12/2 Wednesday Thoughts and Predictions

2 Dec

Tennessee Tech is a team I’m a little surprised by early. I had them at or near the bottom of the OVC in the preseason, but they’ve strung together 4 wins in a row at home, but the best was over a dog tired Robert Morris team, but the Golden Eagles didn’t look terrible in a trip out west either. Steve Payne has been a “pound it inside” guy since he arrived at Cookeville, but had to replace the dynamic frontcourt of Jackson and Caldwell this year. So far, the early returns on Ryan Martin at the 4 are promising. The 6’9 Englishman has been impressive and efficient in his first year of D1 ball. It’s important to remember that Martin had a lot of major D1 offers, but eligibility concerns scared everyone but Payne off, and it’s paying off big time now. FR Courtney Alexander (yes, son of former UVA star Courtney Alexander) could quickly develop into one of the toughest wing matchups in the OVC out of sheer athleticism. The backcourt, a major issue since Payne arrived, looks improved with Torrance Rowe a seemingly more efficient leader at PG. Turnovers have been the single biggest downfall for TTU during Payne’s tenure, and the Golden Eagles have been solid against the pressure of Jackson State and the harassing zone of Robert Morris. The emergence of Aleksa Jugovic in the backcourt as a secondary ball handler has been a plus as well, but he and Hakeem Rogers have to start shooting the ball from three at a more efficient rate, otherwise FR Tre Hansbrough is going to start taking minutes, and he’s coming off a big game vs MVSU. In short, Payne has some underrated frontcourt talent coupled with an improved backcourt thanks Rowe. All of that being said, the Golden Eagles have been buoyed in part by some wild FT shooting disparities. They’re shooting 81% from the FT line (8th best in the country), while their opponents are at 55.6% when they play TTU, which is the 2nd worst in the country. Tennessee Tech can take advantage of an ETSU team that has been horrendous in transition defense, as only 20 teams have allowed more transition attempts in the country, and it’s mostly due to simply not getting back after misses OR makes. The Guyn, Cromer, Bello, Merriweather backcourt of ETSU can play with anybody in the SoCon, but the frontcourt is once again a major issue. Jurkin can’t stay on the court whether it’s because of durability or fouls, and teams have essentially got whatever they’ve wanted inside or in transition.

The story of Rider’s early season has been the unexpected poor play of their big three guards Okereafor, Sadler, and Taylor. They’re all hovering around the 80s in ORtg, they’re a combined 14-61 from 3, and with the exception of defensive stalwart Sadler, they’re not turning teams over like they did last year. Okereafor particularly has had a major struggle early. The steal rate is down and the turnover rate is way up, but most concerning is that he’s only been to the FT line 10 times this year. The good news for Rider is that they’ve played a tough non conference, got tested without Matt Lopez, and can now focus on the MAAC starting tonight with St. Peter’s. Rider followed a pretty similar script last year en route to a second place conference finish. They’ll host a Peacock team that appears to have some very serious flaws at the moment. They’re not playing defense like a typical Dunne club (usually stout both inside and out), and it’s because the guards are getting beat off the dribble routinely, which in turn is getting Welton in foul trouble, and then the whole thing breaks down. Welton is also unfortunately not 100% already, and injuries have been a concern his entire career at St. Peter’s. There’s not much Dunne can do about the defense right now because 1) there’s no depth 2) Portley is a little lost out there defensively as FR, but he’s the best offensive player on the team, which is actually worse than the defense right now. Portley’s frame makes it tough for him to stay in front of bigger guards, and this is a good game for the struggling Rider guards to get back in attack mode.

