12/20 Sunday Thoughts

20 Dec

PREDICTIONS (548-415-24):

I’ve discussed before how Jamie Dixon fundamentally altered his defensive philosophy with his recent lack of dominant height, but with Maia healthy, he’s back to playing typical stay in front of your man and don’t gamble perimeter defense. Young and Artis are going to be matchup problems for Davidson (anyone with height on the block or on the wing will be a matchup problem for Davidson to be honest). Jack Gibbs is the best player on the court today, and he’s the type of guy who’ll relish the bright lights of MSG, but Pitt’s perimeter length is going to be problematic for Davidson’s motion offense. Davidson is going to need big games defensively from Ekwu and Aldridge inside, especially if Belford is out again. Teams that have successfully turned Pitt into a jump shooting team include Purdue (best halfcourt defense in the country) and…that’s it. PITT -5.5

Huge game for NJIT. One of the oldest teams in the country has had a week+ to get ready for this one, and they do the things that St. John’s has struggled with all year, namely extend pressure and shoot the 3. St. John’s is incredibly slow to rotate on the perimeter, especially if they’re without Balamou again. Led by volume shooter Damon Lynn, NJIT runs a 4 out perimeter focused offense. I’m not sure of the status of Win Willis, but FR Rob Ukawuba has been something of a revelation this year, cracking the rotation of a veteran backcourt early. NJIT is going to extend pressure defensively (led by 6’5 master thief Tim Coleman) and fall into a zone in the halfcourt to negate the big size advantage of the Johnnies. These are aspects St. John’s has struggled with all year. The Incarnate Word loss can certainly partially be chalked up to a very young team not coming in with any focus after what’s likely the biggest win of their season, but it also once again highlighted that the Johnnies are deficient in several areas that smaller, quicker teams have been able to exploit. NJIT +2

A B1G team is a double digit home dog to a MAAC team, and to be honest, I think the spread should probably be a few points higher. Monmouth lost at home to Rutgers last year on a buzzer beater, a loss that resulted in tears in the locker room. If you can believe it, this Rutgers team is significantly worse than last year’s, and they’re extremely shorthanded in the frontcourt. Monmouth plays with an extremely high level of confidence, and they’ve talked openly about being the best team in New Jersey. I think this one could end up being a 20+ point Monmouth win. MONMOUTH -10.5

Chris Beard is doing an absolutely phenomenal job at Little Rock. He’s implemented a high pressure pack line defense that is totally shutting teams down in the halfcourt (13th lowest eFG% at 40.8%) while also turning teams over at the second highest rate in the country. Enter Northern Arizona, who has the 11th lowest eFG% in halfcourt offense, and really struggles when Yanku can’t penetrate or get to the FT line. Offensively Little Rock can look a little clunky as Beard is still working in his Bob Knight influenced motion offense, but NAU hasn’t recovered from the loss of reigning Big Sky DPOY Jordyn Martin in the middle. Interestingly, Little Rock has missed just 17 FTs the entire season. Despite playing a limited amount of possessions, the Trojans have won by 10, 22, and 23 in their last 3 games, all on the road. This should be a similar result as Little Rock finally returns home, but they have a big game at Texas Tech looming on Tuesday. LITTLE ROCK -16.5

Hofstra and Stony Brook is a great contrast in philosophy, but Warney should be able to dominate inside (26 and 14 on 11-14 shooting last year), and Stony should be eager to get some revenge after a Nesmith buzzer beater beat them last year. This is also the first time Hofstra has traveled to Stony Brook in this rivalry since 08-09.

