East Region Breakdown

14 Mar

1 Villanova vs 16 Radford (Pittsburgh)

Villanova Fingerprint: Villanova’s fingerprint is fairly straightforward. It’s the best offense in the country. With Jalen Brunson at the helm, Nova can essentially shred any defensive scheme thrown at them. In my daily columns, I’ve pasted in Villanova’s offensive resume from Synergy, and it’s just a string of “excellents”. Jay Wright has surrounded Brunson with high level offensive players who combine lethal shooting, dribbling, and passing. When Villanova’s offense is clicking, it’s flawless. Defensively, Villanova has had its issues, but it generally takes a combination of a dominant post scorer and a quick on the ball guards who can expose Brunson and backcourt mate Donte DiVincenzo’s lack of lateral quickness. Few teams in the country possess those traits in harmony, and Villanova’s defense has quietly improved to a top 25 efficiency rating with the return of Phil Booth. If the Wildcats are defending at a high level, they’re unstoppable.

Radford Fingerprint: Mike Jones is an excellent basketball coach, and his Highlanders have bought into his full court pressure and stifling halfcourt defense. Offensively, Ed Polite’s ability to score at and away from the rim was a matchup nightmare in the Big South, and Carlick Jones is a highly effective scorer out of ball screens.

Match Up: Pressing Villanova will lead to certain doom, as the Wildcats are one of the best press offenses in the country. Radford will try to muddy up this game with physical ball pressure, but that’s hard to pull off against Jay Wright’s offense, as literally everyone can handle the ball. Nothing to get excited about here.

BRACKET: Villanova

ATS: Villanova -23.5

O/U: Under 140.5 (the ol’ under blowout)

8 Virginia Tech vs 9 Alabama (Pittsburgh)

Virginia Tech Fingerprint: I’ve been critical of Buzz Williams in the past, but he did a nice job saving the Hokies’ season, especially getting his team to buy in defensively, where they’ve been stellar down the stretch. The strength of the Hokie defense lies in their ball screen defense, where Justin Robinson, Ahmed Hill, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker (NAW is an under the radar NBA prospect, love his game) have been phenomenal, leading VA Tech to limit PnR ball handlers to a meager .64 points per possession. The Hokies are also excellent in denying transition opportunities, where they rank 25th nationally in lowest transition FGA rate, and they don’t foul, sporting the country’s 60th lowest FTA rate. Offensively, it’s all about attacking down hill in Buzz’s penetrate and kick offense. The Hokies are third nationally in shot rate at the rim. Robinson and the outstanding versatile Chris Clarke are lethal penetrators, and a host of long, deadly wings on the perimeter leaves single coverage for Kerry Blackshear in the paint.

Alabama Fingerprint: Collin Sexton is Alabama’s fingerprint. Sexton is one of the most lethal utilizers of ball screens in the country, and the Tide want to get out and run and have he and Dazon Ingram attack north/south as much as possible, and it’s essentially impossible to keep both of them off the line. John Petty is a floor spacer for the Tide, but he’s awfully streaky from beyond the arc, and Donta Hall (who is returning from a concussion) is an excellent floor running big man and rim protector for a defense that was 13th nationally in efficiency rating. The Tide defend well in pick and roll, but they foul a lot and struggle to rebound consistently.

Match Up: This doesn’t set up well for the Tide on paper, but I’m hesitant to count out Sexton, the most competitive man in the game, based solely on the metrics. But that’s precisely what I’m going to do. VA Tech limits transition, trips to the stripe, and they defend extremely well in ball screens. That’s essentially the three keys to Alabama’s offense. This looks like it could be one of the better match ups of Thursday.

BRACKET: Virginia Tech

ATS: VA Tech -1.5

O/U: Under 142

 

4 Wichita State vs 13 Marshall (San Diego)

Wichita State Fingerprint: The great Gregg Marshall teams of the past were lock down defensive teams that “played angry”. This Shocker team is all about offense, as WSU scores at 1.22 points per possession, the 4th best rate in the country, and that’s by far the best offensive team Marshall has ever coached. Conversely, the Shockers have struggled in pick and roll defense and transition defense all year, and this is the worst defensive team Marshall has had in his tenure at Wichita since his first season in 2007-08 when the Shockers finished a game out of last in the MVC. Why is WSU so porous defensively this year? I mentioned poor PnR defense, as teams have exposed the lack of lateral quickness in the backcourt and the immobility of the frontcourt, and opposing offenses have taken advantage of the Shockers’ constant offensive glass pounding, and have beaten the somewhat lumbering Shockers down the floor.

Marshall Fingerprint: Dan D’Antoni has quickly built an analytics dream team in Huntington, West Virginia, as the Herd spread the floor in transition and use and NBA style spread pick and roll offense in the halfcourt. The Herd either bomb away from the perimeter or score at the rim, nothing in between, as they’re 13th nationally in two point jump shot rate. The Herd offense begins with the incomparable Jon Elmore. While Landry Shamet is the NBA prospect at the point in this game, Elmore actually plays the more NBA ready game, he just doesn’t have the body that Shamet does. Defensively, D’Antoni applies the same analytical mindset as he does on the offensive end, as the Herd chase shooters off the line and into the waiting arms of versatile shot blocker Ajdin Penava. Marshall led CUSA in three point attempt rate offensively, while allowing the lowest attempt rate defensively. Penava swatted shots at the 13th highest rate in the country, but this also exposed him to fouls and contact.

Match Up: Marshall can score against Gregg Marshall’s defense. The Herd are lethal in pick and roll with Elmore, CJ Burks, and the rolling Penava. Shamet and Conner Frankamp’s pick and roll defense could be exposed in a big way. Marshall can also score in transition IF Penava can keep Wichita State off the offensive glass. Note the literal “big if”. It’s almost a certainty that Shaq Morris, Darral Willis, and Rashard Kelly will crush the Herd into a cube on the glass. Ultimately, the overwhelming physical prowess of Wichita State will wear down the Herd, but this is far from a gimme putt in the first round for the Shockers.

