Why New Mexico State Can Beat Clemson, Plus More Friday Analysis
© Daniel Clark-USA TODAY Sports
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After zero overtimes in last year’s tournament, we got one in the first game this year. We might be in for a special month of madness. For Friday’s betting analysis, I will take an in-depth look at the following four tourney matchups:
- Murray State vs. West Virginia -10.5 (4 p.m. ET | TNT)
- New Mexico State vs. Clemson -5 (9:57 p.m. ET | TruTV)
- Charleston vs. Auburn -9 (7:27 p.m. ET | TruTV)
- Missouri vs. Florida State -1.5 (9:50 p.m. ET | TBS)
Follow me on Twitter at @jorcubsdan for in-game commentary, injury updates, and second-half recommendations.
#12 Murray State vs. #5 West Virginia -10.5 | O/U: 145.5
San Diego, CA | 4 pm ET on TNT
West Virginia Fingerprint
The Mountaineers are as synonymous with full court pressure defense as Syracuse is with a 2-3 zone and Virginia is with a pack-line defense. Head coach Bob Huggins actually pressed a little less this season, but still at the sixth-highest rate nationally.
Offensively, WVU struggled with half-court spacing for long stretches, which led to many blown leads down the stretch. Don’t expect any mind-blowing adjustments to throw Murray State off, as Huggins rarely strays from his cut-and-fill motion offense. WVU does dominate on the offensive glass, grabbing its misses at the fourth-highest rate in the country.
Murray State Fingerprint
The Racers are led by the outstanding backcourt of Jonathan Stark and Ja Morant. Stark is a bona fide pure scoring point guard, while Morant is a triple-double threat as a co-ball handler. You can look consider Morant a poor man’s Rajon Rondo. The third dimension to the ‘Breds’ excellent offense is Terrell Miller Jr., who is equally efficient in the post. He excels playing off Stark and Morant in screen and roll, as well as when facing the rim as an offensive facilitator.
Defensively, Murray State struggles in the post, but is solid in pick and roll. It doesn’t gamble at all defensively, preferring to play straight up man-to-man, forcing teams to beat it one on one. Head coach Matt McMahon also has an ace up his sleeve in stud perimeter defender Shaq Buchanan. The Racers are a solid rebounding team on both ends as well, while denying transition attempts at a top 20 rate nationally.
First, Murray State is a good press offense, grading out in the 65th percentile (thanks to the Stark/Morant duo). Having said that, it has also never faced this type of press, as the OVC isn’t a press-heavy league in general. Most teams would be crazy to even attempt to press this Racer backcourt anyway.
Assuming the Racers handle the press with a reasonable amount of aplomb, Stark will still have Jevon Carter sic’d on him, and Morant will have to create against Beetle Bolden and Dax Miles. That’s not a promising set-up for the Racers in the half court, especially since Huggins has long, athletic wing length to check Miller in space. Add in shot-blocking fiend Sagaba Konate underneath the rim and the Racers may struggle to score in their offensive sets.
I don’t think the press will do the ‘Breds in, but their inability to consistently find offense in the half court might doom them. That’s a cruel and ironic twist for one of the better half-court offenses in mid-major basketball.
BRACKET: West Virginia
ATS: West Virginia -10.5
O/U: Under 145.5
#12 New Mexico State vs. #5 Clemson -5 | O/U: 133
San Diego, CA | 9:57 pm ET on TruTV
The Tigers have recovered somewhat from the loss of forward Donte Grantham. Head coach Brad Brownell has switched up the offense in recent years, straying from a tightly controlled motion offense to a more freewheeling pick-and-roll approach. The Tigers run that new-look offense quite effectively through the backcourt of Shelton Mitchell, Marcquise Reed, and Gabe DeVoe.
Brownell’s teams have typically excelled on defense. This group is no different, as the Tigers are phenomenal in pick-and-roll and post defense. Per Synergy, Clemson grades out in the 95th percentile in ball-screen defense and the 88th percentile in the post. Clemson ranks eighth in the country in defensive-efficiency rating for a reason.
New Mexico State Fingerprint
The Aggies have the mid-majors’ best defense, which is where head coach Chris Jans’ squad hangs its hat. The Aggies have the versatility to switch on every screen, and they absolutely shut down pick-and-roll heavy offenses. They also play the best help defense in the country (I’m not joking).
However, the NMSU offense doesn’t have much going for it. Jans runs a lot of ball screens for guard Zach Lofton, but NMSU generally pounds the ball inside as much as humanly possible. It’s just not very efficient at it. The Aggies are relentless on the glass on both ends, thanks to another Dennis Rodman clone in Jemerrio Jones, who strung together three straight 20+ rebound games last month. (Oh, and he’s just 6-5). Jones owns the country’s highest defensive rebounding rate.
Oh man is this going to be a defensive battle. Both teams run a lot of pick and roll offensively, while both are simply phenomenal in PnR defense. With Lofton’s big frame, Jones’ ability to switch out on the perimeter and Sidy N’Dir’s wingspan, the Aggies are the rare mid-major team with a length advantage on the perimeter over a power conference opponent.
