Archive | December, 2015

12/31 Thursday Thoughts

31 Dec

PREDICTIONS (669-513-31):

Have to travel today, so just going to fire off some tweet sized thoughts on each game…

The offensive number from Villanova vs Xavier’s defense last year are staggering. 1.31, 1.24, 1.11 ppp, 37-77 from 3 in 3 games. Take it back two years and you can add two more wins and 1.28 and 1.12ppp performance on 20-50 shooting from 3. Simply put, if Villanova hits 3s, which Xavier’s defense allows since they generally have two relatively immobile defensive bigs on the floor to dominate the glass, the Wildcats will dominate again. Villanova hasn’t been shooting like Villanova yet this year, but if they do today, watch out. I love Sumner, but Nova is really going to test the FR PG today, and Villanova’s defense is going to force Xavier into jump shots, whereas XU wants to attack gaps and get to the FT line with their athleticism. That’s just hard to do vs Villanova. The Jalen Brunson illness is concerning though. VILLANOVA -6

Delaware might get Pinkard back, but that’s not going to help their zone from getting thrashed by Hofstra’s bevy of shooter/slashers. Hofstra has looked tired the last few times of seen them (understandable considering they have the second shortest bench in the country), but Delaware has a short bench as well, and for some reason decided to tour the western northeast before the start of CAA play. HOFSTRA -11.5

No interest in SEMO at all. Heavy personnel issues, and Ray has to play a high pressure zone to generate any sort of offense. Belmont might sleepwalk through this one, but I can’t rely on SEMO to score or defend in the halfcourt. BELMONT -13

I love the way Earl Grant’s Charleston teams have defended the three point line with aggressive pressure in his first two years at the helm, and that’s exactly what you have to do against JMU’s prolific three point attack. Good game for JMU to get Dalembert some paint touches early. Charleston is capable of hitting jump shots, which you have to do against JMU. CHARLESTON +6

Drexel isn’t going to handle the Keatts pressure well enough to slow this game down to their pace. UNCW’s depth makes a big difference today with the waves of lengthy pressure they can throw at Drexel. UNCW -13

Keep Moto and Davis off the offensive glass and Moto and Hawkins off the FT line, and you’re going to be fine against Towson. William & Mary can do both of those things. Tribe are a bad matchup for Towson, but that being said, Towson has had 8 days to get ready for this one, while Tribe are on a quick turnaround without Whitman. TOWSON +7.5

Both Elon and Northeastern are prolific three point offenses. Both defenses are designed to aggressively chase teams off the three point line. Scott Eatherton was 17-20 in the paint in two games vs Elon’s non existent interior defense. Can Northeastern replace that production this year? Miller isn’t the same back to the basket scorer yet, and Walker is going to have some success in the middle of the floor against this porous Elon defense, but something tells me Matheny tweaks the motion offense and Hairston actually finds some success inside today. ELON +3.5 

No interest in Drake. Wichita State is always a brutal matchup for them (they simply extend out on the perimeter and completely disrupt everything Drake wants to do in the halfcourt), especially when the Shockers are in MVC reset mode. WICHITA STATE -18.5

Northern Arizona will be fired up for their Big Sky opener against Montana after last year’s fireworks between Murphy and DeCuire in the Big Sky tournament brouhaha. That being said, without Martin, I have no idea how a porous NAU defense can defend Breunig. NAU also still potentially without Neely, while Montana gains the best on ball defender in the league with Mario Dunn back from a scaphoid injury. Breunig might go for 30 and 15 today in Flagstaff, as Murphy wants to extend pressure a little bit to compensate for the lack of height without Martin, but it just isn’t working, and teams are scoring at will at the rim. Will definitely be keeping an eye on the post game handshake in this one. MONTANA -6

St. John’s rotates so slowly on the perimeter that I don’t think Creighton is going to have any issues with their quick ball reversal and penetrate and kick offense. The Bluejays won’t exploit St. John’s turnover issues, but the Johnnies can’t compete defensively on the perimeter here, although they should have Balamou back today. CREIGHTON -8

Not sure how interested Harvard is in this game, but Big Z should totally dominate against a non existent Wofford frontcourt. This Terrier team is a far from being your typical Mike Young half court defense, especially so shorthanded. HARVARD -7

All about jump shots with Butler and Providence, specifically, can PC hit any. That Butler offense isn’t going to give you extra possessions (they don’t turn the ball over and more poignantly, they don’t get the ball stolen from them, which limits the transition offense gets from Dunn’s herculean defensive efforts), but can they get the majority of their points inside via paint touches early? When Butler is able to work through the paint, the offense becomes virtually unstoppable. BUTLER -7

Tough trip to Vegas for UL Monroe. They suffered the most epic late game collapse I’ve ever personally seen in their 3OT loss to Canisius, and then had to turn and play a physical Hampton team. They’ll at least get to open SBC play at home against an App State motion offense that should be able to keep off balance with their constantly shifting defense. Fox models his offense and defense after Bob McKillop, which means they can be exploited around the rim, and that’s exactly what the Warhawks are looking to do. Can’t help on dribble penetration from App State, otherwise Eaves is going to go off like he did in second meeting, but at Fant-Ewing ULM held him to just 4 points. I believe Keith Richard should be back on the sideline for ULM today. He hasn’t traveled with the team on last two road trips due to health reasons, which is an interesting situation going on there, and you hope he’s ok going forward. APP STATE +9

Attack EIU off the dribble and get the ball to the rim and you’re not going to have a problem scoring. EIU is one of the worst rebounding teams in the country, and they’re vulnerable in transition. Tennessee Tech is far more perimeter oriented this year, but Martin should find success inside and Rowe will live at the FT line. Shirmane Thomas on Trae Anderson is key. Thomas is a plus defender, though smaller, and Anderson has the highest usage rate and third highest shot rate in the country. TENN TECH -8

SIUE is looking to get the ball as close to the rim by pounding it inside or off Carr penetration on every single possession. That’s where shorthanded Jacksonville State is most vulnerable. SIUE isn’t efficient by any means pounding it inside, but I think they’ll find some success against a JSU team on a quick turnaround from an OT loss at big brother Alabama. SIUE is poor in transition defense, but Green has refused to run early with this JSU team. SIUE +3.5

Still not super sold on Gonzaga vs zones, but an offense like Santa Clara’s that’s so reliant on the 3 (and Brownridge specifically) doesn’t have much chance against a defense that’s completely taking away the three point line, especially if Matt Hubbard can’t go, who had been providing SC’s only interior offense. GONZAGA -15

If Quinton Hooker is still out or hobbled significantly with his leg injury, North Dakota doesn’t have much chance (it appears Crandall will be good to go at least). Idaho won one Big Sky road game last year (at Montana State), but the attacking Callandret and Sanders match up well here, and Arkadiy Mkrtychyan has had some time to get healthy. Idaho is going to have a chance to run off the defensive glass tonight. The Vandals are a very good rebounding team, and North Dakota is poor on the offensive glass, and it’s not because they’re eschewing them to get back in transition off misses. IDAHO -2.5

