Mercer @ Tennessee
Tough first opponent for the Vols in their return to the US, as Mercer starts five seniors. Bob Hoffman runs a well-oiled motion offense and a shell defense that forces a ton of jump shots. The Vols can shoot, but they rely heavily on working it inside out through lane penetration, which is hard to do against the Bears’ compact defense. Mercer can also rebound well defensively, and while undersized, the Vols are extremely active on the offensive glass. One major issue for Mercer comes personnel wise, as leading scorer Ria’n Holland is questionable with an ankle sprain. Ethan Stair is a capable replacement, but Holland’s ability to penetrate and get to the free throw line is paramount to this Mercer team. Per HoopLens.com, Mercer is scoring at 1.23 points per possession with Holland on the floor, and 1.12 with him off. Those gaudy numbers weren’t as dramatic last year over a full season, but they illustrate how important Holland is to Hoffman’s offense.
PICK: Tennessee -8.5
Wofford @ Coastal Carolina
Have to be able to chase Fletcher Magee off the 3-point line, and Cliff Ellis’ junk zones do quite the opposite. Two very good shooting teams, but Coastal has a massive edge in the frontcourt should Ellis choose to exploit it. The Chants could be without leading scorer Zac Cuthbertson, though, as he’s reportedly a “true game-time decision.” Coastal is the better team, but facing an always well-coached Wofford team that hasn’t been playing the typical hard-nosed Mike Young man-to-man yet could be tricky. It’s also not the best matchup for the Chants scheme wise, especially if Ellis chooses to zone, which would be unconscionable.
PICK: Wofford +7
Siena @ St. Bonaventure
Siena’s playing a little better than I thought they would per preseason projections, but they should struggle against Bona’s 1-3-1 zone and with keeping Matt Mobley off the free throw line. Jimmy Patsos teams always foul at a high rate, and the Bonnies have lived at the free throw line. A healthy Courtney Stockard has given the Bonnies a shot in the arm without Jay Adams, but the biggest issue is keeping the Saints off the offensive glass, where a lacking Bonnie frontcourt has had issues. Siena is fairly awful in transition defense thanks to that reliance on the offensive glass and a high turnover rate, but that’s not something the Bonnies are built to exploit. Adams sounds doubtful to suit up for this one, but keep an eye out, as he has been practicing.
PICK: Siena +8
ETSU @ Fordham
The Bucs head to Rose Hill without their best overall defender and rebounder in David Burrell, while the status of Prokop Slanina for the Rams remains a mystery and could easily mitigate the Burrell loss for Steve Forbes. A much better ETSU waxed these Rams in Johnson City last year, but this year’s Bucs have serious turnover issues, which is not ideal against Jeff Neubauer’s zone press schemes, and without Burrell they’re less likely to fully exploit a horrific rebounding team on both ends. That said, Fordham’s offense is extremely poor in the halfcourt, with zero spacing, and Joe Chartouny is seemingly regressing.
PICK: ETSU +2
Buffalo @ Niagara
The Purple Eagles were clearly looking ahead to this rivalry matchup during the first half against Army before rallying in the second half, and the Niagara seniors essentially admitted as much (from Mike Meiler at the Niagara-Gazette):
“The Niagara Purple Eagles barely made it to locker room following Monday’s win over Army before their attention turned to the next challenge: Big 4 rival Buffalo.
NU locked down the visiting Black Knights for a 77-71 victory, climbing back from a double-digit second-half deficit. But the celebration was short-lived.
“As soon as we got in the locker room,” said leading scorer Matt Scott, “(Marvin Prochet) said, ‘Hey, we won the game. We got practice Tuesday, game Wednesday.’ We’ve got to get UB.”While rivalries often mean more to fans than players, the Purple Eagles were open about wanting a piece of the Bulls. No current NU player has experienced a win over UB, which took last season’s meeting, 76-66, at the Gallagher Center.
“We owe them (from last year),” Prochet said. “Last year was our first year as a group all together, so we owe UB one. We gotta practice hard and come out with a lot of defensive intensity (today) because those dudes can score the ball.”
Buffalo has a had a week to prepare for this one, and the physical man-to-man defense of Nate Oats should be well rested, while Niagara is potentially down a ball handler in Chris Barton. That said, I have to side with the senior-laden team at home in a rivalry game, but the PEagles have to keep the Bulls off the free throw line, off the offensive glass, and out of transition. Limiting the Bulls to a one shot, halfcourt offense is the key to beating them, because you’re not going to out-physical a Nate Oats squad.
PICK: Niagara +1.5
Marshall @ William & Mary
In games played at 75-plus possessions last year, William & Mary allowed teams to score at an average of 1.16 points per possession. That’s not a favorable stat against one of the more transition-reliant teams in the country. The good news is that Tony Shaver’s four-out motion offense should be capable of scoring at will against the Herd, especially with Nate Knight in the frontcourt, although Ajdin Penava has been somewhat of a revelation as a rim protector for Dan D’Antoni. Paul Rowley’s status is up in the air for the Tribe, but I can’t imagine he would be a significant contributor in this matchup.
PICK: Marshall +4.5
George Mason @ James Madison
Pretty good opponent for GMU’s pack line principled defense. The Dukes have a few shooters in Stuckey Mosley and Joey McLean, but it’s better to limit JMU’s penetration and keep them off the free throw line. Also, Otis Livingston is a hard lead guard to press, and Lou Rowe has extended a lot of full-court pressure at JMU this year. The week off probably did wonders for GMU, as Dave Paulsen has the shortest bench in the country.