 

Just when I thought the Harvard offense had turned a corner against Bryant, they laid an egg vs Holy Cross. High turnovers in a low possession game and Holy Cross swarmed Edosomwan every time he touched it, and he proved incapable of passing out of double teams. I think there’s some hope against Northeastern tonight though, as Coen generally doesn’t double posts (although he has been using more zone because of a young frontcourt), preferring to take away the three point line. If that’s the case tonight, Edosomwan could bail out the Harvard offense. The Northeastern offense has also been living off the outside shooting of Walker and Quincy Ford, and it’s tough to rely on the three point line being available against an Amaker. This is a game where Okolie and Cummins’ trade off of offense for their defense isn’t going to hurt the Crimson. The Huskies have the same turnover issues as the Crimson, but Coen’s defense doesn’t generally pressure the ball. The lack of an interior threat on both ends is going to hurt Northeastern in this one, especially when Harvard can negate the versatility of Ford with a defender like Okolie.

Cleveland State is a bizarre team. Gary Waters has the Vikings pressing for nearly 40 minutes, and they have the 16th highest defensive TO rate and 12th highest steal rate, yet they have the eighth fewest transition FGAs in the country. They’re turning teams over, but immediately taking the air out of the ball with the 338th longest APL in the country. There’s no question Waters knows how to develop guards, and maybe he wants this team to be able to execute in the half court first, and then he’ll loosen the reigns later. FR Rob Edwards is already looking like the next big Waters success story in the backcourt. The issue today is Toledo isn’t turning the ball over at all, as they’re currently 5th in offensive TO rate at just 12%. Both teams are coming off long road trips and holiday tournaments from Alaska and Mexico, so there’s some re-calibrating that needs to be done, but if the three guards Kowalcyzk trots out there can handle the Cleveland State press, the Rockets should be fine. The Rockets had issues with MTSU run outs off the defensive glass, but that’s not going to be a problem with Cleveland State.

Good one between Butler and Cincy. Tyler Lewis has brought stability to the point for Butler, and they’re not going to turn it over against Cincy’s length, but I think the Bulldogs are going to have trouble on the interior in all three aspects…scoring, defending, and rebounding. Cincy has too many bodies, too much length, and too much athleticism for Chrabs and Wideman inside. Cincy simply doesn’t allow you into the lane, and a big part of Butler’s offense is Rose Jones penetrating and finding a shooter or getting fouled (or throwing up one of his patented lob shots). Cincy’s defense manages to both deny penetration with length without fouling (4th lowest FT rate in the country). There’s virtually a wall built around the paint, and that forces everyone into being a jump shooting team, which they contest well. We all know Kellen Dunham can get ridiculously hot from outside, but without Jones or Lewis being able to get in the paint, it’s going to take a weird shooting night from outside from Chrabs or even Martin to stretch out some of that Cincy length and give Jones some room to breathe. Cincy is 3rd in steal rate and 8th in block rate, and the offense seems legitimately improved. That’s terrifying.

Neither LaSalle nor Hofstra has a big man who can exploit the vulnerability of each team’s 4 out lineup, so in that case give me the team with the better shooters, and that’s unquestionably the Pride. Hofstra can pack it, limit Price penetration, and make the Explorers beat them from outside. LaSalle can extend their guards defensively though, and Giannini has already been doing that with this squad, but it’s tough to cover 4 shooters, especially when two (Green and Tanksley) can take you off the bounce when you overplay.

Mark Schmidt has been using a pack line defense with St. Bonaventure, but the problem is the guards haven’t been very good at the denying penetration part of the equation. Buffalo is an attack heavy, 4 guard lineup without a true post that needs doubled. Schmidt would be wise to go to a 3-2 zone tonight that he’s shown throughout the season as well, and turn the Bulls into jump shooters. Otherwise it could be another long night for the Bonnies’ defense.

