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How to Bet the Empire Classic: Previewing Syracuse vs. Richmond & St. John’s vs. Temple

How to Bet the Empire Classic: Previewing Syracuse vs. Richmond & St. John’s vs. Temple article feature image
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Joe Murphy/Getty Images. Pictured: Temple Owls shooting guard Damian Dunn

The Empire Classic at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, is the most high-profile tournament across the college basketball landscape this week, but it is also one of the most evenly matched nonconference tournaments.

Syracuse, Richmond, Temple and St. John’s all have uncertain NCAA Tournament aspirations and need strong nonconference showings to bolster their resumes.

Of the four, only Richmond made the big dance last season, and the Spiders had to steal an auto bid from the Atlantic 10 Tournament to get there. Temple has already beaten two top-50 programs while St. John’s, Richmond and Syracuse will face off against top 90 KenPom opponents for the first time this season.

Here’s what to expect in Brooklyn on Monday night:


Syracuse vs. Richmond

Monday, Nov. 21
7 p.m. ET
ESPN2

Both Richmond and Syracuse are in a bit of a transition period in the new season. The Spiders were one of the oldest and most experienced teams in the entire country last year and are replacing a good amount of talent from that squad.

Top players Grant Golden and Jacob Gilyard have departed, and Chris Mooney has reloaded with a new freshman class and a couple of transfers.

The Spiders love to shoot from beyond the arc, and that’s exactly what Syracuse will allow teams to do. The Orange are playing a bit less of the vintage 2-3 zone this season, but they’re still primarily a zone team at this point. They are willing to concede a ton of 3-pointers and,  as has been the problem, too many open 3-pointers.

The Orange allow 3s on half their possessions, and the Spiders shoot 3s on half of theirs. You can bank on plenty of open 3s for the Spiders, and the game is likely to be decided by how well the Spiders shoot it from deep in this game. Colgate came to the Carrier Dome last week and shot Syracuse out of its own gym.

Richmond is outside the top 200 in 3-point percentage, but there could be some positive regression coming for this group. They struggled to consistently shoot last year but did add sharpshooter Jason Roche to the rotation.

Mooney runs a form of the Princeton offense at Richmond that can look really sharp or really bad at times depending on how it is executed. Against Syracuse teams of the past, I’d be less inclined to like this matchup. But this Syracuse zone defense has holes, and the backdoor cuts and off-ball screen actions should generate a ton of open looks for Richmond. This is a toss-up game, and I’ll take the possession with the Spiders in Brooklyn.

Pick: Richmond +3 or better

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St. John’s vs. Temple

Monday, Nov. 21
9:30 p.m. ET
ESPNU

Because St. John’s plays at one of the fastest paces in the country, teams need to be willing and able to defend effectively in transition to stop them.

The Owls don’t have an elite transition defense, but they did rate out as slightly above average both last season and early this season in that category, per Synergy. However, Temple has been a difficult team to pin down at this point in the season. The Owls lost at home to Wagner and Vanderbilt, both in overtime. But they also beat Villanova at home and rolled over Rutgers easily on Friday night.

Aaron McKie’s team has two generally reliable scorers and ball handlers in Damien Dunn and Khalif Battle.

Battle was benched for part of the Vanderbilt game, but he played and starred in the Rutgers win. Battle and Dunn give the Owls a reliable backcourt to prevent the Red Storm from turnovers and easy transition opportunities.

There’s also some clear air in the St. John’s shooting numbers at this point in the season. Some modest improvement could be explained, but improving the 3-point average by 4% as a team is a bit of a stretch. The Red Storm did get to pick on much smaller and less athletic teams with Merrimack, Lafayette and Central Connecticut State. The Owls have the length to bother St. John’s a bit and potentially keep the team off of the offensive glass.

St. John’s did get an impressive 20-point win against Nebraska, but the Red Storm still managed less than one point per possession. This is a bet on St. John’s offense regressing a bit and the Owls being good enough defensively in transition to keep this game close.

Pick: Temple +5 or better

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