Archive | February, 2015

2/28 Saturday thoughts

28 Feb

Only have time for abbreviated thoughts…

Georgetown -1

Michigan +8.5

Utah State +1

North Carolina -1

UAB -4

Miami OH +3.5

Duquesne +7

Eastern Washington -6

Arkansas State +5

Kent State +1

FAU +6

Milwaukee -1


Pacific +7

Fresno State -2

Brown +3


2/27 Friday thoughts

27 Feb

Besides the big Manhattan/Iona rematch, which I’ll get to in a minute, not a whole lot going on in the MAAC tonight. The 5 bye teams are set (although seeds aren’t quite exactly set yet), so motivation is a factor for most of these games tonight, although Senior Night helps in the cases of Marist, Quinnipiac, and Canisius. Canisius is locked into the 5 seed, which means they have a bye and don’t have to play next Thursday night. The pressure they can apply at the top of their zone was a real issue for Fairfield in the first meeting. The Stags are happy to jack up threes, but the problem is they don’t shoot it well at all, and Canisius forced a 25% TO rate in the first meeting, with 8 of those turnovers being live ball from Stag point guards. I’ve gone on and on here about how important Valenti was to Baron’s zone, and he had a monster game offensively too in the first meeting. His absence could certainly be felt against an inside out guy like Marcus Gilbert, plus Sydney Johnson’s team has a propensity to improve against MAAC opponents the second time around. Niagara lit into Canisius around the rim in the Battle of the Bridge II, so I would expect a little more intensity on that end of the court tonight on Senior Night. These are the two slowest teams in the MAAC in terms of APL offensively, with Canisius really working the clock as they run through their sets, and Fairfield also uses 20 seconds as they do whatever it is they do offensively, and the Stags just played their slowest game of the year, a 51 possession affair vs St. Peter’s that they still managed to win by 14.            The St. Peter’s offense isn’t exactly a model of efficiency normally, but they’ve sort of fallen off a cliff in this three game losing streak, and it’s because teams aren’t fouling them and/or they’re not able to penetrate vs some zones and sagging defenses. The first meeting between SPC and Marist saw a fairly shocking amount of points and offensive efficiency, especially since the Red Foxes were still without Curry and Hart. The Peacocks registered 1.3ppp in the win, while Marist was still at 1.1ppp in the loss against what’s generally considered to be the best halfcourt man to man defense in the MAAC. Maker had to go with the zone in that first meeting, something he has gone away from of late, because he only had 6 available guys basically. St. Peter’s went 10-20 from 3 in that one, but I would take my chances again with a zone. If St. Peter’s can’t consistently get to the FT line, they’re going to struggle to score. Marist has been knocking on the door recently in their four straight losses, with the last three being against MAAC elites Monmouth, Iona, and Manhattan. St. Peter’s appears to be headed in a different direction entirely right now, and with Curry and the magnificent Chavaughn Lewis playing their final game at home, I think the Red Foxes win with relative ease. It’s tough to score inside against Dunne’s halfcourt man to man, and that’s ok for Marist, who is looking to shooting the 3 in Maker’s Princeton/Beilein hybrid offense. Prediction: Marist +1.5             Generally speaking, Patsos’ flex offense principles he has incorporated at Siena has had success against a Quinnipiac defense that doesn’t look to shrink the floor and fundamentally wants to take away the 3 point line. That leaves space in the middle of the court for Patsos’ compact offense to run, and they registered 1.31ppp in the first meeting. The problem is that was back when Siena had a healthy roster, and Quinnipiac didn’t. Hutton didn’t play that game and it reflected in the Bobcats’ 24% TO rate. Both teams come into this one reeling, having lost 3 in a row, with the Saints losing all of them at home and Quinnipiac dropping 2 of those 3 in their gym as well. Again, another instance of Senior Night, as the Bobcats send of two of the best players in their program’s history in Hearst and Drame, plus they have the added incentive of being on national television. Prediction: Siena +7              Manhattan is looking to return the favor by winning in New Rochelle tonight in the great Manhattan/Iona rivalry. Some people seem to think this game won’t mean as much to Iona since they’ve already clinched the top seed in the MAAC tournament, and I think that’s nonsense. This is a VERY heated rivalry, it’s Senior Night for the Gaels, and it’s nationally televised. They’re not going to come out on their home floor and play like the Peyton Manning era Colts in a week 17 game.  English and Casimir went 10-17 from 3 in the first meeting, and that was the difference, plain and simple. The Jaspers’ pressure created a 31% TO rate, but they couldn’t limit the Gaels’ 3 point looks, something Manhattan does incredibly well against basically every other team. The dynamic of this game potentially changes significantly though if Shane Richards can’t play or is limited, which is incredibly likely. In that case, Jermaine Lawrence gets more playing time and the focus of the Jaspers’ offense could be to score more around the rim. Lawrence proved how effective he can be with an outburst against Marist, and maybe the Jaspers try to dominate around the rim tonight with Lawrence, Pankey, and Andujar. The Gaels still haven’t found a way to slow down Andujar in recent meetings, and if Laury is forced to actually guard an athletic big, it can take a bit of toll on him on the offensive end of the court. It’s an interesting notion because Iona’s sagging defense isn’t going to foul the Jaspers enough to put them on the FT line as often as they normally get there, and they’re not consistent enough from outside (especially with Richards out or limited) to trade 3s with the Gaels.

Final home game of the year for Akron, who is suddenly reeling. They’ve lost back to back at the JAR for the first time under Dambrot, and they’ve lost four in a row overall for the first time in his tenure at Akron as well, which started in 2005. It’s not just the loss of Noah Robotham that has hurt them lately, it’s that the team is basically made up of very good specialty role players that were supposed to surround Treadwell. That plan obviously got seriously derailed, and Dambrot has been able to keep it together until the Robotham injury. The good news is that in the loss to Buffalo, it appeared Deji Ibitayo was willing to step up on the perimeter, and Pat Forsythe willing to shoulder the offense inside. If the offense shifts to working more through Forsythe as an end result instead of resulting in a paint touch 3, then I think the Zips are going to be ok. Obviously it’s tough to renegotiate your offense basically right before the MAC tournament, but it’s really their only hope, as it looks like they’ll be battling to host a first round game instead of being in contention for a bye. Now, for all that talk about renegotiating the offensive philosophy, it might not be wise to do it tonight against one of the softest perimeter defenses in the MAC. Ohio’s guards can’t stay in front of anyone, and they certainly don’t contest well with their small backcourt. The first meeting saw some absurd three point shooting from both teams, with Ohio going 11-18 from 3 and Akron a ridiculous 18-36!!! Unfortunately for Ohio, Bean Willis hit 6 of those threes and carried the team to victory in the 2H, and he’s questionable for tonight’s game with a sprained ankle, a true game time decision. With Cheatham and Forsythe able to contain Mo Ndour inside, you would think Akron’s perimeter length would be able to cause some problems for Ohio the second time around, especially with Willis out or limited. I think you’ll see Akron get some relatively easy revenge tonight.

Nothing super interesting in the Ivy tonight. It appears that Amaker has finally stumbled on to a fact that anyone who follows the Ivy has already realized, and that’s that his best lineup is one geared towards offense with the defensive minded players used in a complementary role. Chambers/Saunders/Miller/Travis/SMM is clearly the most efficient combo, and guys like Edosomwan, Smith, and Okolie can be used in offense for defense situations and for fouls. With the lineup I mentioned, it’s abundantly clear that Harvard is the best team in the Ivy, and even on par with the teams from recent years. They dominated Cornell in the first meeting, as Big Red wasn’t able to generate turnovers with their pressure defense, which means they couldn’t score in transition and in that case, the Cornell halfcourt offense vs Harvard’s halfcourt defense is the biggest mismatch in the Ivy. Cornell will have Hatter back this weekend which gives them a boost offensively, and they can only go up from the .67ppp they registered in the first meeting with Harvard (right?) and maybe the Crimson are looking ahead to a big game at Levien? Shonn Miller has to realize he’s not a 3 point shooter first and foremost, and Big Red can go from there.               When Columbia isn’t hitting the 3 and they’re turning the ball over, they’re not going to win. The super quick hands of Malik Gill frustrated Maodo Lo all game, and the steal happy Big Green were able to get a lot easy buckets against a super low possession team like Columbia, and that’s huge. The three will be there against Dartmouth though, and Columbia of course loves to shoot it, and if Coby and McComber can get Maldunas and Boehm away from the rim, even better. Just a matter of protecting the ball against Gill, Wright, and Mitola. Dartmouth has been in every league game except against Yale, and with Columbia hosting Harvard tomorrow, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Big Green in this until the end.               Tony Hicks will be back for Penn, but is that a good thing? Might as well let Antonio Woods get more experience running the show in another lost season. Anyway, Brown really overplays the three knowing they have the two best bigs in the Ivy in Kuakumenash and Maia lurking inside, which means Penn likely struggles to score once again. Penn is going to pack everyone in the paint against the two bigs and dare the worst 3 point shooting team in the Ivy to beat them from outside. Brown is shooting just 27% from outside in Ivy play, so this is likely to be one ugly game.              Too many mismatches for Princeton to beat Yale. They don’t have anyone who can remotely bang with Justin Sears inside, or even Matt Townsend for that matter, and no one could stay in front of Javier Duren in the first meeting, not even Amir Bell. The Yale offense was 22-35 on 2PTFGA and rolled at Jadwin with 1.31ppp after being down 8 with 10 minutes left. Princeton’s lengthy shooters will get looks from outside, as they can exploit some mismatches on their end vs Townsend and Montague, but they can’t generate enough turnovers against Yale to be able to compensate for what they give up inside on the other end.