BRACKET: Wichita State

ATS: Marshall +12

O/U: 165

5 West Virginia vs 12 Murray State (San Diego)

My analysis for WVU and Murray State can be found in my daily column at https://www.actionnetwork.com/home

6 Florida vs 11 St. Bonaventure (Dallas)

My analysis for the Gators and Bonnies can be found in my daily column at https://www.actionnetwork.com/home

3 Texas Tech vs 14 SFA (Dallas)

Texas Tech Fingerprint: Chris Beard is one of, if not the best, young coaches in basketball. Beard quickly assembled a melange of interchangeable frontcourt parts with off the charts athleticism around a dominant ball handler in Keenan Evans to run his Bob Knight copy cat motion offense. Young players like Jarrett Culver gained valuable experience and confidence when Evans was sidelined with a toe injury, and his development has been pivotal for what can be a stagnant offense at times. Defensively, Beard uses a souped up pack line that amplifies the ubiquitous ball pressure in front of the “pack”. The Raiders fly to the ball defensively, and can be beat with weak side attacks via quick skip passes and ball reversals, but rare is the offense that utilizes that efficiently in the ball screen heavy basketball of today. Beard isn’t married to one particular scheme, as he’ll alternate between hard hedging, blitzing, trapping, and downing on ball screens. It’s why he’s such a phenomenal in game coach and game planner.

SFA Fingerprint: Kyle Keller is a Brad Underwood guy, and thus the Jacks are clones of Underwood’s best teams. They deny absolutely everything on the perimeter in the halfcourt, and they generate turnovers (and steals) at the highest rate in the entire country. Offensively, SFA runs a spread motion offense that utilizes the athleticism and versatility of its frontcourt (sound familiar?). TJ Holyfield and Leon Gilmore are a brutal matchup for anyone in the frontcourt, and the Jacks can shoot the ball at the wings with Ivan Canete and Kevon Harris when you try to double in the frontcourt (and both Holyfield and Gilmore can pass the ball). When all else fails for SFA, Shannon Bogues is one of the quickest on-ball guards in the country, and can break most anyone down off the dribble. While Bogues and fellow point guard Aaron Augustin are outstanding in Keller’s denial defense, they’ve both been loose with the ball all year, and the Jacks as a whole are one of the most turnover prone teams in the country.

Match Up: These teams mirror each other in a lot of ways: aggressive defenses, motion offenses, and athletic frontcourts. You’re going to see, and likely hear from the CBS crew, comparisons of SFA to WVU, and subsequently how Tech matched up against the full court press. Ignore them. These comparisons are inaccurate, as SFA doesn’t press full court often, as its high turnover rate is borne from trapping at halfcourt and denying all entry passes and penetration. A far more reasonable comparison in the Big 12 is Oklahoma State, as Mike Boynton was an Underwood assistant as well, and plays a very similar deny defense. Unfortunately I don’t glean too much from those two meetings, as the Raiders didn’t have Zach Smith in the loss in Stillwater, and Evans was hurting as well. Speaking of Smith, he and Zhaire Smith are incredibly important against the versatility and mobility of Holyfield and Gilmore. That’s going to be the match up to watch in this game, as SFA’s ability to win the SLC hinged on exploiting that frontcourt advantage. That’s not going to be the case against the Red Raiders. Expect to see a lot of turnovers and a lot of whistles in this one, but ultimately Tech’s superior defense and guard play wins out. This game won’t be for the faint of heart.

BRACKET: Texas Tech

ATS: SFA +11

O/U: Under 137.5

7 Arkansas vs 10 Butler (Detroit)

Arkansas Fingerprint: The Hogs are an excellent offensive team, propelled by the senior laden backcourt of Daryl Macon, Jaylen Barford, and Anton Beard. An old adage is that senior backcourts carry teams in March, and while the evidence is strictly anecdotal, the Hogs certainly have a veteran backcourt. Arkansas is efficient in both the halfcourt and transition, and it excels in pick and roll, grading out in the 97th percentile nationally in PnR offense, per Synergy. Defensively, it’s been a struggle all year for the Hogs. So much so that Mike Anderson has somewhat turned things around with a 2-3 zone defense, which must have Nolan Richardson yelling at his television in El Paso. That zone has taken a toll on the Hogs’ rebounding an ability to push in transition, despite the presence of Dan Gafford and Trey Thompson.

Butler Fingerprint: The Bulldogs have deviated a bit from the Butler Way in LaVall Jordan’s first season, as like Arkansas, they’re here because of their offense, not their defense. Butler runs on-balls at one of the highest rates in the entire country, and Jordan will run pick and roll from the top with Kamar Baldwin or from the side with Kelan Martin, a matchup nightmare at the 4. Tyler Wideman has been an efficient roll man and post option for Jordan as well. Defensively, Jordan likes to trade off between defense and offense with Paul Jorgensen (offense) and Aaron Thompson (defense) on the perimeter, and Nate Fowler (defense) and Wideman (offense) in the frontcourt. Sometimes you can catch Butler in bad substitution patterns, and if Arkansas is playing at their preferred pace, that’s a legitimate concern.

Match Up: While Butler runs pick and roll at one of the highest rates in the country, the one strength of Arkansas’ defense has been its ability to defend effectively in PnR, but they also haven’t seen a 4 that runs PnR at the point of attack like Martin. Look for Jordan to trade more offense for defense in this one, with Henry Baddley and Thompson seeing significant minutes, as the Baldwin/Martin duo should be good enough offensively against this Arkansas defense.

BRACKET: Butler

ATS: Butler -1.5

O/U: Under 151.5

2 Purdue vs 15 CSUF (Detroit)

Purdue Fingerprint: The Boilers have incredible balance with Isaac Haas capable of dominating in the post, and Matt Painter runs some of the best off ball motion in the country with a bevy of lethal perimeter shooters. Carsen Edwards’ ability to create offense gives Purdue something it has been lacking in the past as well. Defensively, the Boilers have fallen off a bit down the stretch, and I’m concerned about the relative lack of athleticism on the wings and at the point of attack, but that’s something to worry about after the first weekend, as is the lack of defensive rebounding prowess.

CSUF Fingerprint: The Titans are a guard heavy group that’s entirely reliant on getting to the rim, and they actually lead the country in free throw rate. Jackson Rowe serves as an undersized swiss army knife 5, but thus the Titans are poor in the post defensively and on the glass.

Match Up: If it seems like I’m glossing over this game, it’s because I think it has the potential to be the biggest blowout of the first round. Purdue doesn’t foul defensively, and CSUF can’t defend in the post. This is a mismatch at nearly every turn unless the Boilers come out rusty after the long layoff from the Big Ten Tournament being playing in January.

