College basketball opening night: Analyzing a few matchups of interest
Texas A&M vs West Virginia
Obviously suspensions on both sides have really ruined this game in Germany, but the Aggies are by far the more decimated of the two squads, and now they’ll be facing Press Virginia without a point guard and their top rim protector. It could get very ugly.
PICK: West Virginia -6
Alabama vs Memphis
No Collin Sexton or Braxton Key for the Tide (although Sexton will only miss this game, which is obviously great news Avery Johnson), a team I was very high on preseason. Sexton was expected to revitalize the inefficient Bama offense, and now they’re almost entirely reliant on Dazon Ingram and John Petty. Memphis, meanwhile, is a team I’m higher on than most, as I think Tubby has improved the chemistry despite the heavy losses in talent, and he wants to extend his ball line pressure this year.
PICK: Memphis +6.5
Fort Wayne @ Oakland
I really wish this old Summit battle was later in the nonconference schedule, as I think Fort Wayne is a few weeks from gelling without a true point guard. Kendrick Nunn vs Jon Konchar? Yes please. Grizz can probably name their number even without Jalen Hayes.
PICK: Oakland -7
ETSU @ Northern Kentucky
Only thing I have to add here is that NKU stud PG Lavone Holland didn’t play in last exhibition, a game in which they held their opponent to 26 total points, so perhaps it wasn’t anything major. I haven’t heard anything about an injury to Holland, so I’m guessing he’s fine. Steve Forbes has a lot to replace for the defending SoCon champs, and NKU should be able to handle his athletic man-to-man pressure.
PICK: Northern Kentucky -6
South Carolina @ Wofford
Big game for the Terriers, as they host big brother off a Final Four appearance, and Wofford is opening a new gym. Can the undersized Terriers keep the always-crashing Gamecocks off the glass?
PICK: Wofford +6
UNCG @ Virginia
Good test for the Ty Jerome/Kyle Guy backcourt, as UNCG will press as much as any team in the country outside of West Virginia. UNCG can also shoot the hell out of the basketball against the pack line, as Franc Alonso is one of the best shooters in the country.
PICK: UNCG +18.5
FAU @ South Florida
I’m mainly interested in this one in terms of pace, as Brian Gregory has said he wants to push tempo this year, and to wit, the Bulls played 80 possessions in their last exhibition game. FAU struggled against up-tempo teams like Marshall and Louisiana Tech, as it generally took big Ron Delph out of the game.
PICK: USF -3.5
Samford @ Arkansas
I’m mainly interested to see if Wyatt Walker is able to suit up for the Bulldogs. Samford head coach Scott Padgett will mostly go five-out if not, and that’s actually not a bad idea against this Arkansas team, which is going to be dominated by their perimeter this year. However, Padgett pressing in this game would be a major mistake, but that’s when Samford is at their best defensively; unfortunately, Arkansas’ guards are immune to pressure. That said, Padgett will use a 2-3 zone in the halfcourt when not pressing, and that could be effective against Arkansas’ penetration. Again, I mostly want to see the status of Walker first.
PICK: Samford +10
Ball State @ Dayton
I’m high on Ball State this year, but the Flyers have a major athleticism advantage inside with Xeyrius Williams and Josh Cunningham – particularly with Trey Moses and Tahj Teague likely limited.
PICK: Dayton -5.5
Towson @ Old Dominion
Interesting game between two teams known for their banging on the glass and grinder pace. However, both Pat Skerry and Jeff Jones have talked extensively about increasing the pace this year, and I would be surprised if this game is played at the 60 possessions it was last year.
PICK: Towson +3.5
Delaware @ Richmond
I think both of these teams are going to be undervalued the whole year, but both are currently banged up. Delaware has Champ Mosley and Darian Bryant questionable, while Khwan Fore is out for Richmond (it’s also their first game post-TJ Cline). I’m interested in watching Ryan Daly vs. Demonte Buckingham. Buckingham is an elite on-ball defender, and if you can take away Daly, you really limit the Hens.