Game of the night of course belongs to Valparaiso traveling to Wolstein to take on Cleveland State in a showdown for the Horizon top seed, which means the winner would never have to leave their homecourt as long as they’re in the tournament. Now, there is a caveat here. If Cleveland State wins and Oakland beats Green Bay on Saturday and leap frogs the Vikings in the RPI (Oakland is currently 18 spots behind, and that jump is incredibly unlikely, possibly even mathematically impossible?), Oakland would win the Horizon regular season. So, for all intents and purposes, winner gets to host the Horizon League tournament. So how does this game shake out? Probably another slugfest like the first meeting, and will be largely determined by who can stay out of foul trouble. Valpo has the best interior defense in the Horizon League, and scoring around the rim on them consistently can be nearly impossible with Fernandez protecting the rim and Drew’s proclivity to pack in the paint because of the length and athleticism he can use to still contest those seemingly open perimeter shots. However, Fernandez got in early foul trouble in the first meeting, and Grady was able to work inside freely. Grady has been on a tear of late, scoring 44 points his past two games on 17-32 shooting from the field. Early fouls either way on those two bigs could go a long way in shaping the outcome of the game. The Vikings had their own issues with fouls in the first meeting, as Marlin Mason picked up a few quick ones trying to guard Alec Peters, who then proceeded to go off because Zollo couldn’t match his versatility. Now, Valpo had a HUGE issue with the pressure zone Waters has been using for much of the season, and had a 30% TO rate in the first meeting that nearly cost them the game. There are a few key injury updates to report on that front though. That was Valpo’s second game without Keith Carter, and Nickerson and Tevonn Walker were suddenly thrust into ball handling duties against a very aggressive defense. Carter is back and has a few games on his legs, and it certainly helps to have your primary ball handler back, even if he’s not quite 100% yet. For Cleveland State, Kaza Keane is likely out, and he and Andre Yates have essentially flip flopped minutes since that Valpo game after Yates suffered his own injury. Yates’ on ball defense was key in the first game, so we’ll see if he can reprise that role in place of Keane tonight. So let’s assume fouls don’t play a major role early in this game…Valpo has to be able to get past the Cleveland State ball pressure and find the inherently open spots on the perimeter afterwards. Cleveland State actually has more paths to offense vs the sagging Valpo defense simply because of the shooting ability of Charlie Lee and Trey Lewis, but the problem again is that they’re both so much smaller than the length Valpo can contest with from Nickerson, Darien Walker, and even Peters, and again, barring foul problems, the Crusaders can make life tough on the interior against even a seemingly superhuman Grady. I could ramble on and on, but the gist is that this is a great matchup with a lot on the line. Should be a great game.

2/26 Thursday thoughts

26 Feb

CSUN beat UCSB and Cal Poly in back to back Big West games in mid January, and has lost every Big West game since. Hosting Fullerton tonight is likely their last chance at another conference win, and would go a long way in keeping them out of the ninth spot, which doesn’t qualify for the tournament. Outside of an OT loss at Riverside to start the BW season, Fullerton hasn’t been competitive on the road, but their one BW win is over CSUN, and they won big. Alex Harris remains doubtful to play, but he was benched in the first half of the first meeting and only played 14 minutes total and wasn’t a factor. In the first meeting, Fullerton was able to get some quick transition looks off the defensive glass, and they completely collapsed on Hicks and Maxwell, but there was nothing CSUN could do. They know they can’t shoot, so they fruitlessly tried to work it into double and even triple teams. Drew and Efferson are the only guys who can even attempt a three on the roster, and Efferson is questionable again tonight. I can’t believe I just led off a blog post with a CSUN/Fullerton game breakdown. That’ll really draw the readers in.                   Sad news for Cal Poly as doctors discovered a heart irregularity in David Nwaba while he was being treated for mono. Hopefully he can get back on the court soon, but he’s likely out for tonight’s rematch with Irvine. The Eaters should get Ndiaye back tonight, but he’ll only be available for limited minutes, and I actually think Irvine is better off without him, although with John Ryan still out, his rim protection can be a useful asset. The problem is that the offense loses a lot of their versatility when he’s in. The Eaters can work the ball inside and though they don’t rely on the 3, they can really shoot it when they need it. Jaron Martin is playing with a lot of confidence right now in place of Alex Young as well. Without a shot creating wing like Nwaba, Irvine can play up on the 3 even more than they already do and take Shipley and Morgan out of the equation, which puts the onus on Bennett to score around the rim, which is also difficult vs Irvine. I think the Mustangs are in some trouble at home tonight. Prediction: UC Irvine -1.5               Corey Hawkins went for 28 on 6-8 from 3 in the first meeting vs UCSB’s zone, but I doubt you’ll see Neal Monson have a career high 16 points again with Big Al back to defend the rim for the Gauchos. UCSB will also have Zalmico Harmon back at PG this time around, while UC Davis might be without Josh Ritchart, who missed the first meeting as well. Ritchart banged his knee early in the Hawaii game, tried to come back for the 2H and couldn’t do it (looks like he’s listed as “probable” tonight, for whatever that’s worth). Ritchart being potentially limited is significant because of his sharp shooting and at 6’9, he’s able to draw slower, opposing bigs out of the lane. UCSB has to be more physical and aggressive this time around with their backcourt defensively. You have to disrupt the passing lanes up top and really overplay the 3 against the free flowing UC Davis offense, especially if Ritchart is out. That’s not really in the DNA of Bob Williams’ defense, but I think you’re going to see more of the bigger DaJuan Smith with Vincent and Bryson defending the perimeter in place of Childress. Even though Childress is the best on ball defender for the Gauchos, Smith’s length could be far more disruptive tonight.            Hawaii remains shorthanded tonight with Fleming still out (for the foreseeable future) and Thomas not 100%, but at least Valdes is close to being there, but that still really hurts Hawaii’s frantic pressure that relies on fresh bodies. Hawaii was zoned out of the first meeting at Long Beach State, putting up .71ppp despite forcing a 28% TO rate from the Beach. Of course it doesn’t help when you also turn the ball over at a 28% rate. Hawaii was also outscored at the FT line 23 to 7 in that game, so those numbers will likely even out on the island tonight. Long Beach comes in reeling, having lost 4 in a row and when the defense isn’t getting shredded, the offense looks terribly stagnant with no one to help Caffey. They just don’t have anyone who can shoot the ball from outside, and when you’re a penetrate and kick offense, that just means teams are going to collapse on Caffey all night.

Montana is on a five game winning streak, but finishes Big Sky play on a three game road trip, starting at Idaho tonight with a massive game in Cheney on Saturday. In the first meeting DeCuire had the Grizzlies really harassing the three point line against an Idaho team that can be reliant on the 3 ball. That’s atypical for the Grizzlies, but it was necessary and it worked. Idaho took only 13 threes and had a 27% TO rate, with Mario Dunn wreaking havoc defensively on the perimeter. The Vandals had no chance at stopping Breunig around the rim, and that opened up some threes for the Grizzlies. Most importantly though, Montana made it a point to get back in transition off missed shots. When Idaho can’t run off the defensive glass, they struggle to score. Plus it helps that Montana made a bunch of shots too. That’s generally the most effective way to keep teams off the defensive glass I suppose. Moscow can be a tough place to play though, and apparently this game is being played at tiny old Memorial Gym instead of the Cowan Spectrum. Not sure if that gives Idaho any extra advantage, but the fans are literally right on top of the court and it can get really hot and really loud in there.         Proverbial trap game for Eastern Washington tonight at home against a Montana State team playing their best basketball? Possibly. EWU has a huge game with Montana on Saturday and they’re a banged up team fresh off the altitude swing of Cedar City and Flagstaff. Tyler Harvey missed the first meeting, and with Venky Jois looking more and more like himself, that should get Harvey back on track. MSU will be able to run their offense though, which is firing away from the 3, and they went 10-29 in the first meeting. Michael Dison is playing like a guy who knows his college career is winding down. He’s averaged 23ppp over his last 4 and has been attacking the rim relentlessly. He had a poor game in the first meeting and I have a feeling he has a big game in store tonight. Fish has done some rotation reorganization intended to limit minutes early for some foul prone guys like Danny Robison, and it has paid off. But at this point, it’s all about winning out and trying to get to the Big Sky tournament, and MSU is really behind the eight ball there.             Foul prone Southern Utah could not keep Northern Colorado out of the lane and off the FT line in the first meeting, and the Bears are just a tough matchup in general for the T-Birds because the SUU is designed to take away the 3, something UNC is rarely looking to shoot. UNC has lost four in a row, but is always better in Greeley, but this is a must win for SUU in terms of their tournament hopes. Neither defense is built to limit what the opposing offense wants to do, so we should see some points again in this one. There’s a clear cut path to a victory though for SUU, sag off at all costs and attack the defensive glass and run. If UNC hits the outside shot, so be it. However, in the first meeting, Hill smartly punted offensive rebounds despite that being a major strength of this UNC team. If he does that again, and I don’t see why he wouldn’t, SUU is probably in trouble.                North Dakota is an astounding 1-6 at the Betty this year. A lot of those home losses have been close and some bad luck can be factored in, but 1-6 at home is truly stunning, especially since they were 8-2 at home last year. Northern Arizona comes in tonight, and they still have a fairly legit shot at hosting the conference tournament, which would be a big coup for them since no one wants to play three games in a row in Flagstaff’s 7,000 foot altitude. The Jacks completely collapsed on the interior in the first meeting and UND couldn’t make them pay. UND also couldn’t guard the bigger NAU backcourt, and Kris Yanku totally dominated the game with 9 assists, 6 rebounds, and shot 16 FTs, all while setting up Dixon for 6 triples. To make matters worse, UND is likely without their best three point shooter in Estan Tyler tonight.