BRACKET: Purdue

ATS: Purdue -20.5

O/U: Under 145.5

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South Region Breakdown

14 Mar

1 Virginia vs 16 UMBC (Charlotte)

Virginia Fingerprint: DEFENSE! UVA is synonymous with the vaunted pack line defense, and the Cavs defend in it with historical efficiency. Offensively, Virginia is extremely methodical, using Tony Bennett’s mover-blocker offense to free up shooters Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, and Devon Hall with a series of screens set by the bigs along the lane lines. Virginia is the field’s overall 1 seed for a reason, and sleeping on the Cavs because of a perceived “lack of offensive firepower” is fool hardy. UVA’s offense typically centers around one primary bucket getter, but this year’s team has more balance, but the wrist injury to De’Andre Hunter is big. Hunter gave UVA more spacing and balance offensively, and was a swiss army knife type of player. UVA’s postseason injury bad luck continues. Last year, the best individual defender in the country, Isaiah Wilkins, couldn’t play because of a respiratory infection, and in 2015 Justin Anderson broke his hand before the tournament.

UMBC Fingerprint: This might sound lame, but the Retrievers are a true team. They enjoy playing with each other and have a tough mental mindset, as they were on the ropes several times in the AmEast championship game on the road against a dominant league powerhouse. With Jairus Lyles and KJ Maura running the show, it’s unwise to count out UMBC. The Retrievers can shoot from multiple positions, and Lyles is one of the best individual scorers in the entire tournament. Dave Odom wants to spread the floor in transition and extend pressure defensively to mitigate his lack of frontcourt talent.

Match Up: Is there even a glimmer of hope for the Retrievers of Baltimore Country against what is statistically the best defense of the KenPom era? I think the answer is a surprising yes. The Retrievers are led by spark plug Maura at the point and volume scorer Lyles in the backcourt. Lyles has a high major pedigree and is fearless with the ball. He’s the type of player that won’t be intimidated by the infamous UVA pack line defense, and he’ll be willing to shoot from outside all day. UMBC is a guard heavy lineup with excellent ball movement that can fire away without a conscience from the perimeter. That’s just about the best you can ask for against Tony Bennett’s pack line, but the Retrievers thrive when spacing the court in transition, which simply isn’t possible against Virginia’s dominant break denial defense. UMBC is also severely undermanned in the frontcourt.

BRACKET: Virginia

ATS: UMBC +21.5

O/U: Over 121


8 Creighton vs 9 Kansas State (Charlotte)

Creighton Fingerprint: The Bluejays are annually one of the best offenses in the country under Greg McDermott, who is a master of set plays. While the Bluejays play fast and thrive in transition, they’re absolutely lethal in the halfcourt under McDermott’s offense, which features ball reversal, staggered doubles, and pop and seals, all run with great efficiency. Creighton is dominated by a pair of big, athletic guards in Marcus Foster (a former Kansas State guard) and Khyri Thomas, who is also one of the best on ball defenders in the country. The Bluejays haven’t quite been the same offense without Martin Krampelj, as McDermott’s sets thrive with an athletic bucket getter in the paint. Defensively, Creighton is poor defending at the rim (another byproduct of of losing Krampelj), and opposing offenses have exploited that all year.

Kansas State Fingerprint: Bruce Weber mostly scrapped his motion offense this year in favor of more pick and roll, as he recognized that he had elite guards in Barry Brown, Kam Stokes (although he hasn’t been remotely close to being the same player since breaking his foot), and Cartier Diarra who can thrive in on-balls, and Dean Wade is one of the most efficient “rollers” in the game. Defensively, the Wildcats aggressively pursue turnovers (KSU led the Big 12 in defensive turnover rate and steal rate), as Weber liked to extend his long, athletic guards and wings, and Makol Malwien developed into an excellent rim protector. With length and athleticism 1-5, KSU has been an oppressive pick and roll defense all year.

Match Up: This game has a few “B plots”, as Weber and McDermott are friends and know each other from their MVC days at SIU and UNI, and Foster of course had a falling out with Weber at KSU. Ultimately, I think this game comes down to pick and roll defense. Creighton, despite having Thomas on Brown, isn’t a good PnR defense overall, while KSU is phenomenal. A presumably healthy Dean Wade should be able to dominate in this game against Creighton’s lacking frontcourt. While KSU isn’t strong in transition defense in terms of efficiency, it doesn’t allow a lot of shots on the break to begin with, denying opportunities at a top 60 rate nationally, which is again a key to defending Creighton.

BRACKET: Kansas State

ATS: Kansas State +1.5

O/U: Under 144.5


5 Kentucky vs 12 Davidson (Boise)

Included in Thursday’s daily column at https://www.actionnetwork.com/home

 


4 Arizona vs 13 Buffalo (Boise)

Arizona Fingerprint: The Wildcats certainly had their fair share of off the court distractions, which I won’t get into here, but they appear to be playing with a nice chip on their shoulder at this point. It also helps to have the tournament’s most dominant player in Deandre Ayton. Ayton has made the Wildcats the 4th most efficient post offense in the country, and if you take into account frequency of post possessions, Arizona is in a class of its own. Allonzo Trier is a lethal slasher/shooter on the wing, and Rawle Alkins, while inconsistent since coming back from a foot injury, is always a matchup that needs to be accounted for on the wing as well. Defensively, Sean Miller’s pack line has struggled unlike any Miller defense I’ve seen. Point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright (and Alkins when interested) have been the only consistent perimeter defenders, and dribble penetration has routinely broken the pack line, which is all the more frustrating since dribble denial is the key tenet of that scheme. Ayton and Dusan Ristic have also been extremely poor in pick and roll defense (Ristic simply isn’t capable of defending in ball screens, but Ayton is learning), and neither have been particularly effective as post defenders. The defense has shown signs of life down the stretch however, as Miller tweaked things to have Alkins help far more around the rim than before.

Buffalo Fingerprint: Few, if any, midmajor teams possess Buffalo’s athleticism and speed combo. Head coach Nate Oats can put three ball handlers on the floor at all times with Wes Clark, CJ Massinburg, Davonta Jordan, and Dontay Caruthers. That backcourt in combination with burgeoning offensive talent Jeremy Harris on the wing and mobile big Nick Perkins makes Buffalo a lethal offensive group who loves to attack downhill and in transition. The Bulls are like a football team with a great running game, they just keep pounding away at the line of scrimmage (and Ernie Johnson apparently thinks they’re the Buffalo Bills anyway). Defensively, Buffalo has some fairly severe deficiencies at the rim, as Perkins isn’t a big bodied rim protector, and in fact, 6’3 athletic frosh Jayvon Graves led the team in block rate. Buffalo loves to overpower you with speed and depth, but that’s also to mask a lack of bulk inside.

Match Up: Arizona is easily the worst 4 seed Buffalo could have drawn (ok Gonzaga wouldn’t have been great either). Ayton could realistically put up 30 and 20 against this Buffalo post defense, and Miller can use Alkins on Perkins in pick and roll defense instead of Ayton. For Arizona, this is actually a very similar match up to last year’s first round meeting with North Dakota, and I suspect we’ll see a very similar result.

BRACKET: Arizona

ATS: Buffalo +9

O/U: Over 157


6 Miami vs 11 Loyola Chicago (Dallas)

Analysis included in Thursday’s daily column https://www.actionnetwork.com/home

 


3 Tennessee vs 14 Wright State (Dallas)

Tennessee Fingerprint: The Rick Barnessaince is in full effect, as the Vols ran his post heavy, 2 Play flex to great effect, thanks to hyper flexible Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield  The Vols are deep and interchangeable on the perimeter, and capable of hitting jump shots when defenses collapse on the Schofield/Williams high-lo action. Defensively is where Tennessee butters its bread. The Vols are long and active, simultaneously protecting the rim and extending pressure. Tennessee is quietly one of the most complete teams in the field.

Wright State Fingerprint: The Raiders are a well prepared and well coached team, thanks to Scott Nagy, who lead South Dakota State to 3 dances in his previous stop. WSU doesn’t have a lot of firepower offensively, but it defends extremely hard and well in halfcourt man to man.

Match Up: This doesn’t really set up well for the Raiders. The Vols’ frontcourt is too mobile and athletic for Loudon Love, and while he’s a force at the rim offensively, Tennessee is extremely strong in rim protection. Cole Gentry is a steady PG and has been with Nagy since SDSU, but he can be overwhelmed by athleticism, as can leading scorer Grant Benzinger. That said, Barnes’ offense isn’t going to blow anyone out, and Nagy’s defense doesn’t get blown out. Feel free to grab some lunch during this one.

BRACKET: Tennessee

ATS: Wright State +12

O/U: Under 132


7 Nevada vs 10 Texas (Nashville)

Nevada Fingerprint: Few coaches have embraced the “pace and space” concept as quickly and as well as Eric Musselman has in Reno. Nevada hasn’t quite been the same since losing nominal point guard Lindsey Drew, but with the 6’7 Martin twins at the helm, few teams are as talented and long in the backcourt as the Pack, and I’m talking about the entire country. Caleb is the lethal shooter and volume scorer of the two, while Cody is a facilitator and passer extraordinaire, and the far better defender of the two. Nevada has no interior size and no depth, but Musselman uses that to his advantage with Jordan Caroline as a mismatch floating 5, and Kendall Stephens slots in anywhere from 2-4, and can burn opposing defenders with his perimeter shooting. Of course that lack of interior height takes its toll defensively and on the glass, and those are the two glaring weaknesses in Nevada’s game.

Texas Fingerprint: While Nevada can score but struggles defensively, the Horns are the reverse. This is an elite defense with an often putrid offense. Texas is the worst three point shooting team in the field, but the good news is that Mo Bamba is healthy, and he and Dylan Osetkowski have a major advantage at the rim. Matt Coleman has been a steady freshman point guard, but with his perimeter weapons missing, defenses have been more than happy to sag off of him take away his passing/penetration lanes. Defensively, Shaka Smart remains a mastermind, and mixes man, zone, and pressure extremely effectively, and of course it helps to have Bamba at the rim.

Match Up: Elite offense vs elite defense. Poor offense vs poor defense. Can Nevada’s small ball, pace and space lineup force Bamba and Osetkowski to defend outside of the paint? Likely. Will Shaka counter by trading offense for defense with Jericho Sims replacing Osetkowski? Also likely. While Nevada isn’t a strong defensive team, Cody Martin’s length can frustrate Coleman, and when Coleman struggles, Texas’ offense essentially grinds to a halt.

BRACKET: Nevada

ATS: Nevada -1

O/U: Over 143.5


2 Cincinnati vs 15 Georgia State (Nashville)

Cincinnati Fingerprint: Mick Cronin has length and versatility all over the floor, and uses it to dominate defensively. If it wasn’t for Virginia, we would be talking about the Cincy defense as one of the greatest of all time. Cronin has one of the best individual defenders in the country in Gary Clark, and he calls out all of Cincy’s defensive scheme switches, as they go from switching man to man, full court pressure, and extended matchup zone. The Bearcats are more impressive on the defensive end in my mind than Virginia, because they tailor the defense to the opponent, and they play all of their schemes exceptionally well. Offensively, Cincy can struggle at time because they’re not a particularly strong shooting team, but Jacob Evans is an outstanding creator, he just needs to take over at times, and doesn’t do it. Cincy supplements that clunky offense with extra possessions, as it has the third highest offensive rebounding rate in the country, and the 10th highest turnover rate defensively.

Georgia State Fingerprint: Ron Hunter’s Panther squad is synonymous with extended 1-3-1 matchup zone in midmajor basketball circles. This isn’t a simple 2-3 zone, but rather a complex trapping zone that forces a lot of turnovers, but gives up a lot of open looks on the perimeter. Offensively, GSU revolves entirely in D’Marcus Simonds’ orbit. Every offensive action flows through him at the point of attack in pick and roll, and Simonds had the 4th highest usage rate and 9th highest shot rate in the entire country. It’s impossible to keep him out of the lane, but if you can turn him into a jump shooter, he struggles. Hunter accordingly has surrounded him with marksmen, like Devin Mitchell, Malik Benlevi, and Jeff Thomas, all of whom are 6’5 on the wing and all of whom shoot 40%+ from deep. Jordan Session meanwhile was a lethal roll man for Simonds has his primary screener.

Match Up: Cincy is one of the worst zone offenses in the league, but GSU’s unique zone actually shouldn’t bother them too much, as it’s more spread out than typical zones. Evans should be able to break it down off the dribble eventually. GSU is going to get crushed on the offensive glass as well, as it’s miserable rebounding out of the zone. Offensively, GSU likely struggles, as Cincy can switch all day on Simonds and not miss a beat.

BRACKET: Cincinnati

ATS: Cincinnati -14

O/U: Under 130

 

SWAC Tournament Notes

6 Mar

With regular season winner Grambling ineligible due to the ridiculous nature of the Academic Progress Report, Arkansas-Pine Bluff was awarded the SWAC Tournament’s top seed, but I have the Golden Lions rated as the 3rd best team in the field, which means this tournament is wide open, possibly even before it relocates to Houston for the semis.

