Betting Friday’s Conference Tourneys: More Major Upsets on the Horizon?

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As conference tournament play continues on Friday, top seeds must be on high alert after seeing Middle Tennessee State go down in overtime against Southern Miss last night. I think we could potentially see a few more major upsets today.

In today’s analysis, I will take an in-deepth look at the following four conference tourney matchups:

  • Texas State vs UL Lafayette -12 (12:30 pm ET on ESPN3)
  • Troy vs Georgia State -4 (6 pm ET on ESPN3)
  • Grand Canyon vs Utah Valley -2 (9 pm ET on ESPN3)
  • Utah State vs New Mexico -3 (11:30 pm ET on CBSSN)

Follow me on twitter @jorcubsdan for in-game analysis, injury updates, and second half predictions.

Texas State vs UL Lafayette (-12)

12:30 p.m. ET ESPN3

Texas State didn’t fare well against ULL in two blowout losses during the regular season. However, the recent play of Tra’Larenz Nottingham at the point gives Texas State some hope today in New Orleans. I actually think the Bobcats have a chance to pull off the massive upset.

Consistent guard play has been an issue for the Bobcats since they lost point guard Marlin Davis for the season (knee injury). Texas State suffered through a nine game losing streak heading into the SBC Tournament, but seven of those came right down to the wire. The offense has showed signs of improvement recently, as the Bobcats have started to adjust to life without Davis. Nottingham has helped reduce the turnover rate and Nijal Pearson has accepted his role as alpha scorer.

The Bobcats finally put it all together in the first round, knocking off Coastal Carolina, while scoring 1.14 points per possession (ppp). That marked the third straight game of at least 1.1 ppp, which is practically unprecedented for a team coached by Danny Kaspar.

Texas State actually found itself in almost identical position in last year’s SBC tournament: heavy underdog (+8) playing its best basketball of the year against a league powerhouse. The Bobcats ultimately pulled off the upset with a 21-point beatdown of UT-Arlington. They completely shut down the UTA offense with Kaspar’s typical denial heavy man-to man-defense, which kept the Mavs out of transition. Bob Marlin’s Cajuns play a very similar style to that UTA team.

I’m interested to see how ULL responds after the stunning loss to Little Rock on senior night at the Cajun Dome. ULL has high major talent and extremely volatile personalities, which stems from its extremely volatile head coach. That shocking loss could potentially unravel the fragile mindset of the Cajuns. Even if ULL recovers mentally, I think the Bobcats are much improved and can keep this within striking distance. Don’t be surprised if they pull off the stunner, especially if this game is played in the low 60s possession wise.

THE PICKS: Texas State +12, Under 142

Troy vs Georgia State (-4)

6 p.m. ET on ESPN3 

This one is fairly straightforward for me. Troy has always fared well against Georgia State’s trapping 1-3-1 matchup zone. In fact, the Trojans are 4-1 against GSU in their last 5 meetings, scoring 1.10 ppp over that stretch. Going back to the beginning of head coach Phil Cunningham’s tenure at Troy in the 2013-14 season, the Trojans are 6-5 against Ron Hunter’s zone, scoring 1.07 ppp. That might sound fairly mediocre, but it’s important to remember just how bad Troy was during Cunningham’s first three seasons, while those Georgia State teams were dominant. Cunningham simply loves to play (and beat) Georgia State after he was nixed as the “coach in waiting” for the Panthers during Lefty Driesell’s tenure.

What makes Troy’s one offense such a tough matchup for GSU? It has multiple long shooting options that can get looks in ball screen motion sets. Plus, Jordon Varnado (pictured above) is a matchup nightmare for the Panthers at the base of the zone. It also helps to have a lethal shooter like guard Wes Person on the perimeter to stretch out the middle of the zone.

Troy’s defense could potentially undermine all of its offensive advantages however. The Trojans struggle to defend pick and roll, which GSU runs as much as any team in the country via uber-penetrating guard D’Marcus Simonds. Ultimately, I think the offense does enough and we may see the top two Sun Belt seeds go down before the semifinals.

THE PICK: Troy +4

Grand Canyon vs Utah Valley (-2)

9 p.m. ET on ESPN3 

GCU survived against UMKC last night because it dominated on the offensive glass, grabbing 45% of its misses. 6’10 Alessandro Lever was simply a matchup problem for the undersized Roos, especially when he operated outside of the paint. UVU had some of the same issues with Lever, but head coach Mark Pope’s team won’t get beat on the boards.

The Lopes and the Wolverines split the season series, but UVU’s one point loss in Phoenix comes with a major caveat- dominant big man Akolda Manyang was tagged with a few questionable foul calls early. He ultimately only played 13 minutes before fouling out. When Manyang can stay on the floor to patrol the paint, GCU won’t get many looks at the rim, which spells doom for the miserable perimeter shooting Lopes.

The mobility of the big Italian Lever does pose a significant threat to UVU’s defense, but I’m interested to see if Pope puts senior 6’11 forward Isaac Neilson on the floor with Manyang in a massive lineup just to throw more size at Lever. Neilson was relegated to the bench last night against Cal State Bakersfield’s press, but could be a key factor tonight.

It’s important to note how intense this game could be today, as both teams are playing with an extra edge. Grand Canyon is eligible for the NCAA Tournament for the first time, while UVU was a missed free throw away from the title game last year in a wild 4OT semifinal loss to Bakersfield. If Manyang can stay on the floor, UVU should prevail.

PICK: Utah Valley -2

Utah State vs New Mexico (-3)

11:30 p.m. ET on CBSSN

Extremely interesting game in the MWC semis, as USU has the big, attacking guards in Koby McEwen and Sam Merrill that can typically handle New Mexico’s full court press. USU won the first meeting in Logan in game that UNM couldn’t press as much as usual due to an extremely undermanned roster at the time. As a result, the Aggies tallied a season best 1.33 ppp. The second meeting at the Pit couldn’t have played out any differently. A much healthier Lobos team was able to press with much more frequency and effectiveness. The pressure completely wore down Utah State, which turned the ball over on 33% of its possessions.

UNM has struggled against teams with height inside that can score at the rim and pound the offensive glass to prevent the Lobos from running off the defensive glass. That isn’t USU. Head coach Tim Duryea has found success with a smaller lineup, which means the Lobos should control the pace and play their style of basketball tonight.

THE PICK: New Mexico -3

 

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