, hard to gauge at this point because he’s played two up-tempo spread pick-and-roll teams in Arizona State and Utah Valley. Evans has a funky offense, as his bigs Novak Topalovic and Kyle Ingram are probably his best offensive facilitators, while his guards really struggle to handle the ball. Last year’s Bengals allowed the second highest eFG% in transition in the country. Not a good sign against running Wazzu.

PICK: Washington State -11

Vermont vs. Coastal Carolina

Interested to see how Coastal responds on the back to back, as Art Labinowicz has been dealing with back spasms and Demario Beck a sore hand, per Cliff Ellis. Both looked better than they had all year against UTSA yesterday, but now they have a very good UVM squad today. You’re not going to beat UVM by relying on the three, as John Becker extends and takes away the perimeter, and that’s troubling for Coastal today. UVM has had their issues with zones though, and besides being an excellent chef, Cliff Ellis is known for his grab bag of junk defenses.

PICK: Coastal Carolina +10

Maine vs South Alabama

Good chance for Bob Walsh to get his Tim Cluess-inspired transition offense on track against a USA team without a true point guard, as Herb McGee is a solid shooter but not a solid ball handler. Both of these teams are bad, but Maine is actually healthy finally after a tumultuous season filled with locker room fights and an absurd amount of injuries. Maine’s best offensive options are three 6-foot-7 wings in Andrew Fleming, Ilker Er, and Ilija Stojiljkovic, and USA has proven to have an inability to cover any perimeter with length, as Rozelle Nix is just far too immobile and Josh Ajayi grades out as a poor defender at the 4, having a net -.07 points per possession effect on the defense, per HoopLens.

PICK: Maine +8

CSUN @ George Mason

Dave Paulsen teams tend to do very well defensively against iso-heavy transition offenses, which is CSUN. Paulsen has two lockdown defenders with length and versatility in Jaire Grayer and Justin Kier, allowing Paulsen to switch on heavy ball screen teams, which is Theus’ MO even with freshman PG Terrell Gomez at the helm. Gomez also can’t exploit Otis Livingston’s lack of height, as he’s three inches shorter. CSUN has had issues in the past against stretch bigs, and this could be a big game for freshman Goanar Mar.

PICK: George Mason -12

Mercer vs. Drexel

Tough follow up for the Dragons after the big win over Houston- the biggest of Zach Spiker’s tenure. Mercer is a veteran squad that starts five seniors, denies transition and forces jump shots over a shell defense. That all spells trouble for the Dragons, who rely heavily on penetration from a four-guard lineup.

PICK: Mercer -8

Oakland @ Toledo

Obviously this game is in total flux with the questions surrounding the availability of Isaiah Brock, Julius Palmer and most importantly the explosive Kendrick Nunn. Brock and Nunn reportedly didn’t practice yesterday, and while it’s an incredibly small sample size against less than stellar opponents, Oakland is scoring at 1.22 points per possession with Nunn. He’s been one of the best players in the entire country early in the year. No Brock and no Palmer would also put a strain on Greg Kampe’s penetration funneling defense, meaning he would likely drop off a bit on the perimeter, which is a major concern against a sharp-shooting Toledo offense that can stretch out defenses and exploit gaps with big guards like Tre’Shaun Fletcher and Jaelen Sanford. If Oakland is indeed down Brock and Palmer in the frontcourt (and the suspended Jalen Hayes) and Nunn on the wing, they could still potentially beat the Rockets with Tez Walker and James Beck, but this is clearly a “wait and see” on the lineup situation.

PICK: Toledo -1

UT Martin @ Akron

Should see a decent amount of points here, as defensive schemes on each side benefit the offenses. Anthony Stewart uses a lot of the same Heath Schroyer matchup zone, and they give up a lot of open looks, hoping for misses and running off the glass. John Groce looks like he’s intent on bringing his 3-point chucking offense back to the MAC, but his slower backcourt might have trouble staying in front of Matthew Butler and DelFincko Bogan.

PICK: UT Martin +6.5

Princeton @ St. Joe’s

Princeton finally looked like the Princeton I know defensively against BYU, but the offense looks like they’re going to be extremely volatile, as they’re totally dependent on the Myles Stephens/Amir Bell/Devin Cannady trio – but they’ll have plenty of looks against Phil Martelli’s sagging defense. The injury bug has already hit St. Joe’s hard, and now Fresh Kimble is lost for the season.

