College basketball notebook: Wednesday matchups
Indiana @ Seton Hall
Obviously the Hoosiers’ first two games haven’t been pretty, but Indiana State and Howard have buried an absurd 50 percent of their 3-pointers against IU’s defense as the Hoosiers transition to Archie Miller’s pack line scheme. That number will fall off, of course, and the Pirates are a good candidate to see that number regress, as they really rely heavily on getting the ball to the rim and dominating the offensive glass. Unfortunately for IU, Juwan Morgan and Devonte Green are questionable at best. Morgan’s absence would be felt the most against a rugged SHU frontcourt, and while Green has been a turnover machine early, his ball handling could be helpful against SHU’s 3/4 court pressure. Schematically I actually think this is a good matchup for IU, but the loss of Morgan could negate that.
PICK: Indiana +11
BYU @ Princeton
Princeton’s defense was essentially unrecognizable against Butler, allowing 1.25 points per possession and getting thoroughly worked in ball screens. Princeton’s defense is highly reliant on their trio of stellar guards and versatility, allowing them to switch on everything to mask their lack of a defensive frontcourt. The switches were painfully slow against Butler, and the Bulldogs exploited them all night long. BYU, meanwhile, will be without Nick Emery, and the Cougars scored at 1.09 points per possession with him on the floor last year, and just 1.01 in 600-plus possessions with him off (per HoopLens). While Yoeli Childs and Luke Worthington look much improved already this year (especially Childs, who could have a monster season), they’re not Eric Mika, who terrorized the Princeton frontcourt last year. I think the Princeton defense still has some issues against a still formidable BYU offense without Emery, and Heath Schroyer’s return to the BYU sideline will have an immediate impact on the Cougar defense. Princeton looks entirely reliant on Amir Bell/Myles Stephens/Devin Cannady (they took all but eight of Princeton’s field goal attempts against Butler), and BYU’s length in their matchup zone could be an issue for that backcourt tonight.
PICK: BYU +3.5
Montana @ Penn State
Defensively, PSU looks legit. Pat Chambers is extending his long perimeter athletes in Tony Carr (who has been devastating offensively as well), Josh Reaves and Nazeer Bostick, and he’s afforded that luxury with a major shot blocker on the back end in Mike Watkins. Montana’s strength is certainly their backcourt of Ahmaad Rorie and Mike Oguine (Oguine is no Chris Clemons, but PSU did have trouble staying in front of the lightning quick penetrator, and Oguine has a similar skill set), but the frontcourt appears to be a major weakness this year. Watkins could certainly be a major factor tonight in his second game back from suspension, but I think the backcourt’s overextend pressure on Oguine could burn the Nittany Lions a bit, similar to Clemons.
PICK: Montana +12.5
UCSB @ Pitt
Pitt appears to be as bad as the worst preseason prognostications, and there were some awful ones out there. There’s just a general lack of talent in the backcourt/wings (with the exception of freshman Shamiel Stevenson), and they’re thin up front. Joe Pasternack, meanwhile, has UCSB on the right track early in his first season, and they blitzed North Dakota State, posting 1.33 points per possession (even without high-scoring Rice transfer Marcus Jackson, who is out with a hip injury) thanks to Max Heidegger’s eight 3-pointers. 6-foot-7 wing Leland King is probably the best player on the floor tonight, and he’s a Gaucho. Pasternack didn’t press like he said he would against NDSU, instead relying on the gap principled defense that Sean Miller uses at Arizona. That means Pitt is going to have to hit jump shots, and I’m not sure they can do that consistently yet with a rotation of five freshmen and a JUCO around Ryan Luther.
PICK: UCSB +5
Jacksonville State @ Buffalo
Game of the night potential. Both teams have high-major athleticism, and between Marlon Hunter, Malcolm Drumwright, Jamall Gregory and Mo Dunlap, Ray Harper can have up to four ball handlers on the floor against the Buffalo pressure. Additionally, the JSU frontcourt is a tough matchup, with 7-foot stretch 5 Norbertas Giga and athletic rim protector Christian Cunningham. In short, JSU has all the pieces, and Harper uses that athleticism on the defensive end in a tricky 3-2 matchup zone that really limits penetration. When teams do get into the paint, only 16 teams in the country held opponents to a lower FG percentage at the rim than the Gamecocks. That doesn’t set up well for the Bulls, who are extremely penetration/transition reliant, as only only teams in the country attempted a higher rate of their shots at the rim last year. In short, JSU can match or even surpass Buffalo’s athleticism, they don’t allow anything at the rim, and the they don’t turn the ball over; plus, C.J. Massinburg’s knee is clearly not 100 percent.
