Charleston Classic: Charleston, SC
Indiana State vs. Auburn
Auburn will of course be playing this tournament without Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley, so let’s take a look at how important those two actually were to the Tigers last year. Last year, Auburn was less efficient with Purifoy on the floor, scoring at 1.05 points per possession compared to 1.08 with him off, while they were considerably worse defensively, allowing teams to score at 1.09 ppp when he was off, compared to 1.02 when on (per HoopLens). Wiley’s splits, meanwhile, were quite stark, but they come with the huge caveat that he didn’t get to play against the easier OOC schedule, so his numbers are almost all from SEC play, with the exception of three games. When Wiley was on the floor, Auburn scored at just 1.01 ppp, compared to 1.09 when off. Defensively, opponents scored at a whopping 1.11 ppp when he was on the floor, compared to 1.02 when off. That suggests that Wiley’s high block rate came at the expense of not rotating/being out of position on possessions when he didn’t block a shot, and opponents shot 41 percent from 3 when he was on the floor compared to 33 percent when off. So the advanced metrics suggest that on a per possession basis, Auburn isn’t necessarily cooked without them, but Bruce Pearl’s transition-heavy scheme is reliant on depth, and there’s no denying the rebounding ability of Wiley and the floor-stretching capability of Purifoy.
Indiana State, meanwhile, impressed mightily in their opener (pats self on back for having ISUblue higher than preseason Valley consensus), hitting an absurd 17 of 26 3-pointers en route to a pasting of Indiana. The final score doesn’t even do the drubbing justice, as Greg Lansing took his foot of the gas for the final five minutes. Everything Jordan Barnes and Brenton Scott threw up went in, but it’s important to note that ISU was also the far more athletic team, and they likely won’t get run off the court in Charleston today, plus Lansing has a tricky matchup zone up his sleeve. Brandon Murphy lost weight in the offseason, and looks like a much more viable paint option, and the addition of Louisiana Tech wing Qiydar Davis bolstered the overall athleticism of the team, and he’ll be key defensively against Mustapha Heron. ISU’s penchant for turning the ball over is a glaring issue against an Auburn team reliant on their athleticism and ability to score in transition, and that’s my primary concern for the Trees today. (Auburn’s Bryce Brown and Jared Harper are a ball hawking duo in the backcourt.) Greg Lansing’s teams play in a holiday tournament every year, and every year they’re extremely well prepared and almost always knock off a power conference team or come extremely close.
PICK: Indiana State +7.5
Old Dominion vs. Temple
Jeff Jones’ teams have had problems with offenses that play outside-in, like the Owls, who invert their height, particularly with Obi Enechionyia. The teeth of Jones’ defensive scheme is in the paint, and Temple will largely avoid that. Conversely, you can attack Temple in the paint, and the scheme on that end chases shooters off the 3-point line, which is generally fine with the Monarchs. The Owls haven’t played a regular season game yet, so I’m interested to see how the backcourt shakes out. Fran Dunphy has two point guards at his disposal with Josh Brown healthy and Shizz Alston gaining valuable experience during his absence, while Quenton Rose could be the most improved player in the AAC this year.
PICK: Temple -4
Clemson vs. Ohio
Not too much to like about Ohio in this tournament, considering the heavy frontcourt injuries they’ve already sustained this season. The biggest loss is Jason Carter, who was going to be the focal point of the offense in the post. Per HoopLens, in 1,100-plus possessions with Carter on the floor last year, Ohio was a net +.08 points per possession. The Bobcats looked horrific in their opener against Alabama A&M, posting .76 points per possession against what figures to be one of the worst teams in the country. On top of that, Saul Phillips doesn’t really have a point guard against a typically stout Clemson defense. Teyvion Kirk is a scoring combo guard, which means 6-foot-7 Gavin Block is tasked with primary distribution duties. The Bobcats will also likely struggle to contain the dribble penetration of Shelton Mitchell and Marcquise Reed, two rim-attacking combo guards who open the floor for Gabe DeVoe.
PICK: Clemson -10
Dayton vs. Hofstra
Dayton looks like an offense that’s going to struggle to generate points outside of the paint with Josh Cunningham in the post and Darrell Davis’ penetration (unless stretch Xeyrius Williams has the breakout year he’s been tabbed for). However, that sets up well against Hofstra, which really struggled to defend in the paint last year, allowing a top-50 field goal percentage at the rim. Rokas Gustys is one of the nation’s top rebounders, and Hunter Sabety is a capable rim protector, but both are foul prone, and that will surely be the focus of Anthony Grant’s offensive game plan today. That said, both Gustys and Sabety defended well against Al Skinner’s flex-heavy scheme against Kennesaw State. They have to be able to stay on the floor today. The Pride have the edge in the backcourt with the return of Eli Pemberton from suspension alongside Justin Wright-Foreman and a capable point guard tandem of Desure Blue and Kenny Wormley. The Flyer offense didn’t inspire a lot of confidence in their opener against a porous Ball State defense that was playing with a limited Trey Moses (their best defensive player), but it was just that, the opener, and they’ll surely test this Hofstra frontcourt.
