2/20 Friday thoughts

20 Feb

Lots of stuff going on with the second meeting between Albany and Hartford. Albany was just dealt their first AmEast loss, and it came at home, but it was to a really talented Stony Brook team that had that game circled in red and they just pounded the ball to Warney and he did his thing. Plus Albany has had a difficult year off the court with the devastating loss of Peter Hooley’s mother and his leaving the team to go back to Australia to be with his family. Fortunately, he was able to return and Brown has been easing him back in the past two games, as he’s only logged 17 minutes in each one. He was in Australia for the first meeting between these two, an Albany win where the Great Danes were able to work Sam Rowley on the block and create enough live ball turnovers to scratch out a win in a 59 possession ball game. Through all that, it’s remarkable that Tuesday’s loss to Stony Brook was Albany’s first in the AmEast. Hartford meanwhile has not had the season many anticipated. This was a team that returned virtually everybody, and added some much needed frontcourt help with the big Irishman John Carroll and Jack Hobbs. As it turns out, Carroll can’t stay on the court because of fouls and Hobbs hasn’t really contributed much since becoming eligible. On top of that, some guys who they were counting on have kind of regressed. Nate Sikma is having his worst season since his FR year, and do everything stud Mark Nwakamma has been battling knee injuries, and he was only able to log 11 minutes in the Hawks’ near loss to UMBC on Tuesday, and that was after missing 3 out of the last 4 games. He’ll be nowhere near 100% tonight, even if he plays. Nwakamma got in early foul trouble in the first meeting, and the Hawks had trouble mustering offense without him. Hartford is still going to shoot a ton of 3s (first in 3pt rate in the AmEast, 11th in the country) and Wroe, Dyson, and Moore are all capable of getting hot, but without the versatility of Nwakamma and the frontcourt not really panning out like Gallagher had hoped, the Hawks can be very one dimensional offensively. Will Brown has been using a zone a lot less it seems, preferring at time to aggressively defend the plethora of ball screens and apply some pressure, and that’s directly linked to the eligibility of Tulane transfer Ray Sanders. His length on the perimeter has made Albany’s defense much more versatile than it was last year. All in all, I think you see the Danes rebound in a big way from the Stony Brook loss in a nationally televised home game, especially with Nwakamma not 100%. Hartford can get hot from outside, but Albany is going to be able to pound the ball inside, win the glass battle on both ends, and get to the free throw line a ton. Additionally, with Vermont’s shocking loss to Binghamton, I believe Albany can maybe clinch the top seed in the America East tournament with a win tonight, but someone smarter than me would have to figure out the tie breaker situation (assuming Albany wins, then loses out to UMBC and Vermont. Per my friend @currenrr, who everyone should follow, if Stony Brook finishes third, then UVM would win the tiebreaker, but of course this is all predicated on Albany losing to UMBC. Danes are still very clearly in the driver’s seat).

Looks like Isaiah Williams won’t make his return for Iona tonight at Marist, which was maybe the only intrigue in a rare one MAAC game Friday. In the first meeting, the Gaels were generally able to dictate pace by dominating the defensive glass and getting some quick 3s vs the Marist zone, which Maker eventually had to abandon when Casimir couldn’t miss from 3 (9-14 for Schadrac, and the Gaels as a team were a ridiculous 15-27). Some of the numbers for Iona from the first meeting are absurd. Besides going 15-27 from 3, they had a 77% defensive rebounding rate (tells you just how poor Marist is on the glass. No one is going to confuse Iona for a great rebounding team normally) and they had 29 assists on 33 made baskets. So, suffice to say Marist’s defense didn’t do much in terms of slowing the Gaels down. All that being said, Iona has to be careful here. They’re finishing up a four game road trip, and it’s tough to get motivated for a team you clobbered once already, especially with two huge games in New Rochelle with Monmouth and Manhattan lurking. If you’re not mentally ready for Marist, the Princeton style offense can make you look foolish, and Marist can get hot from outside, and the Red Foxes clearly haven’t quit on this season. In fact, with their new found health over the past several weeks, you could argue they’re just getting to the middle of their season.