I think St. John’s might get ran out of a sold out Rose Hill Gym tonight. Neubauer’s relentless high pressure zone is going to eat up the FR PG Mussini, and St. John’s is really slow to rotate defensively on the perimeter, and Fordham’s three point heavy offense is going to have a ton of open looks tonight, especially with St. John’s best perimeter defender, Ellison, still out. Chartouny, Thomas, Severe, and the stretch Sengfelder will get whatever they want on perimeter. The Johnnies get some help in the frontcourt defensively with Yakwe eligible, but he’s very raw offensively and isn’t going to help a defense that reacts so slowly to ball movement and spacing. It doesn’t help that Ron Mvouika has been giving the Rams bulletin board material all week either.

Towson is a team I’m going to like more and more as the season progresses because they didn’t get to practice as a team in the offseason because of injuries and Moto playing for the Cameroon National team. That being said, scoring is still going to be an issue because once again they don’t have anyone who can shoot the ball consistently besides PG Hawkins (who is one of the most underrated PGs in the country, and will singlehandedly carry the Tigers at times this year). It’s early, but Morsell isn’t developing into the scorer I thought he would at this point, and the offense is still basically get to the rim, get fouled, or get an offensive putback. Those paths to offense are going to be difficult against a George Mason team that has a low foul rate defensively and features arguably the best defensive rebounder in the country in Shevon Thompson. Offense might be a struggle for both to come by tonight, with Towson likely doubling Thompson on every post touch and forcing him to find an open shooter, which there aren’t particularly a ton of for the Pats. Hopefully Holloway has worked his way back into the good graces of Dave Paulsen, because this is a game they could use him.

I think George Washington gets some revenge on Seton Hall in a major way tonight. Garino is going to force Whitehead into bad shots all night, and Delgado, who GW had trouble with last year, is going to run into a more beefed up front line with Cavanaugh to help Larsen keep him off the glass.

If Indiana wants to work on erasing the Maui memories, they have to at least be in a position to win this game. A blow out or not being competitive is going to send this team into a shame spiral. I think Crean has to go zone tonight. It’s not ideal, but no one on this team has shown any ability to stop dribble penetration, and his best lineup is a smaller one with RoJo instead of Bielfeldt. Obviously Allen and Jones can shoot it, but if Williams can matchup on Allen within the zone (big if), and make the freshmen like Kennard, Thornton, and Ingram shot it, maybe the Hoosiers have a chance, but I’m not optimistic.

Wisconsin has shown an inability defensively to stop dribble penetration, and Syracuse has scored in two ways this year, in transition and off dribble drive offense from Gbinije, Cooney, and Richardson. The former isn’t going to happen against Wisconsin, but the latter likely will. Wisconsin offense isn’t developed enough yet to handle the zone effectively, but like most teams against Syracuse, they’ll have a definite advantage on the offensive glass, and there’s always a chance with Wisconsin they get red hot from outside.

Michigan State is perhaps the most equipped team in the country to beat Louisville’s high pressure match up zone, and it’s all because of Denzel Valentine. He’s such a good defensive rebounder that he simply grabs the ball off the glass, and is able to advance the ball up quickly with superb ball handling and passing skills. It’s the most impressive individual thing I’ve seen in college basketball this year, his ability to beat pressure singlehandedly because of his multidimensional skill set. That being said, the Spartans, who have the best defensive rebounding rate in the country, are running into a massive Louisville team that has the best offensive rebounding rate in the country. If the Cardinals can get putbacks, keep Michigan State from running out on the defensive glass, and set up the press, it changes the ball game completely. That battle on the glass is one of the most interesting game within the game battles of the season. This is a game where I’m sure Pitino wishes he had Adel to matchup on Valentine. As it is, Lee is an outstanding defender, but you don’t want him wearing down or picking up fouls trying to defend Valentine all game. If the much bigger Louisville frontcourt can keep those 6’5 rebounders like Valentine, Bess, and Clark off the defensive glass and thus stopping the Spartan transition game (only 6 teams have allowed fewer FGAs in transition than Louisville, but you have to factor in the level of competition in that equation), the Cardinals are going to be in position to win this game. An interesting note, Louisville just played a SLU team who basically rebounds exactly like the Spartans, relying on big guards to supplement a weaker interior, and Louisville held them to 2 off rebs (8% rate), while the Cardinals grabbed 52% of their misses.

