Matchups in the Pac-12 and Horizon League have caught our attention in tonight's collegiate hardwood action.
Three Man Weave and I are back with our four favorite bets from Thursday's college basketball slate.
Wright State at Youngstown State
3MW’s Picks: Wright State -6.5, Over 142
In the Batman comics (not to be confused the Danny DeVito’s lunatic cinematic version), Penguin is a sophisticated and intelligent mobster who serves as a surprisingly formidable antagonist to Batman’s heroics. In a battle between the teams we predicted first and last in the Horizon League during the preseason, the Penguins of Youngstown State provide a similarly unexpected test for Wright State.
Wright State is led by Loudon Love, a behemoth of a post player listed at 6'9", 280 pounds. Love is one of the best rebounders in the country, and he epitomizes the physical approach of coach Scott Nagy on both ends. Youngstown State is coached by Bob Huggins disciple Jerrod Calhoun, and while his squad will be willing to battle Love inside, the more pressing question is whether it will be able to. The offensive glass will be key for the Penguins in this one, because the Raiders thrive off getting open threes via kickouts.
A cadre of shooters, including Drake transfer Bill Wampler, transfer point guard Cole Gentry (who, like Love, followed Nagy from South Dakota State), veteran Mark Hughes, and freshman Skyelar Potter form a deadly perimeter combination that can take advantage of the attention given to Love and fellow big Parker Ernsthausen. The Penguins’ defense has proven vulnerable inside and out, so as long as the Raiders are patient—a staple of Nagy teams—they should accumulate plenty of quality shots.
Wright State’s defense has been the issue in the team’s sluggish start. Raider opponents are shooting a blistering 39.5% from deep (343rd in the country), something we believe is destined to correct (for reference, the opposition hit 34.8% in 2016 and 34.7% in 2017 against the same defensive scheme). Calhoun’s Penguins will happily fire away from deep, with nearly every rotation player having the green light. Therein lies the one risk with this pick, in our opinion: If Youngstown State goes bonkers from deep, Wright State could be in trouble. But the threat of the Raiders’ own shooting, their physical advantages inside, and their patience outweigh that downside.
Plus, if Wright State still wants to compete for the league title, they need this one badly, having dropped a close one at presumptive favorite Northern Kentucky last Friday. Normally, there might be risk of overlooking a traditional bottom-feeder like Youngstown State, but that is not a luxury that Nagy & Co. can afford, considering they have lost three of their first five conference games. Meanwhile, Youngstown State is coming off an impressive road win at IUPUI, and while they’ll be riding high from that win, the grinding discipline of Wright State is a massively different matchup from the transition-heavy Jaguars. We’re looking for Wright State to play the role of The Caped Crusader and banish the Penguins by double digits on Thursday night.
Oregon State at Arizona State
Meyer’s Pick: Arizona State -4
Oregon State has been the Pac-12’s biggest surprise this season, and I actually think the Beavers, along with Washington, have the best shot at winning the Pac-12 tournament. OSU has opened Pac-12 play by winning at Oregon, beating USC in overtime (without star Tres Tinkle) and blowing out UCLA with Tinkle back in the fold. But this is a spot where you’ll want to sell high on the Beavers.
Arizona State is a completely different team than last year personnel-wise, but it seems like the Sun Devils are following the same exact path: a strong performance in non-conference play including two marquee wins (Kansas and Xavier last year, Kansas and Mississippi State this year), followed by cratering in Pac-12 play, especially on the road. On the Sun Devils’ first Pac-12 road trip, they stumbled on the easiest obstacle—they trailed Cal (ranked 233rd on kenpom.com, by far the worst of any major conference team) by 14 in the first half before rallying to win and then lost to Stanford (ranked 129th on KenPom) by 14. Last season, ASU went 3–6 on the road in Pac-12 play, while going an unspectacular 5–4 at home. I think this year’s team, however, is a better bet to finish close to the top of the Pac-12 standings because it isn’t completely reliant on outside shooting.
The Sun Devils have already dropped one home conference game, surrendering 96 points to an overlooked Utah team. With Oregon State sitting atop the Pac-12 standings while Arizona State is in the middle of the pack at 2–2, the Beavers have rightfully earned a target on their back in this one. OSU has only played two road games this season, the five-point win over an Oregon team without Bol Bol and Kenny Wooten and a loss to Saint Louis. The Wells Fargo Arena (home to the Curtain of Distraction) will be the toughest road atmosphere the Beavers will have traveled to thus far.
