1/28 Thursday Thoughts

28 Jan

Kicking off with some CAA notes…

UNCW dominated James Madison in both meetings last year, as the Dukes had major issues with Keatts’ pressure/trapping schemes, and were never able to get going in their ball reversal offense because the Seahawks are so disruptive on the perimeter. JMU has significantly lowered their TO and steal rate from last year, but there still really isn’t a secondary ball handler to help Curry with the pressure. Additionally, no team in the CAA takes away the three point line better than UNCW, allowing just a 27% 3PTA rate. That being said, I’m not at all convinced UNCW can even remotely sustain their 40% shooting from 3 in CAA play, and it’s probably wise for Brady to keep mixing in zone (he’s been using a lot of 1-3-1 with his man), and test the UNCW perimeter and keep their athleticism and length out of the lane as much as possible, especially if Ponder is out or limited. UNCW has played by far the easiest CAA schedule to date, as they’ve had the luxury of playing Drexel and Delaware twice already. We’ll learn a lot about the Seahawks tonight in Harrisonburg (where JMU has been lackluster, at best), but this is still a bad matchup for the Dukes, especially if Dalembert doesn’t return his Hofstra/Northeastern form. It seemed like the big man was breaking out of his season long slump, but he wasn’t much of a factor against Drexel and Elon. He has to be able to put up huge numbers on the back end of the UNCW pressure tonight.

Does William & Mary exact some revenge tonight after two puzzling losses to Delaware last year, where the Hens basically scored at will in both games and they couldn’t keep Holden out of the lane? William & Mary is a very good perimeter shooting team, but Shaver’s high motion offense tends to wonkify against teams that sag/zone/clog up the lane, and that’s exactly what Hofstra did and what Delaware will do. Against teams that extend out on the perimeter and pinch the three point line and make the court less compact defensively, they’ve been able to run their screens and back door action (NC State, Charleston, Drexel, Elon). Now I’m not saying William & Mary can’t sit back and fire away at a zone, because they clearly can, but it’s not how Shaver’s offense functions. Regardless, the offense isn’t really the issue for Shaver’s club, it’s been the defense. They have trouble with quick guards on straight line drives (Holden) and they have trouble with any sort of 4/5 who can score on the block (MKD). I think the Hens’ struggling offense can score tonight, but can the soft zone and lack of bodies keep it up for 40 minutes? Probably not.

Bruiser Flint prides himself and his teams on their “toughness”, but clearly, Towson was the “tougher” team in the first meeting. The Tigers basically do what Bruiser wants Drexel to do, but they do it significantly better than the Dragons. Towson is a much better rebounding team, and they get to the FT line way more often, which are typically basic tenets of Bruiser ball. A few notes about that first meeting though…1) Drexel was playing on the Saturday end of a (typically) shorthanded road trip, and the Thursday night game was an all out effort vs Hofstra where they came up short 2) Walter Foster was an absolute terror defensively for Towson that night, blocking 7 shots, and altering several more en route to Drexel shooting 11-45 on two point FGAs. Foster’s status for tonight is unknown after missing the Northeastern game, and his presence inside against a Drexel team that can’t/won’t shoot from 3 is enormous. 3) Towson tends to lay a major egg after big wins, and they’re coming off one at Northeastern (albeit the Huskies were without Ford, but Towson was without Foster).

Hofstra is second to last in bench minutes nationally, and they just lost their sixth man, Malik Nichols, for the year. That’s a significant loss not only because a short bench gets even shorter, but because Nichols is essentially the only guy who can spell foul prone Gustys. He’s also an excellent rebounder, and pushing off the defensive glass is a big component of Mihalich’s spread pick and roll transition attack. Fortunately for the Pride, they have a temporary reprieve with tonight’s opponent, the Phoenix of Elon. Matheny is a McKillop disciple, and they run a perimeter motion, four out offense that is rarely going to challenge anyone at the rim, in fact they have the 302nd lowest FGA rate at the rim in the country. They’re also a poor rebounding team that can be beat in transition, and they’re shorthanded themselves without talented FR scorer Santa Ana. Elon defensively, when they’re playing well (which they clearly haven’t been) can be disruptive on the perimeter to compensate for the lack of height, and they can get red hot from outside, and Mihalich is left with no choice but to sag some off the line given his roster limitations. Hofstra, of all teams, is probably looking to slow this game down dramatically compared to previous Mihalich/Hofstra offenses, and that change of pace is something to watch with the Pride going forward.

