Nicholls State @ Villanova

I’ve become the internet’s No. 1 hype man for Nicholls State, and I actually think they match up well with Nova, relatively speaking of course. Richie Riley has assembled a “positionless” squad littered with high-major talent, and he has two big dual ball handlers in Roddy Peters and Tevon Saddler (plus a more traditional pass-first point in Kevin Johnson), and a shot-blocking 7-footer in Legend Robertin. The Colonels are coming off a nearly 100-possession affair against UTRGV, where they shredded in transition. They’ll be forced to execute in the halfcourt tonight, but they should be fairly immune to that Jay Wright 3/4 court zone press, and most importantly they can switch on Nova’s pick-and-roll offense on the other end. Will Nicholls State have a chance to win this game? No, but they can respectably compete.

PICK: Nicholls State +33

Canisius @ Air Force

Quite a debut from Canisius true frosh Takal Molson, scoring 25 in a rivalry game. The young Griffs head into altitude for the first time in Reggie Witherspoon’s tenure to take on an improved Air Force team. Dave Pilipovich has improved the overall athleticism of the Falcons, and they appear to be a much better rebounding team out of their zone defense, and it looks like he’ll extend some pressure as well with the versatility of Lavell Scottie and Pervis Louder. To understand the challenges that Pilipovich faces at a service academy, point guard Jacob Van recently explained to Brent Briggeman of the Colorado Springs Gazette that he’s playing with a lot more energy because he doesn’t have to take a swimming class (which features diving in full gear) before games this year. You can say that’s a unique concern among D1 basketball coaches.

PICK: Air Force -5

Cleveland State @ Rutgers

The Vikings don’t look as bad as I thought they would initially (a low bar, admittedly), but Dennis Felton’s squad should get decimated on the glass against Rutgers, which would allow the Scarlet Knights to hold them off even if the offense doesn’t show up (likely).

PICK: Rutgers -13

Iona @ Syracuse

This could be the best Syracuse defense I’ve seen on tape in the past three or four years. Obviously it’s incredibly early and the competition has been Cornell, but this team is MASSIVE 1-5 and athletic as hell. The zone features more pressure than usual, it appears, and the Orange aer really swarming on traps. With Oshae Brissett as the anchor, I think Cuse might actually rebound well, and they never allow much of anything in transition regardless of the defensive capability. This doesn’t bode well for a talented Iona team that struggled when Will Brown went to his packed in 2-3 zone and couldn’t run in Albany.

PICK: Syracuse -10

Elon @ Furman

Two similarly structured teams with four-out offenses that can absolutely shoot the lights out. The difference is the Phoenix bigs are a little better than Matt Rafferty and Geoff Beans. This should be a hidden gem in tonight’s outstanding slate.

PICK: Elon +4

Wright State @ Miami OH

New coach trying to establish identity in a rivalry game for Jack Owens and Miami, but on paper, WSU should roll here. Abdoulaye Harouna, the best perimeter defensive option against do-everything Justin Mitchell, is no longer with the team, and Scott Nagy’s offensive schemes are on a different level than Painter-tree Jack Owens’ at the moment. The early return of sharpshooter Grant Benzinger from hernia surgery is a huge boost as well for the Raiders.

PICK: Wright State -4

UNCW @ Davidson

I didn’t see any publication list Davidson higher in their preseason A10 rankings than I did (I had them third), so I’m patting myself on the back after their blazing start (26-53 from 3 against Chuck Southern!!!), albeit against lower competition. UNCW is now coached by CB McGrath, a Roy Williams disciple, so he’s well familiar with Bob McKillop’s motion offense. That said,  McGrath’s dual big lineup of Devontae Cacock and Marcus Bryan is going to be forced to guard on the perimeter at some point, and I don’t think they’re capable of doing that. McKillop, meanwhile, actually has some big bodies in Oskar Michelsen and Dusan Kovacevic to throw at them on the other end (although the return of Will Magarity and Nathan Ekwu would be nice in that regard).

PICK: Davidson -11

Green Bay @ Northern Illinois

I don’t trust Eugene German against RP40, and NIU doesn’t have the frontcourt to exploit the small Green Bay frontcourt. Meanwhile, I think the Phoenix guards can find opportunities against NIU’s zone pressure scheme. I believe P.J. Pipes should be cleared after getting leveled by a back screen in Green Bay’s last exhibition game, a byproduct of Linc Darner’s RP40 system.

PICK: Green Bay +5.5

Georgia State @ Rice

I love more D’Marcus Simonds more than I love Nicholls State, but the penetrating scorer might run into some trouble against a Rice team that showed a lot of zone against EKU in Scott Pera’s first game. The Owls really let that win get away from them, and some shaky officiating didn’t help. I expect a big effort at Tudor tonight fueled by some anger from letting that opener slip away. The question is, can the guards handle Ron Hunter’s shape-shifting aggressive 1-3-1 zone? Ako Adams looked against pedestrian the EKU pressure zone, and GSU also doesn’t have the post threat that terrorized Rice’s defense like EKU’s Nick Mayo did.

PICK: Rice +10

Delaware @ Bradley

Brian Wardle has used this game as a measuring stick for how far his program has come after back-to-back losses to a CAA cellar dweller. JoJo McGlaston is a lockdown perimeter defender with length that give Ryan Daly fits, and when you harass Daly, you severely limit the Hens. These could be two of the most improved squads in mid-majordom, though.

