Northern Kentucky @ East Tennessee State
Rematch between the Norse and the Bucs, as NKU won at home in the first game of the season with a new-look ETSU team appearing extremely disjointed. Steve Forbes‘ Bucs went 2-18 from 3 and turned the ball over on a quarter of their possessions against NKU’s disruptive extended backcourt. ETSU also had some major issues defensively against NKU stretch big Drew McDonald and versatile 3/4 Carson Williams, and point guard Lavone Holland penetrated at will. Forbes quickly realized his massive backcourt of Peter Jurkin and Mladen Armus couldn’t guard McDonald and Williams in pick-and-roll or on the perimeter, but there wasn’t much he could do about it.
However, since that first meeting, Forbes has experimented with a smaller, five-guard lineup, and it could pay dividends tonight in Johnson City in the rematch. The loss of David Burrell has forced Forbes to play freshman Bo Hodges at the 4 in smaller lineups, and Hodges has quickly proven to be a versatile defender capable of guarding 2-4, and he poured in 20 points in his last outing at Fordham. Offense is icing on the cake with Hodges. Forbes also lifted the suspension of 6-foot-6 JUCO Dre Edwards, who can be effective on both Williams and McDonald tonight. Additionally, some of the new faces and veterans alike are finding their offensive groove in new roles this year, as Desonta Bradford and Jalan McCloud have blossomed into a solid dual ballhandler backcourt. McCloud is one of the best inch for inch rebounders in the country out of the backcourt,and Bradford has found his shooting stroke after starting the season 0-12 from 3. Former Longwood wing Kanayo Obi-Rapu is also coming off his most complete game as a Buc in the win at Rose Hill Gym.
That said, turnovers and containing dribble penetration are still substantial issues for this team, as Fordham’s guards shot 24 free throws, and the Fordham zone pressure resulted in 13 turnovers from the ETSU backcourt. As I mentioned earlier, those are strengths of the Norse, but Forbes is hoping the addition of Edwards and the emergence of Hodges can help mitigate those strengths.
PICK: ETSU +1.5
Rhode Island @ Alabama
Interesting game in Tuscaloosa, as URI is coming down off an emotional high after finally beating rival Providence, while the Tide are looking to recover from a home loss where they really struggled against UCF’s long and compact defense that really makes you work for quality shots. Tide star PG Collin Sexton is phenomenal, but that’s not the strength of his game.
Danny Hurley’s defense at URI isn’t as compact or nearly as long as UCF’s, but rather they extend aggressive, physical pressure on ball handlers and essentially disrupt for 40 minutes. That’s more in line with Sexton being able to break down the URI defense in iso situations, and it also leads to an excessively high foul rate. (The Tide get to the free throw line at the 15th-highest rate in the country thanks to Sexton on the ball and Dazon Ingram in the paint drawing an absurd amount of contact.) The Tide have only played two defenses that effectively extend pressure in Memphis and UT Arlington, and interestingly the both use the exact same ball-line defensive scheme. Sexton missed the Memphis game, but he absolutely torched UTA when they tried to extend pressure. The difference with URI is that they can effectively throw hard hedges with two quick perimeter defenders on him off screens with both Jared Terrell and Jeff Dowtin. That’s precisely what Hurley did to Kyron Cartwright in the PC game (super quick frosh Fatts Russell can also be a factor in this regard, but more so offensively, and I’m looking forward to that battle with Sexton). The key to that aggressive ICEing hedge, though, is having a versatile defender like Stan Robinson who can get out on the perimeter, which is massively important tonight against John Petty. UTA didn’t have that luxury against Sexton. Hurley can probably expect more than eight minutes from Cyril Langevine in his second game back, and Nicola Akele is expected to be available, which gives the frontcourt some much needed reinforcement.
This one has potential to turn into a slugfest, as Avery Johnson was imploring Sexton to slow down against the UCF defense, and postgame talked about how disorganized the offensive sets were. URI’s defensive scheme is the polar opposite of UCF’s, but it’s still a highly effective means to the same end.