Obviously the key thing to watch with Northeastern tonight is the status of Quincy Ford. He missed the Towson game with a concussion, and the Huskies looked bad on both ends, at home, without him. He’s just such a key cog to everything they do offensively and defensively. Charleston of course is dealing with their own injuries, as they’ve been this year’s Drexel, losing a key player basically every month (Chealey, Riller, Bourne, Barry), but it hasn’t changed Earl Grant’s dogged defense on the perimeter, where Charleston is arguably the best team in the league at chasing shooters off the three point line, and the Cougars have the highest steal rate in CAA play. Even with Ford, Northeastern has been a much more perimeter oriented team in the absence of Scott Eatherton, and the Huskies, who don’t play with a “traditional point guard”, continue to be haunted by a fairly high steal rate, although it has improved in CAA play. This could turn into a first to 50 game if Ford isn’t cleared to play.

CAA PREDICTIONS: UNCW +4, WILLIAM & MARY -6.5, DREXEL +2.5, ELON +12, CHARLESTON -1

SBC notes…

Apparently UL Monroe turns into a Duggar Baucom team whenever they get back to Fant-Ewing. The Warhawks’ offense looked miserable in a four game road losing streak in SBC play, never reaching 1ppp, and barely sniffing that mark just once. In the two subsequent games at F-E, 1.29 and 1.33ppp, as Troy and USA couldn’t defend the mobility of Samuel and Deng at the 4/5. When those two play like they have been in the two recent home wins, ULM looks like the team to beat in the SBC when you combine that with Coppola’s steady PG play and an ever shifting defense that keeps teams off balance between man and a lengthy zone. As for UT Arlington, there was certainly something to be learned in that loss to Little Rock on Saturday. The Trojans started the game on an 18-0 run, and were up 42-14 at one point in the 1H, but the Kevin Hervey-less Mavs rallied and only lost by 6. Even though they had already defeated Arkansas State without Hervey (he blew out his ACL on his final warm up shot before the game, one of the most devastating injuries to a great player I can recall in recent memory), but the Little Rock game was the first game they knew for sure they would be without him, and that 2H was sort of cathartic and a demarcation point for the rest of the post Hervey season.Now, on to the actual matchup. Kennedy Eubanks, Hervey’s replacement, simply doesn’t have the same length/athleticism combo that had NBA scouts coming to check out Hervey, but he’s a capable offense player that can also get out on the perimeter defensively. Cross wants to play fast. He’s going to have the Mavs push off the defensive glass, and ULM has been a suspect transition defense, as teams who work the ball to the rim from four positions tend to be, but Hervey was such a huge component of that transition game. He could lead the break on his own off defensive rebounds, where he was a monster. UTA’s ball line defense should be something of an issue for ULM tonight, as it’s designed to pressure ball handlers, then drop back after halfcourt in order to deny all penetration and post passes, leaving the perimeter wide open. Despite some recent hot shooting, the three ball isn’t ULM’s strong suit by any stretch, and Coppola is essentially the only ball handler for Richard. Ultimately, I’m still trying to wrap my head around post Hervey UTA, as the first game without him was a bizarre situation, and the second game was such a disparity between halves, that it really just muddied the situation. Even with what I perceive to be a “scheme” advantage for the Mavs tonight, who wants to go against ULM at home, where the Warhawks look like the Warriors at Oracle?

Bob Marlin and Danny Kaspar certainly know each other well. Not just from SBC play, but from their days at Sam Houston State and SFA, respectively. As always with these two, we have a clash of style and pace. Kaspar’s aggressive man to man has generally been successful in at least slowing down the Louisiana offense and keeping possessions in the mid 60s. The problem has always been Texas State’s offense, as they’ve cracked 1ppp just once vs ULL since Kaspar came over to the SBC. This year, the Bobcat offense has looked far more fluid. The motion is less clunky, and Naylor, Gilder-Tilbury, and Montalvo have all made significant jumps in their personal Ortgs to help Gant inside. I think we’ll see something similar to the SBC tourney game last year where Kaspar aggressively doubled Long with KGT and Naylor to keep Gant out of foul trouble, and it worked for the most part. The problem, again, was the TSU offense.