I ¬†mentioned Northern Arizona’s poor halfcourt offense, but one of the 10 teams worse than the Jacks is Bradley. The young Braves are the worst 3 point shooting team in the country, but defenses have been able to force them into taking the three at a top 100 rate nationally. That’s not good when you shoot 23.5% as a team from outside. Defensively they’ve been much better, and Wardle has them chasing teams off the three point line, which could bother a Boise State team who works outside in with their bigs (8th highest 3PTA rate in the country), but how interested is either team in playing this game? Boise is coming off 8 days of rest after the big Oregon win, and they have a 10 day break after this one, while Bradley is flying out to Boise for this one off trip before turning right around and hosting TCU in Peoria. I don’t know if either team will show up. Boise State should slog their way through an ugly one. BRADLEY +23.5

Oddly, James Madison hasn’t looked great against zones despite being a team who shoots the 3 extremely well and takes them at a high clip, and Curry and Brown are both plus gap penetrators as well. ECU brings in their active 2-3 zone that features a ton of length and versatility at the top and corners. ECU is coming off a heated, highly contested game vs UNCW. This year’s version of the Pirates is far less three point oriented, as Lebo has done an exceptional job of retooling to take advantage of the point of emphasis rules, and ECU is getting to the FT line at the 8th highest rate thanks to a trio of attackers in White, Barkley, and Tyson. JMU tends to sag off the perimeter and doesn’t really foul a ton, but I think ECU forces the action and stays in this one at the FT line. ECU +8

Eastern Washington has some major issues defending at the rim. They allow 47% of opponent FGAs to come at the rim, and Jois is the only guy capable of slowing anyone down inside. They were even torched in the paint by gunner oriented WCU last time out. That brings us to Denver, whose Princeton motion offense works the clock until an open three is available, as they take threes at the 18th highest rate in the country, but with the way EWU overplays the three point line, the backdoor stuff is going to be open all day. I have very little confidence in a halfcourt offense as poor as EWU’s being able to matchup against a halfcourt offense as methodical and efficient as Denver’s, but EWU, another three point reliant offense, is going to have their opportunities against Joe Scott’s matchup zone. DENVER -6

If you’re a three point reliant team that lacks a big wing who can handle the ball or a legitimate post threat, you’re going to struggle against Morehead State. Unfortunately for Western Carolina, they don’t have either of those options. Sean Woods extends his guards past the three point for nearly all 40 minutes, and if you can’t handle the ball pressure and exploit them at the rim. Be prepared for a lot of turnovers and a lot of fouls. Both teams press, both teams struggle against pressure, and both teams consequently foul a ton. Major advantage on the glass for Morehead. MOREHEAD STATE -8.5

Evansville has already traveled across the country to California before, so this is nothing new, but I have some fairly grave concerns about that highly efficient off ball Evansville motion offense being able to operate against all the disruptive perimeter length Fresno State can throw at them with Harris, Lewis, Watson, and even Russo. I’m thinking this game likely ends up being similar to the Aces’ game with Providence in Fullerton, where their perimeter length push Balentine further and further away from the rim in his off ball movement, and he ultimately settled for a lot more threes than he’s comfortable taking. This is another one of those one off long road trips for the Aces that I’m not fond of. FRESNO STATE -2.5

I like what Michael Huger is doing at BGSU in a weird situation, but there’s going to be a lot inconsistency with the Falcons from game to game. They’ll be in Dayton for Wright State today. With Billy Donlon, you know what you’re going to get some ball pressure and you’re going to have to get out on the perimeter as they shoot the three both well and at a high rate. Huger generally has his team sagging off the perimeter a bit in order to crash the glass (top 50 defensive rebounding rate), which favors the Wright State offense, and I think the Pep Joseph/Ismail Ali PG duo’s turnovers will be an issue today. I’m concerned about Wright State’s ability to defend BGSU’s underrated lengthy wing core of Parker, Alcegaire, and Lillard. That’s a major mismatch against Yoho, Benzinger, and Alstork, who can’t possibly stay in front of Parker and Lillard off the dribble, and I have similar concerns about Karena being able to front Worrell (who is starting to come into his own) without fouling. Generally, I think both offenses are going to find some success today, and this is a good game for the Wright State shooters to get on track. WRIGHT STATE -2.5

Samford hitting the road two days removed from a 2OT home loss doesn’t give me much hope that they can be competitive at Nebraska today, especially given how reliant they are on pressure and how little depth they have in the backcourt. With Shabazz and Rose, Samford actually has some wing height to match up with White and Shields, but Watson has acquitted himself well against pressure all year as a FR ball handler, and Samford will have some issues scoring in the halfcourt. NEBRASKA -12.5

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