Big game in West Long Branch between Monmouth and Rider. The Broncs are looking to avenge a loss in Lawrenceville where they were outscored 12-0 during the final 5 minutes to lose at home to their longtime rival. But more importantly, Rider can lock up the two seed with a win, which means they’re on the other side of the bracket of Iona as well. Unfortunately, it turns out the Puerto Rican newspapers were right, and Matt Lopez is indeed out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL. That is beyond a devastating loss for Rider. This season was built on extending pressure knowing that the athletic 7 footer was on the back end, and he was obviously the focal point of the offense as well, not to mention a monster on the glass. It’s probably a season ruining injury for Rider. Monmouth meanwhile is coming off a heartbreaking loss to Iona, but if you listened to King Rice after that game, he was fired up. He made me want to become a Monmouth fan with the way he was talking about his team. I don’t think they come out heartbroken tonight, and I think you’ll see him extend the zone out more tonight with no Lopez underneath, but Monmouth is going to still need to knock down some jumpers as Rider will be sagging even more than usual after the initial pressure. The Hawks are also still in contention for the two seed, but obviously need to win tonight. Prediction: Monmouth -2.5  

North Texas comes back to Denton winners of four games in a row and playing their best basketball of the year, but Charlotte comes in playing well also. UNT has talked a lot about this game, as they lead by four at the half in the first meeting, but completely imploded in the 2H, picking up 3 techs and Harris got himself ejected. We have a major issue with scheme here though. UNT is one of the worst 3 point shooting teams in the country, and Charlotte is playing exclusively zone at this point, and the Mean Green went 4-20 from 3 in the first meeting. UNT is a team of rim attackers, and when they’re cut off/not getting to the FT line, they’re simply not going to score. Charlotte meanwhile isn’t a team looking to shoot the 3, but they’re actually the best 3 point shooting team in the CUSA when they do shoot it, and that can keep UNT’s attacking 3-2 zone honest. UNT really made life difficult on Thorne and Clayton in the first meeting, but Henry was masterful in attacking the 3-2 and getting to the FT line. UNT’s zone is similar to UTSA’s zone in terms of the type of pressure they apply, and Charlotte had their most efficient game of the year against that zone, so it wasn’t just an anomaly when they sliced up UNT in the first meeting.               Huge game in Ruston, where Louisiana Tech hasn’t lost a conference game since 2012, but UTEP is looking for revenge and the outright lead in the CUSA. UTEP comes in playing their best basketball of the season, having won 7 in a row and looking like they’ve finally struck some balance offensively. I felt like that was the major issue vs Louisiana Tech in El Paso, they just didn’t have anyone who was willing to step up besides Vince Hunter. Also, the 22% TO rate vs La Tech’s pressure didn’t help, nor did the fact that the Bulldogs negated UTEP’s height advantage by being more physical on the glass. UTEP has to do a better job against the press tonight, because they have the advantage in a half court grinder game, but I think on the other end, you’re going to see Floyd make some adjustments. Namely, I think Washburn, instead of Cooper, is going to be on Appleby. Washburn can be an elite defensive presence on the perimeter because of his length and athleticism, and the Miners had a hard time staying with Appleby in the first meeting. It also helps that Willms should be back tonight for UTEP, especially if Washburn is going to be away from the rim on the defensive end in terms of rebounding. Really though it comes down to how the backcourt handles the press. Cooper is a SR and should be ready for the rematch, Morris is far more consistent offensively now, but I’m still concerned about Harris. Overall, I think the defensive adjustment on Appleby will be key, and the UTEP offense looks much better tonight, but they come up just short in Ruston. Prediction: UTEP +5.5                      Rice really only goes 6 deep, so it was impressive they were able to win at FAU (I know, I know it’s FAU) on the back end of the Florida trip after back to back 2OT games prior. They’re back in Houston now and face an Old Dominion team fresh off a major win over Louisiana Tech, and I think the Monarchs could be in some trouble here. ODU hasn’t been stellar on the road, and Rice has been very good at home. Additionally, the ODU defense allows the 3, and the Rice offense totally revolves around the 3 ball, and they shoot it well. Max Guercy is an underrated PG in this league, but turnovers have been a big issue, and ODU backcourt is bigger and far more physical. I think Rice hangs in there, but ODU’s pressure eventually wears on the thin Owls.              The rest of the CUSA is far from intriguing. Western Kentucky is off a tough rivalry loss to MTSU, but they get to go back to Bowling Green and host a dreadful FAU team that they know they can’t take lightly since they needed OT to beat them the first time around. Fant might go for 30 and 15 tonight. Marshall is just going to launch 3 after 3 vs FIU’s zone. They shot 31 in the first meeting but couldn’t stop Diaz inside or Mavin from getting into the lane. It appears poor Southern Miss has quit, and who can blame them? They’ve scored 81 total points the past two games on .61 and .66ppp. But they are back home though against a UTSA that is in the middle of a three game road trip that saw them battle UTEP until the final buzzer last game and they have the dreaded and physically difficult trip to Ruston on Saturday. Unfortunately UTSA is a good zone busting team, and their most efficient game of the year was the first meeting vs Southern Miss.

No idea what to make of Western Illinois and IUPUI. WIU is so shorthanded and they’re a team that wanted to play fast this year, but now they’re at a loss because they physically can’t do it. Meanwhile IUPUI was missing some key guys last game, but Gardner uses so many different rotations you never know what’s going on. WIU handled IUPUI’s pressure the first time around, but Covington was limping significantly during the Denver game, and if he’s not 100%, WIU is screwed. The Jags are back home after a brutal road trip too.          IPFW finally lost a game again, and it was a big one vs NDSU. Now they’re back home as well to close out the regular season vs an Omaha team playing for nothing. Motivation might be severely lacking in this one.                The number one seed in the Summit tourney, not that it really matters all that much, comes down to North Dakota State and South Dakota State. NDSU has their final game of the regular season tonight at Oral Roberts, who doesn’t appear to be interested in finishing the season strong. They were just waxed at South Dakota State, and this was after Scott Sutton had publicly questioned whether his team had quit on the season or not. Then the Kory Billbury suspension happened and I have a feeling ORU might get blown out at home again tonight. They hit 10-15 3s vs NDSU’s sagging defense in the first meeting, but they couldn’t stop the Bison defensively, and they couldn’t get to the FT line against NDSU packed in defense. The Billbury suspension is a public glimpse into the locker room issues ORU has been having, and I think NDSU should win this one and put the pressure on SDSU on Saturday. Prediction: North Dakota State +2.5

I have no idea who wins between Drexel and Delaware. Drexel is without Damion Lee, an absolutely devastating loss, and they just learned Sammy Mojica is out too. He was expected to pick up that scoring left behind by Lee. However, it is Senior Night at the DAC, and they’re facing a Delaware team finishing out the season on the road after a brutal OT loss on their Senior Day to a bad Elon team. It stung even more because the players really wanted to win it for lame duck coach Monte Ross, who despite his success last season, has been totally disrespected by the UD administration. Kevin Tresolini of the News Journal has done an excellent job documenting that mess of situation they created in Newark. So do the Hens try to win out for a coach they to a man seemingly enjoy playing for and greatly respect? Or are they too disappointed to care? And what can we expect from a severely shorthanded Drexel? This seems like a first to 50 wins type of game.        Elon just really matches up poorly with Northeastern. The Huskies take away the 3 defensively, and the Phoenix can’t guard around the rim. Eatheron and Stahl went a ridiculous 16-17 from 2 in the first meeting. Unless Ryan Winters makes a miraculous comeback (they probably can’t stop Northeastern even then), I expect more of the same tonight.

Quick run through the SoCon and Sun Belt….Mercer is pretty much locked into the three seed, while Wofford is still playing for the top seed in the SoCon tournament. However, Mercer would love to have the confidence of knowing they can beat the Terriers and avenge a 3 point loss in Spartanburg earlier. The first game was a 49 possession slugfest, and I expect more of the same tonight. Wofford’s aggressive man to man defense in the half court really disrupts a motion offense like Mercer’s, while Mercer’s zone with the length and athleticism they have at the top really bothered Karl Cochran (who isn’t 100% right now). Cochran was 0-10 from 3 in the first meeting.          The Citadel can’t get into the 6 seed, which keeps them from the play in round, and ETSU’s zone press really bothered the turnover prone Bulldogs in the first meeting. ETSU also has a healthy Rashawn Rembert, who is over the flu. Devin Harris is still out with a knee injury for the foreseeable future though.       Western Carolina is coming off rare back to back home losses in Culowhee, including a 2OT thriller to VMI last time out. Furman however is severely banged up, and looked awful vs UNCG. WCU should be able to light up the Paladins from outside and get back on track tonight.          Tough to glean much from UNCG’s win over Furman, where they went 15-25 from 3, including RJ White going 4-4, but Samford is a team that will give up the 3. Samford won the first meeting as UNCG’s turnovers did them in in a game where defense was optional otherwise. I think the Spartans get some revenge in another high scoring game, as I think this young Samford team has hit something of a wall after competing hard all season. However, this is a big game for Samford if VMI loses tonight, because Samford can then take the final bye with a win over the Keydets on Saturday. If UNCG wins, they need Samford to win against VMI and then the Spartans have to beat UTC on Saturday. So this is an elimination game for the final bye.           Speaking of VMI, they play Chattanooga tonight, and they can lock up the final bye with a win, while UTC is still playing for the top spot, especially with Wofford in Macon tonight. If the threes are falling for VMI, they can beat anyone in the SoCon, but beating UTC with the 3 isn’t likely, as the Mocs are really physical defensively on the three point line, and VMI’s pressure only created a 12% TO rate in the first meeting.

UT Arlington and their depleted backcourt could be rapidly falling out of contention for a bye in the SBC tourney. They can however at least clinch a spot in the tournament with a suddenly revitalized Arkansas State team. The Red Wolves got a boost with the outside shooting of Frederic Dure, something they were sorely lacking, and it helped them bust UL Monroe’s zone in a surprise win. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the same thing happen against a short handed UTA zone tonight.      UL Monroe is trying to rebound on the road after that loss, and they take on South Alabama tonight. USA is a young team who has potentially hit a wall in the season, but they’re still one of a few teams fighting for a spot in the SBC tourney. The Warhawks lost Ken Williams in the zone in the 2H of the first meeting, and that could be a fatal error tonight on the road. In general though, USA is a team who wants to speed things up, and ULM’s lengthy zone will keep this at the Warhawks’ speed.         Generally speaking, if you zone Texas State, you’re going to have a chance to win, and that’s basically what every SBC team has done so far, and Troy is the most zone team of all the SBC zones. The Trojans were ice cold from outside in the first meeting, but did a good job of handling Kaspar’s aggressive man to man. Pivotal game for both if they want to qualify for the tournament.              UALR went 12-30 from vs Georgia State’s high pressure zone, but they couldn’t contain dribble penetration from Hunter, Ware, or Harrow. UALR is a much better team since that meeting, but that backcourt is just too small to contain the Panthers.          Appalachian State couldn’t handle Georgia Southern’s pressure zone at all, and lost by 37 in the first meeting. They were in the middle of a tough road trip at the time, but it appears the season has gotten away from Jim Fox’s team, but at least they can finish with four straight at home, but the Mountaineers just aren’t a team who can handle ball pressure.