BRACKET: New Mexico State
ATS: New Mexico State +5
O/U: Under 133
#13 Charleston vs. #4 Auburn -9 | O/U: 148
San Diego, CA | 7:27 pm ET on TruTV
The Tigers are a force to be reckoned with offensively, as Bruce Pearl has his transition-heavy, paint-attacking offense fully in place. Led by outstanding point guard Jared Harper and slashing wing Mustapha Heron, the Tigers get to the line at the 37th-highest rate nationally, while playing at the 21st-fastest pace. Oh and when the Tigers get to the line, they rarely miss. As a team, they hit just a shade south of 80% from the charity stripe (eighth-best in the country). That’s quite a luxury to have with the clock stopped.
Attacking the rim naturally leads to a lot of kick outs, as the Tigers actually prefer to jack the 3 rather than finish at the rim when they get in the paint. Pearl has always been at the forefront of pace-and-space basketball at the collegiate level. This team plays it as well as any he’s ever had.
Defensively, Auburn lost a lot of its rim protection when it lost Anfernee McLemore for the season. McLemore had the country’s second-highest block rate when he went down, but freshman Chuma Okeke has tremendous upside. He could ultimately be an X-factor in McLemore’s stead.
The Cougars entered the season as one of the top mid-major programs in the country, but literally fell off the map on a trip to Alaska. They’ve since regained their status as a mid-major elite by winning 14 of their last 15 games. Head coach Earl Grant’s squad is typically built on defense, as he was schooled by Gregg Marshall (Wichita State) and Brad Brownell (Clemson).
However, the Cougars were surprisingly much better on offense this year. With the outstanding guard duo of Joe Chealey and Grant Riller at the point of attack, the Cougars ran a lethal pick-and-roll offense all season. Also, 6-7 forward Jarrell Brantley, while never fully healthy, was incredibly efficient as the roll man. That somewhat carried over to the defense, where the Cougar guards did defend ball screens well, but the C of C bigs simply struggled on that end. The Cougars do have an excellent transition defense, which actually allowed the lowest transition rate in the entire country, per hoop-math.com.
This is as good of a matchup as C of C could have asked for. While Auburn has a solid pick-and-roll defense, Grant can play his optimal offensive lineup. That includes the ability to play Brantley at the 5, since Auburn is one of the nation’s smallest power conference teams. Additionally, Charleston can slow Auburn’s transition attack. It simply doesn’t allow anything in transition, and the Cougars also turn the ball over at one of the lowest rates in the country.
Pearl also likes to utilize a matchup zone (especially without McLemore at the rim), but Charleston’s guards have shredded zones. Auburn will also have its fair share of open looks from the perimeter, which means we could see a shootout of sorts in potentially one of the more exciting first-round games.
ATS: Charleston +9
O/U: Over 148
#8 Missouri vs. #9 Florida State -1.5 | O/U: 147
Nashville, TN | 9:50 pm ET on TBS
No point guard, a sudden lack of shooters with forward Jordan Barnett’s extremely untimely suspension and Michael Porter Jr. (MPJ). That’s Mizzou in a nutshell right now. Missouri has shot threes at a significantly higher rate than any previous team Cuonzo Martin has coached.
However, with Barnett suspended, the offense will have to flow through Jontay Porter and Jeremiah Tilmon in the post. MPJ will also have to have his first real “whoa, that guy’s incredible” game. Martin also needs Kassius Robertson to return to his early February form, but I fear he has been run into the ground, as he looked dead tired in the SEC Tournament. Defensively, like most Martin teams, the Tigers are excellent, particularly in pick and roll (unless it’s using forward Kevin Puryear) and in the post.
Florida State Fingerprint
Head coach Leonard Hamilton wants his ‘Noles to run and overwhelm teams with their length and athleticism. He’ll crank up the pressure full court to do so, as the Noles press on 25% of their defensive possessions, per Synergy. FSU is massive 1 through 5, and accordingly, it attempts shots at the rim at a top-30 rate nationally.
Missouri’s lack of a true point guard could bite the Tigers against FSU’s athletic pressure. However, Mizzou has a solid interior defense that can keep FSU from winning at the rim. Plus, FSU’s bigs aren’t particularly skilled in post offense, as they mainly lurk around waiting for lobs and put-back dunks.
If Missouri can avoid turning the ball over and make this a half-court game, it could pull out the victory, especially if the tournament’s biggest X-factor, MPJ, can put together a solid game. However, those are two monumental ifs. With Barnett’s suspension taking away a lethal perimeter threat and FSU’s dominating defense in the paint (10th nationally in FG% allowed at the rim), it’s difficult to envision Missouri scoring enough.
BRACKET: Florida State
ATS: Florida State -1.5
O/U: Under 147
Editor’s note: The opinion on these games is from the individual writer and is based on his research, analysis and perspective. It is independent of, and may not always match with, the algorithm-driven Best Bets from Sports Insights.
New Mexico State guards Shunn Buchanan and Zach Lofton pictured above; photo credit: Daniel Clark-USA TODAY Sports