College basketball notebook: Taking a look at Thursday’s slate
Elon @ UNCG
UNCG has had one of the most pressure heavy defenses in the country under Wes Miller, who is extending the press at a more frequent rate this year. Elon runs a four-out (and often five-out) spread motion offense similar to what you see Bob McKillop run at Davidson. But pressure hasn’t seemed to have a noticeable effect on UNCG’s offensive efficiency.
Elon’s points per possession the past two seasons against teams with a top-75 defensive turnover rate:
2017: Season PPP = 1.04
- vs UNCA: 0.93
- @ UNCW: 0.94
- @ NIU: 1.07
- vs UNCW: 1.10
- @ St. Peter’s: 1.11
2016: Season PPP = 1.06
- vs Mt. St. Mary’s: 1.00
- @ C of C: 1.00
- vs C of C: 1.01
- @ UNCA: 1.04
- vs UNCW: 1.11
- @ UNCW: 1.13
- vs Corpus Christi: 1.15
*I excluded Syracuse since they don’t run the same type of man pressure as the other teams listed
This game should feature 3-point attempts by the dozen, as the Phoenix shoot the triple at the 18th highest rate in the country, while UNCG is sixth. While Elon’s shot distribution is spread fairly equally between their guards and two spaced-out bigs, UNCG is incredibly reliant on the dead-eye shooting of Franc Alonso, who singlehandedly bailed the Spartans out against Liberty in 3OT last time out.
The Spartans could be down a starter in Marvin Smith, who suffered a concussion in the Liberty game. Smith’s efficiency numbers aren’t eye popping, but per Hooplens.com, UNCG is scoring at 1.15 points per possession with him on the floor, and just .92 with him off. (The splits were not as drastic last season, however.) Smith’s absence would leave Miller without a long-armed defender in his press, and a freshman replacement at the 3.
Elon’s season to date has been a disappointment. Per KenPom, they have the most returning minutes in the country, but their current 6-3 record could easily be 3-6, as they’ve won three games that totaled 6 OT periods (although they did blow leads against Milwaukee and Furman). While the Phoenix are experienced, Matt Matheny doesn’t have a bench, which could spell trouble against the UNCG press.
Elon has faced a number of 3-point chucking teams, so their extremely high 3PTA rate allowed isn’t quite indicative of the extended defense Matheny generally employs. If Dmitri Thompson can contain Alonso, UNCG doesn’t have a secondary option. Elon’s junior point guard Dainan Swoope can be erratic, and the Phoenix lack a secondary ball handler, but on non-turnover possessions Elon should put the ball in the bucket with ease.
PICK: Elon +5.5
- Ohio returns Jason Carter to the frontcourt, but Saul Phillips’ best big will only see limited minutes. The Bobcats have struggled with size, athleticism and dribble penetration, which are three strengths of Maryland. Phillips’ no gamble defense will also be a welcome respite for the incredibly turnover-prone Terps. Maryland should do whatever it wants on offense.
Valpo has yet to play a paint touch-centric offense, and I think a lot of yet to be unmasked issues with the Crusader defense will get exposed by Purdue tonight. You can expose Purdue’s defense with athleticism and stretchiness at the 4, and Valpo can’t do either.
Iowa has been nothing short of awful, while the Clones have been phenomenal since Nick Weiler-Babb moved on the ball. That said, you must pound the ball inside against the Hawkeyes, who are slow footed at the rim. Lots of new faces in the CyHawk rivalry this year makes this one fairly unpredictable. The Iowa defense has to force the ball out of Weiler-Babb’s hands, so I suspect we’ll see some of Fran’s soft zone traps early.
Ben Jacobson’s defense at UNI is phenomenal at negating athleticism disadvantages by forcing penetration-heavy teams into jump shots by pinning or doubling every ball screen, effectively denying the paint at all costs. Where it gets tricky for UNI tonight is that Kevin Hervey is happy to live outside the paint, and Erick Neal is the type of scheme-proof PG that the Panthers struggle to stay in front of. Additionally, Scott Cross utilizes Tubby Smith’s infamous ball-line defense that stacks defenders down low on the strongside, basically abandoning weakside help. Koch torched UNLV’s single post coverage, but I think he struggles against UTA, who has the depth to double him every time down the court. The problem is Koch can find the good shooters of UNI, especially if Wyatt Lohaus can give quality minutes in his return. While UTA contests well with their length, the perimeter is wide open in this scheme. Thanks to the compact nature of UNI’s defense, they’re a very good defensive rebounding team, and limiting the athletic frontcourt of the Mavs to one shot is key. Great scheme battle.
USF has been banged up, and I’m not sure if Souley Boum has cleared concussion protocol (sounds like he practiced), but EWU doesn’t have the backcourt speed nor the frontcourt athleticism that has hurt the Dons this season.
La Salle has struggled to defend at the rim, but it’s unlikely Stretch Williams will get the ball in position to score enough, as Tramaine Isabell and Kurk Lee will likely waste too many Drexel possessions trying to penetrate the Explorer zone.
The Georgetown exhibition tour continues, but little brother Howard could give them some grief. R.J. Cole and C.J. Williams are quick scorers, and the Bison 3-2 zone could be problematic for the much bigger Hoyas.
Thursday’s Top Picks:
UTA/UNI under 135
*all lines via 5Dimes at time of publication