UNC Asheville is in a tough spot in the rematch vs High Point. They’re banged up, and they simply just don’t match up well. They have to have Roberts in to have any semblance of interior defense, especially against John Brown, but having the seven footer in doesn’t let them play the speed they want to, and High Point’s zone (which contests the three really well) slows the game down further. After three straight losses, Asheville looks like they’re in the play-in round of the Big South tourney, while High Point is trying to clinch the one seed.

Ok out of time so condensed thoughts…

Vanderbilt +2

High Point -1.5

Milwaukee +3.5

Minnesota +8.5

Northeastern -5

Jacksonville State +14.5

Monmouth -2.5

North Dakota State +2.5

UTEP +5.5

Rice +7

Troy +6

Arkansas State +1.5

SMU -2.5

UC Irvine -1.5

Santa Clara -4.5

Arizona/Colorado Under 131.5

Southern Utah/Northern Colorado Over 146

St. Mary’s/San Francisco Under 135.5/St. Mary’s -2.5

2/25 Wednesday thoughts

25 Feb

It’s “Senior Night” season across CBB land, so just a quick reminder that “Senior Day/Night” does not always equal “max effort” or “automatic win”. In fact, it can often have the opposite effect. There’s a mix of sadness, joy, anxiety, pressure, relief, etc and it throws teams off their normal routines. Additionally, it places an extra burden on teammates to perform, especially in instances where an extremely important player to the program is graduating (generally only season in mid major basketball now). Tough to tell what the emotions of Senior Night will do to a team performance wise, and it can really only be looked at on a case by case basis, and even then it’s nearly impossible to decipher. Anyway, moving on to today’s slate, let’s start with the CAA….

Hofstra had to rally from a late 3 point deficit to win at Charleston in the first meeting, and put up 1.25ppp in their lowest possession game of the season, by a substantial margin. Charleston doesn’t have a guard who can stay in front of Juan’ya Green defensively, and he lived at the FT line in the first meeting. The Pride are coming off a tough, nationally televised home loss on Sunday. Charleston’s strength defensively lies with their interior defense (a shift under Grant from last year’s team that took away the 3), but that’s hardly a concern for Mihalich’s four out offense which shoots more threes than anyone in the CAA. With Green attacking off the dribble and surrounded by shooters, plus Charleston’s foul rate, the Pride shouldn’t have a problem on senior night, but that Pride defense isn’t exactly a thing of beauty, and they surrendered 1.16ppp to the least efficient offense in the CAA in the first meeting. The Cougars had some wonky travel schedules recently with the weather as well.             I didn’t think James Madison would be tied for first in the CAA at this point in the season, but here we are and they have a huge rematch at UNC Wilmington tonight. In the first meeting, Keatts went with the four guard lineup against JMU’s zone, and it paid off as they scored 70 of the 77 Seahawk points. Obviously it helps when you go 9-15 from 3. JMU hasn’t lost since that game, and Brady has actually used less zone since then as well. Against the four guard lineup (which means no CJ Gettys), JMU’s bigs actually had some success inside, but the smaller Seahawks were able to swarm Vodanovich, and he’s not a skilled enough passer to make smart decisions out of those double teams. JMU has done a phenomenal job to be in the position they’re in, especially given the Andre Nation situation, but they’re 0-5 against the 3 other teams tied with them at the top of the CAA, and would lose all 6 meetings if they lose on the road tonight. Additionally, they were only competitive in one of those games, the first matchup with Northeastern at home. We’ll see how the energy of Senior Night plays out for three incredibly important players for UNCW, Ced Williams, Freddie Jackson, and Addison Spruill. Senior Night is always a tough thing to gauge team by team because of all the wide range of emotions involved, but remember, UNCW wasn’t expected to be competitive this year in the CAA, let alone be in contention to grab the top spot in the conference tourney. Big game for these guys and an interesting one, because Keatts can adjust his lineup depending on how much Brady is relying on the zone tonight. Should be a great game.           William & Mary has the easiest path to the CAA’s top spot with home games against Towson and Lee-less Drexel to close out the regular season. This is something of a dangerous game for them though as they’re coming off a huge Sunday night win at Hofstra on national television and have this rematch with Towson sandwiched in between that and Senior Night vs Drexel on Saturday, which is a big one considering Marcus Thornton is the greatest William & Mary player of all time and he’s trying to lead them to their first NCAA tournament appearance, while also breaking the all time Tribe scoring record. Towson is a VERY physical team that will literally push you off the 3 point line, something Shaver’s quick ball movement and heavy screen offense can struggle against. However, in the first meeting in Towson, the Tribe were unphased and registered 1.31ppp while going 13-23 from 3, but Towson played their game otherwise to some extent, grabbing 20 offensive rebounds (44% rate) and going to the FT line 26 times (only hit 13 of them). The Tribe is a defense that usually rebounds well and doesn’t foul, so the Tigers imposed their will in that area, plus it looks like Daniel Dixon is still unlikely to play tonight, and I’ve talked at length about how important he is on both ends of the court for William & Mary. Towson themselves are banged up heading into this one though, and ultimately I think the Tribe dictates the terms with their ball movement and basically dares anyone not named Four McGlynn to shoot a jumper.

Denver is in the middle of a three game road trip to end the Summit regular season, and the games are essentially meaningless. They’re locked into the 6 or 7 seeds in the tournament, and there isn’t any real difference there. They’re also not healthy with Jalen Love still nursing a bad ankle (and Daniel Amigo apparently hurt again) and I’m not even certain he made the trip with the team. Obviously it’s not good form to head into your conference tournament on a two game losing streak, but it seems like there is little motivation for them vs South Dakota tonight. The Coyotes won the first meeting as Craig Smith’s basically five guard lineup limited Denver to just 15 3PTA, The Pioneers were able to take advantage of them around the rim though with their back cuts when they overplayed the 3, going 17-28 on 2PTFGA, but the 23% TO rate killed them. That game was actually the second fastest game the Pios have played in the Summit, just one possession behind their trip to super fast Omaha. Without Jalen Love’s perimeter defense against a four sometimes five guard lineup, it’s tough to see Denver winning this game, in addition to South Dakota being able to disrupt Denver’s perimeter movement. The Coyotes do have a big senior night game with rival South Dakota State to close out the regular season on tap though.

Toledo just finished a massive road sweep at Akron and at Western Michigan, and have a fairly easy remaining schedule. They host Northern Illinois tonight, then host Ball State before closing at CMU and EMU. The Chips really represent the only game they shouldn’t win. Of course, this is where Toledo tends to get in trouble. Coach K has often criticized this team for “expecting” wins and not always playing their hardest. So after a big road trip, he’s treating these last two home games like a road trip as well, having the team stay in a hotel and prep like it’s a road game. Toledo was never threatened in the first meeting with NIU at DeKalb, and busted the pressure zone to the tune of 1.18ppp, and the only issue they had defensively was containing Darrell Bowie, who is likely out for the year. Montgomery’s team competes though, and the complacency issue for Toledo is still worrisome until proven otherwise. Not sure if the delay has any effect on anyone, but if there’s a MAC team whose collective mind is prone to wandering, it’s Toledo.

Massive couple of days coming up for Northern Iowa. They host Evansville tonight looking to avenge their only MVC loss (came in opening game of conference season) and then they finish the season Saturday at Wichita in the MVC game of the year. UNI lost at Evansville when they were shockingly outscored 32-16 in the 2H. Superficially, this has the markings of the proverbial “trap game”, but with Nate Buss, Marvin Singleton, Deon Mitchell, and especially Seth Tuttle playing their final game at McLeod, I think this one of the instances where the Senior Night energy lends itself in a positive matter. Look for Jeremy Morgan to take Balentine out of the game with his athleticism and ability to fight through screens, and the Aces still don’t have anyone with the size/athleticism combo to cover Tuttle. Likely another sub 50 point showing for the Aces.             Illinois State is another Valley team looking to avenge a loss that probably shouldn’t have happened. The Redbird rallied late at Carbondale but fell short, as they let Anthony Beane beat them. If you let Beane go off, the Salukis are probably going to win, especially if you turn the ball over at a 24% rate. Southern Illinois is locked into Thursday night, and they’ve been dreadful since that win over Illinois State. The Redbirds meanwhile were probably looking ahead in that game to a big two game run vs UNI and Wichita State. They’ve since got back on track and shouldn’t have any issues with SIU this time around.              Wichita State is probably more prone to the “trap game” mentality at Indiana State than UNI is hosting Evansville, but the as I discussed before the first meeting, Wichita State is a bad matchup for the Trees. To be fair, Wichita State is a bad matchup for almost every Valley team, but they’re a horrific matchup for an Indiana State team that relies heavily on a penetrate and kick offense and getting out in transition via ball pressure. Wichita State is not going to get beat by a penetrate and kick offense that doesn’t have the interior size to keep them from pushing you off the three point line with their stellar one on one defenders. Sure, Indiana State will get to the FT line (33 FTA in first game), but you’re not going to beat them from outside, and you’re sure as hell not going to turn them over and get in transition. In fact, no team in the country allows fewer overall FGA in transition, and it’s really not even that close, relatively speaking. That’s a nightmare scenario for Indiana State.                    Big game (relatively speaking) between Drake and Loyola, as a Thursday night date in the MVC tournament awaits the loser. If Drake wins, they own the tie breaker over Loyola should they lose their last game of the season and Loyola wins. Should Loyola win, they would own the tie breaker via their season sweep of the Bulldogs, even if they lose their final game. Loyola also probably gets a CIT/CBI bid with a win tonight (they’re probably on the bubble, if a bubble exists for those tournaments). The first meeting between these two was something of a turning point for both teams. Since that loss for Drake, they’ve become one of the best 3 point shooting teams in the country, not just the best shooting team in the Valley, and they’ve won 6 conference games after starting 0-5 with that loss. They were shooting 35% from 3 after that game, and they’ve gone a ridiculous 49% from outside in the 11 games since, while also attempting more 3s per game. Prior to their focus on letting it rip from outside, they were fruitlessly trying to feed their bigs and take advantage of the fact they were the biggest team in the MVC. It simply wasn’t working out. Since then, Enevold Jensen has actually improved with less focus on him in the four out one in sets. Gary Ricks has also stepped up his game for Drake after he was benched in the Loyola loss. The Ramblers’ season however has taken a turn for the worse since that win, going 3-8 and losing Milton Doyle (he’s upgraded to “questionable” tonight, but I would lean more towards doubtful). The Ramblers certainly still compete though, and will be extending their zone out tonight on Drake’s shooters. Loyola is overall the better defensive team and their weakness on the glass won’t be exposed by Drake but in what will likely be a very close game throughout, Loyola only hits FTs at a 63% clip in MVC play, while Drake is one of the best FT shooting teams in the country, and leads the MVC at 76%.                        Both Missouri State and Bradley are locked into the play in games, and judging by the Drake game Sunday, Missouri State has less interest in playing this season out competitively than I do in watching this game. Maybe Missouri State comes out with some fire on Senior Night to atone for the 35 point humiliation at Drake.