Montana State playing in elevation isn’t ideal, but they’re going to be able to exploit SUU in transition tonight. The TBirds are one of the worst transition defenses I’ve seen this year, and Colbert is going to be able to waltz to the rim, especially if AJ Hess is out again with his bruised calf. You can spread the court and attack this SUU defense off the dribble or from outside, and that’s where MSU’s offense thrives. Sharp shooter Holm should have a big game for MSU. He’s lit up SUU in the past, and he’s playing near his hometown tonight. MONTANA STATE +2

Teams are aware of Dallas Anglin now and EWU is going to go off from 3 tonight in Greeley. EWU -5.5

Great matchup for Portland’s sharpshooting offense vs the ultrasagging USF defense, but I’m concerned about Portland’s foul rate vs Watson/Derksen. PORTLAND -1.5

San Diego has bought into Lamont Smith’s emphasis on in your jock perimeter defense, and Pacific doesn’t get Eleraky back until Saturday, so they’re still fairly perimeter oriented, but I can’t trust USD’s offense away from home, even though 6’5 PG Vasa Pusica has been living up to the preseason hype I heaped on him. PACIFIC -6

The best halfcourt offense in the country rolls on in Moraga against a mediocre BYU halfcourt defense that can’t guard the perimeter or keep up with the mobility of SMC’s interchangeable parts. SMC -5.5

12/30 Wednesday Thoughts

30 Dec

2015-16 PREDICTIONS (653-497-29):

Sold out crowd at Cassell today for West Virginia/VA Tech, and part of me thinks the Hokies can keep this one close. They were embarrassed in Morgantown last year in this same situation, losing by 31 and turning the ball over at a 36% rate against Press Virginia. I want to say they’ll be more prepared to see it a second time around, but Bibbs and Hudson are the only current Hokies who saw it last year. That being said, it’s a much more meaningful game for VA Tech at this point, as Buzz tries to rebuild the program, and Huggins has a return trip to Manhattan on tap to open Big 12 play. As usual, it’s all about limiting turnovers, but Buzz is certainly going to zone West Virginia for the majority of the game, and with LeDay, VA Tech is an underrated glass team on both ends. Buzz has been playing a lot faster offensively this year (mainly due to the 11th easiest OOC schedule), but he’ll extend some pressure himself before falling back into a zone and making West Virginia work in the halfcourt (although Clarke’s 6’6 frame in press/trapping and on the glass will be missed). Virginia Tech’s low foul rate within the zone press and their own high FT rate offensively makes me think they’ll be able to stick around if they’re getting a home friendly freedom of movement whistle. VIRGINIA TECH +8

The difference between Indiana’s halfcourt and transition offensive numbers is just too much for Rutgers to keep this one close for 40 minutes, even after being embarrassed at home last year by the Hoosiers. IU is 18th in eFG% in transition, and 1st in the halfcourt. Rutgers can’t score from outside, their frontcourt is injured, and they’re not going to get fouled by IU. The one area they have to exploit IU is in pick and roll defense with Sanders. The Hoosiers are still, let’s say “lackadaisical”, at times when defending the ball handler in PnR, and Sanders has been Rutgers’ most efficient player in the those situations (with Blackmon out for IU, maybe the PnR defense actually improves today). In the end, too many clear advantages offensively for IU (even with Blackmon out), and Rutgers is one of the few B1G teams who can’t exploit IU on the offensive glass.  INDIANA -16

Not a lot to like about South Florida as we enter AAC play. They don’t have a PG with Peters out, they have one jump shooter (streaky, undersized FR McMurray), and despite having a ton of size, they’re a poor defensive rebounding team. Sampson is still going through some lineup issues with Houston, but they have the size to match up with USF. The Cougars haven’t shown anything noteworthy away from Houston, even on a neutral court, but USF is the best way to ease into AAC road play. This was a lost road opportunity for Houston last year when they blew a second half lead at the Sun Dome. USF’s offense isn’t equipped to take advantage of Houston’s long scoring droughts this year. HOUSTON -6.5 

I think we’re going to see some points in Michigan/Illinois, as I don’t trust either defense. You can’t zone or sag off the perimeter against Michigan, you’ll be ripped to shreds. Unfortunately, with Illinois’ personnel issues, they’ve been forced into that defensive philosophy (now Lewis has the mumps), and when they’re forced into man to man/isolation defense situations, they’ve been routinely burned off the dribble. Michigan is improving defensively, but I don’t think their bigs can defend Finke in open space off pick and pop action, and Hill and Nunn are going to get theirs as well. Michigan obviously doesn’t run, but Illinois has been a disaster in transition defense this year, and Michigan has the 22nd most efficient transition offense in the country. If Michigan sees opportunities to attack on the run, they’re going to find success today. MICHIGAN -4.5

The loss of Olah is huge for Northwestern on both ends. Olah was highly efficient around the rim and could force teams to collapse, opening the floor for Northwestern’s shooters. JVZ simply isn’t the same player offensively, and his high block rate is largely built against lower competition. The onus for all offensive facilitation immediately shifts to McIntosh and Demps in the backcourt, and they’ll be facing a Nebraska team today that can throw 6’4, 6’7, and 6’7 length at them. Can Nebraska take advantage of what could be a significantly worse Northwestern defense without Olah? They’ll have to find help for Shields and White, and they simply do not have a post offense, but Northwestern isn’t going to expose the Huskers’ issues with pressure. NEBRASKA -3

The Beach usually acquits themselves well in these high major blue blood road games, and they play a lot of them. I think they’ll be able to find enough in penetration to open up the court just a bit, something Elon couldn’t do with their motion offense, but really tough to have any sort of strong opinion on this one, especially with LBSU shorthanded. LBSU +22

Penn State has a solid interior defense, but Maryland is going to wear them down with their size and expose PSU’s lack of depth via foul trouble, something that has seemingly been inevitable for the Nittany Lions this year. This is strength against strength though, as Maryland shoots 75% at the rim, while PSU only allows teams to shoot 45% at the rim. Both are the 4th best marks in the country. Unfortunately, PSU’s inefficient/inconsistent offense and foul issues will do them in. PENN STATE +15

Pretty meh about Oakland’s prospects against the pack line today. They can shoot the three certainly, but it’s often via spreading the court in transition or penetration from the outstanding Kay Felder, both or which are excessively difficult to accomplish against UVA. Key is what Oakland can get from Percy Gibson in the “Jaylen Brown” role (obviously not the same skill level, but can he find success backing down his man in the middle of the floor, not the post, or working the baseline, both areas of potential “weakness” against packline?). Also, can Oakland’s zone turn UVA into a jump shooting team. The Cavs can shoot it, but it’s not a large part of their offense (325th in attempt rate). It’s really a lose lose situation for Oakland defensively, but UVA missing jumpers is their best option. VIRGINIA -16

St. Bonaventure really struggled defensively against Siena’s flex offense, but Niagara doesn’t have the interior to expose that tonight. The Purple Eagles are entirely reliant on their wings Scott and Blackman. Casey wants to get quick shots with those two, but neither have proven they can shoot the ball when you back off them. Expect a lot of zone from both sides tonight, but key is Scott/Blackman being able to exploit size advantage over the smaller, but quicker Bonnies backcourt that exploit the fact that Niagara doesn’t have a PG, and thus one of the highest TO rates in the country. ST. BONAVENTURE -13.5