PICK: George Mason -1.5
Air Force @ Indiana State
The Trees were absolutely scorched by Ball State last time out, prompting some serious introspection from Greg Lansing about his team, but they’ve reportedly responded well in practice. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the return of Lansing’s matchup zone, as Air Force has had severe issues against more packed in defensive schemes. The Falcons have allowed backcourts to shoot and score at will this year, which a guard-centric ISU can exploit, led by Jordan Barnes and Brenton Scott.
PICK: Indiana State -6.5
San Jose State @ Bowling Green
Mike Huger said his team was exhausted on the final day of the Campbell tournament, so a few days off should help against a poor SJSU team flying east for the first time. The Spartans have been routinely torched in transition, and the Falcons are more than capable of continuing that trend. However, one big issue is BGSU’s penchant for offensive rebounding, which could bite them against a Spartan team solely focused on grabbing misses and running, as Jean Prioleau is from the Tad Boyle school in that regard.
PICK: BGSU -10.5
Penn State @ NC State
First true road game for PSU, but they’re a tough team to press with Tony Carr having the ball in his hands the majority of the time. And with Mike Watkins protecting the rim, you have to beat them with jump shots, not a forte of this Pack squad.
PICK: Penn State -1
Michigan @ North Carolina
You’d think UNC has a bounceback game after one of their worst offensive performances in the Roy Williams era, but the Wolverines should be a frustrating opponent for the young Heels. John Beilein teams always limit transition opportunities, and the two-guard offensive sets should create ample opportunities against the inexperienced UNC frontcourt. Also, Michigan hasn’t shot the ball from the perimeter like they’re capable of doing, and UNC’s compact defense will always allow for plenty of open looks from outside. UNC could very well get it together in Chapel Hill after the embarrassing PK80 finale, but this isn’t the best opponent schematically.
PICK: Michigan +10.5
SIUE @ SIU
These are two of the worst transition defenses in the country, as both rely on getting the ball deep inside via penetration, leaving no one to rotate back. Both teams are potentially point guard-less, as Marcus Bartley isn’t quite ready to return to the Salukis, and Justin Benton missed the Creighton game for SIUE. Jon Harris did play a lot of 2-3 zone against Creighton, which baffled me at the time but makes some sense if he was prepping for SIU, who absolutely can’t shoot. Neither team played any defense in last year’s contest, as runs to the rim were unabated, but the Salukis were looking for revenge after an embarrassing loss to the Cougars the year prior.
PICK: SIU -12.5
Drake @ Omaha
Niko Medved’s defenses at Furman were staunch deniers of transition opportunities, which will certainly be a factor against the runnin’ Mavs of Omaha. First home game for Omaha and first true road game for Drake. The Mavs are getting healthier with Renard Suggs due back at point and stretch Mitch Hahn nearing return from an ankle sprain. Drake isn’t susceptible to Derrin Hansen’s pressure with four ball handlers on the floor, and will thus largely dictate the pace of this game. I’m mainly interested to see if Omaha is at full strength tonight.
PICK: Drake -2.5
Louisiana Tech @ Alabama
LA Tech is 5-0, but it’s been an unimpressive undefeated start, as they’ve basically relied on their athleticism to scrape by against what should have been overmatched opponents in Ruston and Mexico. Alabama can exceed that athleticism, and Collin Sexton is essentially a god.
PICK: Alabama -12
UIC @ Troy
Jordon Varnado re-aggravated a foot injury he suffered in the offseason, and his status for tonight is up in the air. Per HoopLens, Troy scored at 1.15 points per possession in nearly 2,000 possessions with Varnado on the floor, and just 1.03 with him off. He’s as important to his team as any player in the country, and he’s essential for defense against Dikembe Dixson as well.
PICK: UIC +6.5
UNLV @ Northern Iowa
Great test for the Runnin’ Rebels, who have looked strong out of the gate, but UNI’s defense is going to make you prove two things:
1) Can you hit jump shots?
2) Can you execute in the half court?
Massive talent and athleticism advantages for UNLV, but Ben Jacobson’s team rebounds well, and their compact defense forces you to beat them from the outside. UNLV’s halfcourt offense will be tested for the first time in a tough road environment.
PICK: UNI PK
Southern Miss @ South Alabama
Not sure of the status of Dom Magee and Eddie Davis for Southern Miss, but this isn’t necessarily the best matchup for Doc Sadler’s sagging defense. Matt Graves is trying to rework USA into a four-out offense with length and athleticism at the 3 and 4, and Sadler has been playing Cortez Edwards waaaaay out of position in one of the smallest lineups in the country. However, if Magee and Davis return, the lineup shifts more favorably toward USM.
PICK: USA -5
Evansville @ New Mexico
Devastating news for the Aces, as leading scorer Ryan Taylor is out six weeks with a broken foot. Marty Simmons’ constantly screening motion offense is always reliant on one primary scorer, and that was Taylor this year. Brutal blow for the Aces, who were outperforming expectations early. Scoring will have to come from Dru Smith and Boo Gibson, but it totally reorganizes a systematic offense. Their first test without Taylor comes against a relentless pressing team at the Pit, which is not ideal.
PICK: New Mexico -3
Wednesday Top Picks Part I:
- George Mason -1.5
- New Mexico -3
- Niagara +1.5
- Penn State -1.5
- UNLV/UNI under 138.5
- Austin Peay +22.5 (from twitter)
- Auburn/Dayton under 154
*All line via 5Dimes at time of publication