PICK: Jacksonville State +2.5
Niagara @ Minnesota
Some concern for the Gophers here on a quick turnaround from a huge win at Providence, and the Purple Eagles are one of the better teams in the MAAC this year. They’re also one of the most experienced mid-majors in the country. The Khalil Dukes/Matt Scott duo on the ball and the wing is a tough cover, but the real issue is whether or not Dom Robb and Marvin Prochett can hold their own against Reggie Lynch and Jordan Murphy, who look like one of the best frontcourt duos in the country. Even if Minnesota comes out sleepwalking, they should be able to dominate the offensive glass, and the PEagles were mediocre in transition defense last year, meaning Minnesota can push off the glass with relative ease. Niagara’s last win away from New York/New Jersey? December 5, 2012 at Loyola MD, and I still recall Jimmy Hall of Kent State terrorizing Niagara in the paint last year in a game that I thought Niagara would compete in on the road. That Robb/Prochett duo is serviceable against most MAAC frontcourts, but they’ve struggled against elite interior play, which the Gophers certainly possess (even the Bonas’ lacking frontcourt dominated the offensive glass in Niagara’s opener).
PICK: Minnesota -20
UTSA @ Texas State
This one could be ugly, as Steve Henson wants to fully incorporate his Lon Kruger inspired up-tempo transition offense against a stout Texas State man-to-man, while the Bobcats appear to be a one-man show offensively. Typically, scoring in transition against a Danny Kaspar team is difficult, but you can pressure the unproven Texas State backcourt and basically double Nijal Pearson off screens. Pearson could be among the national leaders in shot and usage rates given the lack of offensive weapons around him. UTSA’s thin frontcourt took a substantial hit with freshman Adrian Rodriguez tearing his ACL, but I’m not sure Texas State can take advantage of that. Both teams likely struggle to find consistent offense unless the Runners can speed up the methodical motion offense with extended pressure on the young Bobcat ball handlers.
PICK: UTSA +6
Ball State @ Oklahoma
I have some serious concerns about Ball State’s defense without a healthy Trey Moses as the anchor. He’s likely around 50 percent judging from his limited minutes against Dayton. That said, OU’s defense places a high priority on clogging the lane and ripping and running off missed jump shots, leaving them vulnerable to prolific 3-point offenses, which the Cardinals are. The game should be played at a pace friendly to both offenses.
PICK: Ball State +16.5
Creighton @ Northwestern
Northwestern is turning the ball over at a 22 percent rate after two games, both against inferior opponents. That’s a drastic early increase from last year’s 16 percent rate, one of the best marks in the country. So what gives? Bryant McIntosh is still on the ball, and while both St. Peter’s and Loyola MD will extend pressure, it’s nothing McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey can’t handle – and, in fact, it’s mostly been the NU bigs that have fumblitis. NU has also been forced to play in America’s worst arena, the dreadful Allstate Arena, and they’ve looked like former occupants DePaul to start the year. Creighton won’t do much defensively to keep the pressure on, although Khyri Thomas is a lockdown defender on the perimeter. The real issue for the Bluejays defensively comes against Vic Law and Dererk Pardon. Ronnie Harrell can’t guard Law, and the Creighton frontcourt really needs Martin Krampelj to stay out of foul trouble. It should be noted that Creighton has shot the lights out at Allstate when they’ve visited DePaul in Big East play, averaging 1.30 points per possession in four games. Obviously you have to factor in that they were playing DePaul’s defense, but the Bluejays are more comfortable in the dread arena than NU is.
PICK: Northwestern -5
Eastern Illinois @ Western Illinois
Muusa Dama completely shut down Brandon Gilbeck inside in both meetings last year in this rivalry – and with the additions of athletic wings Jajuan Starks and D’Angelo Jackson, EIU should be much improved in pick-and-roll defense, where diminutive Terrell Lewis was often exposed. WIU runs a lot of weave and dribble handoff action in Billy Wright’s motion offense, and with Gilbeck likely in check, offense might be an issue for the Leathernecks tonight.