I’ve talked at length here (generally on Fridays) about how great of a team Green Bay can be, but how they are very prone to struggling against certain types of defenses, which is basically any defense that either has a big time rim protector and sags off the 3 point line to limit penetration, or against a zone. They’ve struggled against Valpo because of the first reason, they struggled against Georgia State, UC Irvine, Oakland, and YSU’s zones, and they struggled against Cleveland State when Gary Waters dusted off the old zone from previous years. Green Bay only shot 11 FTs in that game and they shot 19 threes. With that ratio, you’re going to have a great chance to win vs the Phoenix, and Cleveland State did just that. Now, it wasn’t just the defense that won for the Vikings, they also put up 1.21ppp and dominated inside and out offensively, and that was without Marlin Mason (CSU always seems to have a player sick when they play UWGB. Last year it was Bryn Forbes). Wardle HAS to make some defensive adjustments tonight. First, I think you’re going to see him double team Grady when he gets the ball on the block (Wardle never doubles bigs, but I noticed he did it several times vs Paris Bass to perhaps get a little in game practice for it). Second, I would throw Fouse on Lewis. I’ve talked at length about how Fouse is the best defender in the Horizon because of his versatility, and his length should bother Lewis on the perimeter. So let’s assume those adjustments defensively slow down Cleveland State’s offense. Can Wardle and Sykes adjust offensively to a zone (by the way, how awesome is Sykes? Bad eye, bad thumb, drops 23, 7, and 8 on Detroit)? Greg Mays is coming off a career game offensively and he was able to work inside a bit against CSU the first time around, but it’s just not in Green Bay’s DNA to shoot the 3 and work the ball on the perimeter. Sykes is still going to try and penetrate and get to the FT line, and it’s going to result in a low scoring affair, assuming the defensive adjustments from UWGB work. I’ll say the Phoenix win another big game at home on Friday night, and it might just be a replay of the first meeting with Valpo, a game decided in the 50s. Prediction: Cleveland State +6

Harvard followed up one of their worst defensive performances vs Columbia on Friday with a total shutdown of Cornell on Saturday. When Harvard’s defense is locked in and taking away the 3, you’re simply not going to score on them unless you can turn them over, which has been an issue for the Crimson, but they just handled the best ball pressure team in Cornell with ease. So can Penn apply some pressure and have a chance vs Harvard who hosts Princeton tomorrow? Probably not. Penn was totally debilitated by Harvard’s defense in the first meeting, scoring an embarrassing 38 points on .67ppp at the Palestra. It doesn’t help that Tony Hicks is suspended for the weekend (well, I guess that depends on if you’re asking an actual Penn grad. He’s not a fan favorite). Antonio Woods will run the point in his absence, and I think the FR is going to be a force in the Ivy in the coming years.            Princeton has a trip to Lavietes tomorrow of course, but they were essentially able to play their game vs Dartmouth in the first meeting. Dartmouth is a team that’s giving up a lot of 3s defensively, and that’s asking for a quick death in the Ivy League. There were 35 turnovers in the first meeting, but Princeton will probably gladly trade turnovers with you if it means they’re going to be able to run as well and get quick looks at a 3. Additionally, Dartmouth is potentially without Connor Boehm again, and you have to be able to beat Princeton around the rim. If Boehm is out, I think you’ll see Cormier go all out with the pressure and let Gill and Wright try to win this game by themselves. Wright has kind of taken over the reins in terms of leading the offense, but if Mitola gets hot as well, Dartmouth can definitely win this game. Look for Henderson to bust out the 1-3-1 he used vs Yale, especially since I think it’s going to be effective tomorrow vs Harvard. That’s a wrinkle Dartmouth didn’t see in the first meeting.                 Cornell has somehow surpassed Penn as the most frustrating team in the Ivy. They play this tremendous, harassing defense that generates a lot of turnovers, but they’re also athletic enough to back end the pressure with shutdown interior defense. They allow a lot of 3s, but contest well with that athleticism as well. The frustration comes in with the offense. Shonn Miller insists on taking a bunch of horrific threes inside of banging inside, and it’s not just Miller, he’s just the most frustrating. Almost every Cornell player is obsessed with taking a contested 3 early in the possession. Fortunately they get back in transition off those misses, but it’s still hard to watch at times when Miller, Hatter, and Cherry are basically having a three point contest, especially because all of them are capable of attacking the rim and getting to the FT line. When Cornell is getting to the FT line, forcing turnovers with their pressure defense, and getting back in transition off missed shots, they can beat anyone in the Ivy. In the first meeting with Yale, they forced some turnovers, but also fouled a ton in the process, and had issues with Sears on the block. Yale ended up shooting 33 FTs, and when Cornell fell behind in the 2H, that’s when the ill advised Miller 3s reared their ugly head. Yale could be looking ahead to tomorrow with a big home game with Columbia (who has turned into a bitter rival over the course of the past several meetings), but the Bulldogs have too many paths to offense. If Cornell is doubling Sears and limiting him, the 3 will be open for a very good perimeter shooting team, and Yale will be more prepared for the defensive pressure the second time around, and only Cornell has a lower TO rate than the Bulldogs. Additionally, Yale will basically goad Cornell into taking those 3s and limit penetration, and it helps they defend with the lowest foul rate in the Ivy.          On paper Brown is a terrible matchup for Columbia because the Bears aggressively defend the 3 point line knowing that if they overplay they have Kuakumensah and Maia protecting the rim down low. However in the first meeting at Levien, three point reliant Columbia bombed away from 3, and connected on 14 of 31. The issue was that Kuakumensah and Maia couldn’t get out on the stretch shooters of Columbia, who were 8-15 from outside. To put into perspective how crazy Columbia’s 3 point barrage was against Brown, the Bears’ opponents prior and after that game were a combined 4-29 from outside. We’ll see if Martin makes any adjustments for all the ball screens and pick and pops Kyle Smith uses with his bigs, because it’s clear Maia and Kuakumensah can’t get out quick enough to guard against them.

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