PICK: URI +3
Wisconsin @ Temple
At some point, Wisconsin is going to start hitting jump shots and the swing offense will start to look like the swing offense. But right now it’s currently Ethan Happ or bust, and the Badgers are surviving solely on his ability to consistently draw double teams and his outstanding passing out of said doubles. There’s just no way around the fact that Greg Gard’s team is going to have some growing pains with so much reliance on freshmen like Brad Davison (playing through a bum shoulder), Kobe King, Aleem Ford and Nate Reuvers. Davison’s shoulder is really limiting his offense, but he was highly effective on Tone Carr in the Penn State game, while Reuvers’ versatility could be a game changer for the Badgers, but Gard’s decision to burn his presumed redshirt is fairly telling of where the Wisconsin season stands at this point.
Temple’s defense in the post is rather soft. The Owl’s are long and Obi Enechionyia has a solid block rate (but you can lower a shoulder against him), but Ernest Aflakpui is the only sound interior defender, and Temple is holding opponents to .88 points per possession when he’s on the floor per Hooplens.com. The problem is he can’t stay on the court because of constant foul trouble, and his offensive game is extremely limited. Sophomore Damion Moore had a breakout offensive game against South Carolina, but his defense is a major liability. This is all of course problematic against the highly skilled Happ, and Fran Dunphy generally doesn’t like to double team the post (although he tried that against Yuta Watanabe), preferring to not help down with his perimeter in favor of taking away the 3-point line.
Defensively Wisconsin is the same old Wisconsin. They chase shooters off the 3-point line, but Temple is a little different in that they have so much perimeter length between the 6-foot-10 Enechionyia and 6-foot-8 Quinton Rose. Long, athletic backcourts and wings have been a major issue for Wisconsin this year (also every year), as are quick penetrating guards, which isn’t really a strength for Josh Brown. Temple has been maddeningly inconsistent early, capable of looking like a Sweet 16 team against Clemson or South Carolina, and then laying an egg against the likes of a down George Washington. The Owls do have a heated Big 5 rival on tap, but there’s little chance Temple is overlooking Wisconsin, especially after the ignominy of the GW defeat.
PICK: Temple -4.5
- You have to be able to take advantage of Fort Wayne at the rim, and Akron is currently running a four- or even five-out offense with Daniel Utomi seeing time at the 5. Emmanuel Olojakpoke had his best offensive game of his career against Marshall. The Zips needs more of that tonight.
- Dayton’s point guard situation is a dumpster fire. They would have handled Mississippi State on the road if they didn’t turn the ball over 36 percent of the time. Tennessee Tech runs a 3-2 matchup zone that will extend pressure on ball handlers, which isn’t ideal for the Flyers. Anthony Grant desperately needs Xeyrius Williams back from a back injury, and he could provide a few minutes tonight.
- Richmond has a lot of issues at the moment, while Old Dominion is coming off a collapse against VCU where Jeff Jones’ inability to rely on his bench caused the Monarchs to completely run out of gas against the VCU pressure. ODU’s defense is built on clogging the lane, and that really gums up a lot of Chris Mooney’s Princeton motion sets. You can shoot over the Monarchs, but the Spiders haven’t shown a consistent jump shot from anyone this year.
- Weird spot for both Buffalo and Delaware, as the Bulls are off a Big 4 loss and essentially don’t have another game for 10 days, while Hens head coach Martin Inglesby faces his mentor Mike Brey with Notre Dame making a trip to Newark on Saturday. The Hens should have Eric Carter back, key against Nick Perkins, but the Bulls have so many long, athletic perimeter defenders to sic on Ryan Daly. If you limit Daly, you dramatically slow down the Delaware offense.
- Harvard’s weaknesses have been turnovers with the lack of a secondary ball handler and poor perimeter shooting. Jeff Neubauer’s zone press schemes can exploit those at Rose Hill Gym tonight, but Tommy Amaker has been busting out an effective zone, and Fordham can’t shoot (they’re even worse than Harvard, hitting below 25 percent on the year), relying heavily on penetration from Tre Evans and Joe Chartouny. I’ll be interested to see if Amaker sticks with the zone against a solid candidate in the Rams.