Brutal finish to the OOC season for Oral Roberts. Neither team has an interior threat to worry about really. Can ORU get out on IPFW’s shooters, and can the Dons keep Emegano out of the lane are the two keys. Only 12 teams in the country have a lower FGA rate at the rim than ORU (consequently, they have a top 5 2PT jumper attempt rate). IPFW -4.5

ETSU is a really bad transition defense, but Woods has Morehead State playing like a snail this year, but with one exception, they’ll run off turnovers created by their ball pressure, and ETSU has struggled in that regard all year. Jurkin has been giving Forbes good minutes inside lately, and that’s an area where ETSU can exploit Morehead State tonight, but it’s all about limiting those turnovers. ETSU is at a major disadvantage on the glass tonight though, and they’re not a team that’s going to exploit Morehead’s high foul rate. [UPDATE: No Ge’Lawn Guyn for ETSU tonight. Out with a calf injury, which is a major loss] MOREHEAD STATE -1.5

Decent enough matchup for a better than people realize Northern Kentucky halfcourt offense to make me think the Norse keep this relatively close. They also extend past the three point line enough to disrupt Toledo’s perimeter. NORTHERN KENTUCKY +12

Clemson’s jump shooting numbers have expectedly regressed as they’ve played better competition, and I don’t see what changes between last year’s meeting with UNC. Clemson won’t hit enough jumpers to negate UNC getting what they want inside, even without Meeks. NORTH CAROLINA -15

Yes, no Martin tonight for Rhode Island, but the Rams are just a horrible matchup for Brown. Brown wants to spread the floor and attack quickly from the perimeter, which is something the URI defense simply doesn’t allow. Keep in mind that Brown is shorthanded themselves without a Massey twin and Daugherty (although they do have 6’6 wing Triplett eligible, who immediately replaces Massey in the offense). Can Tavon Blackmon get into the lane enough in the halfcourt (a la Trey Freeman) to exploit the lack of a rim protector, or feed the ball to big CK (who still has a raw back to the basket game despite being a SR)? I expect Hurley to really extend Terrell, Garrett, and Thompson in the backcourt tonight without Iverson and Martin. When you’re missing arguably your three most important players, this could look like a foolish pick, but I can’t get past how poor the scheme is for Brown. RHODE ISLAND -7

UC Riverside traveled out to Baltimore for Morgan State, where they dominated the 2H, and they’re stopping in Athens for a game I can’t see either giving a particular damn about. Highlanders aren’t going to be able to overcome a sluggish start against Ohio. Phillips has gotten back to staying on shooters on the perimeter and not overly crashing on penetration, in short, taking away the three point line, something he did consistently in his early days at NDSU. That’s really going to limit a UC Riverside offense that likes to surround the athletic Johns with some prolific three point shooters like Bland, who has attempted 131 threes already. If Campbell stays out of foul trouble against Johns, the Bobcats shouldn’t have too much trouble. OHIO -8

Seton Hall’s bizarre, disappointing season culminated in an embarrassing blowout loss to Marquette in the Big East tournament. The versatility of Marquette’s bigs and Seton Hall’s inconsistent jump shooting is going thwart Seton Hall’s revenge hopes at the BC tonight. MARQUETTE -3

Return of Giddens is big in terms of getting out on King defensively. Not sure where Minnesota finds points in this one. They’re not going to get in transition (Ohio State doesn’t get the ball stolen from them or have their shots blocked), they’re not going to get to the FT line, and they can’t score at the rim, especially against OSU, and the Buckeyes can contest the Gophers’ mobile shooters. Minnesota is 149th in KenPom despite not playing a true road game against the 264th easiest OOC schedule. Not a good omen for Minnesota’s B1G season. OHIO STATE -10.5

If you know what’s going on with Illinois State, please shoot me an email. I don’t think Muller has any idea either, as he’s apparently going with Wills over Lee at the point now (although who really knows at this point with this team). Neither Illinois State or Missouri State can shoot the ball a lick, so this one should get pretty ugly, but I think Lee bounces back with focus, and the FR Griffin has a big first MVC game. Missouri State has the 4th lowest FGA rate at the rim in the country, and the 2nd highest 2 point jump shot attempt rate, and Illinois State really contests jump shooting teams well, as opposing offenses are shooting less than 30% on 2PT jumpers against the Redbirds. ILLINOIS STATE -7.5

Speaking of Mo Valley teams that don’t get the ball to the rim, Bradley has the third lowest FGA rate at the rim, and UNI has the 6th lowest in the country. The difference? UNI can shoot the lights out and Bradley can’t hit the proverbial water falling out of the proverbial boat. UNI’s defense forces you into jump shots, so Bradley is basically screwed offensively (.9 and .7ppp last year vs UNI), but the defensive scheme is completely different from what the Panthers saw last year when it was Ford’s team, as Wardle has the Braves aggressively taking away the three point line (that being said, the Bradley defense is allowing a lot of 2 point jumpers, just not threes, and UNI is equally as efficient at hitting those as 3s). Bradley won’t generate nearly enough offense, but they also didn’t have to spend Christmas week thousands of miles away from home. NORTHERN IOWA -19.5

Greg Lansing and the Trees have generally fared well against Evansville’s high motion offense that gets so many quality looks at the rim as Lansing’s matchup zone has forced them, at times, into more jump shots than they’re comfortable with (didn’t happen at Evansville last year). Lansing also has a secret weapon with Rickman in the middle that he’s been easing in, and should be ready to unleash for MVC play. Key tonight is the whistle. Can the Trees get enough freedom of movement calls on the road? They’re a penetration based offense that relies on the FT line, while Evansville draws a ton of contact by catching defenses out of position with their offense. INDIANA STATE +10.5

It wasn’t the most difficult schedule in the world (in fact it was the 6th least difficult schedule in D1), but SIU winning every OOC true road was something I didn’t expect. That being said, I don’t necessarily expect them to keep that up in Chicago tonight. The Ramblers are disruptive enough in the backcourt and SIU isn’t strong enough to exploit them in the frontcourt, but I’m concerned with how Loyola has handled teams that can extend pressure. The Ramblers are an excellent transition defense except for one key area…they allow the 13th most FGAs in the country 0-10 sec following a steal, and SIU has been making hay in that regard this year. Loyola has limited the turnovers the past two times out at home, but that was against teams with two of the lowest defensive steal rates in the country. Most interesting MVC game of the night, and I think the Ramblers keep this in the halfcourt just enough. LOYOLA CHICAGO -1.5

Dayton’s high TO rate is a bit misleading, as they’re actually getting the ball stolen from them at the same typically low rate as usual. As always, if Arkansas can’t get in transition/get the ball to the rim (and Dayton is excellent defensively in limiting both of those), the Razorbacks are going to struggle, especially on the road. Interested to see how much Pierre gives Dayton in his return tonight. DAYTON -8.5

USA’s transition based offense is going to struggle tonight, even at home, against Little Rock’s high pressure, pack line principled halfcourt defense (Jags just 46% eFG in halfcourt offense). LITTLE ROCK -7.5

Georgia State dominated UT Arlington’s pressure heavy ball line defense because they didn’t turn the ball over at all last year and were able to consistently get high quality shots before the defense was set up. It’s been a different story this year for the Panthers, as they’ve been turning the ball over at an alarming rate. Limit the turnovers, and they should be fine, as UTA should have issues themselves against Hunter’s high pressure matchup zone. GEORGIA STATE +4.5

I don’t know if Texas State’s offense is significantly better than last year, but Georgia Southern and their high pressure zone is primed to take one of the biggest efficiency nose dives in the country (already up to 1.1ppp compared to allowing .96ppp last year). TEXAS STATE -7

Troy’s high pressure zone limits Arkansas State enough, a team that has to get the ball to the rim. TROY -4

Out of time…

GEORGETOWN -3.5

PITT -7.5

NEW MEXICO -7.5

BOISE STATE -17 (Does Boise care enough? But Fox and Berry both really banged up for UCD)

VANDERBILT -18.5

SAN DIEGO STATE -12

FRESNO STATE +7.5

SJSU +7.5

 

12/29 Tuesday Thoughts

29 Dec

FAU does one thing well, on either end of the court, and that’s take away the three point line as defense. That’s the Owls’ identity under Curry and Snow, and that’s a good identity to have against a UT Martin team that shoots threes at the 53rd highest rate in the country. On the other side, the UT Martin half court defense has been improving incrementally as the season has progressed, while FAU has one of the 25 lowest eFG% as an offense in the halfcourt. It doesn’t help matters that CJ Turman left the program, but his offense had been a net negative in the games prior to his departure. The issue is that new big man Ron Delph, while a better defender, isn’t yet capable of providing the same offense that Turman did when he presumably happier with his role. This is only FAU’s third home game of the season (they’re 1-1 with both games against non D1 opponents), but these teams are heading in opposite directions at the moment, especially with one defense improving and the other offense regressing. I don’t have enough knowledge of FAU team dynamics to comment on whether or not Turman’s departure is something that is ultimately better or worse for the Owls as a team, but I think UTM has two distinct advantages today, as they sag off the perimeter and FAU has struggled from outside all year, and they crash the defensive glass relentlessly (Skyhawks started out looking like an atypical Heath Schroyer team in terms of defensive rebounding rate, but those numbers have been steadily on the rise). UT MARTIN +2.5

Roles are totally reversed from last year when Tulane exploited Memphis’ lack of a PG in a win at FedEx at the start of AAC play. This year, Tulane has had trouble finding continuity at the point with Stark gone (still think Julien is the long term fix there, but Dabney loves to have the ball in his hands), and Memphis addressing their TO issues with the addition of Ricky Tarrant, who of course knows Tulane and Ed Conroy quite well. Memphis still can’t shoot the ball from outside, and Tulane is actually solid in interior defense (Osetkowski and Jarreau play off each well as help side/shot blocker combo), but Tulane’s shot selection offensively is just too poor, and Memphis does several things extremely well defensively that are going to translate in AAC play (they don’t foul at a high rate while also stealing the ball and blocking shots at a very high rate). These are two outstanding half court defenses, so I expect points to be at a bit of a premium, especially with Memphis continuing to have matchup issues with Tulane’s zone. [UPDATE: Dedric Lawson out after warmups with an abdominal strain. With that knowledge, I certainly would switch to Tulane] MEMPHIS -12

Interested to see how Rick Barnes treats this game with Tennessee State today. He’s got some key guys that are banged up, and could use some rest, but the Vols also looked really shaky at home vs another “little brother” in ETSU last time out. There are a few things scheme wise that doesn’t really do Tennessee State any favors either. 1) Ford wants to extend pressure and then pack it in the halfcourt. Tennessee doesn’t turn the ball over, and giving Punter, Moore, and Baulkman open perimeter shots isn’t the best option against the Vols. 2) Tennessee is actually a better transition offense than halfcourt offense, and Tennessee State has been pretty bad in transition defense this year. The good news is that TSU tends to get beat when teams push the ball up the court off the defensive glass, and Tennessee has been poor in that regard this year (although the numbers have been better against smaller teams, and TSU is the 316th smallest team in the country). I’ve heard Jordan Reed won’t be available until OVC play, but those clearance situations are so nebulous, so it’s something to keep an eye on today. TENNESSEE -12

It seems that all the defections and injuries are finally over (for now, still no Ojo for foreseeable future) for Manhattan, although RaShawn Stores only played 8 minutes vs Morgan State (presumably for rest). Eastern Kentucky meanwhile has their own personnel issues with Jarelle Reischel a ? with back spasms and KJ Bluford missing WV due to suspension. Interesting game within the game aspect is that McHale and Masiello are both off the Pitino coaching tree and know each other quite well, and both obviously bring a ton of pressure, but both have struggled to defend mightily in the halfcourt when teams handle that press. The status of Reischel is essential in this one, and if he’s out or limited, I have to side with Manhattan in a battle of two incredibly similar teams that share virtually all the same strengths (forcing turnovers via pressure, getting to the FT line) and weaknesses (turnovers on the offensive end, rebounding, fouling). UPDATE: Reischel has overcome his back spasms which is huge for the Colonels, while Bluford is off the team. MANHATTAN +5.5

Typical brutal travel for Texas Southern to come back to Texas on a day rest after playing in Syracuse (and traveling through some poor weather), but that’s nothing new for TSU. Question is can they hit enough jump shots vs Baylor’s zone to stay competitive in what should be a game Baylor somnambulates through. TSU has the best player in the SWAC, Derrick Griffin, and he could help on the offensive glass, because TSU still isn’t equipped to handle the Baylor zone. TEXAS SOUTHERN +20.5 

It was a tale of two games last year between Temple and Cincy, as the Owls were blown out without Cummings at Cincy, then exacted major revenge in the rematch when they were at full strength. Key today is Enechionyia hitting some perimeter shots with his 6’8 frame to move around that ridiculous Cincy interior defense. I think the Temple defense figures to be significantly worse than last year. They don’t have a shot blocker, and Morgan and Cummings were so quick handed and outstanding in ball defense that their departures have caused the steal rate to basically be cut in half, and Temple has plummeted from the 20th best halfcourt defense in terms of eFG% to the mid 100s this year. CINCY -12

Richmond’s highly modified Princeton offense should be able to find success against Tubby’s ball line defense that allows the three pointer but denies penetration after extending pressure, but the Spiders have had some major travel issues thanks to that awful Texas weather. Good matchup scheme wise for Richmond (especially with the immobility of TTU’s big), but poor extenuating circumstances. RICHMOND +5

Notre Dame might treat this game with Liberty a little differently, as Brey wants to work on some things vs the pack line defense ahead of Saturday’s game with Virginia, and Ritchie McKay is a former Tony Bennett assistant who tried to employ the pack line in his second stint at Liberty. Offensively, Liberty doesn’t do much of anything well, but they shoot a ton of threes, which is certainly where Notre Dame’s defense is most vulnerable. The Flames also have Marquette transfer John Dawson eligible, who immediately becomes the best player on the team. I’m just not sure there’s going to be enough possessions in this game for Notre Dame to win by 32 points. LIBERTY +31.5