Quick turnaround for Georgia Southern after the miracle finish in Boone. The Eagles are on a three game week, and have to go from Boone to Little Rock, and face a completely opposite style with Little Rock’s shut down pack line defense and commitment to taking away transition opportunities. Little Rock is probably playing a better pack line that UVA at the moment (obviously the competition is disparate), and they are allowing the lowest FG% at the rim in the country. That’s great, but Georgia Southern is a team not looking to score at the rim unless it’s off a turnover generated by Byington’s high pressure zone. In the halfcourt, they’re going to shoot threes, and that’s basically the only shot available to you vs Little Rock. The question is, can young GSU hit them on the road? Little Rock isn’t likely to be phased by the GSU zone press. They can shoot and they have an outstanding SR PG in Josh Hagins who has seen this before in a zone press heavy league.

Not surprisingly, Georgia State’s offense is woefully behind last year’s 1.12ppp SBC squad. That’ll happen when you lose an NBA draft pick. The problem is the defense is allowing over 1ppp in SBC play, which is strange to see from a Hunter club. Fortunately for GSU, they run into an Arkansas State team down to 7 players without Dure and most importantly Donte Thomas, arguably the best PG in the league (nearly averaging a triple double in SBC play). Without Thomas, I’m not sure how they handle GSU’s high pressure, matchup zone. This is an ASU team that relies on his abilities in transition and feeding Livingston in the post/getting into the lane/FT line off penetration (7th highest FT rate in the country). If he’s unable to go to tonight, I have a hard time seeing how they operate against a GSU team that allows transition attempts at the 9th lowest rate in the country.

App State is on a quick turnaround from that devastating home loss to Georgia Southern that has made the national media rounds. Now they have to head south for the Alabama swing starting with Troy tonight. Lost in the shuffle of that wild finish is how well App State played offensively, posting 1.28ppp, their most efficient game of the year. When Fox’s “McKillopian” motion offense gets cooking with Frank Eaves in the “Jack Gibbs” role, the Mountaineers can be tough to contain, and Fox has really been emphasizing pushing the pace in transition, as they’ve veered in on 80 possession territory each of the last 3 games, and Troy isn’t a team that’s going to stop anyone in transition. If Fox can Georgia State in a 75 possession game, I’m pretty sure the Mountaineers can get Troy close to 80 as well, as the Trojans are a bottom 50 transition rate team as a defense. Additionally they’re not an offense that can expose App State’s glaring weakness, defense at the rim. Troy’s a four out offense, penetrate and kick offense, and their lone big, John Walton, has been logging some serious minutes, and has looked like he’s been committing some “no legs” fouls in the paint. App State’s superior depth could be a factor tonight, especially since they’re the team on the quick turnaround.

SBC PREDICTIONS: UL MONROE +3.5, TEXAS STATE +12.5, GEORGIA STATE -2.5, LITTLE ROCK -15, APP STATE +3.5

PREDICTIONS (1185-920-54):

SOCON:

WOFFORD -1.5 (The Terriers can’t defend height at the rim, and ETSU doesn’t have any height at the rim offensively (Banks’ numbers against The Citadel have to go through a conversion rate). Two teams on the opposite end of the fickle finger of fate lately)

FURMAN -7.5 (Likely no Fowler again for Furman, but WCU’s perimeter/transition based offense is going to run into some trouble against a defense that’s hyper aggressive on the perimeter and doesn’t allow much of anything in transition (top 20 defensive FGA rate in transition). Mounts off a 2OT win over Mercer, which is likely the high water mark of their season and hitting the road, where they’ve been dreadful)

THE CITADEL +2 (UNCG handled Duggie Ball at VMI last year, but I’m concerned from what I’ve seen from UNCG against pressure. They have the lowest TO rate in the SoCon, but they were shellacked by UTC’s press, but on the other hand they handled Samford’s pressure on Sunday. Nevertheless, with Baldwin being the only ballhandler, my concerns linger. I only saw the end of The Citadel’s loss to ETSU, but I’m wondering why Derrick Henry only played 15 min, and just the first 4 of the 2H)

MERCER -13.5 (Bad matchup for VMI, and I doubt Mercer needs OT for the 4th straight game tonight)

CUSA: 

UAB -4 (Not buying the “bad apple” element being out of the lockerroom will automatically improve the team chemistry theory, and CHD isn’t the reason why WKU leaks like a sieve in pick and roll defense, allowing 1.34ppp on pick and roll action in CUSA play)

MTSU +1.5 (Middle’s an excellent defense in terms of FGA rate in transition (23rd lowest), and the mobility of their bigs Upshaw and Harris are going to be an issue for the Herd tonight, as is the clear advantage the Blue Raiders have on the glass. My main concern for MTSU…the lack of a PG vs D’Antoni’s pressure)

LA TECH -16.5 (Bulldogs are going to be able to get in transition tonight, something CUSA foes have taken away, but UTSA isn’t likely to)

UTEP -3 (This is realistically the only chance for the Miners to get a road win, and UTEP’s junk zone offense should in theory be ok, since Tim Floyd is the master of junk zones)

CHARLOTTE +2 (Big backcourt advantage for Charlotte, who has navigated the hardest CUSA schedule to date. Can Uchebo contain Diaz?)

