Gardner Webb @ Wright State
First game of this tournament could be problematic for the host Raiders. Scott Nagy has reinstated Justin Mitchell, but that doesn’t solve WSU’s point guard issues, and GWU brings a lot of pressure (watch out for frosh Jaheam Cornwall, who is Tim Craft’s new Laquincy Rideau). L’Hassane Niangane has to stay out of foul trouble, as Nagy looks more intent on pounding the ball inside this year to bowling ball Loudon Love and 6-foot-6 wing Everett Winchester working off the bounce. Wing Jamaal Robateau missed the last D2 game for GWU, but I think it was primarily due to rest.
PICK: Gardner Webb +4
Denver @ FGCU
The Eagles return home for their tournament after two straight road losses, including a surprising one at BGSU. Rodney Billups wants to push the pace at Denver, but that’s a bad idea against the Eagles, and FGCU has the frontcourt depth to limit Daniel Amigo around the rim. The Pio backcourt of Joe Rosga and Elvin Rodriguez is small and slow laterally, forcing Billups to sacrifice offense for Ade Murkey’s defense. FGCU guards Brandon Goodwin and Zach Johnson should absolutely live in the paint tonight.
PICK: FGCU -12
New Mexico vs. TCU
Alex Robinson has a bone bruise in his foot, and his status for the Florida tournament is unknown, and that could be a significant loss against UNM’s relentless full-court pressure. That said, Jaylen Fisher looked phenomenal against Omaha’s pressure, and UNM has no Plan B if teams are successfully running a press break offense. Jamie Dixon tends to sag a bit defensively, and UNM is firing up the 3 at an epic rate, but the Frogs should dominate the glass on both ends.
PICK: TCU -14
UNCG @ Wake Forest
UNCG had a chance to win this game at home last year in a rare example of a power conference team traveling to the home of a little brother. UNCG presses as much as any team in the country, but it’s used to slow down offenses more than anything else, and this Wake offense isn’t built to operate in the halfcourt. Danny Manning has had to utilize a lot of zone because his team is horrific guarding against pick-and-roll. Led by Franc Alonso, the Spartans can shoot the ball. Several big issues for the Deacs, especially considering how good UNCG is on the defensive glass, meaning a poor halfcourt offense won’t have secondary scoring options.
PICK: UNCG +6.5
Xavier vs. Arizona State
Interesting game. Xavier busted out the 1-3-1 for what I think was the first time last night against GW, which was strange because Chris Mack generally uses it against good backcourts, which GW doesn’t have. That leads me to believe that he was practicing it for either KSU or ASU, who are so backcourt dominant. ASU’s four-out offense around Romello White is lethal, and Quentin Goodin has some lateral quickness issues, so I suspect we’ll see a lot of the 1-3-1 with J.P. Macura at the top to try and disrupt the ASU guards with his length. Should be a good one if XU can establish something inside and expose the lack of depth behind White.
PICK: Arizona State +6.5
UCF vs. West Virginia
I’m not high on WVU this year, and they could struggle against the UCF amoeba zone, but UCF has no point guard against Press Virginia. That’s going to be a problem.
PICK: West Virginia -7
Portland State vs. Butler
With three ball handlers in Aaron Thompson, Kamar Baldwin and Paul Jorgensen, I don’t think Butler should have much issue with the PSU press, especially with the Vikings off a draining loss to Duke on a back to back. Butler’s offense looked as bad as I’ve ever seen against the long athleticism of the Horns, but he should have more clean looks on the back end of the pressure today.
PICK: Butler -12
Georgia vs. San Diego State
UGA’s backcourt simply isn’t very good on either end. CSUF’s Kyle Allman basically waltzed into the lane last night, and Trey Kell/Dev Watson/Jeremy Hemsley could do the same tonight. It also exposes Yante Maten to unnecessary foul trouble. SDSU is suddenly an up-tempo team under Brian Dutcher, but Mark Fox is intent on playing as slow as possible, limiting possessions and working the ball into Maten at all costs. SDSU isn’t nearly as stout at the rim as they have been in previous years, especially with Kam Rooks looking like he won’t be able to stay on the court for long stretches, so there’s some hope for the Dawg offense tonight.