SMU is just a tough matchup for Tulsa, as they SMU defense is designed to limit the aggressive, contact drawing guards of Tulsa. Tulsa shot 55 3PTAs in two losses to SMU last year. They averaged ~15 3PTAs against all other AAC teams last year. Additionally, Tulsa’s a team that likes to get out and run off the defensive glass and extending some pressure, and that’s hard to do against SMU. With SMU’s ability to limit Tulsa’s three most distinct paths to offense, I think they’re held to under 1ppp for the third straight meeting vs Larry Brown. SMU -5

Charlotte’s transition defense has improved dramatically in recent weeks, which for purely selfish reasons is disappointing because I had this one circled early as a game where #DuggieBall could run wild with the Loot and Shoot. Price has genuinely done a 180 with this defense, but this is a dead spot in the schedule for them after competing against Georgetown for 40 minutes and only losing by 3, and then CUSA play starting on Saturday at Old Dominion. Additionally, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Price hold Sullivan out again in a meaningless game, particularly given his concussion history. Charlotte’s guards are actually solid against pressure (FR PG Jon Davis is a name CUSA fans will get to know this year), and I think this game ends up similarly to the Campbell game for The Citadel. CHARLOTTE -8.5

I’ve mentioned it several times here before, but Mitch Henderson has done a nice job of adding a penetrate and kick element to Princeton’s offense, but the key to beating Miami is being able to exploit the smaller Newton/Rodriguez with bigger ball handlers who can shoot over the top or back them down off the dribble. Conversely, Princeton guards not named Amir Bell have had trouble staying in front of penetrating guards all year, and McClellan and Reed on the wings should have a big advantage in terms of getting into the lane tonight, as they’ll be able to get by any pressure Henderson extends to compensate for Princeton’s lack of height in the frontcourt behind Miller. If Miami is focused before ACC play, they shouldn’t have a problem with Princeton’s defense. MIAMI -16

Not saying it’s necessarily a major determining factor today, but Robert Morris has had a Power 5 opponent scheduled right before NEC play the last 3 years, and they’ve played well in those three games. Additionally, RMU’s 2-3 is going to certainly test a Georgia team that has the highest FT rate in the country and is generally trying to get the ball as close to rim as possible on most possessions. RMU needs a big game from Pryor and Still shooting over the top of the Georgia defense, as trying to score at the rim against Georgia is an exercise in futility. ROBERT MORRIS +18

Duquesne gains a better defender in Eric James starting in place over Jeremiah Jones, but the Dukes are really going to miss Jones’ shooting and SR leadership in that prolific three point offense. Georgia Tech is a decent candidate for Ferry’s zone, and they can be beat from the perimeter. Mason and Colter vs Heath/Smith defensively is an advantage for the Dukes, but does that negate the frontcourt advantage Georgia Tech has with Mitchell and Jacobs? Additionally, Duquesne has struggled against teams that can limit them in transition, and Georgia Tech has been a plus transition defense. GEORGIA TECH -9.5

If you force George Washington into jump shots, you’re going to give yourself a chance, especially if Cavanaugh is out/limited tonight, and that’s exactly what Donnie Jones’ zone does at UCF. George Washington either bounces back with vigor and really harasses UCF’s turnover prone guards, or they struggle to find anyone who can shoot over the top of UCF’s perimeter length besides Pato Garino (again, particularly if Cavanaugh is limited), and they fail to generate zone offense again. I think the shooting woes continue away from Foggy Bottom. CENTRAL FLORIDA +5.5

Nothing earth shattering to say in Purdue/Wisconsin. The Boilers always play well in Madison, even with bad teams, and they’re just too big and too deep for this iteration of the Badgers. Luckily Wisconsin won’t see a full court press from Purdue. Granted, Gard and company were under some very odd circumstances, but they were wholly unprepared for the Green Bay pressure, which something that takes watching two seconds of Phoenix film to pick up on (given, Wisconsin did take their foot off the gas and had kept Green Bay limited to operating in the halfcourt prior to the Phoenix really amping up the press). The best halfcourt defense in the country should be too much for a Wisconsin team that currently looks nothing like a Wisconsin half court offense. PURDUE -5 

Speaking of outstanding half court defense, the Florida Gators certainly apply. Michael White has not only brought his harassing pressure, but the Gators are shutting teams down around the rim, while turning the ball over on just 14.5% of their possessions, and allowing the lowest rate of transition FGAs in the country. In short, they’re a dominant transition defense and a very good halfcourt defense, which is going to make it tough for a Florida State team who is looking to run (22nd in FGA rate in transition) and get the ball to the rim to score consistently. FLORIDA -5

Excessively difficult to score in the paint vs NC State, but that’s not Northeastern’s game. They’re looking to exploit you outside with several long, lethal shooters led by Walker and Ford, and NC State is unlikely to exploit the Huskies’ turnover issues. Teams that can shoot have had success against NC State this year, and Northeastern certainly fits that mold. The question for Northeastern is if they can hit enough triples to make up for an interior defense that’s going to allow the Pack to get whatever they want at the rim. NORTHEASTERN +6.5

I’m not a fan of relying on a team as enigmatic (to put it kindly) as LSU, but Wake Forest is vulnerable in transition defense, which is where LSU thrives offensively. LSU -7

All the injuries and lack of depth are catching up with Delaware (although they might get a little healthier tonight), but I think the fact that they’ll force Buffalo to run zone offense gives them a chance to hang around on the road. Buffalo’s an attack heavy team that’s looking to get themselves to the FT line, and the one thing Delaware defensively is zone you and keep you off the FT line. Can Delaware score and limit the turnovers though? Buffalo will extend some pressure and then pack in the lane, two aspects Delaware hasn’t been able to cope with this year. DELAWARE +7.5

Simply, I think CMU is getting their groove back with Chris Fowler, and looking like the preseason team they were projected to be, especially offensively, where they lowest ppp they posted with Fowler back was 1.12 in blowout vs Howard. That being said, the scheme isn’t ideal for CMU tonight. William & Mary defense extends out past the three point line, as they’re generally in a four out alignment that has length like Prewitt and all world defender Tarpey wreaking havoc on the perimeter. CMU is a four out offense as well, and attempts threes at the 2nd highest rate in the country. Interesting game. CENTRAL MICHIGAN +7

I literally have no opinion in Jacksonville State/Alabama. I’m not sure if Erik Durham’s ankle has healed (potentially out for a while from what I can gather) or if Cam Biedscheid’s suspension is over. That being said, Avery Johnson has wanted to extend ball pressure, but Drumwright/Townser haven’t been turning the ball over this year, and the Gamecocks really get out on the perimeter defensively, the one thing they do well on that end, and the Tide have been taking threes at a high rate. Plus, it’s not like Alabama is healthy themselves. I guess do have an opinion on this game. JACKSONVILLE STATE +18

