Fairfield @ Wright State
Scott Nagy’s benching of Justin Mitchell clearly pushed the right buttons, as Mitchell has been solid with the exception of the ugly Gardner-Webb game. The Raiders look like they could be the best defensive team in the Horizon, with plenty of length on the perimeter (Mitchell is key there against Tyler Nelson today), and Loudon Love gives Scott Nagy an outstanding glass presence on both ends. Sydney Johnson uses a lot of zone, and WSU just posted their best efficiency rating of the year against Jacksonville’s 3-2.
UC Riverside @ Michigan
A few potential issues for the Wolverines here, as they’re back from Hawaii with a trip to Chapel Hill next, and Dennis Cutts’ shifting defensive schemes can make running PnR consistently a little wonky. However, the Highlander offense is simply atrocious, as Dikymbe Martin and Chance Murray dominate possessions, but can’t stop turning the ball over. That said, they have played two extremely aggressive pressing teams in LMU and Portland State, so those early numbers are a bit skewed.
PICK: UC Riverside +21
Eastern Michigan @ South Florida
Third straight game for USF seeing a zone, and they’ve registered two of their most efficient offensive games against Howard’s 3-2 zone and Arkansas State’s 3-2/1-3-1. EMU’s massive Syracuse 2-3 is of course a different test, but the USF ball movement has been better than anticipated, and Brian Gregory’s interior defenses are generally top notch, and Malik Martin gives him the size to matchup with the long and athletic Eagles. EMU relies heavily on generating turnovers within the trapping zone and pounding the ball to James Thompson IV and spacing out Elijah Minnie in the halfcourt, areas where the Bulls can limit. USF also likely returns 6’10 Texas Tech transfer Isaiah Manderson to the frontcourt, which would be a huge addition against Thompson and Minnie.
PICK: South Florida +4
Air Force @ Colorado
Dave Pilipovich has his most athletic team of his tenure at Air Force, and he wants to attack and crash the offensive glass this year, but the Falcons looked awful in back to back games where they had to utilize a zone offense. Colorado’s a plus defensive rebounding team, and could have some success in transition against an unusually offensive rebounding reliant Falcon team. Pilipovich hasn’t been using the Princeton style offense as much early, but it would be effective against a Colorado defense that has had communication issues switching on screens effectively.
PICK: Air Force +12
Temple @ La Salle
Doctor John frustrated Miami with the return of his burn offense, and the defensive effort against the Miami PnR offense was outstanding, but the Explorers can’t find any offense from anyone not named BJ Johnson. La Salle was 0-15 from 3, and Temple has the wing length to bother Johnson today. This is one likely plays out incredibly similar to the Miami game.
PICK: Temple -3.5
Georgia vs St. Mary’s
The Gaels struggle against athleticism and speed, especially in the backcourt/wings. Plodding Georgia doesn’t really have that outside of Turtle Jackson. UGA is on no rest after half the team played through food poisoning against SDSU, one of which was Yante Maten. and all of the Bulldogs’ offense filters through him in the post. The Gaels will shred Mark Fox’s 2-3 matchup zone, assuming Jock Landale doesn’t get in foul trouble against the bruising Maten.
PICK: St. Mary’s -7.5
UC Irvine @ UCLA
Russell Turner has been extremely disappointed with the Eater defense of late, as they’ve been uncharacteristically torched in transition by Arizona State and Rider, and even let dreadful NAU score at a point per possession clip. We should see a renewed defensive focus from the Eaters against the Bruins, but they don’t have nearly enough offensive firepower to keep up with UCLA.
PICK: UCLA -14.5
St. Francis Brooklyn @ FGCU
The Eagles had mostly sleepwalked through their tournament until a dominant second half against Navy. The Terriers are one of the smallest teams in the country and should be completely overwhelmed by the FGCU frontcourt. Any FGCU miss from Johnson and Goodwin could realistically turn into a putback dunk by the Eagles.
