We have picks from three different mid-major conferences, with games in the WCC, MAAC and Pac-12 (shots fired) catching our eye. 

By Max Meyer
January 31, 2019

Three Man Weave and I are back with our three favorite bets from Thursday's college basketball slate.

Siena at Monmouth

3MW Pick: Monmouth -2

As a college hoops maniac and defender of all mid-majors, reminiscing about the 2016 and 2017 Monmouth Hawks never fails to put a nostalgic smile on my face. From King Rice’s infectious movie star aura to the bench mob’s choreographed celebrations, the Hawks of West Long Branch hogged college basketball’s spotlight for nearly two years. Why do all good things have to come to an end...

Such is life in college basketball’s cutthroat mid-major landscape, where the endless quest to stand out amongst the crowd breeds fierce competition. Few programs have the cache to simply reload on an annual basis without any transition period and Monmouth is no exception. Despite all the notoriety gained during that magical two-year carpet ride, the Hawks’ recent trials and tribulations were to be expected.

Last season’s letdown was quite excusable for King Rice, who had to patch together a whole new roster with the voids left behind by point guard dynamo Justin Robinson and his backcourt running mates Micah Seaborn and Je’lon Hornbeak. Rice handed the keys to a new crop of backcourt buddies, Ray Salnave and Deion Hammond, with high hopes that they would someday emulate the playmaking precision of their predecessors.

Turns out that was a tall order for the young Salnave and Hammond, who struggled to make sound decisions with the basketball playing in Rice’s racecar-paced offense. After turnovers continuously plagued Monmouth for the first month of the season, Rice made the necessary adjustment to reel back the Hawks’ offensive attack to a more pedestrian pace—one that would make the game simpler for a young backcourt still very much in the developmental phases of their careers.

Fast-forward two months later, the Hawks now find themselves at 5–4 in the MAAC and are within striking distance of first-place Rider. Salnave and Hammond have been far more consistent since the calendar turned to 2019, playing cohesively as a unit and striking the right balance of when to get others involved and when to attack themselves. They’ve been especially effective at incorporating 6’10" Diago Quinn into the offensive flow, a brick house in the paint who few teams in the MAAC have an answer for.

Tonight, the Hawks take on a Siena team in the midst of its own stylistic makeover, as the Saints shift from the short-lived Jimmy Patsos era to a new regime under Jamion Christian. The current Saints roster in no way resembles the prototypical Jamion Christian-coached teams at Mount St. Mary’s, which leaned on hyper-quick guards and versatile forwards to wreak defensive havoc all over the floor. Outside of star freshman point guard Jalen Pickett and bouncy wing Manny Camper, Siena is starving for athletes. This has forced Christian to adapt to his team’s limitations, as the Saints are currently playing at one of the slowest tempos in the country.

Constant penetration is precisely where the Hawks should look to feast tonight against the slower Saints, which is exactly what they did in the first meeting between these two earlier this season. Even with Siena shooting the lights out from deep, the Hawks knifed through the Saints’ first line of defense almost at will. And whenever driving lanes were closed off by an over-concerned Siena defense, King Rice countered with a steady stream of Quinn low-post touches.

Hamstrung by no formidable paint defender, the Saints were beat up by the bigger Quinn inside, who finished with 14 points and nine rebounds. Monmouth would ultimately prevail in overtime in that first meeting in Albany, but the Saints needed 14 threes to keep it competitive, a feat that will hard to replicate on the road in West Long Branch. Look for Rice to use a similar formula to exploit the Saints Thursday night, who may be forced to double Quinn inside and send early off-ball support to shut down the Hawks’ penetration. Even without Salnave, who was suspended for two games by King Rice after the Niagara game, Monmouth is pound-for-pound the more talented team, which makes laying only 2 at home an enticing wager.

Pepperdine at Portland

3MW Pick: Portland +5

Portland is by far the worst team in the WCC. Per kenpom, the purple Pilots rank over 100 spots lower (317th) than ninth-place Santa Clara (205th), but there’s reasons to like Terry Porter’s squad in a home spot against Pepperdine tonight. Situational factors are the main drivers for liking Portland in this game: 1) Pepperdine is coming off an enormous home win against league power Saint Mary’s and has another game on the road at Pacific coming up on Saturday, 2) Pepperdine is a DISASTROUS 1–7 on the road this season, the one win coming against a San Diego squad missing Isaiah Wright (shocking that Lorenzo Romar isn’t great on the road, I know), and 3) Portland has owned this matchup at Chiles Center in recent history, notching five straight home wins over the Waves since 2014 and going 12–2 at home since 2005. That last stat should have no real bearing on this game, but it’s still fun to point out.