Should be some points in Cal Poly/Texas A&M. Both run efficient zone offenses and Cal Poly should be ok against Texas A&M ball pressure. Cal Poly has a deep bench, but I think they’re going to wear down after some travel issues and eventually get beat at the FT line and on offensive glass consistently. TEXAS A&M -15

On paper, NIU is a nightmare matchup for UIC. McClain wants to get the Flames out in transition and spread the floor, but he just doesn’t have the personnel yet. NIU’s high pressure zone is going to exploit the Flames’ turnover issues and inability to hit from outside. Additionally, NIU doesn’t allow anything in transition. NORTHERN ILLINOIS -8

Can Holland check Hamilton? He’s the only Longhorn capable of doing so. Obviously the loss of one of the country’s premier shotblockers is mitigated by the loss of Ridley for Texas. UConn’s pick and roll defense without Brimah is something to watch, as Texas has been fantastic in pick and roll offense this season, but the loss of Ridley to Texas’ offense if FAR more significant than Brimah to UConn’s. UCONN +2.5

Turnovers and fouls are just too much to overlook for Saint Louis, but Kansas State does have Huggins and their “bad basketball” (as Weber described Press Virginia last year) coming into Manhattan on Saturday. SAINT LOUIS +13.5

If you zone this Kansas team, you’re going to get absolutely scorched this year. I think Mamadou gets in some early foul trouble, and the KU ball movement moves UCI’s zone around and opens up gaps. KANSAS -16

Obviously the loss of Denzel Valentine really alters things for Michigan State, but Iowa is still a totally jump shot reliant team, and I’m not fond of picking against Michigan State vs a jump shot reliant team. Yes, I see some very definite issues in terms of who guards Uthoff at the 4. Bess is too small and Goins is too immobile. That being said, I see this game going similarly to last year’s matchup at Carver-Hawkeye, and Fran gets out adjusted at half (Michigan State was down 11 at the half, won by 14). Of course, I could look like a total fool picking a B1G road team without one of the best players in the country. MICHIGAN STATE +3

Do we see Theus finally go away from the zone and amp up the pressure with Wilbut and Smith finally eligible in the backcourt? That also gives him some options outside against Bill Evans’ own dreadful zone, but I’ll take the far more efficient shooting team at home, even it has been moved to tiny Reed Gym due to maintenance issues. IDAHO STATE +2

Portland State is just so bad in the interior defensively, but is that something CSUF can take advantage of with a perimeter oriented, often 4 out offense? There are some internal things going on with CSUF (namely Ro Johnson being unhappy with his role), and I’m not sure how interested they are in this return trip to Portland. PORTLAND STATE -2

12/28 Monday Thoughts

28 Dec

On the road today, so just have time for a quick rundown of today’s “tough to gauge” post holiday slate…PREDICTIONS (632-477-28):

Scheme wise, UNC Greensboro is going to have a chance to stay quasi competitive at the Dean Dome tonight. The Spartans are a team that relies on jump shots for almost all of their production, which is ok in this scenario because you’re not going to score at the rim against UNC. In the past Roy has generally called off the dogs late against Wes Miller, so I don’t envision a total laugher tonight, especially if Smith and Locke can actually knock down some shots alongside Troy and Alonso. UNC GREENSBORO +27.5

Shorthanded Rutgers struggles enough with turnovers and shooting the ball that I think UMass-Lowell’s high pressure zone will keep this one close throughout. UM Lowell is the second smallest team in the country, so that high pressure zone has to generate turnovers, or else they get shredded, but 6’2 Jahad Thomas is one of my favorite players in the country to watch. He’s one of the best “position rebounders” in the game. UM LOWELL +6.5

Same situation for IUPUI. If they don’t turn Butler over when Gardner extends Barksdale and Henderson, they won’t have a chance. The Jags can’t shoot, and the bigs O’Leary and Osborne aren’t typical back to the basket scorers. Butler has the third lowest TO rate and fourth lowest steal rate in the country. BUTLER -23.5

Donahue just doesn’t have the roster at Penn yet in order to play his quick ball reversal, three point shooting offensive style. Penn is going to suffer through a lot of blowouts this year when the three isn’t falling, and tonight figures to be one of those nights. It might not get super ugly, as Jay Wright will likely be doing some lineup tinkering with Jenkins out, but with Ochefu’s ability to shutdown DNH, the Penn offense is going to struggle since they don’t have another shooter besides Jones. VILLANOVA -25

Two of the highest steal rate defenses in the country go head to head when Green Bay visits Morehead State. The Phoenix have the 6th highest steal rate in the country, while Morehead State has the 8th highest. The difference is that the Phoenix couple their steal rate with the 7th lowest offensive steal rate, while TOs continue to be a problem for the Eagles on the offensive end. Per hoop-math.com, no team in the country attempts more FGs 0-10 seconds in transition after a steal than Green Bay does, and Morehead State has allowed those attempts at a top 50 rate as a defense this year. Morehead was blown out in Green Bay last year, but motivation for both is something of a question mark after a long layoff after close loses to Wisconsin and Davidson respectively. The pace battle (Green Bay is the 2nd fastest team in the country while Sean Woods has Morehead playing way more deliberately offensively this year ), the glass battle (big advantage for Morehead State), and the turnover battle (big advantage for the Phoenix), are all areas to watch tonight. GREEN BAY +5

Detroit is an outstanding zone busting offense, as they don’t turn the ball over and they have multiple lengthy shooters who can work inside and out. I don’t think they’re going to have too much trouble with EMU’s 2-3, but the Titans’ defense hasn’t been remotely good this, and they don’t match up well with Thompson on the frontline. Fortunately for UDM, EMU has struggled to shoot the ball all year and score efficiently when they’re not generating steals at the top of the 2-3. Detroit’s going to be able to sag off the perimeter defensively all night. Neither teams is a particularly effective transition defense, so I think both teams are going to have some opportunities to run/put up some points tonight. DETROIT +2.5

Cornell is a team I have targeted to see a significant regression in their three point shooting, particularly from Hatter. Given their inability to generate much offense from anywhere on the court besides the three point line, any regression from behind the arc would be a major blow to the offense. A John Dunne defense is always going to be stout inside, but the Peacocks will be able to extend out tonight against Cornell as they don’t have an interior threat. Cornell is potentially shorthanded again tonight as well. ST. PETER’S -7

Obviously the thing to watch in Drexel/Iona is how much playing time AJ English and Kelvin Amayo get, if any at all. Both have  been cleared by the training staff, but does Cluess want to risk them in a meaningless game right before MAAC play restarts? If they are healthy enough to play though, maybe he thinks it’s a good idea to let them shake off the rust a bit tonight. Scheme wise Drexel’s perimeter defense figures to be a tough matchup for Iona, as they allow the fewest points in the country from behind the arc and they have the 7th lowest three point attempt rate as a defense in the country. That being said, Iona went 11-21 from 3 at Drexel in this game last year. DREXEL +11.5

Similar situation last year saw Duke slog through their game with Elon after a long layoff. Elon’s motion offense wasn’t crisp in that game either, but the Phoenix are healthier this year, and this Duke team doesn’t have the dominant post scorer that Elon struggled with last year. Brandon Ingram should have another monster game, as Elon doesn’t have anyone who can remotely guard him, but I think the Phoenix keep this within 20 tonight. ELON +23