PICK: Richmond -10
Siena @ Charleston
Earl Grant’s defense is fantastic at eliminating an opposing offense’s best threat on the perimeter, and Jimmy Patsos basically wants Nico Clareth to take 25 shots a game. That is a big number for what can be a wonky C of C offense at times, though.
PICK: Charleston -17.5
Georgia Southern @ Wake Forest
Interesting schematic matchup here, as GSU ran more pick and roll than any team in the country with their athletic four-guard lineup, and Wake was horrific defending pick and roll. That said, Wake is going to play smaller this year, so perhaps some of those issues are alleviated? This one should see a lot of scoring.
PICK: Georgia Southern +10
Mercer @ UCF
I’m probably higher on Mercer than anyone in the country, as Bob Hoffman starts five seniors. UCF has Johnny Dawkins’ massive zone, but the Bears shredded zones last year (albeit zones that didn’t have a 7-foot-6 center in the middle). Mercer plays a super saggy defense that denies penetration and entry feeds. Interested to see how UCF offense operates without Aubrey Dawkins, who was expected to provide some major scoring punch for the Knights.
PICK: Mercer +8
Eastern Kentucky @ Rice
EKU is down their best on-ball defender in Tay Weaver, a key in Dan McHale’s Pitino-esque zone pressure scheme. Weaver tore his ACL for the second year in a row. He was expected to give EKU a dual PG look with Asante Gist (who also missed the Colonels’ last exhibition game with an ankle injury, as did Jackson Davis). Both Davis and Gist are expected to suit up, and I certainly like the Colonels on the road if they do, as I don’t think Austin Meyer/Tim Harrison can guard Nick Mayo.
PICK: EKU -3
Indiana State @ Indiana
I will be attending this game, and I have some serious questions about the Hoosier offense, especially against the tricky matchup zone scheme of Greg Lansing. Scheme tip to watch: Brandon Murphy has developed a more competent passing game, and Lansing has added a Princeton motion wrinkle to the offense with him at the high post. This one looks like a game where both offenses struggle.
PICK: Indiana State +14
Omaha @ Montana State
Brian Fish ripped into his team after they barely beat MSU-Northern in an exhibition game. This is just one of several quotes where Fish harshly criticized his Bobcats:
“I’d say we’re a long way away,” Fish said. “We just wasted 22 practices of what I’ve been asking them to do, and they decided to do what they wanted to do. Right now it’s a one-sided, selfish basketball team. We’ll see if we can’t address that and find a couple guys to be leaders.” (from Greg Rahac at the Billings Gazette)
Omaha is in a rebuild situation and doesn’t have Trae-Deon Hollins to check Tyler Hall. This game was 97-91 in favor of Omaha last year, but the Mavs don’t have nearly the same firepower, while MSU returns nearly everyone. MSU’s best perimeter defender, Devonte Klines, should be available after missing that exhibition game that riled up Fish. I anticipate that to be a wakeup call of sorts for a Bobcat team that’s expected to contend for a Big Sky title.
PICK: Montana State -9
Northern Colorado @ Colorado
What I like about UNC: Jordan Davis has Anthony Johnson and Andre Spight around him in what should be a much improved motion offense in Jeff Linder’s second season. Colorado is extremely young, especially in the frontcourt, where UNC is most vulnerable.
PICK: Northern Colorado +10
Missouri State @ Western Kentucky
Alize Johnson sounds like he’s questionable at best, and Paul Lusk said he isn’t in game shape even if he can suit up. Lamonte Bearden, on the other hand, appears to be trending toward playing for WKU. I’m not big on Lusk’s game prep, and Bearden could dominate a far less athletic Bears backcourt.
PICK: Western Kentucky +1.5
Arkansas State @ Evansville
New ASU coach Mike Balado will likely blitz Evansville’s intricate motion offense with his extremely high zone pressure defensive scheme, but I would need to know the status of Deven Simms for the Red Wolves first.