OLD DOMINION -7 (The Monarchs have been a disappointment, especially defensively, but the incomparable Trey Freeman should be enough. He’s been on a tear with the midrange game of late, and the Monarchs simply aren’t looking to shoot the 3, where FAU’s defense is strong)

The Rest…

ROBERT MORRIS +7.5 (Good rivalry brewing here. RMU got blown out at home in the first meeting without Pryor. He’s back (though he doesn’t look 100% yet). Mayhem vs RMU’s pressure zone defense tonight, the two highest defensive TO rates in the NEC. RMU actually did a good job defensively in the first meeting, but without Pryor, they had no chance offensively. This is a nationally televised home game for the Mount, but I think the Colonials are playing their best basketball of the year, especially defensively, after getting healthy (relatively, I think Frederick will play and could be an x factor of sorts))

Ok, really out of time now…

UCONN -2

IOWA +5.5 (Should be a good one. Iowa’s an outstanding jump shooting team, and you’re not likely to consistently beat the Terps at the rim. Terps need a huge game from Stone and Carter. Iowa hedges super hard on pick and roll defense with their bigs (and they’ll do that particularly tonight against Trimble), and there’s a lot of room to operate at the rim against the Hawkeyes)

SYRACUSE -2 (Brey with 5 days of prep is remarkable, but the loss of Jackson is too much for me, and I think even the masterful Brey, to overcome tonight)

MARIST -4.5

QUINNIPIAC +10.5 (Monmouth is going to get everyone’s best shot. Huge battle on the glass. Quinnipiac, as usual, is one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country. Monmouth meanwhile, is the most prolific transition offense off defensive rebounds in the country. The Bobcats will get torched in transition if they’re not grabbing those O boards at that excessively high rate. That being said, the (likely) loss of Stewart tonight is significant for Monmouth. He’s an outstanding floor stretcher in transition because of his shooting ability, and he’s an underrated defender. I think the Hawks get their first win in Hamden since 2006, but it’s going to be close)

ORAL ROBERTS -4

OMAHA +8.5

BELMONT -9

UT MARTIN +1

RIDER +3.5 (It’s been a weird few weeks for the Peacocks and they have a huge game with Monmouth on tap, and Baggett has been great with in season revenge this year (particularly because he’s using a bigger lineup lately), but the Broncs can’t shoot, and you have to be able to shoot from outside to beat Dunne’s defense.)

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS +2.5 (Hinson hasn’t shown he’s figured out how defend the Evansville motion offense, but I’ll side with Hinson Revenge Tour tonight)

VALPO -20.5 (No Andre Yates for Cleveland State tonight)

YOUNGSTOWN STATE -3

ARIZONA STATE -5

IDAHO STATE -5.5

DENVER -2

SEMO +8

TENN STATE +5 (I’ve been harping all year on TSU’s interior defense. Martin is going to be limited tonight, and he was already at less than 100% with a knee injury. Big road win for Dana Ford’s squad tonight)

WEBER STATE -20.5

ARIZONA -7

SANTA CLARA +20

ILLINOIS -2

MICHIGAN ST -6

RICHMOND +5

PORTLAND STATE +6.5 (Good matchup, relatively speaking, for PSU. Geving has shifted the offensive focus to the interior this year with Forte, and extending pressure defensively and disrupting perimeter ball movement, which are both areas in which EWU struggles. The Eagles have been dominant in Cheney, but against two of the worst teams in the league)

SACRAMENTO STATE +4.5 (So many injuries. No Sanders or Callendret for Idaho, Demps ? for Sac State still UPDATE: NO DEMPS AGAIN)

WASHINGTON +6

 

UC RIVERSIDE +8 (Highlanders can spread the court with shooters (not just Bland) against that Cal Poly matchup zone, and Johns can mitigate the athleticism of Awich (who is still fairly banged up). Pretty good matchup for the Highlanders on the road)

SAN FRANCISCO +4.5

PEPPERDINE -6.5

LBSU -5

WASHINGTON ST +12

LOYOLA MARYMOUNT +15.5

 

 

 

 

 

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