Valpo still won’t have EV Nickerson back for tonight, but the Crusader defense is starting to look every part of what was predicted to be one of the best units in the game this year. Plus it helps when you’ve already seen Belmont’s high motion offense with tons of off ball movement, and you have one of your best perimeter defenders in Tevonn Walker healthy this time around. Belmont’s offense was really bothered by the length of Valpo’s defense from rim to perimeter, and the motion offense looked extremely clunky in the first meeting. VALPO -3.5

Creighton should be fine against a small Coppin State team that relies on penetration/getting to the FT line offensively. Creighton’s going to be able to sag off the perimeter all night, with Sylvester then only for Coppin you have to be aware of on the perimeter. Defensively, Grant wants to throw out some pressure with his 6’4 wings Seymore and Shivers and try to generate some transition buckets because of their lack of size in the halfcourt and then fall back and pack the lane if they can’t get the steal, but that’s a recipe for disaster against the Blue Jays. Coppin State doesn’t have a D1 win yet, but they’ve taken Towson, San Francisco, and Hampton to OT, but if you’re a team of jump shooters, you’re going to get uncontested looks all night against the Eagles. Think this one ends up similarly to Coppin’s game with Iowa. CREIGHTON -29.5

Rabb and Brown’s athleticism/talent level at the 4 and 5 is going to quickly overwhelm Davidson tonight, plus it helps when you can throw 6’5 Ty Wallace on Jack Gibbs and totally disrupt that McKillop perimeter motion action. Davidson has struggled against teams that get back religiously defensively and get their defense set up against the motion offense (see Pitt game), and Cal is one of the best transition defenses in the country, limiting offenses to the 4th lowest transition FGA rate. CALIFORNIA -9.5

Generally, Washington going up against a zone isn’t going to be the prettiest offensive display, but UCSB losing John Green, the key defender in Bob Williams’ 3-2 zone, is quite significant. Childress and Vincent have also had their fair share of TO issues vs pressure this year, and I think Washington is going to be able to get in transition enough (especially with UCSB down a ball handler and that relentless, athletic UW press is turning teams over at a high rate and they have the 4th highest transition FGA rate in the country) to negate the times they’ll have to utilize their zone offense in the halfcourt, where they have just a 45% eFG. WASHINGTON -9

12/27 Sunday Thoughts

27 Dec

PREDICTIONS (629-474-28):

Texas Southern has played their typical excessively difficult schedule (with no home games). Mike Davis’ squad is the oldest team in the country, the second smallest team in the country, and they have one of the shortest  benches in the country. The addition of Derrick Griffin to the frontcourt has been huge, but because of the lack of depth, particularly on the frontline, Davis has had to use a lot of zone, and the one thing Syracuse’s offense can do is shoot the three. That being said, I think TSU has enough talent to stay in a game that means nothing to Syracuse. TEXAS SOUTHERN +17

Presbyterian doesn’t shoot the three at all, and when they do, they generally miss (350th in both points coming via 3PTA and percentage). The Blue Hose are almost exclusively reliant on one of the most underrated “bigs” (just 6’5) in midmajordom, DeSean Murray, who has one of the highest usage rates in the country. However, that makes them a great candidate for Wojo’s zone. Nibert will bring a ton of ball pressure, and Marquette hasn’t exactly acquitted themselves well against pressure this year, but without a secondary option to Murray, Marquette’s zone should be fine. MARQUETTE -22.5

Simply put, Maryland is an outstanding transition defense, and Marshall is almost entirely reliant on their spread pick and roll transition offense. As usual, motivation for the Terps in this situation is a big question, but on paper, this is a game they dominate, and the Herd is fresh off a 2 games in 2 days Vegas tourney. MARYLAND -22

MTSU and South Dakota State is a great midmajor battle, but both teams are missing key pieces. Giddy Potts is out for the Blue Raiders, and SDSU will be without Jake Bittle and George Marshall. The Jacks have been on an absolutely ridiculous travel schedule, and I think MTSU’s defense and glass work keep them in this game. MTSU +5

South Carolina State isn’t a good shooting team, but at the very least they won’t turn the ball over against Ohio State’s high pressure zone. I would like to see Tashombe Riley get more involved offensively for SC State. In terms of athleticism, he’s arguably the most talented player on the court today. SOUTH CAROLINA STATE +25

Loyola Maryland is a bit better than what the numbers say, but they’re a dribble drive based offense reliant on Andre Walker’s penetration, and that’s not the best route to take in terms of beating Northwestern. NORTHWESTERN -20

12/26 Saturday Thoughts

26 Dec

PREDICTIONS (628-474-28):

The loss of Mathiang is huge, but the return of Deng Adel is equally as huge. Pitino has been easing him back in, but he’s going to play 30 minutes today and will be the best wing on the floor. Louisville is dealing with some other injuries as well though, as Lee has busted heel and Mahmoud has a bum ankle. Both are expected to play, but those are nagging injuries that limit their effectiveness, particularly Lee, who has a great match up with Murray. To me, this game boils down to the fact that Louisville can dominate the interior on both ends. This is going to be a test case for highly embattled Skal Labissiere. He has looked timid and overmatched against lesser competition, and today he’s going up against a dominant (but again, potentially very shorthanded) Louisville frontcourt. If Kentucky can’t penetrate/score at the rim (and Louisville is elite in terms of rim protection even shorthanded), who is going to hit jump shots besides Murray (the 7-9 from 3 vs OSU was the only reason UK didn’t get blown out). Neither team is going to get beat in transition, as these are two excellent transition defenses in every regard, but I think at this point in the season, Louisville has an edge in the halfcourt with Lee and Lewis over the more talented Ulis/Murray/Briscoe trio. Game within the game aspect to watch: Onuaku’s foul situation early and how many minutes Adel logs. Adel is a total game changer on the wing because he can check Murray or Briscoe defensively with his near 7 foot wingspan. Kentucky has more talent on their roster, but at this point in the season, Louisville is more advanced. I might look like a fool picking against UK at Rupp, but I think Louisville wins a grinder (60-54) thanks to a huge boost from Adel. LOUISVILLE +2.5 

12/25 Friday Thoughts

25 Dec

PREDICTIONS (625-473-28):