- Bacari Alexander will be back on the sideline for Detroit Mercy, ending the mysterious suspension. That won’t make the Titans any better defensively, though, and they have had MAJOR issues against floor-stretching bigs, which is always a staple of Tod Kowalczyk’s offenses at Toledo. You can, however, run on the Rockets, and the Titans are capable of putting up points in a hurry.
- Wofford always employs a hard-nosed man-to-man under Mike Young, but they’re exceptionally poor in rim defense if your guards can handle the extended backcourt defensively. Georgia Tech’s backcourt is extremely young and extremely hit or miss, but if they can get the ball to Ben Lammers, he’ll feast. Josh Pastner’s defenses are always excellent at chasing shooters off the 3-point line, which is essential against Fletcher Magee and the Terriers.
- Monmouth’s guards are improving, and it certainly helps to have Micah Seaborn back, but King Rice’s sagging defensive scheme could backfire against Hofstra’s talented backcourt, and the Pride generally keep opposing offenses off the free throw line, where the Hawks have been hanging their hat offensively. Hofstra is also in between a heartbreaking OT loss to UConn and a trip to MSG for a date with Kentucky. Pierre Sarr was oddly a DNP-CD for King Rice against UConn, and he’s sort of essential against Rokas Gustys.
- Princeton is going to have a lot of trouble with Yuta Watanabe, and Mitch Henderson likely has to stick undersized Myles Stephens on him just to match his athleticism. George Washington’s backcourt, however, isn’t good defensively, and no team in the country relies more on a “Big 3” than the Tigers with Amir Bell, Devin Cannady and Stephens. Transition offense isn’t a focal point of Henderson’s scheme, but all three of his guards rebound exceptionally well, and you can routinely beat GW down the court off misses – an area I’m curious to see if Princeton game plans for.
- Hard to throw a pack line defense against William & Mary’s four-out, motion offense, and Nate Knight could dominate the post if the Tribe are hitting perimeter shots early against George Mason. This might be a game for Dave Paulsen to get A.J. Wilson back in the rotation. GMU does have a distinct athleticism and talent edge at the 2/3/4, though.
- St. Bonaventure has Jay Adams back, but Canisius is capable of shredding a 1-3-1 zone, and the Griffs pasted the Bonnies’ defense on the road last year to the tune of 106 points in 79 possessions. Of course the Canisius defense wasn’t any better, as both of these backcourt-oriented schemes can essentially shred each other. The Bonnies are clicking, though, they’re healthier, and they’re looking for revenge.
- If Kendrick Nunn is healthier after some rest, Oakland is capable of completely dismantling the Eastern Michigan 2-3 zone. Interestingly enough, they played the real deal against Syracuse, as former Boeheim assistant Rob Murphy has essentially copied the zone in Ypsi.
- Drake has shown marked improvement already under Niko Medved, but they have a short bench heading from the altitude of Laramie where they played a 2OT heartbreaker, and South Dakota has an elite perimeter defender in Carlton Hurst to shut down Reed Timmer. Interestingly, both coaches use the exact same high motion offense, and Craig Smith actually quasi accepted the Drake job only to leverage it into a pay raise at USD.
- Eastern Illinois has tended to struggle a bit against pressure, as it’s hard for diminutive Terrell Lewis to see over up the line traps, and that’s exactly what Green Bay brings with RP40.
- MTSU throttled Vandy last year, and that Commodore team was actually built perfectly to handle the morphing zone of Kermit Davis. This year’s team is weaker in all the key areas needed to beat the Blue Raiders, especially in the interior against polished scorer Nick King. Vandy is strong on the defensive glass, always essential against MTSU. Giddy Potts hasn’t been the same player with defenses keying in on him, but Vandy has been routinely torched by opposing 2s and 3s.
- Interesting battle between two former Frank Martin assistants with Matt Figger at Austin Peay and Brad Underwood of course at Illinois. Familiarity was the key reason why I liked APSU to compete against Oklahoma State, and I have a similar feeling tonight about the Govs, especially with Illinois sandwiched between two brutal conference losses and a trip to Vegas. Tre’ Ivory’s turnover issues are a major concern, though, against the Underwood pressure-heavy defense.