Despite Portland’s ugly 7–15 (0–7) record, this team is not without talent. Porter brought back most of his (albeit young) squad from last season that features a trio of guards that are capable of pouring in 20 or more points on a given night. Marcus Shaver will be the key for the Pilots in this one, coming off a 30-point effort against a tough Pacific team on the road. Shaver is shooting a ridiculous 52.9% from downtown in WCC play and his ability to get to the bucket and draw contact will be especially valuable against a Pepperdine squad that gives up a lot of free throw opportunities. The Pilots need to get to the foul line to score the ball and the Waves should be “willing” to acquiesce their request.

Pepperdine is going to want to execute the normal Romar special: roll the ball out, run and bomb away from deep. The Pilots have played a fair amount of zone this season, which would be a major mistake against a Waves squad that can set the nets on fire (they are 25 for 50 from deep in their last two games). Pepperdine may be able to exploit the Pilots in transition, an area that Portland struggles to limit, but thankfully the Waves will not be able to take advantage of Portland’s weakest point: the glass. Portland is dead last in the WCC in rebounding rate on both ends of the floor and one of the worst rebounding teams in the country. Pepperdine is one of the few teams that will not overwhelm Portland with size, nor will the Waves be able to exploit Portland’s soft middle. The key for Portland will be limiting open three-point looks for a squad that plays four guys shooting over 39% from downtown.

Portland backers will be counting on the Waves showing little interest in this game sandwiched between two big WCC contests and the Pilots stepping up and competing in one of the few winnable games on their conference schedule. A regression to the mean from Pepperdine’s recent hot shooting would also go a long way towards getting Portland its first conference win and covering the five-point spread.

Oregon State at Colorado

Meyer’s Pick: Oregon State +1

Colorado surprised last season for a team stockpiled with young players, but the Buffaloes have disappointed in this campaign because they haven’t progressed that much, particularly point guard McKinley Wright. In fact, they have not beaten an opponent ranked inside kenpom.com’s top 100 yet this season (0–5), yet have feasted on weaker foes (eight of their 11 wins have come against teams ranked lower than 200 in kenpom). 

Colorado’s only two Pac-12 wins thus far are a thrashing against a Washington State team without Robert Franks and rallying to beat Cal by nine after first blowing an 18-point lead in second half. Washington State and Cal have a combined one win in conference—when the former beat the latter. So it’s safe to say that Colorado’s résumé up to this point is extremely weak.

The Buffaloes play a three-guard lineup often, with do-it-all 6’7” forward Tyler Bey at the four. They’re at their best when they’re playing uptempo, as 28.1% of their shot attempts come in transition (tied for 32nd most nationally). The problem is, Oregon State is going to grind games out (282nd in adjusted tempo), and if Colorado has to execute in the half-court for the majority of the game against OSU’s zone, it’ll have trouble scoring. The Buffaloes are in the 46th percentile in terms of points per possession against zone defenses this season, per Synergy. 

With seven-foot human eraser Kylor Kelley manning the interior of the zone, the Beavers have allowed opponents to shoot just 43.5% on two-point shots, which is the ninth-best mark in the country. With its small lineups, Colorado is really going to struggle getting good looks in the paint against Oregon State’s length. To make matters worse, the Buffaloes are a poor shooting team from beyond the arc (229th nationally at 33.0%, second to last in Pac-12 play at 31.4%). 

Oregon State is a veteran team that has the best trio of scorers in the conference in Tres Tinkle (junior) and the Thompson brothers (Stephen Jr. is a senior and Ethan is a sophomore). The Beavers do a nice job of getting to the basket (41.6% of their shots have been taken at the rim, tied for 49th highest in the country), and shot really well from inside the arc, particularly in Pac-12 play (a scorching 57.4% which leads the conference). 

It’s pivotal to get a first-round bye in the Pac-12 tournament this year because of how many teams will be vying for that automatic bid. Oregon State sits at 4–3 in the conference standings after dropping three of its past four games, and is a victory in Boulder away from being tied for third (and possibly tied for second if Utah loses to Oregon on Thursday night). I like the Beavers to control this game with their length while playing at their speed, and to bounce back with a road win here. 

Overall Record: 32-31-1

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