Nevada is the worst 3 point shooting team in the country, but oddly enough their most efficient offensive game of the season came against Air Force’s zone, but that was the first game of the MWC slate, and these teams are headed in different directions now. Nevada is a team that’s impossible to know where their head is on a game by game basis. They’ll have PG Marqueze Coleman back from suspension, but it remains to be seen how much he’ll play tonight. No reason to think Nevada duplicates their offensive performance from the first meeting at Clune tonight, but it’s entirely possible they stay in the game simply because AJ West can have a field day on the offensive glass rebounding against a zone.          Colorado State will be without JJ Avila tonight on Senior Night, so you might see a “win one for the Gipper” mentality from Bejerano and the other Rams. Plus it always helps when you get to play San Jose State.                Larry Nance will return for Wyoming tonight, and that’s obviously a big boost against a Fresno State team they needed 3OT to beat in the first go round on the road. Wyoming has been playing a tick faster without Nance and generally being more aggressive off the dribble and pressuring a little more. But with him back and a week to prep for this one, I think you’ll see Shyatt really slow it down again and utilize the 2-3 zone against a Fresno team that likes to use their athleticism and ability to attack on the dribble from four positions and even five when they go small with Edo at the 5. The Bulldogs are on the back end of an altitude swing, which obviously isn’t favorable, and they were crushed by Colorado State in a similar situation earlier this year.

Nothing all that interesting going down in the A10 tonight except VCU is looking to avenge a rare loss at the Stu to rival Richmond while exorcising some demons from Briante going down in that game. VCU clearly wasn’t the same team for the final 15 minutes after that, and they went just 3-20 from 3 in that game. Richmond will be playing the rematch shorthanded themselves without shotblocker and rebounder Nelson-Ododa. The Spiders are basically playing with 6 guys, but that doesn’t negate the fact that they just match up well with VCU. They know Havoc and they have small, quick, veteran ball handlers, and they really extend their guards and push up on the 3 defensively.         George Washington should have some issues against St. Bonaventure’s pack line principles. Ndoye can handle Larsen without the aid of a double team, and penetrating to the rim and getting the FT line are both difficult against the Bonnies. A George Washington offense that has to hit the three to win is very likely a team that’s going to struggle to score. The Bonnies meanwhile are going to have their own issues scoring without Jay Adams. In three games without their point guard, they’ve failed to crack 1ppp and only beat St. Joe’s in OT because the Hawks are more hapless offensively than they are.        Tough game for Davidson at Rhode Island tonight in what could very well be a bubble elimination game. URI is a big, physical backcourt that really pushes you off the 3 point line by getting in your face and disrupting passing lanes. The physicalness of this game likely wreaks some havoc on the Davidson motion offense. Defensively Davidson is going to have some issues keeping Terrell and Matthews out of the lane.             Ugliness should ensue in St. Louis and Duquesne. I don’t trust SLU to be able to score consistently from outside against Duquesne’s zone (although they did hit 11 in the first meeting), nor do I anticipate the Dukes getting open looks outside or getting in transition, which is what their offense thrives on.            The packed in St. Joe’s defense is exactly the type of scheme that UMass struggles to score against, and to wit they scored .97ppp and shot just 17 FTs (only hitting 9) and went 3-12 from 3 while not being able to get in transition. That’s the recipe for keeping UMass off the scoreboard. The problem here is that St. Joe’s can’t get on the scoreboard themselves. They failed to score in the final 8 minutes at home before falling to St. Bonaventure at home in OT. It was embarrassing. That being said, UMass’ smaller backcourt had no chance in slowing down Bembry in the first meeting, and he’s capable of carrying the entire St. Joe’s offense.             Fordham looked like they were playing with some confidence having won two straight A10 games for the first time since the 2008 season (so sad), but then they were crushed at Davidson in what was a bad matchup for them anyway. In the first meeting at LaSalle they took 26 threes and hit just 3. That’s not how you’re going to beat the Explorers. LaSalle meanwhile is coming off an OT loss to SLU where they blew a 5 minute lead with a minute and a half left, something LaSalle teams rarely do (69-4 with a 5+ point lead with under two min under Dr. G). Fordham can’t have the “let Paschall fire away from 3” approach tonight if they expect to win, especially since the defense actually played well against the Explorers in the first meeting.           No idea if George Mason has any intention of competing tonight on the road against Dayton, who’s a terrible matchup for the Patriots anyway.

Ok out of time so condensed thoughts…

Rhode Island -3

Hofstra -10

UNC Wilmington -3

Indiana -3

Wake Forest +7.5

UCF +16

Loyola Chicago +1

Northern Illinois +11.5

St. Joe’s/UMass Under 130.5

St. Bonaventure/George Washington Under 126

Baylor/Iowa State Under 144/Baylor +7

Oregon/Cal Under 142

Washington/UCLA Over 143

2/24 Tuesday thoughts

24 Feb

Ball State and Western Michigan played a wild 2OT affair in the first meeting, back when it looked like Ball State might surprise some people in the MAC this year after winning their first two league games. As it turns out, that 2OT loss in Kalamazoo was the first in a current twelve game losing streak. The good news for Ball State is that they’ll have big man Matt Kamieniecki back tonight. The bad news is that it will be for limited minutes and WMU isn’t exactly a team looking to overpower you around the rim anyway. WMU is coming off a home loss to newfound rival Toledo where they gave up 97 points and 1.37ppp in a humiliating defensive effort. The backcourt was stellar offensively, with Brown going for 29 and FR Wilder going off for 34, but the flu had hit the team and Tucker Haymond missed the game because of it. He should be back tonight, and this is the type of game Connor Tava should get back on track in. Tava has looked worn down after having to battle opposing 5s defensively for long stretches, but Ball State’s frontcourt is undersized, even with the return of Kamieniecki. That being said, the three will be there for Ball State tonight against Hawkins’ zone, so they can certainly stay in this game.            Central Michigan will be seeing a different Eastern Michigan team than the one they beat in Mount Pleasant in the first meeting. Murphy has gone “smaller” with 6’6 Tim Bond getting more minutes, and it has made the zone quicker and more active, and it matches up much better against CMU’s spread out offensive attack. In addition, Karrington Ward looks close to 100% lately, and he was only able to log 12 minutes in the first meeting. With the lineup change and Ward healthy, EMU has won three out of their last four, and I’m willing to throw out the Buffalo game a bit because the refs were atrocious (basically fouled out Ray Lee before the game started, and Buffalo shot 44 FTs compared to 17 for EMU in Ypsilanti). CMU was able to hit 12 threes vs the 2-3 zone in the first meeting, but EMU’s pressure did bother Fowler a bit. If EMU isn’t generating turnovers and running off the defensive glass, they really get stagnant in the halfcourt and it breaks down into one on one action with Talley, Lee, or Ward. Generally speaking though, a pressure zone is something that CMU would love to face, but to be honest Fowler hasn’t looked all that comfortable vs the two zone presses in the league, NIU and EMU. He had 8 turnovers vs NIU last week, and it’s possible some of that can be attributed to legs. The guy is the only ballhandler and he basically plays 40 minutes every game. Scheme and paper wise the matchup favors CMU to sweep, but EMU is a different team, and I think the quicker 2-3 pays dividends. Prediction: Eastern Michigan -1                Toledo just finished a massive road sweep at Akron and at Western Michigan, and have a fairly easy remaining schedule. They host Northern Illinois tonight, then host Ball State before closing at CMU and EMU. The Chips really represent the only game they shouldn’t win. Of course, this is where Toledo tends to get in trouble. Coach K has often criticized this team for “expecting” wins and not always playing their hardest. So after a big road trip, he’s treating these last two home games like a road trip as well, having the team stay in a hotel and prep like it’s a road game. Toledo was never threatened in the first meeting with NIU at DeKalb, and busted the pressure zone to the tune of 1.18ppp, and the only issue they had defensively was containing Darrell Bowie, who is likely out for the year. Montgomery’s team competes though, and the complacency issue for Toledo is still worrisome until proven otherwise.               Pretty simple equation for Bowling Green as to why they beat Ohio in the first meeting. Richaun Holmes can match (exceed?) Mo Ndour’s athleticism and Bean Willis was 0-6 from three. Therefore, Ohio couldn’t score. Holmes was a monster in that game, scoring 18 points, grabbing 12 boards, and blocking 5 shots. The problem right now is that Holmes seems to be the only guy showing up lately for the Falcons. BGSU is showing all the symptoms of a dormant program quickly accepting a new coach’s energy and system and then eventually hitting the wall. I actually thought this would come earlier, but it finally hit with two losses in a row at home, and they looked listless offensively (again, except for Holmes, who isn’t even 100%). Fortunately for the Falcons, Ohio might be the perfect antidote at this point in the season. The Bobcats have lost 4 in a row by double digits, and weren’t really competitive in any of them except for a brief stretch in the 2H vs WMU. Even if the BGSU remains listless, Holmes is enough to shut down Ndour, which means Ohio will struggle themselves to put up points.                  Buffalo controls their own destiny to grab a top 4 spot in the MAC tournament, which means a double bye. Buffalo was able to exploit Akron around the rim, but the Bulls’ sagging defense was hurt from outside against Akron’s shooters. This time around, Buffalo catches Akron reeling. Akron has lost 3 straight while Buffalo is fresh off a road sweep at EMU and BGSU, and to make matters much worse, Noah Robotham is out for the year, leaving Antino Jackson to run the point. I hate to count out a Keith Dambrot team, but I envision 30 trips to the FT line tonight, and Moss scoring at least 20. Robotham is a big loss, and a guy like Deji Ibitayo is going to have to step up his offensive production.             Kent State survived the 5 game stretch without Jimmy Hall, going 3-2 before his return in a win over Ohio where he played 16 minutes before fouling out. So the question is can he contribute more tonight at Miami. Senderhoff says he’s feeling fine and could be back in the starting lineup tonight. Hall missed the first meeting with Miami, and the Flashes had to rally late to pull out the win at home. His shot blocking ability could be key tonight, as Washington and McKnight are just a touch quicker than Kent State’s guards, and with Senderoff’s obsessive desire to aggressively guard the three point line, Miami was able to win off the dribble and get to the rim. Miami isn’t a team that’s looking to shoot the 3, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see Senderoff back his guards off a little bit tonight. Miami is a team that needs to score in transition via their hectic pressing and traps to supplement their middle of the pack offense, and they did a decent job of disrupting Kent State’s guards in the first meeting. The RedHawks come in hot having won three in a row, but they’ve had the fortune of playing some teams in that stretch that have imposed a moratorium on playing offense. I think you’ll see Kent State make a few minor defensive adjustments tonight and shut down Miami. Prediction: Kent State -3