UIC doesn’t have the shooters necessary to run Steve McClain’s get it and go transition offense. Per hoop-math.com, they’re 21st in transition FGAs, but dead last in eFG% in transition. That’s going to lead to a lot of runouts coming back the the other way, and additionally Leitao has DePaul focused on getting back in transition off misses (14th nationally in terms of limiting opponent FGAs in transition). The Flames get the game at the Pavilion, but this is a bad matchup for them.

Elsewhere in Illinois, the Illini finally get to play at home, but how do they respond after another devastating injury? Without Thorne inside, I’m guessing Groce probably tries to extend some pressure, which isn’t going to work against the Irish, and I expect the Notre Dame defense to be a little more focused on stopping dribble penetration after what Alabama did to them.

On paper, this is a game where Uthoff having to play the 4 against a massive team like FSU could hurt the Hawkeyes, but Hamilton wants to play so fast and with Bacon on the perimeter that it might not matter. FSU wants to extend pressure and get out in transition, but they’re so young on the perimeter that they miss fundamental aspects of pick and roll defense, and they’re not forcing teams into the help side interior, where FSU dominates with their height. Iowa hasn’t looked terrible in transition defense, but I don’t they’ll need it much tonight because the SR backcourt is solid in ball control. Iowa is a plus transition offense themselves, but they’re the better halfcourt offense, and better defense overall tonight.

The Citadel takes Duggie Ball to the high altitudes of Colorado Springs to take on Air Force. Traditionally, Baucom’s loot and shot style doesn’t work as well against ball control, Princeton style offenses, like Dave Pilipovich’s. The Falcons are without Ryan Manning, really the only rim protector on the team, but that’s not really a concern vs The Citadel. Hayden Graham working the FT line offensively is going to find a lot of open cutters to the rim against a VMI team that way overplays the three point line in the loot and shoot. Dichotomy of styles at play. Air Force wants to limit possessions, The Citadel needs as many as possible.

VCU is coming off a rivalry win over ODU, while MTSU is heading home for their opener in Murfreesboro  fresh from Alaskan glory. That’s a pretty quick turnaround for a team without a PG to be facing the VCU press. It’s a weird spot schedule wise for both teams, but I didn’t like what I saw from MTSU vs Murray State’s pressure.

UTSA has the worst transition defense in the country, but they’re facing a Texas State team that’s taking only 13% of their shots in transition. That’s nothing new for Danny Kaspar’s squad though, and their aggressive man to man is going to bother UTSA, who’s turning the ball over at a 20%+ rate on the year. This is a game last year that Texas State squandered a big lead in after Emani Gant got ejected, and it cost them a big road win against a rival. Texas State hasn’t done a good job of extending out on the three point line early this year, but with UTSA’s only offense coming from behind the arc (unless Christian Wilson is cleared to come back), the Bobcats are going to have to be able to do that tonight. This is a game the TSU players have been talking about for a while, particularly Gant, and I think they get some revenge tonight.

We know what Morehead State is all about every year, regardless of point of emphasis rules. They’re going to pressure the ball, bump you off the three point line, crash the glass, and foul. The weird thing this year is that they’ve played a LOT slower offensively than previous Sean Woods teams, but I think that has more to do with facing slow it down zones from NKU and USM, but that’s what they’re going to get from Saint Louis tonight. SLU is going to attack and attack with generally four big guards like Yacoubou, Yarbrough, Crawford, Reynolds, and Roby, and sagging off the perimeter defensively so that those big guards can crash the defensive glass, as Agbeko is really their only big (Gillman is almost strictly a stretch guy). SLU might shoot 40 plus FTs, and force a lot of jumpers from Morehead, but they HAVE to keep the Eagles off the offensive glass.