PICK: Georgia +3.5
Tennessee vs. NC State
Multiple ball handlers for Rick Barnes against Kevin Keatts’ press, but facing it on back-to-back-to back is no fun, though the Vols do have a deep bench. Expect Barnes to test NCSU’s lack of shooters with a packed-in defense today, as it also saves legs.
PICK: Tennessee -6
Western Kentucky vs. SMU
Both teams have a fairly equal lack of depth, but SMU’s lengthy shooters should enjoy the 1-3-1 zone. Can Ethan Chargois extend out on Justin Johnson’s newfound effective pick-and-pop game?
PICK: SMU -10
Kent State vs. Valpo
KSU is structured entirely different this year Jimmy Hall gone, and they might actually match up a bit better with Valpo’s four-guard lineup. That said, KSU is significantly weaker on the defensive glass, and the Crusaders are crashing the O glass hard. But they’re also leaving themselves vulnerable in transition, and led by Jaylin Walker, the Golden Flashes are more prone to run this year. KSU has trouble hitting jump shots, but that shouldn’t be as big of an issue with Valpo’s guards extending past the 3-point line frequently this year.
PICK: Kent State +6.5
Rhode Island vs. Virginia
Virginia is playing at their typically elite level defensively, and URI’s 41 percent 3-point shooting is due for a fairly steep regression. That’s a bad combo today, especially with the Rams shorthanded.
PICK: Virginia -6
George Washington vs. Kansas State
GW’s backcourt is not good, and KSU’s long, aggressive ball hawks could feast tonight. KSU is coming off one of their best offensive games ever, so there’s sure to be a significant drop off tonight. But GW’s defensive help is arguably among the worst I’ve seen this year, and Bruce Weber’s motion offense should enjoy another good night.
PICK: Kansas State -13.5
Northern Colorado vs. Youngstown State
Any offense with a pulse is going to put up a massive number against the YSU full-court press, and with Jordan Davis directing traffic and a terrific off-ball scorer in Andre Spight, the Bears can score. They’ve also had some bad luck shooting the 3 to date, and their shooters are due to find the mark sooner rather than later, although getting open looks from outside is far from a given against the frantic YSU pressure.
PICK: UNC -5.5
Stanford vs. Ohio State
I think Stanford’s two post offense (although Reid Travis has expanded his perimeter game) runs into some trouble against a typically stout OSU interior, especially after they were demolished by JWIII last night, and the Zags couldn’t miss from the perimeter. Ohio State’s offense has some major issues with a lack of shooters, though, and Stanford will generally pack it in tonight. Could be a brick fest, and I expect Chris Holtmann to extend the length of Jae’Sean Tate and Musa Jallow out on frosh PG Daejon Davis, who is a talented floor runner but has some turnover issues.
PICK: Ohio State -4
Cal Poly vs. Central Michigan
The Cal Poly backcourt duo of Vic Joseph and Donovan Fields is simply not missing from the perimeter, and the Mustangs as a team are shooting 52 percent from 3. That’s not sustainable, of course, but CMU’s sagging zone will certainly allow a lot of open looks. While Cal Poly’s perimeter shooting will regress, so too will the Chips’ defense only “allowing” teams to shoot 27 percent from 3, especially with the sheer amount of looks they allow. Joe Callero’s unique matchup zone also funnels you off the 3-point line, and Keno Davis’ ball reversal offense is highly reliant on the three ball.
PICK: Cal Poly +1
St. Bonaventure vs. Maryland
Bonnies are likely without Jay Adams again, but they should have Courtney Stockard back. Maryland could be without Darryl Morsell, but the Terps’ frontcourt should completely overwhelm the Bonnies, assuming they don’t get tripped up by Mark Schmidt’s defense, which switches between a disguised pack line and a few zone looks. Interestingly, Maryland has had a lot of work with their zone offense, coming off a win over Jackson State, which uses a 1-3-1 and 3-2, and Mark Turgeon has likely been prepping for Syracuse’s 2-3.
PICK: Maryland -10
UConn vs. Michigan State
Alterique Gilbert, Jalen Adams, Christian Vital and Terry Larrier are either going to shot the Huskies to victory today, or they’re going to get ran off the floor if they’re missing. They have little to no chance to generate points off the dribble or at the rim against Sparty.
PICK: Michigan St -6.5
Sacramento State @ CSUF
Woof. Quite frankly these are two of the worst offensive teams I’ve seen this year. Sacramento State is down to a third string PG, and it’s taking a major toll on their only offensive threat, Justin Strings. CSUF, meanwhile, at least has scoring options between Khalil Ahmad, Kyle Allman and Jackson Rowe inside.
PICK: CSUF -9.5
Arizona vs. Purdue
Sean Miller tried to warn everyone that his team wasn’t grasping the pack line principled defense, and sure enough, teams have broken the Wildcats down off the dribble in Atlantis. That’s not necessarily Purdue’s strength as an offense, but they’re capable of it. This isn’t going to be a good game for Isaac Haas. He couldn’t guard outside the lane against Justin Johnson, and he’s going to be equally ineffective against DeAndre Ayton. Lots of motivation here, as neither team wants to go 0 for the Bahamas.
PICK: Purdue +1
Vanderbilt vs. Seton Hall
Vandy was embarrassed by the UVA pack line, and Kevin Willard was outcoached by Danny Hurley last night. Not sure how this one plays out. Generally speaking, I think SHU is a touch overrated, and Vandy has guards who can handle the three-quarter court pressure, and they rebound well defensively – and limiting the Pirates on the O glass is always a priority.
PICK: Vandy +6.5
Hampton vs. Rider
Tough one for the Pirates. Kevin Baggett will use a less junkier version of a box and one on Jermaine Marrow, with elite on-ball defender Stevie Jordan extending out and forcing the rest of the Pirates to hit jump shots, which they can’t do. They’ll have the capability to then subsequently beat a poor Hampton transition defense down the court off the miss.
PICK: Rider -9
Texas State vs. Canisius
The Bobcats don’t have anywhere near enough firepower to keep up with the Griffs, but they are extremely active in passing lanes in Danny Kaspar’s hard-nosed man-to-man defense. Canisius’ offense is reliant on quick perimeter ball movement, and that could be difficult against Texas State – as can beating them in transition, a staple of Reggie Witherspoon offenses. That said, the Bobcats simply can’t score enough, but Immanuel King could emerge as a low-post threat to expose the thin and undersized Griff frontcourt.
PICK: Canisius +2.5
Florida vs. Gonzaga
Stanford was the first team that could have exposed Florida’s thin frontcourt, especially with Kevarrius Hayes out, and while Reid Travis got his, the Gators simply shot the cover off the ball and completely ran the overmatched Cardinal off the court. Now they face an even bigger frontcourt (and backcourt) in the Zags. Florida’s ball pressure will be something to watch against “point guard-less” Gonzaga, and it would probably be unwise for Mark Few to bust out the zone look he utilized against Ohio State last night. Extremely interesting game that will simultaneously test Gonzaga’s supposed weakness as well at the Gators’.
PICK: Florida -2.5
Idaho vs. CSUB
Idaho’s guards might struggle against the CSUB full-court press, but I’m more concerned about the Runners finding offense vs. Don Verlin’s morphing pack line-zone defense, as Rod Barnes has a definite dearth of shooters.
PICK: Idaho -2
Nevada @ Hawaii
Good test for Eric Musselman’s postionless Pack, as they finally play a team with a frontcourt. Mike Thomas and Gibson Johnson can score on the block for the Bows, while Jack Purchase is a perimeter stretch 4 and an excellent passer. Nevada’s defensive scheme doesn’t allow for a lot of fouls, and Hawaii has been living at the free throw line at Stan Sheriff. It will be interesting to see if they continue to get the calls against a defense that doesn’t really hack. Major backcourt wing advantage for the Pack, and that should be enough to pull away tonight.
PICK: Nevada -11.5
Friday’s Top Picks Part II (YTD 58-55):
Idaho/CSUB under 135.5
UCF/West Virginia under 144
CSUF/Sac State under 136
Gardner Webb +4
Ohio State/Stanford under 152.5
Kansas State -13.5