The key to Oregon State’s early success is its defense inside the arc. The Beavers have allowed opponents to shoot just 41.8% on two-point shots (sixth-best mark in the country) and have a block percentage of 15.8 (ninth). This is largely attributed to the arrival of JUCO transfer and seven-footer Kylor Kelley, the nation’s leading shot-blocker.
Kelley will have a tough challenge tonight, as ASU is a very athletic group with two slashers in star freshman Luguentz Dort and point forward Zylan Cheatham who average a combined 11.5 fouls drawn per 40 minutes. The Sun Devils overall are great at drawing whistles (20th in CBB in free throw rate), which is bad news for an Oregon State team that doesn’t have much depth. If Kelley or one member of its fantastic scoring trio in Tinkle and the Thompson brothers gets in foul trouble, the Beavers could have major trouble staying afloat.
Arizona State offensively is much better against zone defense in the half-court (1.007 PPP, 73rd percentile) compared to vs. man (0.848 PPP, 32nd percentile). That bodes well in the Pac-12, as there are quite a few teams that utilize zone heavily. Oregon State is one of them, as Wayne Tinkle loves to mix and match defenses, and the Beavers have gone into zone 54.5% of the time per Synergy (20th-highest percentage in the country).
I think you’ll see an inspired effort at home by Arizona State, who knows it can’t fall too behind in the Pac-12 standings. A win here would also boost its dwindling chances of an at-large bid, while a few more losses would turn it into a Pac-12 tournament championship-or-bust team that likely wouldn’t have a first-round bye in Las Vegas. The Beavers had an excellent start to conference play, but let’s see how they fare outside the state of Oregon in a road environment as energetic as the one in Tempe.
Oregon at Arizona
Meyer's Pick: Oregon +5.5
I am going to be fading Arizona a decent amount in Pac-12 play, as I think the Wildcats are the most overrated team in the conference. They’ve faced a very easy conference schedule thus far (and taken advantage with a 4–0 record), and now it’s about to ramp up. Meanwhile, Oregon looked a lot better against the L.A. schools than I would have thought without Bol Bol and Kenny Wooten, but the Ducks blew a nine-point lead in the final minute against UCLA, which is why they sit at 1–2 in Pac-12 play.
Without their big man duo, the Ducks have been generating more pressure with their smaller lineups. In Pac-12 play, they’ve forced turnovers on 24.0% of possessions (best in the conference), as Dana Altman’s group has been causing havoc by trapping and even running full-court presses. Arizona has faced a team that can cause that much pressure once this season, when it lost 73–57 to Auburn (turnover rate of 27.8%, tops in the country) and committed 19 turnovers (30.2% of possessions). Arizona’s two primary ball-handlers are a true freshman in Brandon Williams and a grad transfer in Justin Coleman, the latter of whom is currently ailing from a shoulder injury. Those two will have their hands full against the Ducks’ defense.
Altman’s matchup zone has given the Wildcats trouble in the past, as Arizona has notoriously struggled against zone defenses in the Sean Miller era. This season in terms of PPP, the Wildcats are in the 77th percentile in all of Division I against man defense and 48th against zone. You’d think Duke transfer Chase Jeter would have an advantage in the paint without Oregon’s twin towers, but the Ducks held UCLA’s Moses Brown and USC’s Nick Rakocevic relatively in check the last two games. The easiest way to beat the zone is with outside shooting, but Arizona’s shooting just 34.1% from three on the season (178th in D-I).
Offensively for Oregon, two players that have emerged in Pac-12 play have been five-star freshman Louis King (19.3 PPG) and senior forward Paul White (16.7 PPG). With King missing the start of the season due to injury and White’s rough shooting start, the Ducks’ offense sputtered out of the gate. Now that those two are heating up, veteran point guard Payton Pritchard can rely more on distributing, which has really opened up the floor. Oregon is taking more threes in conference play (41.9% three-point rate vs. Pac-12 compared to 38.5% overall) and making a higher percentage of them (36.1% vs. 34.8%).
Right now, I think Oregon is the most underrated team in the conference while Arizona is on the other end of the spectrum, so I’ll gladly take the value and the points here.
Overall Record: 22-16-1