SEMO is going to zone SIU, and the Salukis are coming off a successful trip to south Texas, but Hinson has actually surrounded Beane with what appears to be viable perimeter options. Smithpeters has been lights out early, and the newcomers Vincent and Fletcher have shot the ball well early, the lack of an interior is concerning (especially with Olaniyan out), but SEMO’s offense is so dreadful it doesn’t matter. SIU has a little revenge in mind in this rivalry game after they were beaten by a Jarekious Bradley buzzer beater in Cape Girardeau last year.

Even though I’m from Indiana, the I-10 rivalry is one of my favorites, and I even made it to El Paso for the first meeting last year. Floyd really needs Winn and Vint to play like they did in Corpus to combat Siakam and Bhullar and an NMSU offense that’s scoring nearly all of their points via 2PTFG. If Vint and Winn can defend inside with a modicum of success and stay out of foul trouble, the Miners have an advantage in the backcourt and more firepower with Artis, Morris, and Moore, something that’s generally been the opposite in recent years in this rivalry.

It’s unfortunate that the Gonzaga/Wazzu rivalry is dying, because Kent has turned the program around rather quickly, and the Cougars have the size to matchup with the Zags this year with Hawkinson, Izundu (freak athlete blocking shots at an absurd 25% rate right now), and the 7 footer Clifford. I wouldn’t advise Kent to play at the speed he prefers though, as Gonzaga has looked flawless when getting in transition. Wazzu is deep and experienced, and I think this game means a little more to them than the Zags, who are home from the Bahamas and have Arizona up next. I’m just concerned about how Wazzu finds points when they’re not in transition.

The Racers have some revenge in mind after losing the season opener at home to Houston last year, but this is a tough Cougar squad for them to match up against. Ronnie Johnson and Galen Robinson have really shored up the ball handling situation for Sampson this year and the veteran Johnson won’t be affected by Murray State’s ball pressure. Additionally, the frontcourt of Knowles, Pollard, and Dotson is bigger, more versatile, and just as athletic (if not more so) than the Racers. I love the Culbreath/Jones duo at PG, but tough to see Murray State scoring enough without getting in transition.

A secondary post defender is key for Utah tonight. Poeltl is fine vs Kaufusi, but Kuzma can’t guard Davis without a double team. Conversely, I’m not sure Davis can guard Kuzma on the perimeter. Is this a good game for Chapman to get some more run in a jumbo Utah lineup with Loveridge and Bonam/Taylor. Fischer on Bonam is a matchup the Utes can exploit on the offensive end as well. If the Utes can defend Kaufusi/Davis without double teaming, and thus staying at home on BYU’s perimeter threats of Fischer/Emery, it could be another long night for the Cougars at the Huntsman Center.

I’m sure UC Davis would love to get revenge in the Causeway Cup at home, but there’s a few glaring problems with the Aggies. They still can’t handle Sacramento State’s aggressive ball pressure (26% TO rate in first meeting), and there’s no depth behind Berry and Monson inside when they get in foul trouble, which is a frequent occurrence.

Out of time….

PREDICTIONS: (310-241-9)

Tenn Tech -2

Rider -6

Harvard +8.5

Toledo -8.5

Cincy -5.5

Hofstra -3

George Mason -1.5

Fordham -6

St. Bonaventure -2

George Washington -7.5

BC -1

Wisconsin +3.5

Louisville +5.5

Miss St -12

Grambling +28

SIU -13

SLU -4

Houston -7.5

Tulsa +2.5

TCU +6

Texas St -9.5

Vandy -19.5

DePaul -9

UTEP +4.5

Air Force -15.5

Wyoming +5

Creighton -8

VCU -4.5

Indiana +10 (I’m a homer)

Iowa -5

Notre Dame -2.5

Oregon St -13.5

Utah -9.5

Sacramento St +6

Portland St -2.5

Gonzaga -9.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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