How to Bet Thursday’s Massive Mid-Major Slate
© Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Today, I’ll take a look at the following four pivotal mid-major games in the Big South, Big Sky, and Big West:
- Campbell at Radford -5
- UCSB at Long Beach State PK
- Weber State at Portland State -3
- Montana at Eastern Washington +3.5
Campbell @ Radford (-5)
9 p.m. ET
Radford sat atop the Big South standings at 7-2 halfway through the conference season. It has since dropped four of five to slide into a tie for third place with tonight’s opponent Campbell. The Fighting Camels won the first meeting in Buies Creek thanks to this buzzer beater from the inestimable Chris Clemons.
The reasons for Radford’s struggles in the second half are two fold. First, teams are more prepared for dynamic freshman PG Carlik Jones once they have tape on him. Jones is only averaging 10 ppg in five Big South rematches, as defenses have started to blitz him on ball screens. Second, Big South teams are also more prepared for Radford’s pressure defense. In the first half of Big South play, only Winthrop scored greater than 1.0 points per possession (ppp) against Radford. Conversely, only Gardner-Webb has failed to eclipse 1.0 ppp in the second half thus far.
Campbell is a hard team to press in general because of Clemons, but the Radford defense did do an effective job of gumming up Campbell’s ubiquitous Princeton motion sets in the first meeting. However, the Camel offense mainly struggled because point-center Andrew Eudy was limited to 17 minutes before fouling out. Eudy has since reigned in his foul rate, and the Camels are at their best when they operate out of the high post through Eudy.
Radford would love nothing more than to avenge four straight losses (including last year’s Big South semis) to Campbell in a rare nationally televised game at the Dedmon Center, but the Highlanders’ inefficiency on both ends in the second half of the season doesn’t inspire much confidence. Plus, Clemons is the Collin Sexton of midmajor basketball, which means he thrives in the spotlight. And with lethal Marcus Burk as his running mate (Clemons and Burk combined for 20 threes…in one game!), Big South defenses simply can’t swarm Clemons like they did last season.
The PICK: Campbell +5
UCSB @ Long Beach State (PK)
10 p.m. ET
Big game for Beach as it attempts to crawl back into the Big West title race. It currently sits two games back of UCSB, but they will meet again after tonight. Offensively, LBSU runs a lot of flex dive motion designed to get Gabe Levin looks at the rim. Dan Monson will also run dual post sets with Temidayo Yussuf playing off Levin. In Big West play, that dual post look has the Niners scoring 1.10 ppp, while limiting opponents to .99 ppp. I expect Monson to utilize this dual post look against UCSB’s pack line defense, as the Gauchos grade out in just the 11th percentile nationally in post defense, per Synergy.
The Beach can actually shoot a little this year as well. With its reliance on post offense, LBSU doesn’t shoot a lot of threes, but with spot shooter Bryan Alberts back from injury and the rise of Finnish frosh Edon Maxhuni at shooting guard, the Niners have a few capable shooters when teams double the post. It also helps that Levin and Yussuf are plus passers out of the post. Complicating matters inside for UCSB is the unknown status of center Jalen Canty, who has been suspended indefinitely.
While the LBSU offense will likely score tonight at the Pyramid, its ability to defend the league’s best offense is a looming question. Monson often juggles offense for defense subs between Alberts and his only plus defender in KJ Byers. Byers has zero offensive upside, but is a lock down defender in pick and roll, which UCSB runs frequently and efficiently between Max Heidegger and Gabe Vincent.
Monson has experimented with pressure and 1-3-1/2-3 zones, but LBSU has actually been worse in zone. However, thanks to multiple personnel issues in the frontcourt, Monson has stumbled upon frosh tweener Jordan Roberts, who has improved the Niner defense in Big West play. With Roberts on the floor, LBSU allows 1.00 ppp in league play, and he can check UCSB’s three level scorer Leland King. In fact, per hoop-lens, when Monson rolls with Levin, Yussuf, and Roberts in the frontcourt, LBSU allows just .97 ppp. However, even that combo doesn’t really help its pick and roll defense, which UCSB will test all night long.
The PICK: UCSB PK
Weber State @ Portland State (-3.5)
10 p.m. ET
Against Portland State, it’s all about how you handle their full court press. Fortunately for Weber State, it ranks as the ninth most efficient press offense in the country, scoring 1.14 ppp. That’s not a small sample size either, as the Wildcats have been pressed at the nation’s 27th highest rate. Interestingly, Weber State actually lacks a true point guard. Nevertheless, Weber scored 84 points in 80 possessions in the first meeting at home, while turning it over on just 16% of its possessions. Head coach Randy Rahe rotated in ball handlers extremely effectively, using bigger guards like Ryan Richardson and Dusty Baker to see over the press, while attacking with smaller guards Jerrick Harding and frosh Ricky Nelson.
Weber won that first meeting with PSU’s Deontae North playing. However, the Vikings’ leading scorer is suspended indefinitely and rumored to have left the team. Weber is also the Big Sky’s best defensive rebounding team, which is key against a Portland State team that relies heavily on the offensive glass when it can’t generate points in transition. PSU did secure 16 offensive rebounds in the first meeting (35% rate), but six of those came from North.
The PICK: Weber State +3.5
Montana @ Eastern Washington (+3.5)
9:05 p.m. ET
The Grizz take their undefeated Big Sky mark to Cheney, Washington, where Eastern Washington has only lost once this year. EWU also gets some reinforcement to the lineup, as Jesse Hunt is slated to return from injury, but will come off the bench in his first game since Jan. 4. Before the injury, Hunt was turning a corner offensively, developing into the stretch 4 that EWU has lacked all season.
While Hunt might give the EWU offense a boost, the Eagles will still run into two primary problems tonight. First, EWU loves to create mismatches using 6’6 Bogdan Bliznyuk as a pick and roll ball-handler, but Montana has one of mid-major basketball’s premier pick and roll defenses With Mike Oguine and Ahmaad Rorie leading the way, Montana grades out in the 98th percentile nationally in guarding PnR ball-handlers. Additionally, head coach Travis DeCuire is a proponent of “downing” shooters on ball screens. That means forcing ball-handlers away from screens to stay at home on shooters, essentially negating pick and pop situations. As a result, Montana’s extremely active backcourt can limit EWU’s prolific three point offense.
Second, EWU struggles to defend the post and dribble penetration. That’s bad news against a Montana offense that gears all of its action toward post feeds to Jamar Akoh or dribble penetration from Oguine. Akoh has had trouble staying out of foul trouble against penetration heavy offenses, but EWU ranks dead last in free throw rate in league play. With Akoh likely able to stay on the floor, he should dominate at the rim.
The PICK: Montana -3.5