New Mexico’s trip to Hawaii has been basically been the same as Indiana’s Maui Invitational trip at the beginning of the season. A team with fairly high expectations has seen their defense exposed (particularly on the perimeter), shown an inability to even remotely defend a team’s leading scorer (Koulechov, Canty, and Fischer have scored a total of 100 points against UNM’s defense in the Lobos’ last 3 games), and routinely give explosive offenses extra possessions with careless turnovers. In short, UNM has looked wholly unprepared for this entire tournament, as they let Auburn score in transition routinely and did nothing to slow down BYU’s prolific perimeter, the two clear strengths of those teams. Offensively the Lobos aren’t getting anything outside of the big 3 of Brown, Neal, and Williams, and those 3 are logging a ton of minutes. Wazzu is an interesting team because defensively, they do three things really well that can be replicated game after game, and isn’t reliant on the opposing offense simply missing shots. The block shots at an absurdly high rate thanks to Val Izundu, they steal the ball at a fairly high rate thanks to Charles Callison, and they limit 3PTAs to a low rate by funneling teams into the teeth of that shot swatting interior. Offensively, Kent wants to get in transition, but the Cougars have actually been efficient in the halfcourt as a pound it inside, paint touch based offense. The guards, while athletic and quick handed, are undersized, and that could be an issue against Brown and Neal today, as they’ll be able to shoot over the top of them. The Lobos take two point jumpers at a high rate, and that’s going to basically be the only shot available to them today. If Brown and Neal can hit over the top against the smaller Wazzu backcourt, they’ll win. If those jumpers aren’t falling, Wazzu’s depth and athleticism will win. WSU was undone by a 31% TO rate vs UNI, with many of them unforced out of the post. If they tighten things a bit today, I think they have a good chance of leaving the island with a win. WASHINGTON STATE +4

Both BYU and Northern Iowa are going to find success offensively today, as both defenses are designed to force you into jump shots, which both offenses do well. I don’t expect BYU to hit 16 out of 28 threes again today, but they also have an advantage inside with Davis in the post, as UNI has really struggled this year against any back to the basket offensive threat (allowing teams to shoot 68% at the rim, the 15th highest mark in the country. They’ve really been missing Tuttle and Buss on that end (6’5 Jeremy Morgan has been their best interior defender this year). Fortunately, BYU only attempts 24% of their FGAs at the rim, the 6th lowest rate in the country [side note: when UNI plays Missouri State and Bradley in MVC play, it’s going to be a slaughter for this very reason, they don’t get the ball to the rim, that’s two of UNI’s first three MVC games]. A lot depends on the health of Washpun today. If his back is limiting his ridiculous ability to get into the lane at will off dribble penetration, UNI doesn’t have a much of a chance. If he’s typical Wes, he’s going to abuse whoever Rose has on him, including Collinsworth. It sounds counter-intuitive, but Washpun is actually bothered in terms of limiting his penetration vs a handsy defense (see Hawaii) than he is against a sagging perimeter or zone defense (see what he did to Iowa State). If Washpun is 100%, I think his penetration trumps Davis’ ability to exploit UNI’s poor interior defense, but a lot of this game is going to come down to who hits more jump shots, as these are two of the best two point jump shooting teams in the country, and both defenses allow a lot of two point jump shots. NORTHERN IOWA +4

An already short handed Auburn team is likely down TJ Dunans today (you have to assume he’s out just by the visuals from that knee injury), and it’s never good to be shorthanded in the backcourt against a team like Hawaii that can really amp up the pressure. Hawaii has been thriving off a raucous SSC crowd, but you have to wonder if the Bows will come out flat in the consolation game in front of a far less enthusiastic Christmas day crowd and after a narrow, thrilling loss to Oklahoma, one of the best teams in the country. I’ve been really impressed by Stefan Jankovic and Stefan Jovanovic this year. Both have improved dramatically around the rim offensively, and that’s an area Hawaii can exploit against Auburn in the half court. Slowing the pace of the game and halfcourt execution isn’t exactly something you associate with Hawaii, but they’ve been outstanding of late in the halfcourt thanks to the post play. They look like SMC at times with versatile bigs opening up the floor in the halfcourt, which of course is no surprise given Ganot’s background. In fact, while it’s not necessarily ideal, Hawaii is shooting 49% on two point jumpers, the highest percentage in the country, and Auburn’s defense gives up a lot of two point jumpers. It’s odd to say, but Hawaii has to limit possessions and showcase their new found half court execution, while exploiting Auburn’s inability to operate in that same situation. HAWAII -8

Harvard is starting to round into a typical Tommy Amaker defensive team. When they’re right, they’re outstanding at controlling how an offense gets their shots. They don’t foul a lot, they take away the three point line, and they block a lot of two point attempts, which all adds up to the 6th lowest eFG% in the halfcourt defensively. Offensively, things are still murky, due in large to the FR McCarthy still struggling with live ball turnovers. I’ve commented several times about how Cummins and Okolie don’t have to provide a ton of offense, they just have to provide efficient offense, and that’s exactly what they’ve been doing lately, and thus, the Crimson are winning again (you can throw the surprising offense from Patrick Steeves in this category too, although he isn’t the same type of defender). You have to give credit to Amaker there, as he’s tweaked the offense to allow a lot of flashing to the middle where those two have shown a nice midrange/floater game. I can’t overstate how important it is to be getting efficient offense from that combo, and in turn that has opened things up for Corey Johnson and Corbin Miller, who have been lethal from outside. It really eases the burden of Amaker’s offense for defense substitutions, when he can just keep those two elite defenders on the floor in the key offensive situations (at 6’7 Okolie completely took Kareem Canty out of his game, and his matchup with Buddy Hield today is really something to keep an eye on in terms of the game within the game). All that being said, Harvard faces an elite defense in Oklahoma today. The Sooners are one of the best teams in clogging up the lane, and that middle of the court action for Okolie and Cummins simply isn’t going to be available tonight. On top of that, they really contest and close out at the three point line extremely well with an athletic and long backcourt led by Hield and the vastly underrated Isaiah Cousins. Kruger has the guards in general gambling a lot less defensively, and staying at home on shooters, as Kruger basically only extends pressure with Woodard. Additionally, they’re one of the best transition defenses in the country (4th in eFG% in trans D). So how did Hawaii become just the second team to crack 1ppp against this elite Sooner defense (in reality, you have to consider them the only team to do it, as ORU got to 1.01ppp via a lot of garbage time buckets in a blowout)? 1) The Bows created several live ball turnovers out of Hield and Woodard with 3/4 court pressure that led to easy transition buckets and 2) they ran a highly effective high/low game between lightning quick PG Rod Bobbitt and the previously mentioned vastly improved Jankovic. Woodard really struggled to keep Bobbitt in front of him off the dribble without fouling, and Lattin/Spangler had the same issue in the post against Jankovic. Basically, the Bows were able to draw a lot of contact against a team that generally doesn’t foul at all (24th in FT rate as a defense), and created some live ball turnovers against a team that doesn’t really turn the ball over all that much, so banking on anomalies in back to back games doesn’t really inspire much confidence in the Harvard offense tonight . I certainly wouldn’t put McCarthy in the same category as Bobbitt yet in terms of dribble penetration, but Big Z is at least adept at drawing a ton of contact on the block. Assuming McCarthy limits those live ball TOs and can routinely feed Edosomwan, Harvard could, just maybe, have some success inside, especially since Kruger hasn’t really been doubling the post all that much this year, and if he does adjust with double teams, Big Z has been improving markedly with his passing against collapsing defenses (there has been a dramatic rise in his assist rate the past few games, another key to Harvard’s recent winning streak). In short, if Harvard doesn’t completely fumble the ball away, they’re going to force OU to work in the halfcourt, where they’re still very efficient, but less lethal than when they’re able to spread the court in transition. If Harvard can keep the turnover rate below 20% tonight, I think they’ll compete. HARVARD +13