College basketball notebook: Analyzing Wednesday’s slate
Houston @ LSU
The primary concern for LSU will be guarding elite Houston scorer Rob Gray in ball screens. LSU’s on-ball defense has been very poor, and it doesn’t help that Will Wade’s best defender, Brandon Sampson, is out until after Christmas with a high ankle sprain. Per Hooplens.com, LSU was limiting opposing defenses to 1.04 points per possession with Sampson on the floor, but that number skyrockets to 1.16 without him. Stud freshman PG Tremont Waters is a capable defender, but he’s having a hard time fighting through high ball screens early in his LSU career, which has forced Wade to simplify his defensive schemes. Initially, Wade was mixing in several looks, including some extended 2-1-2 zone press, but I’ve seen less of that since the Michigan game. You simply have to limit Gray in ball screens and deny penetration against Houston’s quick-strike offense, which I’m not sure LSU can do.
Offensively, Kelvin Sampson still utilizes his infamous 1-4 high motion sets, but it’s mostly just the initial side ball screen for Gray that initiates the offense, as the Cougars rarely go through the 1-4 progressions – and that’s purposeful this year. Per Sampson in the Houston student paper The Daily Cougar:
“We have two rules: We try to score as many baskets as we can with four seconds or less, and when we move it up with the dribble, the ball has to cross half court in three seconds or less,” Cougars’ head coach Kelvin Sampson said. “Everything we do revolves around pace.”
To wit, Houston has shaved three seconds off their average possession length compared to last year, and they’re averaging six more possessions per game. Sampson has surrounded Gray with deadly shooters like Corey Davis, Wes VanBeck and Armoni Brooks, while Galen Robinson and Davis can both run the offense to allow Gray to work off the ball.
Sampson’s efforts to pick up the pace means he’s often running out an extremely small lineup, which does create some length/athleticism disadvantages at the 3 when Gray and VanBeck line up in that spot. Sampson tries to mask it with an extremely packed in defense around undersized rebounders Devin Davis, Nura Zanna and Breaon Brady. As a result, Houston will have to sag against the electric Waters, who could hurt them from 3, as he’s shooting 42 percent early in his career.
Wade is having some issues finding a rotation that doesn’t expose defensive liabilities in their pick-and-roll defense, particularly from big man Duop Reath. Wade can’t keep Reath off the floor long because he’s such a force offensively, so that means Wayde Sims has been lining up as an undersized 4. Sims has been the one constant in LSU’s defense, especially with Sampson out. Per Hooplens.com, LSU is limiting opponents to .97 points per possession when Sims is on the floor, and 1.30 ppp when he’s off. More effectively, Sims improves the LSU with Reath on the floor, as the Tigers are holding teams to .95 ppp when Sims and Reath play together. That’s a smaller lineup, but Houston doesn’t run out a lot height, and Sampson doesn’t space out his bigs, meaning Reath’s exposure in pick and roll might be limited tonight.
PICK: Houston -2.5
- Until UNCW goes zone or changes something defensively, they will continue to get shredded in pick-and-roll defense. It doesn’t seem likely that CB McGrath will make a fundamental switch on that end, and UNCG’s Franc Alonso should torch the poorly rotating UNCW perimeter defense. Jordon Talley does lead the nation in assist rate for UNCW and only turns the ball over at a 14 percent rate, so UNCG’s full-court pressure might not play a major factor.
- Simply put, Villanova is a monster. Their only discernible weakness is frontcourt depth at the rim behind Omari Spellman. Temple’s defense has major issues containing dribble penetration, which spells disaster against Jalen Brunson, as Villanova will score at will when Brunson gets into the paint. Typically, Temple has an advantage in ball screens with the perimeter length of Obi Enechionyia and Quinton Rose. Unfortunately, Fran Dunphy won’t have that luxury against Villanova, who switches on everything with the versatility of hyper talented Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo and Eric Paschall.
- I shudder to think of what will happen tonight if Milwaukee rotates on the perimeter against Belmont like they did against Western Illinois. WIU went 16-26 from 3 against the Panthers, who were without 6-foot-4 Brock Stull (who will most likely miss tonight). The Panthers are holding defenses to .90 points per possession with Stull on the floor, and a robust 1.20 ppp without him. Belmont’s motion offense annually runs some of the most precise sets in the country and should pick apart the Panthers in the halfcourt, even with additional focus from Milwaukee after the WIU debacle, as the issues stem from an immobile frontcourt that can’t extend outside of the paint.
- Bradley dismissed top perimeter defender JoJo McGlastonwill, which will impact their fledgling offense and stifling defense. Brian Wardle said stretch shooter Ryan Stipanovich will see more minutes, which will hurt Wardle’s extended halfcourt man-to-man defense, as Stipanovich couldn’t guard me. Fortunately, Little Rock is a good candidate to work out new rotations against, as the Trojans are excessively small and rely on one player to take every shot (until leading scorer Deondre Burns makes his season debut from an MCL sprain).
- I’m hesitant to count out Wisconsin, but the swing offense is simply not working, and the injuries to Kobe King and D’Mitrik Trice hurt. But perhaps a simpler offense running through Ethan Happ and Brad Davison will turn out positively. Western Kentucky’s defense doesn’t inspire much, as Rick Stansbury was forced out of the 1-3-1 in a blowout loss to Ohio. WKU has struggled containing dribble penetration and in transition – not fortes of Wisconsin, who works through Happ in the halfcourt every possession. WKU’s action is predicated by Lamonte Bearden penetration, who couldn’t find a groove at Ohio because of early fouls, but I’m not sure any Badger can stay in front of him.
- Grand Canyon absolutely cannot shoot the basketball, and Boise State will surely use a 2-3 zone as their base defense. Also, this will be Grand Canyon’s first road game (without the backing of its rabid student section).
- Portland State’s full-court press is legit, but they needed to make their final 16 field goal attempts (!!!) to pull out an improbable win at Santa Clara. Oregon’s offense is built on individual freedom, and the Ducks will score at will when they don’t turn it over. Of course, PSU will be a little more fired up for this matchup than Oregon, which can be problematic against relentless pressure.
- Omaha should be able to play their style tonight (extend pressure and run) against an Arkansas State team that lacks ball handlers and that can’t exploit the Mavs’ weakness at the rim. Much needed return home for the severely banged up Mavs, who have played one game in Omaha all year. PG Renard Suggs is nearing a return as well, but I’m not sure if that will happen before Summit play.
Wednesday Top Picks: