Holy Cross vs. Manhattan
The Jaspers don’t match up particularly well against Bill Carmody’s aggressive shifting 1-3-1, as the Manhattan guards turn it over routinely, and they’re incredibly reliant on getting to the free throw line, which Carmody’s defense generally prevents. Additionally, the Jaspers are potentially without star wing Rich Williams, who is rumored to not even be with the team in Belfast, as he apparently is dealing with visa issues. This is just speculation, but I haven’t seen Williams in any of the team photos from Belfast. Manhattan struggled mightily without Williams last year due to injury, and this year Manhattan is scoring at 1.02 points per possession when he’s on the floor and a dreadful 0.81 when he’s not, per Hooplens.com. Holy Cross has been awful on the glass on both ends, and they have their own turnover issues as frosh Caleb Green gets acclimated to the point. Steve Masiello, of course, brings his Louisville style press to the table, which could cause major issues for the Crusaders.
PICK: Holy Cross +1.5
Towson vs. La Salle
La Salle is going to struggle all year with rim-focused offenses, and that’s precisely how Pat Skerry orients his offense. However, the Tigers could be without Justin Gorham, who suffered an ankle injury in their last game against a D3 opponent. Gorham is essential to Skerry’s scheme as the team’s best rebounder on both ends, and the Tigers always place a high priority on winning the glass. La Salle coach John Giannini has switched up his defensive scheme this year, as the Explorers are switching on nearly every ball screen, but it’s had mixed results, with Tony Washington often being the lone hedger while everyone else switches, and Washington has looked confused and out of position at times.
PICK: Towson -1.5
Marist @ The Citadel
First game for The Citadel without Preston Parks, but in Citadel coach Duggar Baucom’s Loot and Shoot, everyone is essentially replaceable, and both the offense and defense have been significantly more efficient with Parks off the floor this year. Frosh Hayden Brown is Baucom’s new diamond in the rough and is basically a bigger version of Parks who can line up in Baucom’s “frontcourt.” Marist runs a deliberate motion offense that should be disrupted by the Loot and Shoot, especially since Marist coach Mike Maker doesn’t have a point guard on the roster. The Citadel generally does well in the first game of their tournament, but could a potential game against Army have them looking ahead?
PICK: The Citadel -5
Purdue @ Maryland
A conference game already! Several Terps have referred to last year’s home loss to Purdue as the low point of the season, and I think the Terps can exploit some issues in Purdue’s ball screen defense, particularly with Kevin Huerter, who looks like a different player this year. The Terps are one of the few teams that are bigger than the Boilers, and Bruno Fernando can exploit Isaac Haas’ immobility with his speed and athleticism around the rim.
PICK: Maryland +2.5
Duquesne @ Pitt
The City Game has suddenly become the Super Bowl for both Duquesne and Pitt, as it looks a win for either would the highlight of the year. Duquesne is incredibly banged up, as coach Keith Dambrot’s starting of a football player tells you all you need to know. PG Tarin Smith went down against Cornell, and he’s probably a game-time decision, although he has been practicing. Pitt has shown some signs of life after the unholy beatdown against Penn State, and a Kevin Stallings defense will always keep you off the free throw line and induce jump shots; the Dukes’ only source of reliable offense has been at the stripe.
PICK: Pitt -7.5
Davidson @ North Carolina
Davidson is always going to have a shooter’s chance against the Heels because coach Bob McKillop’s motion offense is so good at exploiting sagging, compact defenses. Of course the flip side is that UNC’s frontcourt can do whatever they want. This sets up similarly to the Michigan game for UNC. If the Wildcats’ perimeter shots are falling, they will compete. If not, they will lose by 15-20.
PICK: Davidson +10.5
Eastern Illinois @ Bradley
Bradley is getting healthier after some time off, with Jaylen Hodgson due back, and he’s key in Brian Wardle’s ball screen defense, which EIU relies on heavily offensively, especially with Jajuan Starks. Turnovers continue to be an issue for Bradley, and Jay Spoonhour’s team will gamble for steals, but those possession losses will be mitigated by the fact that the Braves can dominate the offensive glass tonight.
PICK: Bradley -8.5
Illinois @ Northwestern
Early returns on Brad Underwood being able to install his aggressive deny-heavy defense at Illinois have not been encouraging, and this is shaping up incredibly similarly to his year in Stillwater last year, where he had to basically pull a 180 and install a pack line. The difference is Underwood doesn’t have a Juwan Evans to rely on offensively. Wake shredded the Illini in pick-and-roll, and while Northwestern has been a massive disappointment to date, it’s hard to imagine they can play worse offensively, especially Scottie Lindsey, than they did against Georgia Tech. To make it even more frustrating for Chris Collins, his defense finally played well. Collins has taken the “no practice gear” route to motivate his team and reset for the Big Ten season, but I think there’s a definite path for Bryant McIntosh to get on track offensively tonight against an Illini defense still trying to figure out how to guard ball screens. I shudder to think what would happen to NU if McIntosh got hurt. The drop off when he’s off the floor, which is rare, is steep. The issues with NU are myriad, but this could be a good chance to get on track a bit.
PICK: Northwestern -7
Boise State @ Oregon
No Troy Brown for Oregon, and Boise State has some revenge on its mind, as they felt they should have won last year’s meeting in Eugene. That’s a big loss on both ends for the Ducks, and Chandler Hutchison should be a little less rusty tonight. Despite some heavy losses in the frontcourt, Oregon’s defense remains elite in rim protection thanks to MiKyle McIntosh, Kenny Wooten and Paul White, but Boise State’s offense largely avoids scoring at the rim. Offensively, Dana Altman’s teams typically shred zones, and this year’s team looks like no exception; Leon Rice has been using a base 2-3 this year. Potential to see some points here, even without Brown on the floor.
PICK: Boise State +7.5
Creighton @ Gonzaga
Creighton’s offensive spacing is elite, and it creates open shots at the rim and the perimeter, which is why they’re one of the country’s most efficient offenses. Gonzaga’s interior defense last year was historically dominant, but they appear to be taking a significant step back this year. However, it’s still a Mark Few scheme that’s allowing teams to shoot just 51 percent at the rim (per Hoop-math.com), and they’re at the Kennel. The potential loss of Corey Kispert is concerning in terms of trying to keep up with the Bluejay offense, as is the Gonzaga transition defense early this year.
PICK: Creighton +8
Friday Top Picks (YTD: 87-82):
Holy Cross +1.5
Holy Cross/Manhattan under 136.5
Davidson/UNC over 158.5
*all lines via 5Dimes at time of publication