Utah State presents some problems for UNLV and vice versa, which is why we saw such a good game in the first meeting. Utah State is an outstanding three point shooting team, but Dave Rice would rather his team give up 100 points around the rim than get beat by the 3. That’s why Rice recruits these shot blockers. UNLV never doubles or collapses on a big, preferring to stay at home on the 3 point shooter. Wood and Okonoboh are great shot blockers, but they can be exposed trying to guard one on one against crafty or bigger size. David Collette went 12-16 around the rim in the first meeting (unfortunately negated it all with an absent minded late foul when he got the score wrong in his head and cost USU the game) but this time around Okonoboh is 100%, and has added some offense to his game. Unfortunately for UNLV, they’ll be without Rashad Vaughn, who absolutely torched USU in every conceivable way. He was too quick off the dribble for the zone to shift against him, and he hit enough 3s to keep them honest. UNLV off their big win at the Pit, and with Vaughn out, the UNLV bench is awfully short in back to back high elevation games.                  Boise State has a massive game at SDSU on Saturday that will likely go a long way in terms of deciding their at-large fate should they need it, but I doubt they look past New Mexico. UNM is on a six game losing streak, and their zone was torched from outside by the hot shooting Broncos in the first meeting to the tune of 11-26 and James Webb went 7-7. The Broncos’ defense is being undersold at this point in the season. They contest the 3 well and Rice has mixed in some 3/4 court and half court traps that have been effective.

Maryland is going to have a raucous home crowd and will be plenty amped up for Wisconsin tonight and energy alone could keep them in the game, but simply put, I have no idea how Maryland scores unless the refs are giving them a VERY favorable whistle tonight. Maryland cannot score around the rim, and they have to hit the 3 and get to the FT line consistently to win games. No team in the Big Ten (and few in the entire country) limits the 3 pointer better or fouls less than Wisconsin. Can the Maryland defense limit the hyper efficient Wisconsin offense? Eh, probably not enough, but they’ll certainly try. They have some size to throw at Kaminsky, and I think Layman can guard Dekker well enough, but even teams that have been able to “limit” the Wisconsin offense still haven’t won, but their three least efficient B1G games have come in their last four contests, and if Trimble and Wells can routinely win off the dribble (something the Wisconsin defense is susceptible too), the Terps have a chance. But with the way Wisconsin completely takes away Maryland’s two sources of offense, this looks like a brutal matchup for the Terps. Prediction: Under 127.5

Providence first met Villanova two weeks ago after a three game road trip and weren’t at their freshest, but I still don’t see many ways of slowing Villanova’s offense down. Because of their focus on aggressively guarding the 3 and the height they can throw inside (could take a hit if Desrosiers can’t go) and Cooley’s switching of defenses, PC is about as perfect of a team as there is in the Big East in being able to stop them, and the Wildcats still put up 1.19ppp on the road. Villanova got to the FT line 37 times and Ochefu went 7-7 around the rim. Discouraging to say the least.                   Creighton looking to avenge a loss in Omaha to DePaul, but the Blue Jays are the type of team DePaul lives to play against. The three point jacking Blue Demons went 11-22 from deep in the first meeting, and conversely the height DePaul has on the perimeter is designed to take away the 3 defensively. Creighton didn’t have Ricky Kreklow and Devin Brooks was banged up in that first meeting (without Zierden this time around though), and his perimeter height on both ends is a key addition tonight, and I think this is a game DePaul probably can’t win. Creighton has had 8 days off to get ready for this one and forget about blowing the Butler game, and they have a distinct advantage on the glass (hell, everyone does vs DePaul), but they were unable to take advantage of that in the first meeting, but DePaul can’t score inside on Creighton and take advantage of them around the rim. If you like watching 6’10 guys bomb threes, this game is for you.

Rakeem Christmas has been on an absolute tear for Syracuse, and it’s a little terrifying to think of what he can do against Notre Dame’s “frontcourt” tonight. Add in the fact that I don’t think ND has anyone that can keep Gbinije in front of them, and the Cuse offense might be able to keep up with the Irish offense. Speaking of the Irish, this is a team that has shredded zones because of that deadly three point shooting and the general awesomeness that is Jerian Grant and the underratedness that is Demetrius Jackson. The 2-3 just doesn’t have the athleticism (especially with McCullough out) to have its usual effectiveness, and I think we’re going to see some points in this one. Prediction: Over 143.5         North Carolina State did everything they could in the first meeting to beat North Carolina, as they won the offensive glass battle, got to the FT line as often, limited turnovers, and hit 7 threes, and they still lost, as ultimately, they just couldn’t keep UNC away from the rim. You have to be able to force UNC into taking more than just 8 threes, and it’s especially painful when Paige hits all 5 that he takes. Pack in the lane as much as you can, and hope you can keep them from grabbing their misses. That’s the game plan.          Pitt probably should have lost the first meeting with Boston College, but having Cam Wright this time around helps because Jim Christian really likes to extend his guards defensively. Pitt should be able to score with relative ease around the rim since they’ll have another ball handler on the floor. Super slow, plodding game is likely in store since Pitt is going to take away the 3 and work the ball offensively until they get it to their bigs.

Quick SEC bullets….LSU was embarrassed at home by Auburn as Mason and Harrell essentially penetrated and kicked to each other all game long. LSU essentially executed offensively what they wanted to do by pounding the ball inside against the super vulnerable Auburn frontcourt, but they were slow to rotate defensively and contested poorly, which was surprising given how well LSU generally guards the three point line. I expect LSU to get some revenge tonight against a defense they matchup well against. Prediction: LSU -5        Arkansas could have some trouble with Texas A&M tonight. They have a big trip to Rupp on deck and the Aggies are going to throw a zone at the Hogs, which is troublesome for a team that’s not looking to shoot the 3 and does it poorly when they’re forced to. Additionally, A&M can really get after it on the offensive glass, and Arkansas is very vulnerable there. Prediction: Texas A&M +7.5         Nothing much to say in South Carolina/Alabama. The Tide probably get a few more of the plethora of 3s they’re going to shoot to drop at home than they did in Columbia, and the Gamecocks are really shorthanded.            Even less to say about Florida/Missouri. Mizzou’s defense has just been getting gashed and Florida is without Frazier and Finney-Smith tonight.

Niagara is playing their best basketball of the year, having won two straight road games and finishing up the road trip with rival Canisius tonight. The athletic forwards they have Reid, Snowden, and Blackmon can be an issue, especially with a key piece like Valenti missing from the Griffs’ zone. While being a decent outside shooting team against a zone, Niagara does struggle when teams can apply some pressure out of that zone, and the Griffs forced Niagara into a 24% TO rate in the first meeting. Since they swept Quinnipiac, I think Canisius is basically locked into the 5 spot in the MAAC tourney and can’t avoid Iona’s side of the bracket. Wouldn’t be shocked to see this one come down to the wire. Prediction: Niagara +10.5

2/23 Monday thoughts

23 Feb

Obviously Louisville is in some weird waters right now. Chris Jones is no longer on the team, and regardless of what you think about that improving chemistry or the lockerroom, that’s a large chunk of production offensively and more importantly defensively that you have to replace at a time in the season when ideally all your pieces would be coming together. I mean, we are talking about a senior point guard leaving the team, and an underlying aspect of this is that Pitino has basically been playing 6 guys this year with Jones. I understand a lot of Louisville people are very high on Quentin Snider, and that’s great, but this is a fairly devastating and certainly unique blow at this point in the season, and the Miami game Saturday didn’t do much to quell the fears of this being a team that exits the NCAA tournament in a very quick fashion. In fact, that game actually bolstered that opinion, even though they won. The good news from that game is that they finally forced some turnovers, basically for the first time since the UNC game. The bad news is that quickly turnaround with all this baggage and head to Atlanta to face what can be a dangerous Georgia Tech team. If Georgia Tech doesn’t turn the ball over (a big if), they can score at the rim against Louisville, and that’s essentially the only way the Yellow Jackets score, at the rim. They don’t get to the line a lot, and they frequently miss when they do get there, and they can’t shoot from outside. In fact, the perimeter shooting has taken an even bigger hit with Bolden out, leaving a stretch shooter that’s a major liability defensively as the only guy who can knock down a 3. Georgia Tech is also a tremendous rebounding team, but defensively, they overplay the 3 and the bigs are too slow to rotate on penetration and not athletic enough against premier ACC size. Harrell likely has a monster game for Louisville tonight, and the Tech defense is generally a pretty good matchup for Louisville to get back on track against offensively.

