MAAC and SoCon Championship Previews, Plus Betting the CAA Semis
© Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports
Today, I will look at the following four games, two of which (MAAC and SoCon titles) will result in NCAA tournament berths and two others that will determine which teams will play for another ticket to the dance in the CAA Championship tomorrow night.
- Fairfield vs Iona (-3) – 7 p.m. ET on ESPN
- ETSU vs UNC Greesnsboro (+1) – 9 p.m. ET on ESPN
- William & Mary vs Charleston (-4.5) – 6 p.m. ET on CBSSN
- UNC Wilmington vs Northeastern (-7.5) – 8:30 p.m. ET on CBSSN
Follow me on twitter @jorcubsdan for in-game analysis, injury updates, and second half predictions.
Fairfield vs Iona (-3)
7 p.m. ET on ESPN
Another MAAC Tournament and another trip to the title game for Iona. This marks the sixth straight appearance in the MAAC final for the Gaels. Iona head coach Tim Cluess has taken his squad to the championship in seven of his eight seasons at the helm. (Iona received an at-large bid in the lone exception). Fairfield meanwhile will play in the conference tourney championship for the first time since 2013. The Gaels and Stags split the regular season series, with the Stags’ win coming via a wild 103-100 OT affair.
Fairfield has been the league’s hottest team for almost a month now, winning seven straight overall. They started to get on a roll after head coach Sydney Johnson tweaked the lineup. He moved senior PG Jerome Segura to the bench for Lithuanian sensation Aidas Kavaliauskas. He also shortened the bench down the stretch, keeping wings Ferron Flavors and Jesus Cruz on the floor to take the heat off senior guard Tyler Nelson (program’s all time leading scorer). It also helps that big man Jonathan Kasibabu has reduced his foul rate down the stretch. Kasibabu is the league’s most efficient post scorer and a dominant force on the glass.
The Gaels are known for their scoring balance, as any of Cluess’ versatile wings can go off. Interestingly, Iona guard Deyshonee Much only played seven minutes, all in the first half, in the semifinal win over St. Peter’s. Much infamously had to be held back from going after Cluess after a blowout loss to Monmouth. He looked engaged on the bench, but it is a bizarre situation nonetheless. Much was unguardable in the first meeting vs the Stags, and his defensive ability vs Nelson would be key tonight. Perhaps there’s a bug going around Albany, as Fairfield PG Kavaliauskas was battling an illness last night .
Schematically, Fairfield plays much better defense in zone team than in man-to-man, but zoning Iona is not bright, as the Gaels almost always have four lethal shooters on the floor. Not surprisingly, Iona grades out in the 95th percentile nationally in zone offense, per Synergy. Cluess meanwhile will run some extending matchup zone pressure, but the Stags have been a much better press offense since the point guard change. Both teams should score at will, but I think Iona finds a way…again.
THE PICK: Iona -3, Over 152
ETSU vs UNC Greensboro (+1)
9 p.m. ET on ESPN2
The SoCon title game we all wanted to see between these two conference rivals that have butted heads in major games over the past two seasons. UNCG swept ETSU in the regular season last year, but the Bucs won a wild SoCon title game to exact revenge. This year, UNCG dominated the Bucs in Greensboro in a game that snapped ETSU’s 16-game winning streak. That loss triggered a late season swoon that saw the Bucs lose four of their final five games.
Many weren’t sure if ETSU would recover in the SoCon tourney, but ETSU head coach Steve Forbes boldly shook up his lineup when it mattered most. He inserted freshmen guard Bo Hodges and forward Mladen Armus into the starting lineup for both tournament games, which seemingly injected life back into the Bucs. Armus has been a presence at the rim that ETSU lacked with center Peter Jurkin.
Defensively, UNCG presses at the second highest rate nationally, with Wes Miller running out an extremely aggressive 1-2-2 zone press. ETSU’s press offense hasn’t been terribly efficient this year, but its inability to score at the rim when against UNCG’s rim protector James Dickey is even more concerning. Dickey is the single most important player tonight, as ETSU’s offense is predicated on attacking the rim. But primarily thanks to Dickey, the Spartans allow the country’s 23rd lowest FG% at the rim, per hoop-math.com.
ETSU won the first meeting because Dickey got into early foul trouble, logging just 17 minutes before fouling out. Thus, ETSU played its preferred game of working inside out, only attempting 10 three pointers. In the second meeting in Greensboro, Dickey stayed on the floor and dominated. He blocked eight shots and altered everything the Bucs wanted to do offensively. ETSU shot just 32% on two point field goals, as opposed to 58% in the first meeting in Johnson City. As long as Dickey avoids any foul issues, UNCG is simply a better team than ETSU.
THE PICK: UNCG +1
William & Mary vs Charleston (-4.5)
6 p.m ET on CBSSN
Charleston received some good news ahead of its first CAA tournament game against Drexel, as big man Nick Harris was cleared to play. However, I’m not sure how much he can actually do tonight in back to back games. Plus, Tribe center Nate Knight’s mobility gave a fully healthy Harris the first time these teams met. In that game, Knight went off for 29 points on 13-19 shooting.
While Charleston had a difficult time matching up with Tony Shaver’s 4 out ball screen motion offense, the Cougars were equally effective against William & Mary’s zone defense. With guards Grant Riller, Cam Johnson, and Joe Chealey on the perimeter, the Cougars grade out in the 90th percentile nationally in zone offense, per Synergy. And when Earl Grant goes to a small lineup with forward Jarrell Brantley surrounded by 4 guards, C of C is especially lethal against zones. With Harris’ inability to guard Knight, I would expect Grant to mostly run out this lineup to exploit William & Mary’s zone.
THE PICK: Charleston -4.5
UNC Wilmington vs Northeastern (-7.5)
8:30 p.m. ET on CBSSN
Both UNCW and Northeastern struggled defensively against the opposing offensive schemes this season. Northeastern ultimately swept the season series, but both games went to overtime after the Huskies couldn’t close out double digit second half leads.
Bill Coen’s defensive scheme at NU is centered around shading shooters on the three point line. Opposing offenses shoot the three at the second lowest rate in the country, while only hitting at a 29% clip (also second lowest nationally). While scheme helps NU limit the three, its dribble contain defense has suffered as a result. Northeastern allows the highest field goal attempt rate at the rim in the entire country, per hoop-math.com. That’s troubling against UNCW, which is modeled after Roy Williams’ secondary break scheme with two bigs on the floor in Marcus Bryan and Davontae Cacok (one of the most efficient rim scorers nationally the last two years). Additionally, UNCW senior point guard Jordon Talley has played like a man possessed of late. He can live in the paint off the bounce tonight.
I will say UNCW can’t defend in pick and roll, which is not ideal against NU guard Vasa Pusica, one of the best pick and roll ball handlers in the country. Per Synergy, UNCW grades out as the seventh least efficient pick and roll defense nationally. Northeastern will score, but 7.5 points is just too many given the advantages UNCW will also have on offense.
THE PICK: UNCW +7.5
ETSU forward David Burrell pictured above; credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports