We're aiming for a winning Wednesday on the collegiate hardwood, backing a couple mid-major road underdogs and an SEC home favorite.
Three Man Weave and I are back with our three favorite bets from Wednesday's college basketball slate.
Southern Illinois at Missouri State
3MW Pick: Southern Illinois +4.5
Wednesday's Valley tilt between Missouri State and Southern Illinois marks the seventh annual "Hinson Homecoming." Years before taking over as the leading man in Carbondale, Barry Hinson was the head honcho in Springfield, Mo., for nearly a decade. Despite leading the Bears to a 95–67 conference record over that span, an athletic department and fan base spoiled by the lofty standards set before him by Charlie Spoonhour and Steve Alford opted to go in a different direction in 2008. Shortly after, Hinson accepted an administrative position at Kansas, where he spent the next five seasons working with Bill Self before ultimately returning to the coaching ring in 2011.
Since returning to the Valley, an already fierce intra-conference rivalry between these two familiar foes has been injected with another dose of juice. Hinson has relished this annual opportunity to avenge his former school and has gotten the last laugh in each of the past four seasons. As cited by the Springfield News-Leader, the Salukis have won six straight against the Bears, two of which have ended MSU’s season in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. While this trend could certainly be coincidental, wouldn’t you carry a bit of an edge if you had the chance to settle the score with your former employer?
The difference tonight is that Paul Lusk, who was fired this summer after a forgettable seven-year tenure, will no longer be on the bench opposite Hinson. Dana Ford, in many ways the antithesis of his predecessor Lusk, now gets his first crack at rewriting the script.
Unlike Lusk’s rather vanilla brand of basketball, Ford has installed a much more exciting, “event-driven” style of play. Ford’s defense often looks like organized chaos, which typically starts as an extended three-quarter court zone that falls back into a morphing 2–3 zone. This deceptive scheme has confounded opposing guards this year, particularly against MVC competition—the Bears are currently sporting the league’s highest turnover rate (~25%), which leans on a long, athletic backcourt that pounces on any nonchalant passes and careless decisions.
Missouri State’s outer shell of the defense is protected by an interior stop-gate in South Florida transfer Tulio Da Silva, who’s been an animal on the glass in his first season in the Valley. The 6’8" Brazilian forward is the perfect prototype of a defensive centerpiece, big enough to stand his ground on the low-post, but mobile enough to recover back on drivers and contest shots at the rim.
Hinson would be wise to review the game tape from Missouri State’s destruction of Loyola-Chicago from two weeks ago, when the Bears held the Ramblers to just 11 points in the second half. That matchup exposed Loyola’s shortage of perimeter playmakers—Clayton Custer and Marques Townes were left on island with Lucas Williamson sidelined with an injury—something the Salukis have in the spades. With all-conference scoring machine Armon Fletcher finally out of Hinson’s doghouse, the Salukis can counter the Bears’ perimeter-oriented lineup with a four-guard lineup of their own without surrendering too much positional size. Along with Fletcher, Marcus Bartley and Sean Lloyd each stand at 6’5" and are a pair of dual-threat guards who can shoot it with range and break down their defender in 1-v-1 situations.
The key tonight for SIU will be possession management. On offense, the veteran Salukis must secure the basketball and not succumb to the Bears’ extended pressure. On defense, the paint patrolling tandem of Kavion Pippen and Thik Bol must neutralize Da Silva and the other Bears’ rim crashers on the glass. Statistically, the Salukis have been inconsistent in both departments so far this season, but I trust this veteran-laden roster to tighten up the screws going forward, starting tonight in Hinson’s annual return to Springfield.
Texas A&M at Ole Miss
3MW Pick: Ole Miss -9
Two SEC teams in desperate need of win meet in Oxford on Wednesday night, as Texas A&M and Mississippi have combined for one conference win over the last 3+ weeks. That’s a much larger issue for the Rebels, who still possess very reasonable at-large hopes, so taking one on the chin at home to the reeling Aggies is not an option. Luckily, this matchup should play to their advantage in multiple facets, and I expect Mississippi to get back on track in a big way.
As an organization, The Weave has long been all the way off of the TJ Starks bandwagon (is there anyone really on it at this point?), and the notion of him entering Kermit Davis’s funhouse of changing defense horrors is one we’re anxious to fade. Davis will mix in some 1-3-1 and 2–3 zone looks to keep the Aggies’ bricky offense off balance (335th in the country in three-point shooting), and when he does decide to go man, he can unleash on-ball pest Devontae Shuler on Starks. Shuler is exactly the type of defender that can bother A&M’s initiator: strong and quick, able to pressure him for 94 feet, forcing him to play faster than A&M coach Billy Kennedy wants, which leads to turnovers and ill-advised jumpers galore.
In a more macro sense of the matchup, Mississippi’s defense gives up the 13th-highest share of two-point jumpers in the country, per hoop-math, which will frustrate an Aggies squad which prefers to get all the way to the rim. Led by Starks, Texas A&M is also careless with the rock, ranking 250th in turnover rate, which could spell disaster against Davis’s changing defenses and the Rebels’ perimeter pressure (68th nationally in steal rate).
The rebounding battle will likely be a wash, as both teams are far better on the offensive glass than on the defensive end, meaning we’ll likely see second-chance points galore. I trust Mississippi and its group of knockdown shooters to cash in on those opportunities more consistently; just ask Jay Bilas when the best time is to shoot a three (hint: it’s after an offensive rebound).
This will ultimately be a battle of the backcourts, though, as both Mississippi (Breein Tyree, Terence Davis, Shuler) and Texas A&M (Starks, Wendell Mitchell, Jay Jay Chandler) rely heavily on their guards to create offense. Tyree and Davis have both emerged into efficient stars under the tutelage of their new coach, and each offer a unique challenge to the A&M defense. Tyree is a speed demon who can use ball screens to attack the rim or pull up from deep, while Davis is a bigger guard who relies more on his jumper and burgeoning passing ability to punish defenders.
Finally, one of the best reasons to back the Rebels in this spot is simple: a motivated favorite is always appealing. Mississippi is the significantly better team, and given the Rebels’ recent struggles, they don’t have the luxury of sleep-walking through a game against one of the league’s bottom-feeders. The Rebels have lost five of their last six contests against a challenging slate, and this should serve as a “get right” game at home. There’s also no huge weekend showdown looming on the weekend that might cause them to look past this one (at Georgia on Saturday), so Kermit should have his squad locked in and ready to give a home run effort at home.
St. Bonaventure at Duquesne
Meyer's Pick: St. Bonaventure +2
You better believe a 15–7 team laying only two points hosting an 8–13 team caught my eye. It’s the sort of line that should immediately raise red flags to bettors.
To me, this is a good sell high spot on Duquesne. The aforementioned 15–7 record has been a byproduct of an incredibly easy schedule, one that ranks 267th overall (including 335th in non-conference play). The Dukes don’t shoot well (203 in 3EG% and 286th in three-point percentage), turn the ball over frequently (291st in turnover percentage) and do a very poor job boxing out on the defensive end (33.8 offensive rebound percentage allowed overall, which has increased to 34.5 in A-10 play).
The Dukes are also currently incredibly banged up. They lost freshman forward Austin Rotroff for the season a couple weeks ago. Duquesne finished with just seven healthy players at Monday’s practice, per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. One of the ailing players was star freshman guard Sincere Carry, who’s dealing with a knee injury. Coach Keith Dambrot is hoping that Carry and fellow starter Marcus Weathers (groin) will be able to play. Dambrot has already ruled out Lamar Norman Jr. (concussion) and said that Tavian Dunn-Martin (ankle) has a low chance of playing. All of these injuries significantly hamper Duquesne’s rotation, and the Dukes can’t afford to have Carry, their offensive catalyst, be ineffective while playing hurt.
Even when Duquesne was healthy, a lot of its games came down to the wire. In fact, all of its conference games have been decided by six points or fewer, going 6–3 in those close contests. The Dukes are 4–0 in games decided by one possession (including three wins by one point) and 3–0 in overtime games. Simply put, I don’t think this team is nearly as good as its record would indicate, and neither do oddsmakers.
Meanwhile, the Bonnies have been playing much better basketball of late. They suffered a tough nine-point loss to A-10 favorite Davidson last game, blowing a 10-point halftime lead. The week before, St. Bonaventure beat both UMass and Richmond on the road by 14 and nine points respectively. Before that, it took another A-10 contender, Dayton, to the wire, losing 89–86 in double overtime.
The Bonnies went 4–9 in non-conference play, a misleading record since seniors Courtney Stockard and LaDarien Griffin missed six and 10 games respectively over that period, which caused the team to throw its youth into the fire. They start three freshmen now, and it definitely seems like this team is gelling, with its youngins benefitting from that early experience. One of the freshmen has really impressed recently: Kyle Lofton. He’s not generating as much press as Carry, but he’s averaging 14.9 ppg and 3.9 apg on the season. Over the last three games, he’s taken his scoring to another level, putting up 69 total points.
St. Bonaventure has a few impact upperclassmen as well. Stockard is a combo forward who can do it all on the offensive end, and is a key component in the Bonnies’ pick-and-roll heavy offense. Griffin is an explosive force who consistently throws down thunderous dunks. They average a combined 27.5 ppg, and it's easy to see why the Bonnies were a shell of themselves with those two missing a good chunk of non-conference play. UNLV transfer Jalen Poyser could return for this one as well. Poyser was cleared in concussion protocol last game against Davidson after missing the previous four games, but didn’t end up playing. He’s averaging 12.1 PPG, though he’s struggled in conference play in limited action, including being benched in the Bonnies’ 73–47 win over a beat-up Saint Joseph’s. He and senior guard Nathan Kaputo are two of the team’s top perimeter threats, so having them both healthy adds another dimension to the offense.
On the defensive end, the Bonnies run a variation of the pack line under Mark Schmidt, which makes it tough for players to score near the basket (tied for 56th in opponents shot percentage near the rim) and forces opponents to beat them from the perimeter (defensive three-point rate of 43.9%, 319th in CBB). Well, remember that Duquesne has struggled mightily from three-point range this season, even though it takes a lot of them (45th in three-point rate). With St. Bonaventure preferring to play its games at a much slower pace (325th in adjusted tempo), turning Duquesne into solely a half-court offense would be a major plus. The Dukes rank in the 20th percentile nationally in PPP in the half court per Synergy (0.834 PPP) versus 81st in transition (1.116 PPP).
The Dukes boost their offense, though, by crashing the offensive boards well (53rd in CBB in offensive rebound percentage). If you cut off transition opportunities and second chances, this is a poor offensive team that will need to shoot much better from three than it usually does to stay afloat. The Bonnies have been much better on the boards in conference affairs, generating an offensive rebound percentage of 30.2 and limiting their opponents' percentage to 25.6 (overall on the season the percentages respectively are 28.9 and 28.5, so marked improvement on both ends).
Don't be distracted by the fool's gold here: Duquesne's record. I think the Dukes' luck in close games will reverse course, starting with a home loss here to a superior and healthier team in the Bonnies.
Overall Record: 37-33-1