PICK: Eastern Illinois -5
Butler @ Maryland
Even with Melo Trimble gone, I think this is the most talented and versatile roster Mark Turgeon has had during his Maryland tenure, and I think the Terps are certainly a top four Big Ten team this year. Turgeon had to play some smaller lineups in the Terps’ first two games against Stony Brook and UMES, but I would expect to see a heavy dose of talented freshman big Bruno Fernando against the Butler frontcourt. I think Turgeon doesn’t quite know what his rotation will look like with this group yet, and there might be some offensive lulls against a hard-nosed Butler defense that’s a little more developed at this point, especially with a foreign trip under their belt. That said, Butler is going to have to hit some jump shots against this enormous Terp team, and when Butler goes small, they’re looking to penetrate with Kamar Baldwin and Aaron Thompson, not shoot the 3. Offense could be an issue for both sides tonight.
PICK: Butler +5
Valpo @ SIUE
Joe Burton and Jaume Sorolla will be back for Valpo tonight, and Matt Lottich will have his full roster available for SIUE. Burton is an Oklahoma State transfer who should lead the Crusaders in scoring on the wing. SIUE is going through a scheme change, as Jon Harris got more athletic on the wing with 6-foot-9 stretch 4 Julian Torres coming in from UIC, and Daniel Kinchen provides even more shooting for a team that was entirely reliant on getting the ball to the rim and offensive putbacks. That philosophy makes SIUE extremely vulnerable in transition, and I think this iteration of the Crusaders with Burton leading the charge will shred on the run in a more positionless system outside of Derrick Smits. More interested to see how committed Harris, a frontcourt coach if there ever was one, is to spacing the floor this year after an offseason of related talk.
PICK: Valpo -9
UC Riverside @ LMU
LMU is shorthanded without top scorer Steven Haney and big man Petr Herman, but they impressed at UTA in their opener, a game I thought they would struggle in. UC Riverside, meanwhile, won at Cal in convincing fashion. Mike Dunlap has largely abandoned his full-court pressure, preferring to extend his guards (namely outstanding on-ball defender Jeff McClendon) before falling into a 2-3 zone. That’s probably a good strategy against dual points Dikymbe Martin and Chance Murray, as the Highlanders are dependent on their penetration and feeding Alex Larsson in the post. While I’m concerned about the UCR offense, I have no such issue with Dennis Cutts’ morphing matchup zone against this LMU team without Haney.
PICK: UC Riverside +5
Nevada @ Santa Clara
Pretty tough spot for Nevada, as they’re on a quick turnaround from the big URI win, and Santa Clara’s style is funky enough to throw a wrench in the Pack’s offense. While Herb Sendek has said he wants to play faster this year with his dual PGs Matt Hauser and K.J. Feagin healthy (plus an influx of wing talent around Jarvis Pugh), his track record suggests otherwise. Sendek’s defense allowed the nation’s lowest transition FGA rate and forced the country’s highest APL. You have to operate in the halfcourt against the Broncos, and while Nevada can do that, it’s not their preferred means of execution in Eric Musselman’s pace and space system. Huge advantage athletically and talent wise for the Pack, but scheme and situation suggests the Broncs will compete.
PICK: Santa Clara +5
UC Davis @ Pacific
Quick turnaround for UC Davis off of an altitude game in Greeley, but Jim Les’ hard hedging, trapping off ball screens defense completely stymied UNC’s motion offense, and I would expect a similar result against Pacific’s ball screen heavy offense. The Tigers had major issues defending at the rim against Stanford, and while Chima Moneke doesn’t have great size, he’s a bulldog when he gets the ball on the block.
PICK: UC Davis +3.5
Seattle @ Washington State
It looks like Jim Hayford will return to his spread pick-and-roll roots, as he’s leaned heavily on the 3 early instead of using 7-foot-3 Aaron Menzies as the focal point of the offense like he did with Jake Wiley in his final year in Cheney. Pretty big “identity establishment” game for Hayford, going against a big brother in his first in-state game at SU. If you keep Malachi Flynn and Robert Franks in the halfcourt and away from the rim, you’ll have a good shot against transition-heavy Wazzu.
PICK: Seattle +7
Wednesday’s Top Picks (YTD: 12-19):
Jacksonville State +2.5
UTSA/Texas State under 130.5
Valpo/SIUE over 146.5
Butler/Maryland under 150.5
UC Riverside/LMU under 141.5
UC Davis +3.5
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