PICK: Hofstra +1.5
Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic: Conway, SC
Illinois State vs. South Carolina
I’m expecting a better defensive effort from Illinois State after nearly a week off to regroup from the battering they took at the hands of FGCU. Dan Muller directed one of the country’s better defenses last year (19th nationally in defensive efficiency rating), but some growing pains were to be expected with a lot of new faces in place in the scheme. However, after allowing 1.26 points per possession to the Eagles, Muller didn’t mince words (per Jim Benson of The Pantagraph):
Muller didn’t like his team’s defensive effort in a season-opening 98-87 loss to Florida Gulf Coast last Saturday. In fact, he called it “disgusting” and “the worst defensive performance I’ve ever been part of.”
The Redbirds were particularly awful in transition defense, which was shocking given how solid transition principles have been a strength of Muller’s teams, suggesting more of an effort issue than a lack of understanding of the scheme. Offensively, ISUred was just fine, as Keyshawn Evans and Milik Yarbrough look like an unconventional but efficient distributing/scoring tandem, and Phil Fayne dominated inside. South Carolina, meanwhile, looked like South Carolina defensively, stifling Wofford and Western Michigan with Frank Martin’s oppressive 3-2 matchup zone. The biggest surprise for me was how fluid the offense looked without Sindarius Thornwell and P.J. Dozier. Maik Kotsar looks like a matchup nightmare as a floor stretcher, and Frank Booker was hitting shots – and Martin doesn’t even have a fully healthy Kory Holden yet. That said, I think they’re punching a little above their weight on the perimeter (although the same could be said for the Redbirds), and a regression there coupled with a refocused ISU defense makes me think the Redbirds have a chance today, even with the tournament moved to an obviously more friendly location for the Gamecocks.
PICK: Illinois State +10
Boise State vs. UTEP
This is a good matchup for Matt Willms and Paul Thomas, as you can pound Boise State inside. Christian Sengfelder is a stretch big who won’t stand in your way in the paint, and while Zach Haney’s per possession shot blocking rates are off the charts, he holds back Leon Rice’s offensive attack, especially in transition. It will be interesting to see if Tim Floyd rolls with the penetration-denying matchup zone that sparked a major turnaround last year for the Miners. Boise State isn’t necessarily a good zone candidate because of their shooting ability, but they do rely heavily on penetration from Chandler Hutchinson to initiate the offense – and this gap principled zone really focuses on denying that. With an inability to get in transition or into the paint consistently, and Rice’s likely sacrifice of offense for defense with Haney, I think the Miners have a pretty solid chance here.
PICK: UTEP +4
Appalachian State vs. Iowa State
Short of catastrophic injury, this start was the worst case scenario for Steve Prohm’s young Clones. Prohm will be switching some things up, as he’ll move veteran Nick Weiler-Babb from the wing onto the ball, which will ease the pressure on talented freshman Lindell Wigginton and hopefully spark an offense that hasn’t sniffed 1.00 points per possession against Missouri and Milwaukee. Additionally, Prohm hopes the additions of Hans Brase and Cam Lard help shore up a leaky frontcourt defense. App State, meanwhile, has throttled two non-D1 opponents, including the infamous 101-point win over Tococca Falls. It’s hard to glean much from those performances, but it appears Jim Fox might finally have his “pace and space” McKillopian motion offense working at its highest level since his arrival at App St. The Mountaineers can spread the floor with five shooters, as even bigs Griffin Kinney and Isaac Johnson have worked on their perimeter games. The clear cut alpha of the Mountaineer offense is Ronshad Shabazz, and he looks poised to have a massive senior year, especially with more shooters around him. It’s nearly impossible to keep him out of the lane, and it’s fair to think of him as a bigger Jack Gibbs in this offense. Defensively, I’m doubtful that ASU has improved significantly. They were arguably the worst defense in the country in terms of containing dribble penetration, and this sets up well for Wigginton and Donovan Jackson to get on track offensively.
PICK: Iowa State -10
Western Michigan vs. Tulsa
Tulsa bounced back nicely from an opening loss to Lamar by shredding Oral Roberts in the Mayor’s Cup, posting 1.20 ppp thanks to a dominant paint performance by Junior Etou. Frank Haith added a ridiculously long athlete on the perimeter in DaQuan Jeffries, and his defense will be key against Reggie Jones and even Thomas Wilder, the do-everything point for the Broncos. Haith’s defenses have always been fairly packed in and good at limiting penetration, which is key against Wilder and Steve Hawkins’ rim-attacking offense. (Few offenses over the last 10 years have been as reliant on dribble penetration and working the ball inside as WMU under Hawkins, and the Broncos have finished in the top 20 in free throw rate four times in that span.) Can the Seth Dugan, Brandon Johnson and Drake Lamont three-headed monster in the frontcourt slow down Etou in Haith’s pick-and-roll heavy offense? Can Jeffries force the ball out of Wilder’s hands (Haith will also extend some 2-1-2 to facilitate that)? Those are the keys for each team today, and I’m not sure either can do it.
PICK: Tulsa -2
Thursday’s Top Tournament Picks (YTD: 16-21):
Illinois State +10
WMU/Tulsa over 148