PICK: Bradley -7

Lipscomb @ Alabama

Happy Collin Sexton day! Few defenses are better at aggressively contesting on the perimeter than what Avery Johnson has brought with him to Tuscaloosa from the NBA. That doesn’t bode well for Lipscomb, which runs pretty much the same exact offense as Belmont. (Casey Alexander was a longtime Rick Byrd assistant and of course former player.) The Bisons have really struggled the few times they’ve stepped up in athleticism the past couple of years, and I don’t expect much to be different against the Tide tonight. Factor in that Alexander’s dual PG offense is likely without both Nate Moran and Kenny Cooper (one of the best ball hawks defensively in mid-majordom), and this could get ugly for the Bisons.

PICK: Alabama -14

Purdue @ Marquette

No one is doubting Marquette’s offense, highlighted by their prolific ability from beyond the arc, but can they defend at a respectable level against Purdue? Sacar Anim is a major addition in that regard, but Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey are so small and so slow laterally, I have a hard time seeing them being able to slow Dakota Mathias, and poor Sam Hauser has no chance against Vince Edwards. Wojo has to keep his offense-first lineup out there because Purdue is a well-oiled offense, but that lineup is such a detriment defensively.

PICK: Purdue -5

San Diego State @ Arizona State

The status of Romello White is important for ASU tonight, as Bobby Hurley has essentially a five-out offense without him and Kimani Lawrence. SDSU, meanwhile, figures to be a much more potent offense in Brian Dutcher’s first year. He’ll run out three ball handlers between Dev Watson, Jeremy Hemsley and Trey Kell, and two mobile bigs in Malik Pope and Matt Mitchell. The expected tempo of this game likely renders Kam Rooks useless for the Aztecs, but they still have a decided height advantage and the ability to match up with Shannon Evans, Remy Martin and company in the backcourt. It should be an exciting game.

PICK: San Diego State +1

Omaha @ New Mexico

Speaking of exciting, Paul Weir is going to challenge Lew Hill and Duggar Baucom for this year’s tempo title. Weir isn’t even taking his foot off the full-court pressure pedal when his team is up nearly triple digits against a D2 school. Omaha is likely without point guard Renard Suggs again, who I didn’t even spot on the bench when the Mavs were in Norman. Factor in that Derrin Hansen has never shied away from running with an opponent, and we could see upwards of 100 possessions tonight, although the Mavs might not have the legs for that with their third game in five days, going from Bozeman to Norman to Albuquerque.

PICK: New Mexico -11

Michigan State vs Duke

The best bet for Sparty here is to pound it down low early and often to Nick Ward and test young Wendell Carter. Otherwise, I don’t think MSU can keep up with the firepower and spread pick-and-roll offense that Gary Trent, Trevon Duval, Grayson Allen and human cheat code Marvin Bagley bring to the offensive end. That said, Tom Izzo’s defenses have always been extremely gap principled, and I have a feeling Duke is going to be taking more jump shots than they’re comfortable with tonight if Sparty defends ball screens the way I think they will. (But of course it could all be for naught, as Allen and Trent can make you pay on the perimeter if you’re constantly going under ball screens.) Overall, I’m having a hard time seeing how Winston/Nairn can slow down the Duke perimeter, and not such a hard time seeing how Duke’s athletes can slow down Miles Bridges. Can Ward turn in a dominating enough of a performance in the post to negate that? Unlikely, although Michigan State frosh Jaren Jackson is something of an x-factor tonight in the paint. It’s early, but Duke’s offense looks like it’s scheme proof, not to mention the absurd record Coach K has compiled against Izzo.

PICK: Duke -1

Kansas vs Kentucky

Obviously Kentucky’s vaunted freshmen have struggled out of the gate, and Devonte’ Graham surely remembers the beatdown UK gave KU in this event two years ago – but I think the value probably lies with the Wildcats at this point. That said, there are a few major issues for Cal’s freshmen, chief among them, who guards Graham? Quade Green has been extremely poor defensively to start the year (extremely small sample size, but the Wildcats are surrendering 1.06 points per possession with him on the floor compared to .81 with him off). Second, the return of Billy Preston allows Self some depth and versatility alongside Udoka Azubuike, and if he gets in foul trouble (which is likely against the attacking size and athleticism of the dribble drive), it isn’t checkmate for the Jayhawks. So where does UK have an edge? I think Cal has to extend some pressure and force the ball out of Graham’s hands and make Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick handle the ball, especially in ball screens. They’re far more comfortable as the roll options, and if the length and athleticism of Hamidou Diallo and Kevin Knox can force them into handling the ball, the Wildcats will find some points in transition. While Self is known for his high-low action, he’s swung toward the small ball revolution, which UK actually matches up better against, as Cal’s defenses are always excellent at chasing shooters off the 3-point line.  Offensively, look for UK to attack Svi Mykhailiuk whenever’s he’s on the floor in a smaller lineup, which makes shutting down the high-low action even more important on the other end. If Self can’t score with two bigs, he’ll go to Svi, and that means more opportunities for offense for UK.

PICK: Kentucky +5

TUESDAY’S TOP PICKS (YTD: 8-16):

Alabama -14

Bradley -7

Duke -1

Nicholls State +33

Syracuse -10

Iona/Syracuse under 151

Rice +10

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