PICK: FGCU -20
Canisius @ Pacific
Damon Stoudamire’s team is almost exclusively guarding in zone, and that might be a deathwish against Canisius. Dating back to last year, the Griffs have averaged 1.13 points per possession against primary zone defenses, but they have struggled when those defenses have extended pressure with their guards, which Stoudamire certainly does. This Pacific zone is extremely similar to Tennessee State’s, which have been massive outliers in terms of Canisius’ efficiency against zones the past two seasons, and it’s because of the fact that TSU disrupts perimeter passing lanes, just like Pacific.
PICK: Pacific -2.5
UC Davis @ Washington
Good opportunity for Mike Hopkins to get the 2-3 zone on track. Hopkins has had to switch between man and the Cuse zone depending on personnel, but UC Davis filters offense through the post more than any team in the country. Chima Moneke is undersized at 6’6, and the length of the UW frontcourt could give him some issues. Jim Les runs a hard-nosed man-to-man defense that doesn’t have a lot of size, but is incredibly disruptive in the backcourt, and the Aggies allow next to nothing in transition.
PICK: UC Davis +8.5
North Carolina vs Michigan State
Tom Izzo’s struggles against the Tobacco Road elite are well documented, and tonight’s PK80 clash will feature two dominant frontcourt schemes, and turning the offenses into one-dimensional jump-shooting ones is the primary goal of both defenses. With Luke Maye suddenly looking like one of the best stretch 4s in the college basketball, and Kenny Williams providing some shooting from the wing, the Heels have the advantage in this regard, and we saw how much MSU struggled against compact defenses when Duke went to a zone.
PICK: North Carolina +1.5
Harvard @ CSUF
The Crimson were hit with the tainted food that was apparently going around in Fullerton, as Seth Towns and Corey Johnson missed the St. Joe’s game. The Crimson still pulled out the win, but they face a backcourt penetration heavy CSUF attack that could give their aggressive perimeter defense some issues on the back end if Chris Lewis can’t stay out of foul trouble. You absolutely have to pack it in against CSUF’s total lack of shooters, and I’ll be interested to see if Tommy Amaker adjusts accordingly (unlikely given his track record).
PICK: CSUF +5.5
Portland State vs Stanford
We’ll see how effective the PSU full court press after some wear and tear, and potentially without Traylin Farris. Daejon Davis has had his turnover issues that typically accompany a freshman point guard, but Reid Travis and Michael Humphrey should absolutely dominate on the back end whenever Davis does break the press.
PICK: Stanford -6.5
Texas A&M @ USC
Ridiculous amount of athleticism and length on the floor for this one. The Aggies can limit Bennie Boatwright with the athleticism of Robert Williams and Tonny Trocha Morelos, but the USC backcourt could be the deciding factor in this one. JJ Caldwell is back for the Aggies, but the senior duo of Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart is the heart and soul of the Trojans. Looking forward to this one, and I think it probably boils down to half court execution, as both teams are excellent at limiting transition opportunities- that’s where McLaughlin takes over (although A&M’s halfcourt defense is stellar with the ability to seamlessly switch between man and unique zone looks).
PICK: USC -3.5
Duke vs Florida
Warrior-poet Chris Chiozza is going to give it a go, but I think this game likely rests entirely with Marvin Bagley. He’s going to have to prove he can defend on the perimeter against either Jalen Hudson and/or Egor Koulechov in Florida’s 4 out offense, and I think that’s a matchup the Gators exploit routinely tonight. That of course works both ways though, and Bagley should have a monster offensive output tonight.
PICK: Florida +2
San Diego State vs Washington State
Wazzu’s upset of SMC probably left the Aztec coaching staff scrambling to throw together a quick scout of the Cougars in this tournament, but here’s all you really need to know: get back in transition and extend on Malachi Flynn, Viont’e Daniels, Carter Skaggs, and Robert Franks. Ernie Kent has the Cougars running and gunning, and this is essentially the opposite of what SDSU saw against UGA. That said, Brian Dutcher has a lot of length he can throw on the perimeter. Wazzu’s style makes them incredibly volatile and hard to predict, even within a game (see the Texas Southern game, where the Cougars erased a massive deficit).
PICK: San Diego State -10.5
Sunday Evening Top Picks (YTD: 70-67):
South Florida +4
Temple/La Salle under 138.5
Texas A&M/USC under 150
North Carolina +1.5
Duke/Florida over 162