College basketball notebook: Wrapping Up Diamond Head
USC vs. New Mexico State
What a difference an engaged Bennie Boatwright makes for USC. Boatwright can often be a liability in ball screen defense, but when he gets in attack mode like he did against MTSU instead of lurking on the perimeter, USC has some of the best spacing and ball movement in the country.
Boatwright and Chimezie Metu formed a dominant two-man frontcourt against MTSU, and should do more of the same against New Mexico State for the Diamond Head title. NMSU plays phenomenal team defense, but they are exploitable at the 4 and 5. Boatwright will either post up Jemerrio Jones when Chris Jans goes small, or exploit Eli Chuha off the dribble. NMSU’s post defense is allowing 1 point per possession per Synergy, and while USC is mostly a ball screen offense, Metu and Boatwright should have some opportunities to score at the rim. It will be interesting to see if Jans trades offense for some defense with more Johnny McCants. Per Hooplens.com, the Aggies allow just .86 points per possession when McCants lines up in the frontcourt, but he has the reverse effect on the offense.
Defensively, the Aggies stay very active in the backcourt, where a banged up Sidy N’Dir and AJ Harris provide the team’s best individual defense. Their defensive ability on the perimeter often forces teams into one-on-one situations that stifle ball movement, as NMSU allows the fourth-lowest assist rate in the country. They will both be major keys against Jordan McLaughlin, who grades out in the 90th percentile offensively off ball screens (per Synergy). NMSU plays almost all man-to-man defense, but Jans did interestingly go to a 3-2 zone in a key late possession against Miami. USC has an outstanding zone offense, so I wouldn’t expect to see Jans go zone often, but it can keep a team off balance.
Defensively for USC, I would expect to see more of Andy Enfield’s 2-3 matchup zone he used against MTSU. The Trojans defend much better as a team in zone, as it masks Elijah Stewart’s on-ball issues and Boatwright’s ball screen defense. The Aggies haven’t see a ton of zone this year, but they’re scoring at just .88 points per possession when they do. Expect Enfeld to pack it in against Zach Lofton and AJ Harris, who have struggled with their jump shooting.
Overall, NMSU prides themselves on their team defense and rebounding, where they’ve been among the best in the country on both ends, but I have some fairly grave concerns about their zone offense and ability to matchup with Metu and Boatwright.
Other Diamond Head Notes:
- Akron struggles on the defensive end, and relies too much on the 3 to exploit Davidson’s soft rim defense. That said, Davidson’s backcourt can’t defend anyone off the dribble, and they’re shorthanded in the frontcourt, which could open things up for Akron’s four-out offense. Peyton Aldridge is a matchup nightmare for the Zips, though, as John Groce runs small at the 4. This one likely comes down to 3-point variance, as Davidson shoots the 3 at the third highest rate nationally, and Akron the 43rd. Unfortunately for Akron, McKillop’s outstanding motion offense is far more difficult to prep for on a quick turnaround, and the Zips are a young team assembled somewhat on the fly with a new coaching staff.
- Hawaii’s interior flex motion and outstanding big to big passing could give Princeton’s frontcourt issues. Also, the Bows excelled in defending Davidson’s motion offense (similar to Princeton’s motion). Princeton must decide if they want Myles Stephens, an excellent individual defender, to limit Sheriff Drammeh off the dribble or use him against Gibson Johnson in the post. On the other end, Stephens has a plus matchup against anyone Eron Ganot puts on him. The Bows generally finish their tournament strong, as they’ve won the final Christmas Day game four years running.
- MTSU just saw their hybrid 1-3-1 get shredded by USC, who also exposed the lack of athleticism in the frontcourt on the defensive end. Miami can also exploit that area with Dewan Huell and Anthony Lawrence, but the Canes run a below average zone offense, scoring at just .826 points per possession, per Synergy (20th percentile). A few MTSU players have battled a stomach bug, namely Brandon Walters, and the short rest could take a toll on the Blue Raiders’ legs as the tournament comes to a close. Miami is annually one of the best pick-and-roll defenses in the country because of their ability to switch on every screen, which should help limit Giddy Potts on the perimeter tonight.
Monday Top Picks (YTD: 153-152-3):
NMSU/USC under 146