- Have to keep Southern Illinois away from the rim and turn them into jump shooters, but that could be difficult for Saint Louis if Hasahn French is out again. SIU PG Marcus Bartley will be making his season debut (on a pitch count), and it’s ironically against his former team. The Bills are looking for some revenge from one of their more disastrous losses in a season filled with disaster last year.
- Grant McCasland is one of the more unheralded game planners in the country, and the morphing matchup zone he has installed at North Texas should be a problem for backcourt-heavy Indiana State. You have to be able to beat the Mean Green at the rim, and Greg Lansing simply doesn’t utilize Brandon Murphy and Dre Rickman in the post enough. Plus, the spacing when Brenton Scott is on the floor against any sort of compact defense is generally horrific. McCasland is dropping depth like crazy with injuries, but I was incredibly impressed with what UNT put together in back-to-back games against UTA and Oklahoma.
- LBSU has actually seen a 1-3-1 twice this year and fared decently against it, but the always road-weary and well-traveled Niners have to head to the altitude of Cedar City to face SUU’s 1-3-1 and up-tempo attack. Dan Monson’s squad can run, though, and the TBirds are horrific in transition defense.
- The fortunes of BYU changed with the sudden eligibility of McKay Cannon, who was much needed after Nick Emery’s departure. BYU should be able to handle Illinois State’s press that flummoxed Tulsa, and the Redbirds should get punished on the offensive glass by Yoeli Childs and Nick Dalton.
- UC Irvine should dominate the post against Utah State, and the myriad zone looks and length that Russell Turner can throw out defensively should limit a penetrate-and-kick heavy USU offense.
- Anyone with a pulse can shred New Mexico’s transition defense if you can run even a quasi decent press offense, and Tad Boyle’s Colorado teams are always elite pushing off the defensive glass before defenses even get set up. Forcing misses from 3-point heavy UNM could result in a blowout in the Buffs favor – of course perimeter defense has been an issue in Colorado this year, however.
- Idaho State’s offense received a boost with the eligibility of Jared Stutzman, but they’re likely down ball hawk Brandon Boyd against penetration-driven CSUN. That said, CSUN’s defense is just brutal in nearly every metric.
- CSUF is among the most penetrate-and-kick reliant offenses in the country, and they’ve been dreadful against any sort of sagging defense, which is precisely what Terry Porter and Portland bring with a compact 3-2. The Pilots blew a 10-point lead with just over two minutes remaining last year against the Titans, so there’s some revenge in mind, but UP is due for a massive shooting regression, as they’re hitting nearly 50 percent of their attempts to date. Jackson Rowe’s versatility should be an issue for Josh McSwiggan, a stretch shooter with some major defensive liabilities.
- Washington State is going to struggle with any team that both limits dribble and kick offenses and transition opportunities. That describes Don Verlin’s morphing pack line/3-2 zone at Idaho to a tee. The Vandals were without Perrion Callandrett and shot 4-26 from 3 in a miserable offensive showing in Pullman last year. First game of the year for the Vandals at the bigger, airier Cowan Spectrum dome as opposed to Memorial Gym.
- Portland State and LMU are two pressure-heavy defenses, especially PSU, who extends the press full court for nearly 40 minutes under Barret Peery. PSU is far more capable of attacking with their press offense, though, thanks to Deontae North, Holland Woods and Mike Mayhew, but the back end of the press could be missing 7-foot-1 Gonzaga transfer Ryan Edwards, who has a foot injury. The Vikings are already down Braxton Tucker in the frontcourt as well.
- UC Davis and Pacific will both utilize an aggressive trapping zone, and both zone offenses can struggle, which is precisely what we saw in the first meeting. The difference is Jim Les has a dominant big in Chima Moneke to bail the Aggies out, and Damon Stoudamire doesn’t. The Tigers were trying to integrate some new pieces offensively in the teams’ first meeting game in just the second game of the year, and the Tiger offense has improved significantly since.
Wednesday’s Top Picks (YTD: 105-99):
UC Irvine +8
CSUN/Idaho State over 146
Wazzu/Idaho under 146.5
Toledo/Detroit over 170.5
Rhode Island +3