UAPB has the league’s best player in Martaveous McKnight, and the Lions righted the ship late with wins vs Texas Southern and at Grambling, so a run to the title as the 1 seed wouldn’t be crazy by any stretch, but a healthier Jackson State team lurks at the 5 seed, and the Tigers likely would have swept the Lions had Paris Collins and Mo Rivers been available in the first meeting. McKnight was stymied by the league’s best on ball defender in Collins the rematch (Collins has the country’s highest steal rate), and while JSU struggled to shoot from 3, they’re still the league’s most prolific three point offense, and UAPB is strictly a zone defense (unfortunately JSU was the least efficient zone offense in the entire country, per Synergy) . Additionally, with Rivers playing well of late through tendinitis in both knees, the Tigers have a dominant frontcourt duo with he and Treshawn Bolden.

Of course first thing’s first, and JSU has to win at 4 seed Southern. With Sidney Umude and Jared Sam, Southern has the frontcourt to contend with JSU’s duo, but again, JSU won at Southern when they were healthy with Collins and Rivers on the floor, but lost at home with Collins unavailable. Southern enters the tournament on a 3 game losing streak.

UAPB meanwhile has 8 seed MVSU to contend with, and the Delta Devils aren’t quite as bad as the numbers suggest. Yes, the regular season ended with UAPB crushing MVSU by 37 in Pine Bluff, but the Delta Devils beat Grambling, Prairie View A&M, and JSU this year, and lost 4 league games in OT. MVSU ranked 344th nationally in zone offense efficiency (a common theme in the SWAC), and the Delta Devils were 7-36 from deep in two losses to UAPB.

3 seed and defending champion Texas Southern lurks at the bottom of the bracket, and when TSU has all their players (which they currently do), the Tigers are the best team in the league. TSU is also playing with a bit of a chip on their should after being snubbed from the All-SWAC first team selections. Trae Jefferson, Donte Clark, and Trayvon Reed are the three most talented players in the league, and when TSU is healthy and unsuspended (there have been a lot of suspensions for Mike Davis this year), the Tigers are by far the best offense in the SWAC. TSU steamrolled 7 seed Alabama State in both regular season meetings, and stellar FR PG Jacoby Ross is a game time decision for the Hornets.

TSU will likely face rival Prairie View A&M, who earned the tournaments 2 seed thanks to the outstanding backcourt/wing trio of Gary Blackston, Dennis Jones, and Zach Hamilton. The Panthers are an aggressive trapping man to man defense, and generated the league’s highest turnover rate, and they’ve won 10 of their past 12 league games. 7 seed Alcorn State was swept by the Panthers in the regular season, with PVAM swarming Braves PG AJ Mosby, and harassing him into 10 turnovers. The Braves never really revived a disappointing season after losing Reggie Johnson just 7 games into the season.

FIRST ROUND ATS PREDICTIONS:

MVSU +8.5

Jackson State +4 (top ATS prediction)

Texas Southern -12.5

Prairie View A&M -9.5

FINAL PREDICTION:

Texas Southern over Jackson State

 

MEAC Tournament Notes

5 Mar

By far the most interesting story line in the MEAC tournament is top seeded Hampton’s acrimonious split from the league. Hampton is headed to the Big South next year, and the MEAC brass isn’t happy about it, and it certainly sounds like some lawsuits are on the horizon. In fact, the situation is so ugly, there’s like a 1% part of me that thinks the MEAC would collude to keep Hampton from winning this tournament. Crazy, I know.

Regardless, Hampton is almost always the team to beat under Buck Joyner. The Pirates are extremely aggressive defensively and put a lot of pressure on ball handlers with a physical style of play. Offensively, Jermaine Marrow, Kalin Fisher, and Malique Trent make a trio of slashing guards in the backcourt that can me difficult to matchup with in a spread pick and roll and transition heavy offense. Hampton is also solid in post defense with Trevond Barnes and Charles Wilson-Fisher in the paint, but both can be foul prone, as can the entirety of Hampton actually.

Hampton will play the winner of 8 seed Howard and 9 Florida A&M. The Rattlers actually gave Hampton a lot of trouble this year because Robert McCullum put the ball in the hands of Marcus Barham and Desmond Williams, two big versatile wings who could handle the physicality of the Pirates. Howard is led by the potent PG/wing duo of RJ Cole and Charles Williams, and the Bison’s 3-2 zone can trip up a lot of MEAC teams because this is a dribble drive heavy league.

The other two first round byes went to 2 seed Bethune Cookman and 3 seed Savannah State, who both had surprisingly strong seasons. Horace Broadnax has of course lost his mind at SSU, and the Tigers play the fastest pace in the country and shoot the 3 at the country’s highest rate. This is after years of Broadnax running a burn offense that largely ignored the 3 point line. The Tigers winning would be a great story, as they were initially under an APR ban but received a waiver midway through the season, and this is the second to last D1 season for SSU basketball. Defensively, SSU presses at one of the highest rates in the country, but that’s about it, and it’s hard to see the defense getting enough stops for them to actually win this tournament. Despite SSU’s extreme pace, they amazingly turn the ball over at the lowest rate in the league. Tigers will face the winner of 6 seed NCCU and 11 seed Coppin State. Coppin State ended the year on a sour note, losing its last 5 games in Juan Dixon’s first season, but the Eagles have an outstanding senior point guard in Karonn Davis. Coppin State is the least efficient offense in the MEAC, which of course puts them in the running for least efficient offense in the country, and NCCU is a brutal first round matchup for tiny CSU, as LeVelle Moton pounds the ball inside to the league’s best true post, Raasean Davis. The first meeting with NCCU has to be discouraging for CSU, as Davis was a nonfactor with early foul trouble, and NCCU still won by 20 in a game that wasn’t even that close.