Xavier is looking to avenge a home loss to St. John’s just 9 days ago, but the Johnnies are a tough matchup for the slower Xavier defense. In the first meeting, watching Stainbrook and/or Farr try to guard Dom Pointer was comical at times, and Harrison was able to penetrate at will. There really isn’t much of an adjustment Mack can make in that regard, St. John’s is just too quick and athletic for Xavier, especially since Xavier seems willing to play at the speed St. John’s wants to play. These are the two fastest teams in the Big East, but it would behoove Xavier to slow it down and that’s where the 1-3-1 could come into play. Make St. John’s work offensively instead of just letting them attack the rim with their quickness and athleticism. If you give up the jump shot and they’re hitting them, tip your cap. Plus, St. John’s is all too willing to fall into the 2 point jump shot game, and that’s exactly where Xavier wants them. Pace vs St. John’s can be something of a double edged sword. With Lavin’s incredibly short bench, you kind of want to push them, but then you’re playing their game (the Johnnies gashed Xavier in transition in the first meeting). That’s why I think the 1-3-1 is perfect tonight. It slows them down enough but you can also generate some turnovers by jumping into passing lanes at the top. Offensively, Xavier did alright in the first meeting, but they were just 7-22 from outside, and they didn’t really take advantage whenever St. John’s was in a zone. Since that game, they’ve gone 17-33 from 3. The key tonight might  by JP Macura. Mack loves to use his length at the top of the 1-3-1, and if he’s able to knock down some 3s on the other end, his 15-20 minutes becomes invaluable and the probable difference between a win and a loss.

Manhattan has to be careful at Marist tonight. They have the big rematch with Iona (and trust me, this game still means a TON to both teams even though Iona already locked up the one seed) on Friday, but they have to win this one to make sure they’re not on the same side of the bracket as Iona in the MAAC tournament. You can’t take anything from the blowout first meeting because Lewis, Hart, and Curry were all out for Marist. Marist is probably the best 5 win team in the country, and they’ve lost their last 3 games by a total of 8 points, and that was against Siena, Monmouth, and Iona. The question tonight is whether or not Maker’s Princeton/Beilein hybrid offense can take advantage on the back end of Manhattan’s defense with some backdoor and slip screens, because the Jaspers really take away the 3. And that’s assuming Marist gets past the Manhattan pressure. Tough game scheme wise for Marist, but they’re looking to notch that “statement win” in what looked like a lost first season for Maker early, while also taking advantage of a Manhattan team who might have their mind elsewhere.

For my thoughts on Kansas/Kansas State in Bramlage, I’m just going to copy and paste some Thomas Gipson quotes from Ken Corbitt’s article in the Topeka Capital Journal…

Gipson, one of two scholarship seniors on the team along with Williams, said there is a disconnection among the team.

“Nobody is on the same page,” he said. “That’s what happens when you’re not on the same page, you get distant from each other and you don’t play as a team and you get beat by 27.”

When asked who on the team is giving maximum effort, Gipson replied: “Nobody.”

The Wildcats beat the Jayhawks on Big Monday last year at Bramlage, but that seems a distant memory.

“That was last year, but this is another year,” Gipson said. “We’ll probably lose by 27, who knows? We just have to come out and play hard.”

Maybe I’m wrong and just terrible at picking up context (not as bad as ESPN though, who completely took the quote out of context and used it as a headline), but that doesn’t really sound like a team ready to compete at home against their biggest rival. This is the type of frontcourt Perry Ellis plays well against, and Wayne Selden’s length gives Marcus Foster issues, and KU tends to limit fouls, which takes away a major source of points for a clunky KSU offense.

Despite blowing the 16 point 2H lead at Belmont last game, Eastern Kentucky still controls their own destiny in terms of winning the OVC East. If they both win out, they Colonels hold the tie breaker, and EKU has an absurdly easy remaining schedule. They host Austin Peay tonight in a makeup game, then host Jacksonville State and Tennessee Tech. There’s no question they should win out and get that double bye that comes with winning the East. EKU nearly handed Belmont their first ever OVC home loss WITHOUT Corey Walden, who is expected to be back tonight. Additionally, Neubauer said the Colonels are getting healthy at the right time despite Walden’s injury. Jaylen Babb-Harrison is back and provides some instant offense off the bench in addition to his defense, while FR Paul Jackson proved he’s a capable fill in for Walden defensively, and might be worked into more regular spot minutes. Austin Peay meanwhile is simply playing out the season, having already failed to qualify for the OVC tournament for the third year in a row, and if Saturday’s game at Murray State is any indication, they have no plans on being competitive the rest of the way. Against their arch rival, they were beat by 35.         Because of weather postponements, Morehead State has had 9 days off before this game at Tennessee State. Morehead is trying to avoid the Wednesday night session of the OVC tournament (although the scenarios needed for them to become a top 4 OVC team makes it virtually impossible), while Tennessee State is already eliminated from qualifying. Morehead basically got whatever they wanted offensively in the first meeting, and TSU couldn’t keep Karam Mashour off the glass. This is essentially a completely meaningless game.

Southern raced out to a big 17 point lead in the first meeting vs Alabama State in the Acadome, but ASU eventually chipped away and won it OT. Banks’ defenses are always built on a stout interior defense that allows the guards to aggressively guard the 3 point line, but the frontcourt takes a hit with Jared Sam out for a couple weeks with a knee sprain. The good news is that big Frank Snow is back from hand surgery though, but Sam is a significant loss defensively and on the glass, where the Jags can struggle. Led by the best PG in the conference Jamel Waters, Alabama State has the most efficient offense in the SWAC. Pair him with Bobby Brown (who is making his way back to 100%) and a pair of undersized bulldogs on the block in Page and Strong and the Hornets can be a tough matchup for Southern’s top rated defense. The real issue tonight is keeping ASU off the offensive glass though. They grabbed 21 offensive rebounds at a 44% rate in the first meeting, and without Sam, Southern has their work cut out for them. This is a great game between two of the best teams in the SWAC, and it means a ton to them, but unfortunately it means very little because of the profound absurdity that is the NCAA’s APR. Both teams were hit with APR bans, are ineligible for the NCAA tournament.

Zone vs zone in Delaware State and Norfolk State tonight, plus the two best bigs in the conference in Kendall Gray and Rashid Gaston go head to head (Buddy Myers for UMES is up there too). You rarely get to see a big man battle like this in the MEAC, but we also have two pure scorers in Amere May vs Jeff Short as well. Both Short and May have scored in double digits in every MEAC game they’ve played, and May is coming off 69 points in his last two games (you may also remember him from dropping 48 on St. Francis Brooklyn earlier this year too). Delaware State is far more capable of beating Norfolk’s zone from the outside than vice versa, but Norfolk’s extreme length at the top of their zone really makes it difficult to hit from outside against them routinely. Norfolk is coming off their most efficient offensive game of the season, putting up 99 points on 1.35ppp with Gaston, Thomas, and Taylor going 23-34 around the rim and 13-15 from the FT line against the much smaller Coppin State man to man defense. Those kind of numbers won’t happen against Delaware State’s zone, but Norfolk can expose Delaware State in transition. The Hornets are a poor transition defense, even by MEAC standards, and they really look to crash the boards offensively. If Norfolk can hold their own on the defensive glass, they’re going to be able to run. Delaware State started the Hampton Roads trip with a massive win at Hampton, largely thanks to Amere May’s 30 points. He has the opportunity to put up his third straight 30+ point game tonight against that Norfolk zone, but the Hornets probably have to sacrifice the offensive glass somewhat in order to win tonight.

Prairie View A&M is looking for some revenge tonight after a humiliating 37 point loss at UA Pine Bluff in the first meeting. The Panthers come in hot having won 4 in a row, including wins at Texas Southern and Jackson State, and it’s because Hagood, Scott, and Brisco are amping up the ball pressure and getting transition buckets in addition to relentlessly attacking the rim off the dribble in the halfcourt. When teams have slowed them down, Reggis Onwukamuche has been a monster protecting the rim, recording 18 blocks in the four game winning streak. Additionally, the Panthers are likely catching Pine Bluff without Marcel Mosley (still being investigated for his alleged involvement a shooting near campus), who torched them for 26 in the first meeting. Tons of ball pressure from both sides tonight, as these defenses have two of the highest defensive TO rates in the country, not just the pressure heavy SWAC. If this game is played in the 70s or higher possession wise, A&M likely wins. If Pine Bluff can slow it down and compensate for Mosley’s scoring, they’ll win. I’ll say the Panthers get revenge for the earlier beatdown, especially with Pine Bluff on a quick turnaround from a heartbreaking loss at Texas Southern.

2/22 Sunday thoughts

22 Feb

Some random quick thoughts on today’s slate…

Furman has a lot of injury issues headed into this one. Croone, Beans, and Acox are all game time decisions (update right before publishing: Croone in but limited a bit, Acox playing, Beans out), and if they’re hurt, it’s tough to see Furman getting enough offense to beat UNC Greensboro. Furman won the first meeting in Greenville by getting to the line 32 times compared to UNCG’s 12. The Spartans should be able to get whatever they want around the rim with White/Locke/Smith. Despite the 3 game losing streak, UNCG is playing relatively well. They were extremely competitive in those 3 losses against better teams in ETSU, Mercer, and Wofford.