PICK: Arkansas State +4.5
Louisiana @ Ole Miss
Under the radar game of the night candidate. The Cajuns have typically struggled against zones under Bob Marlin, and Andy Kennedy will throw out his 1-3-1, but Bryce Washington and Jakeenan Gant could eat inside against a four-out Ole Miss squad. Points will be had in this one, as both teams are going to be blazing fast this year, and neither defense is set up to take away what the opposing offense does (Ole Miss attacking the rim from four positions, ULL dominating the interior with outstanding athleticism and length).
PICK: Louisiana +8
Wright State @ Loyola Chicago
No Grant Benzinger for Wright St, which takes away a shooter for Scott Nagy, but the Ramblers likely won’t have Christian Negron. Loudon Love looks like a focal point of Nagy’s offense this year, giving him a big that he lacked last season. Justin Mitchell is the heart and soul of WSU, but he’s not a PG, and Porter Moser loves to extend his guards in the halfcourt, which could give the turnover prone Raiders some issues. Should be a good one.
PICK: Wright State +12.5
Utah State @ Weber State
USU can’t guard Zach Braxton at the 5 or Brekkott Chapman at the stretch 4 as Randy Rahe finally embraces “pace and space” basketball, going away from his traditional double post offense. Weber’s backcourt, meanwhile, won’t be able to keep Koby McEwen in front of them, and the Aggies have a bit of revenge in mind after blowing a late lead at the Spectrum in last year’s meeting. With neither defense really able to stop the focal points of offense, I think this one could get a little wild.
PICK: Utah State +1.5
UC Irvine @ South Dakota State
Very interesting game. The Eaters are extremely physical with their bigs (Galloway, Jones,and Rutherford, and Galloway is the team’s best defender as a big), and pretty much negated Mike Daum entirely in the first of two meetings last year. SDSU was also playing a truly horrific 1-3-1 zone at that time, but that has since been mercifully abandoned by Coach Otz. The Eaters will be shorthanded, as they’re likely without Max Hazzard (a big loss offensively in the backcourt) and Spencer Rivers. Russell Turner is a fantastic defensive game-planner, and he uses a lot of HORNS sets with his multiple bigs. Jacks could be in trouble in this one even against a short-handed UCI offense.
PICK: UC Irvine +6.5
Yale @ Creighton
Greg McDermott has one good perimeter defender in Kyhri Thomas, so one of Makai Mason or Miye Oni is going to feast. Additionally, Yale’s frontcourt of Jordan Bruner and Blake Reynolds is simply better than Creighton’s.
PICK: Yale +8
Austin Peay @ Vanderbilt
New APSU coach Matt Figger is well familiar with Vandy after having game-planned for them the past few seasons as Frank Martin’s assistant at South Carolina. Figger has already implemented the same 3-2 matchup zone, but the bad news is Vandy did just fine against it, and obviously USC had a much higher caliber roster than the Govs do.
PICK: Vandy -25
Idaho State @ Arizona State
I’m higher than most on ASU this year, and Hurley’s four-out offense could shred Bill Evans’ 1-1-3 zone, but the Bengals are also a deep Big Sky sleeper I have an eye on. Last year’s team was plagued by terrible chemistry, and injuries forced everyone to play out of position. It’s possible the Bengals compete in Tempe, as they’re closer to the 11-7 Big Sky team of two years ago than the 3-15 team that disappointed last year.
PICK: Idaho State +19.5
Belmont @ Washington
Belmont is not the team you want to face in your first game trying to implement an entirely new defensive scheme. UW allowed St. Marten’s to hit 18-34 from deep in an exhibition game, prompting Mike Hopkins to hit the drawing board already with his Syracuse 2-3 zone.
PICK: Belmont +3
Idaho @ Nevada
Not the easiest of opening matchups for the MWC favorites, as Eric Musselman’s “pace and space” Pack will be tested by a principled defense that alternates between pack line and zone, and allowed the third lowest transition rate in the country last year. I would suspect if Caleb Martin’s turf toe is still an issue, Musselman would want to hold him out for Monday against URI.
PICK: Idaho +9.5
Friday’s Top 5 Picks:
Towson/ODU over 125.5
Western Kentucky +1.5