2 seed BCU has been a surprise under first year head coach Ryan Ridder. BCU plays nearly as fast as Savannah State, and with the exact same level of offensive efficiency, scoring at 1.11 points per possession, which shared the league’s top mark with SSU. Ridder stumbled upon a revelation in moving 6’6 wing Isaiah Bailey to the point, as he’s been absolutely phenomenal in injured Malik Maitland’s stead. In MEAC play, BCU is scoring at 1.13 points per possession with Bailey on the floor, and just 1.03 with him off. Bailey is surrounded by plenty of weapons, namely 6’4 pure scorer Brandon Tabb and floating stretch 5 Shawntrez Davis, and Soufi Diakite is the league’s best individual defender as a long armed 6’6 hybrid 4 capable of wreaking havoc on the perimeter. BCU will first have to defeat the winner of 7 seed Morgan State and 10 seed SC State. The Bears had a disappointing season, as they were expected to contend for the league crown this year with the return of uber scorer Tiwian Kendley. While the Bears were a season long disappointment, they actually match up well with BCU, as the Wildcats’ press offense has been poor all season. Morgan State nearly pulled out an OT win vs BCU in the only regular season meeting, and power forward Phillip Carr left the game early with an injury for the Bears (he has since returned to action). However, MSU will be without its best rim protector in David Syfax for its first round game vs SC State. Syfax is serving the final game of his 3 game suspension for his role in a brawl vs Hampton, which resulted in a forfeit for the Bears. SCSU had a long, difficult year, losing star Tashombe Riley before the season started, and then there was the frightening incident when Tyvoris Solomon had to be resuscitated on the floor during the North Carolina State game. All things considered, a 6-10 season was about the best Murray Garvin could have hoped for, and the Bulldogs actually matchup well against Morgan State, having blown the Bears out in Baltimore this year. SCSU has the lowest offensive steal rate in the MEAC, and they don’t put the hyper aggressive Bears on the free throw line. SCSU has the second lowest foul rate in league play (about the only thing they do well defensively) and holding MSU to 18 free throw attempts at home is a major accomplishment. Regardless, we should all be rooting for a BCU/SSU rematch in the semis, as the only meeting this year ended in a 121-92 win for BCU in 92 possessions.

4 seed NC A&T completed one of the biggest turnarounds in D1 this year, going from 1 league win (on the final day of the regular season) to 11 this year. NC A&T is healthy for its first round game with 13 seed Delaware State, as big man Femi Olujobi has returned from an injury. Head coach Jay Joyner went to a motion offense and a 3-2 matchup zone this year, and both have made a world of difference. DSU was swept by NCAT, as they were unable to solve the zone in either meeting. DSU had another long and terrible season, and didn’t notch a D1 win until February 19.

Like Hampton, 5 seed Norfolk State will have the advantage of a home crowd at Scope Arena, and NSU is playing well, having won 9 of its last 11, but they were swept by rival Hampton in that span, which doesn’t bode well for a potential semifinal matchup with the Pirates. NSU’s Robert Jones is known for his use of “floppy defense”, which is basically just an amoeba 2-3 zone.Whatever you want to call it, 12 seed UMES doesn’t matchup well, as the Hawks, who never had their full roster available this year, are the worst shooting team in the entire country.

FIRST ROUND ATS PREDICTIONS:

Delaware State +9.5

Norfolk State -11.5

MEAC Championship Prediction

Hampton over Bethune-Cookman

Big Ten Tournament Preview

28 Feb

Who Should Win: 1 seed Michigan State

Sparty is the most balanced team in the country, clocking in as the only team ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. MSU finished the regular season on a 12 game winning streak, but the only truly notable win that stretch was a narrow home victory over Purdue. MSU doesn’t really have a discernible weakness outside of Cassius Winston’s occasional recklessness with the basketball, but he atones for those errors with the nation’s best three point shooting. Winston is canning threes at an absurd 57% while posting the nation’s third highest assist rate. With an elite wing in Miles Bridges, a dominant post in Nick Ward, and a budding superstar 4 in Jaren Jackson, it’s easy to see why Winston has such a high assist rate and sees so many open perimeter looks within his Hawk action half court offense.

This is the best Sparty defense since the 2012-13 season, as they’re excellent in almost every facet. Ward has caught some unwarranted flak for his defense, but he’s actually been an elite post defender and makes up for his lack of overall quickness with some of the best post footwork I’ve seen in a several years, and his pick and roll defense is improving as well. Sparty will have trouble with big ball handlers (Ohio State) and mobile bigs (Michigan), but Jackson has improved his defense mightily as the season has progressed, particularly defending in isolation and off screens. That defense could really be put to the test with a potential semifinal rematch against Michigan, who dominated the Spartans in the second half in East Lansing.

If Not Them Then: 3 seed Purdue

The Boilers seemingly righted the ship with a three game winning streak to close the regular season, and with one of the country’s most prolific and efficient post players in Isaac Haas surrounded by deadly shooters at every position, Purdue can be extremely difficult to defend. Purdue grades out in the 98th percentile nationally in post offense efficiency, while running offense through the block at the 5th highest rate in the country. Matt Painter meanwhile runs some of the best off ball offense (Iverson sets in Purdue parlance) with Carsen Edwards, Vince Edwards, Dakota Mathias, and PJ Thompson all shooting 40% or higher from 3 on the season. When the shots are falling when Haas is being doubled in the post, Purdue is the best team in the league.

The Boilers aren’t without exploitable weaknesses however. While Purdue plays outstanding team defense, Mathias is really the only strong individual on ball defender, and Purdue is prone to getting beat one v one by big, athletic guards. Purdue also has some issues creating offense when the three isn’t falling at a typical rate. In Purdue’s three league losses, they shot just 18-56 from 3, and Carsen Edwards is really the only “go get a bucket” guy on the team (although a healthy Vince Edwards helps in that regard). Despite all the size in the world, Purdue is a poor rebounding team, and exploitable in transition off the defensive glass and with offensive putbacks. Purdue doesn’t allow a lot of transition opportunities, but they aren’t capable of defending on the break when they do.

Purdue’s path to the title game is loaded with potential pitfalls, as the Boilers’ half of the bracket contains 2 seed Ohio State and 7 seed Penn State. OSU of course defeated Purdue in West Lafayette, and PSU nearly knocked off the Boilers on the road as well (although Purdue was playing without Vince Edwards). While I think PSU can beat 10 seed Northwestern (the Lions didn’t have the league’s best defensive player in Josh Reaves when they lost to NU in the regular season), they’re likely going to struggle to get past OSU without Mike Watkins available (questionable as of right now). PSU is 22 points per 100 possessions better when Watkins is on the floor, with most of that value residing on the defensive end, where PSU holds opponents to just .98 points per possession when he’s on the court, compared to 1.13 points per possession when he’s off. It was also evident in the regular season finale that Tony Carr’s efficiency offensively will take a hit if Watkins is indeed out for the tournament as suspected. Nebraska showed zero respect for Julian Moore in 1-5 pick and roll, and the fact that Carr scored 27 points while being trapped on ball screens was a testament to his NBA talent level. It’s a shame for the Lions that they likely won’t be at full strength, because they match up extremely well with Ohio State, as evidenced by their sweep of the Bucks. PSU is one of the few teams that can contain the bullying perimeter length of Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate thanks to Lamar Stevens and uber defender Reaves. As it is, Purdue is likely to run into a Buckeye team that has the big athletic guards/wings that can give Purdue fits.