PICK: Princeton +3.5

Charleston @ Charlotte

C of C’s ability to defend in pick and roll against Jon Davis is the key here, but the Cougar offense likely continues to struggle without Jarrell Brantley on the floor for another four weeks minimum. The Niners’ spread pick-and-roll and drag screen transition offense is likely going to have some issues, but Charleston simply hasn’t looked like the team I thought they would be, as they’re still adjusting to life without Brantley.

PICK: Charleston -4.5

Youngstown State @ Canisius

This should be a fun one. Jerrod Calhoun has brought his version of Press Virginia to the Penguins, and they’re coming off a game vs. a D2 school in which they scored 134 points, wracking up 37 steals and turning hapless Franciscan over an absurd 49 times in 98 possessions. Obviously Canisius is a huge step up in competition, but the Griffs have had some ball security issues out of Isaiah Reese and Malik Johnson, and the 3-point heavy, ball reversal offense runs into trouble when they face perimeter disruption, which of course will come in waves from YSU.

PREDICTION: Youngstown State +8

Murray State @ Wright State

I’m sure Scott Nagy knows his team better than I do, but he’s reportedly benching Justin Mitchell tonight, which seems like a huge mistake. Nagy claims that he’s not meshing with the new faces in the offense, per the Dayton Daily News, and he’s going to go with walk-on Tye Wilburn at the point. This is excessively strange. Per HoopLens, WSU is scoring at 1.03 points per possession with Mitchell, and just 0.79 in 47 possessions with him off the floor. In 89 possession with Wilburn, the offense is scoring at just0 .94 ppp. Mitchell surely isn’t the source of the Raiders’ issues, and his length would surely be valuable defensively against the potent Murray State backcourt of Jonathan Stark, Ja Morant and Byron Hawkins. It’s a baffling decision to me, but what do I know?

PICK: Murray State +1

Portland State @ UC Riverside

New PSU coach Barret Peery has ramped up the defense with the Vikings, and the full-court pressure scheme produced 30 steals against D2 Willamette last time out. UC Riverside’s strength is their dual PG backcourt of Dikymbe Martin and Chance Murray, but they both struggled when LMU extended their pressure last time out. Traylin Farris missed the last game for PSU (again, it was a glorified exhibition game), and the Viking frontcourt is already down Braxton Tucker, so Alex Larsson could have a big role, but Ryan Edwards has proven that he’s capable of staying on the floor despite being a 7-foot-1 monster in an up-and-down scheme.

PICK: Portland State +2.5

Sacred Heart vs. St. Peter’s

Davauhnte Turner looks like he’s going to develop into St. Peter’s best offensive threat, but until then I can’t imagine this Peacock offense being favored by more than a few points over any team in the country, and Sacred Heart qualifies as any team in the country. Additionally, the St. Peter’s interior defense has been very un-John Dunne like, and the strength of the Pios is the frontcourt of Joe Lopez and E.J. Anosike, especially if De’von Barnett is able to return today.

PICK: Sacred Heart +6

Montana State @ Louisiana Tech

The preseason issues from Brian Fish’s team have clearly carried over into the regular season, as this team has really struggled to come together, and they had to rally to be Montana Western last time out. Louisiana Tech, meanwhile, has their own issues, as they looked horrific against SEMO, needing OT to pull out a win in Ruston after allowing 1.20 points per possession. I would expect a refocused Dunkin’ Dawg team at home tonight.

PICK: Louisiana Tech -9

Utah State @ Gonzaga

With Koby McEwen likely out for Utah State (I would list him as highly, extremely doubtful from what I’ve read), I can’t see the Aggies competing against the Zags.

PICK: Gonzaga -17

Northern Kentucky vs. Iona

NKU handled the pressure of JMU last night, but facing the Iona full-court press on back-to-back nights might prove taxing. The Norse have solid depth, though, and will extend their guards as well; they can really disrupt the usually excellent ball movement of Tim Cluess’ offense. It should be a good one.

PICK: NKU -2

UT Arlington @ BYU

When BYU goes to the matchup zone, it could be problematic for UTA, and the Cougars are looking to avenge the embarrassing home drubbing at the hands of the Mavs in the NIT last year. The Yoeli Childs and Dalton Nixon frontcourt is tougher and more physical than people might realize, and they can both guard Kevin Hervey away from the basket.

PICK: BYU -8

Saturday Top Picks Part II:

Coastal/Vermont under 141

Maine +8

Mercer -8

Mercer/Drexel under 149

UT Martin/Akron over 146

Princeton +3.5

Murray State +1

Sacred Heart +6

Louisiana Tech -9

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