MTSU has dominated the rivalry with Western Kentucky lately, and WKU heads to Murfreesboro in a bit of free fall, and the issue has been the defensive. They’ve allowed 1.11ppp, 1.26ppp, and 1.08ppp to Rice, Marshall, and UAB respectively in the losing streak, and they simply can’t defend anywhere on the guard. Guards can’t contain penetration and 7’1 Ben Lawson is tremendous shot blocker, but he can’t play long stretches, plus they’ve been getting lit up from outside. MTSU is coming off a weird schedule though with the weather delayed game with Marshall, plus they’re coming off by far their best offensive performance of the year. Think you might see WKU get back on track here against on offense that is still very FR reliant and inconsistent. If the Tops win, they do it at the FT line today.

Obviously it’s the Ohio State/Michigan rivalry, but tough to see how Michigan stops Ohio State from getting to and scoring at the rim, not to mention the fact they themselves can’t score consistently. Ohio State defends the ball screen so well and Zak Irvin just isn’t stepping up consistently enough for the shorthanded Wolverines. Part of me feels like Michigan has one last stand in them, and the other part feels like the wheels have fallen off. I’ll lean with the former today.

With how short handed they are, Missouri State has been intent on packing in the lane and taking away penetration in hopes of not fouling. That leaves a lot of open 3s, and the one thing Drake can do offensively is shoot the 3. That being said, I think Missouri State is the better team right now, and I wouldn’t be shocked if they win out starting today and avoid the Thursday play in game. They’re coming in off their best win of the season over Indiana State, and I think you’ll see a big game out of a confident Chris Kendrix. Prediction: Missouri State +2.5

I’ve talked about how Central Florida is a team that’s healthy and gelling into a deep sleeper in the AAC, but Memphis is a terrible matchup for them because you have to be able to score at the rim and defend at the rim to beat Memphis and be able pressure the ball handlers. UCF really can’t do any of those things. However, this is a tough spot for Memphis with this trip to Orlando sandwiched between a big home win over UConn and a big home game with SMU. Memphis put up 99 points on 1.33ppp in the first meeting and really limited the lengthy Henriquez and Wilson from outside, which is where UCF generally gains their advantage.

No interest at all in anything St. Louis related. Crews is just trying to find guys who want to play right now and who can contribute next year. LaSalle should roll.

Coach K was upset at the lack of frontcourt production vs Oregon State (which is kind of the point of Tinkle’s defense this year, and it’s been an issue for Utah all season, but moving on) and said he wants to make a concerted effort to pound the ball inside early and often vs Oregon and their undersized front court. We’ll see how long that lasts. This is a huge game for Oregon though in terms of their at large resume, and it comes on what should be an emotional Senior Day for Joseph Young and Jalil Abdul-Bassit (check out his back story if you haven’t heard already). Oregon really, really struggles defensively against size and bigger guards, both of which Utah has of course. Oregon starts off strong, but Utah eventually wears down the smaller and less than stellar Oregon defense.

Iowa is a tough matchup for Nebraska’s pack line principles simply because of Aaron White. He can score with his back to the basket and get to the FT line vs foul prone Nebraska. If Uthoff and backcourt can knock down some of the open 3s that Nebraska’s defense goads you into taking, the Hawkeyes should be fine, but it all starts with White. Iowa didn’t get a lot of shots around the rim, but they made them count when they did, and they dominated at the FT line. Obviously it’s not ideal to rely on the whistle on the road, but equally tough to rely on the Nebraska offense to win a game.

In Horizon action, neither Oakland or UIC played any defense in the first meeting. The Flames were 11-19 from 3 vs Oakland’s zone, but Petros went an absurd 15-22 vs UIC’s interior. I’ll take the team that’s going to shoot the ball closer to the rim in that case.        Cleveland State in a tough spot coming off the massive win at Green Bay Friday now heading to Milwaukee to play a Panther team only playing to be the Horizon spoiler before hosting the HUGE showdown with Valpo on Friday. The Panthers only have two home losses, to Valpo and Green Bay. The Vikings ran circles around the UWM in the first meeting with Grady dominating around the rim and Lewis was able to penetrate at will. UWM had trouble with Waters’ pressure zone, but we’ll see how much energy the Vikings bring to Milwaukee today.

Key for Evansville tonight might be SR Jaylon Moore, an unlikely candidate to be sure. In the past, the Aces have had to chance of guarding Ron Baker. Every wing is either too short or too slow footed. Moore’s recent surge in minutes has shown off his length and athleticism. If he can slow down Baker with his height/athleticism combo, I think the Aces will keep this close. The issue is that Wichita’s aggressive guards defensively are hell on Evansville’s motion offense, and Ron Baker is the best defender I’ve seen in the country at fighting through screens, and he tends to singlehandedly wreak havoc on Evansville’s screen heavy sets.

Quick AAC blurbs, Tulane a guard heavy lineup that struggled when UConn was able to throw the height of Hamilton, Samuel, and Purvis on Dabney, Hook, and Stark. Don’t think much changes today.       If Rashad Smith’s dislocated fingers keep him out for Tulsa, that would be a devastating loss because of his defensive versatility. Tulsa is a tough matchup though because of their ability to contest the 3 so well while also protecting the rim. Jesse Morgan was incredible 0-13 from 3 in Philly in the first meeting, while Tulsa was able to routinely get past a Temple defense that is predicated on pushing up on the 3 and harassing ball handlers. When a team is able to handle that with experienced guards, like Tulsa, they can get to the rim or the FT line, and that’s exactly what happened in the first meeting. Temple has to get hot from outside, because they’re not going to score around the rim or get to the FT line at Tulsa today.

Iona looking for some revenge from a loss to Monmouth in the first MAAC game of the year way back in November. They loved Monmouth’s zone, but AJ English was bothered by the Hawks’ pressure and the Gaels had a 21% TO rate and Monmouth was able to get a lot of easy buckets in transition. Iona can clinch the regular season MAAC title with a win, while Monmouth has a bye already secured. Maybe we see the return of Isaiah Williams today with the Manhattan rematch on deck.

I’ve talked at length recently about how important Daniel Dixon is to William & Mary defensively, and in the past two games, the Tribe have surrendered 1.16ppp and a ridiculous 1.44ppp, with the guys Dixon would be checking (Hayes and Walker) both going off. Malinowski and Tot are just incapable of replicating Dixon’s defense. Dixon traveled with the team (a major ordeal that had the Tribe getting into New York at 3 am this morning because of weather), but he’s still doubtful to play. In the first meeting, William & Mary totally embarrassed the Pride, going off for 100 (Daniel Dixon 6-6 from 3!) and were terrorized by Terry Tarpey defensively. That game was in the middle of a major skid for Hofstra, particularly defensively, and they’ve since found their groove again, winning four of their last 5. Hofstra generally plays 4 out 1 in and the recent strong defensive play of Kone inside has been helpful on a successful road trip with the Pride defensive focus being on limiting the 3. The problem is that when you overplay the 3 vs the Tribe, they’ll back cut you to death and create a lot of open looks around the rim. All in all, the Tribe are the better team here, but the circumstances make it tough for them today.

Fairly nervous about my Hoosiers today, and it’s simply because of the interior defense. It’s really not for lack of effort (go back and watch Stan Robinson on Hammons Thursday. That kid was definitely trying), they just don’t have the size to stop ANYONE inside. Fortunately Rutgers has stopped defending, and maybe stopped playing in general. That Iowa game was ugly, and indicative of a team that has collapsed under the avalanche of losses. Hopefully IU comes out with some anger early after being swept by rival Purdue and buries Rutgers early. Otherwise the Knights can stick around simply on the strength of Jack and Lewis around the rim.

Monstrous Florida State has the height and back to the basket ability that can give the pack line issues, but that’s all they have. Virginia’s defense is most susceptible to a big, physical guard who can back down the pack line, because penetration just isn’t going to happen. It’s what Winslow and CMM were able to do, but I don’t think XRM is that guy, plus there isn’t a shooting outlet for FSU besides the smaller Bookert when the Virginia defense collapses on XRM. The good news for FSU is that they’re playing with confidence right now and they saw the pack line defense three times last year. The bad news is they lost all three by double digits.

Southeast Missouri State is the self professed most talented team in the OVC, but they still need a win to even get in the OVC tournament. They came back from a double digit deficit in the first meeting vs EIU when the Panthers didn’t have Chris Olivier or Reggie Smith. Basically comes down to if SeMo can score inside enough to negate the 3s EIU is certainly going to hit against the porous SeMo defense. With Chris Olivier back to help inside, I don’t think they can.

Assuming Michigan State doesn’t go 7-18 from the FT line again, I think the new look, back to defense Spartans get revenge at Illinois tonight. Since Izzo’s lineup shakeups, the defense has generally improved and Trice’s offense has flourished in his sixth man role with Nairn starting. Plus it helps that Dawson has been a monster lately. Rice didn’t play vs the Spartans in the first meeting, but the real issue is if the Costello/Schilling combo brings a little more toughness vs Egwu this time around. Hill and Nunn’s 10-12 feet from the basket game was a big weapon against the Spartans in the first meeting, and that’s usually an area of the court Michigan State takes away defensively. Something to watch is if Rice can get to the FT line vs the foul prone Spartans. Illinois gets to the as rarely as any team in the B1G, and Rice hasn’t looked like the rim attacker he was before the injury. Maybe he’ll be more aggressive today with some minutes on his legs. Prediction: Michigan State -2

74 possession pace in the first meeting between Washington and Washington State, and I don’t see any reason why there won’t be as many or more today. Neither team has shown any inclination to play defense and both are top 50 teams in terms of total % of FGAs in transition. Jarreau will be back for Washington, which helps them defensively, but his minutes will be limited. Both teams had the week off before this one as well. I’ll go with Wazzu 84-80.

USC on the road isn’t pretty, but kind of think they keep it close tonight. Arizona State takes away the 3 as well as anyone in the Pac12, but USC isn’t really looking to the shoot the 3 outside of Reinhardt. If they can exploit Jovanovic’s size advantage inside, the Trojans have a chance. ASU coming off a big home win over UCLA and now welcome in the worst team in the league before the big altitude trip with Utah and Colorado.

Prediction: USC +12


James Madison -5.5

Missouri State +2.5

Michigan State -2

Washington State -2