Of course the Boilers will likely have to get past one more giant hurdle to even get to that rematch, as a vastly improved Indiana team lurks at the 6 seed. The Hoosiers will first have to defeat the winner of 11 seed Minnesota and 14 seed Rutgers, but the depleted Gophers can’t defend Juwan Morgan inside (no team in the country allows a higher FG% at the rim than Minnesota, per hoop-math.com), and Rutgers was miserable against IU’s pack line defense. The Hoosiers will be licking their chops to get another crack at Purdue after losing to the Boilers in Assembly Hall, a game in which they held a second half lead. IU is a different team with Devonte Green playing with confidence at the point over Josh Newkirk, and the Hoosiers finally started to grasp Archie Miller’s pack line scheme as the season progressed.

Sleepers: 4 seed Nebraska, 5 seed Michigan

My two favorite sleepers in the bracket will likely cross each other in the quarterfinals. No one wants to see Michigan in a tournament setting after last year, and the Wolverines are following an almost identical script. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman is doing his best Derrick Walton impersonation over the past several games, Moe Wagner remains an unstoppable force in pick and roll offense, Zavier Simpson has morphed into one of the league’s best on ball defenders on the perimeter, and frosh Jordan Poole is getting the hang of Beilein’s 2 Guard offense. Additionally, the defense is playing at the same level as the offense right now, making the Wolverines the team to beat in my eyes. However, the Huskers gave Michigan all they could handle and more in a 20 point win in Lincoln. Since Tim Miles went to the small “Death Lineup”, Nebraska is essentially the worst match up for Michigan’s pick and roll offense. Miles switched on every single screen against Michigan, as he uniquely has the personnel to do it with Isaiah Roby, James Palmer, Isaac Copeland, and Evan Taylor all capable of defending Wagner in pick and pop situations. Since the Huskers were able to switch on everything, Michigan could barely get an open look from 3 (4-18) from deep, and Wagner was stymied into his worst offensive game in two years. The Huskers will also be playing with the knowledge that they probably have to win that hypothetical match up to get into the NCAA Tournament. The potential Michigan/Nebraska meeting could be the game of the tournament in a lot of ways.

Deeper Sleepers: 6 seed Indiana, 9 seed Wisconsin, 13 seed Illinois

I discussed Indiana’s potential earlier, and Illinois is playing the best basketball of their season, even if the results aren’t necessarily there. It’s been a struggle for the Illini to pick up Brad Underwood’s ball pressure, extreme denial defense, but some improvement is starting to show, and they should be able to overwhelm Iowa’s guards and prevent Tyler Cook and Luka Garza from dominating at the rim like they did in the Hawkeyes’ big comeback in the first meeting.

Wisconsin meanwhile is playing their best basketball of the year as well since losing at 8 seed Maryland on February 4. The Terps can’t guard Ethan Happ in the post, and since Mark Turgeon went to a smaller lineup out of necessity, he’s used less pick and roll and more motion, which is music to the Badgers’ ears, as they’re bad all over in pick and roll defense, and they couldn’t contain Anthony Cowan in the first meeting.

Final Prediction: Michigan over Purdue

NCAA Tournament: Championship Notes

3 Apr

SEASON PREDICTIONS: 2053-1858-89, 403-339-19

NCAA TOURNAMENT: 33-27-2, 13-10-1

Before we get to tonight’s title game, I want to thank everyone for reading and generally being positive and constructive with the feedback. It’s been another fun year talking hoops here. On to the game…

This is the first time this tournament UNC has had to play a team that’s bigger than they are, and can match or out physical them pound for pound in the frontcourt. Roy Williams plays almost exclusively a two big lineup, and Mark Few’s frontcourt with Karno, Collins, and Williams can more than matchup, and Few won’t hesitate to go jumbo just as often. Against the Heels, there are three areas you want to be able to check off 1) Can you limit their frontcourt in the post? 2) Can you limit transition opportunities? 3) Can you rebound the ball defensively? For the Zags, the answer to all three is a general yes. Per hoop-math.com, no one is tougher to score against at the rim than Gonzaga, and with such a big lineup they rebound well defensively (and they’ve already faced three of the top offensive rebounding teams in the country in WVU, XU, and USC, and limited all but WVU to below their typical offensive board rate). The real issue for Few tonight will be guarding Justin Jackson. He can’t match his height at the 3, but NWG, Perkins, and Melson can all stay in front of him. If Jackson’s jump shots are falling, it could be good night early for the Zags, as there’s essentially nothing they can do to keep him from cleaning looks over the top.

For the Zags offensively, they really have to make Meeks and Hicks guard in pnr away from the rim (Collins and Williams can accomplish this), and I think you’ll see Few test the post defense of those two against the athleticism of Collins and the pure heft of Karno. We know Roy won’t double the post and won’t adjust to that even if Collins/Karno are scoring/drawing fouls. Roy is Roy. He’s going to continue to extend his outstanding perimeter defense led by Pinson and Berry and let his bigs work alone. That was an outstanding plan against Oregon’s four out penetrate and kick, as Oregon’s motion stagnated against the extended UNC perimeter and with Bell not really being a true post scorer, the Ducks had no recourse other than a million contested jumpers over the length of Pinson and Jackson. That won’t be the case tonight against Gonzaga, who has dual posr threats and two bigs who are fluid in pnr.

The transition battle will be the game within the game. As I mentioned, UNC’s extended perimeter defense has been suffocating guards this tournament, as Pinson, Berry, and Jackson have frustrated the hell out of some of the best scorers in the country like Brooks, Dorsey, Monk, and Fox. NWG has shown he can get frustrated as well when you bottle him and get in his jersey. Few made a clearly conscious effort to avoid that against a suffocating USC defense and pushex in transition whenever the opportunity arose, and NWG is a locomotive with outstanding vision in transition. That’s why limiting UNC on the glass is of mega huge importance tonight. It’s hard to run on the Heels because they typically grab all their misses. However, if you rebound consistently, you can beat their heft down the floor. UK did it in the regular season, and even IU did too, and Collins runs the floor so well in transition for a seven footer. Of course Few on the other end has to basically send everyone back off misses because you want UNC to have to operate in the halfcourt against the best set defense in the country. UNC is lethal in transition, but their big lineup jumbles up the floor in the halfcourt, and they don’t have a spacer in that regard (unless Luke Maye has a “Kentucky game”). That said, it’s all easier said than done, and UNC’s often irrepressible transition game has found opportunities against even the best transition defenses in the country (see Oregon on Saturday). In short, UNC’s game plan is out there in bold print. It takes a minor miracle for Roy to adjust (although the switch to zone late against UK was inspired), and if you’re not able to take advantage of single post coverage, limit second chance points, and limit transition opportunities, you will lose. I think Gonzaga is more than capable of doing those three aspects (deep x factor: the ankle health of each PG as both Berry and NWG have some issues there and you hope it doesn’t have any consequence on this game).

PREDICTION: Gonzaga +1.5

NCAA Tournament: Final Four Notes

1 Apr

Season Predictions: 2052-1857-89, 403-339-19

NCAA Tournament: 32-26-2, 13-10-1

#1 Gonzaga vs #7 South Carolina

South Carolina’s defense is outstanding (and these are the top two defenses in the country by KenPom’s metrics), there’s no questioning that. They deny, literally, everything. A simple perimeter pass becomes a Herculean effort against South Carolina’s physical man, and downright impossible extended Frank Martin’s extended 3-2 matchup zone. That said, the Gamecocks’ offensive explosion in this tournament is why they’re here. At no point in the regular season did they string together three straight +1ppp OE games, a feat they’ve accomplished four straight times in this tournament run, mostly thanks to the heroics of Sindarius Thornwell (who reportedly has been battling an illness this week). So while South Carolina’s ultra physical and aggressive defense gets the headlines in this matchup, I actually think it’s Gonzaga’s defense that’s going to be the difference tonight, a defense that allows the lowest FG% at the rim in the country (where South Carolina really has to score off penetration/FTs, turnovers, and Kotsar post ups to be effective), they defend without fouling, and they’re an excellent defensive rebounding team, a necessity against USC (although they’ve been routinely challenged on the glass in this tournament). Scoring efficiently in the halfcourt against Gonzaga is next to impossible (per hoop-math, they’re limiting opponents to a sub 40% eFG in the halfcourt), but I’m not quite willing to count out Lord Sindarius. Frank Martin has been really creative in how he uses Thornwell, and will almost certainly try to go small for extended periods with Thornwell at the 4 rather than try to match up straight up against the Gonzaga height in the frontcourt. Martin will use a lot of Al Skinneresque flex action when Thornwell is lined up at the 4, and the idea will be to try to get the Gonzaga bigs on him in space, where he can attack and cause some foul trouble (although I think Williams is capable of guarding him outside the paint if that match up arises on pnr/flex action). If, and it’s a big IF, Thornwell and Dozier can get Gonzaga in foul trouble, Mark Few will likely go to the 2-3 he’s shown when Karno is getting exposed in pnr or they’re having foul issues (see WVU). However, there’s a pervading myth that USC is terrible against zones, when in actuality, they’ve been just as good as anyone else, if not slightly better against zones (and they’ve seen everything from the Boeheim zone to Ole Miss’ 1-3-1 to Baylor’s morphing 1-1-3). If Gonzaga does get in foul trouble, they’ll start to run into some matchup issues, if the Gamecocks aren’t getting the whistles, they’ll likely really struggle to score in the halfcourt. As for Gonzaga offensively, my major concern is Williams-Goss against the physical aggression of the South Carolina guards. He really seemed rattled by WVU (but who doesn’t?), and while USC doesn’t really extend full court, the pressure and trapping borne from the 3-2 is virtually impossible to deal with in the halfcourt if NWG is tentative again, and it will lead to transition points/USC not having to score against a set Gonzaga defense. That said, Few has had a week to prepare for this, and his offensive sets against Xavier’s morphing zones (albeit far less aggressive and active at the top) on short prep were outstanding. Look for a lot of backdoor action tonight against the zone, which plays so far up on the floor. In short, keys for Gonzaga: solid guard play against extended 3-2 zone, keeping Karno/Williams/Collins out of foul trouble so South Carolina is forced to “play big” with Kotsar and Silva. For USC: continue to utilize a hopefully healthy Thornwell at the 4, which forces Gonzaga to try to guard him in space, force TOs against shaky Gonzaga backcourt.

ADVANCE: Gonzaga

ATS PREDICTION: Gonzaga -6.5

#1 North Carolina vs #3 Oregon

I would love Oregon in this matchup if they had one more Jordan Bell (well, they did when Chris Boucher was healthy). As it is, I still think Oregon can really challenge the Heels here because of Altman’s switching zone defenses and some mismatches they’ll create with their 4 out spread pnr offense. The bigger UNC defense with their more traditional 4/5 men have had issues when they’re forced to defend a ball handler at the 4, which Oregon sets up in often with Brooks. Miami exposed the Heels that way with four interchangeable parts on the perimeter that can all penetrate and kick within the motion offense, as did IU and Duke twice. Hicks can’t guard Brooks outside and Jackson can’t guard him when Brooks wants to back him down if Roy wants to go small to match. It seems rather obvious and banal analysis, but Brooks really is the key, as UNC’s best perimeter defender, Pinson, will be on Dorsey (who has been out of his mind this tournament). That said, UNC of course has some inherent advantages offensively with their size, and this game actually should play out quite a bit like last year’s outstanding title game between the Heels and Villanova. With Hicks, Bradley, and Meeks (and now apparently Luke Maye out there spacing defenses), the UNC frontline is too much for Oregon, even with the otherworldly play of Jordan Bell. Bell is a physical phenom, but unless he sweats off into a second Jordan Bell (and Altman has shown he’s not going to simply plug in Bigby-Williams in Boucher’s spot/minutes), and there’s just too much size in the UNC frontcourt. Simply put, Altman probably can’t use much, if any man to man. Jackson is too big for Brooks/Dorsey, and with the one man frontcourt, the soft zone press and switching 2-3 have to be the defenses of choice tonight. The problem is that UNC can actually shoot from outside this year, and if Luke Maye is going to continue to be the best player on the court out of nowhere, he provides Roy with that frontcourt spacer he’s been missing. Additionally, Oregon can’t really keep UNC off the offensive glass, especially when they’re in zone. However, since Oregon really only sends Bell to the offensive glass, they’re solid in limiting transition opps off misses, and keeping the Heels from running is always a top priority.

ADVANCE: North Carolina

ATS PREDICTION: Oregon +5