Three Man Weave and I are back with our three favorite bets from Tuesday's college basketball slate.
Temple at Memphis
3MW Pick: Temple +4.5
The old guard versus the new kids on the block….
That pretty much sums up the chasm between Fran Dunphy, an established, accomplished and universally respected basketball mind now entering the twilight years of his career, and Penny Hardaway, a young, fearless disruptor who’s making waves in just his first season at the helm.
These two head honchos will square off Tuesday night in FedEx Forum in the second meeting between the two this season. Temple got the better of Memphis in Philly but that was aided by an outlier three-point shooting performance in which the Tigers made just 1 of their 23 attempts from long distance. The Owls jumped out to a 25–8 lead early, but the Tigers punched back with multiple runs of their own throughout the course of the game to keep it competitive the whole way through. So, don’t let that final score of 85–76 fool you—the first matchup was far more competitive than the nine-point margin of victory indicates.
The obvious circumstantial difference tonight is that it’s now late February. We’re just weeks away from Selection Sunday and the NCAA tournament at-large picture is starting to come into focus. For Memphis, the youth and inexperience has been exposed at inopportune times this season, causing the Tigers to come up short in big games against Cincinnati, Tennessee and Texas Tech, to name a few. The result is a résumé with simply too many losses, which won’t stack up with the other at-large candidates who currently reside on the bubble.
One such candidate is, you guessed it, Temple, which is currently 20–7 overall (10–4 in the AAC) but just 2–5 in Quadrant 1 games—the home loss to Penn back on Jan. 19 is not aging well either. Even with the gleaming win over Houston etched in big bold ink at the top of their résumé, the Owls still find themselves squarely on the cut line according to three-man-weave.com’s very own certified bracketologists, Ky and Jim. With just four games left on the schedule, Tuesday could be Temple’s last chance to add another Q1 win to its résumé before the conference tournament.
The point is this: Temple needs this game like blood. Remember, Fran Dunphy has already declared this will be his final season as head coach and the wheels are already in motion to hand the keys over to Aaron McKie as the new leading man next year. So, if there’s any doubts as to how focused Temple will be, just consider this: This is Dunphy’s last chance to go dancing after missing the NCAA tournament the past three years—wouldn’t you feel a sense of urgency?
From an X&O perspective, the Owls are defined by a few distinguishable stylistic traits that should give them a favorable edge over the host Tigers this evening. The first of which is a direct reflection of Dunphy, whose teams have always placed a premium on taking care of the basketball. The man primarily responsible for protecting the rock is senior point guard Shizz Alston, who will soon go down as one of the most decorated guards in the AAC’s (admittedly brief) history. Alston is just a few days removed from a 24-point, five-rebound, seven-assist explosion against Tulsa, a game in which he coughed up the rock just two times in 40 minutes of action. Penny Hardaway loves to utilize his deep stable of guards to heat up the ball defensively, but the seasoned Alston won’t be bothered by this pressure.
Temple should be able to slow down Memphis’s transition game, which will force the Tigers to score efficiently in the half-court. While the Tigers’ floor general Jeremiah Martin can get white-hot from distance, he and his fellow backcourt mates are at their best when they attack the rim. Penny inherited Martin and Kareem Brewton from the Tubby Smith regime, but injected some additional ammo of his own in the form of freshmen Alex Loman, Tyler Harris and Antwaan Jones. If my math is correct, that gives the Tigers five potent penetrators on the perimeter who will be looking to slash everytime they touch the rock.
The Owls will play a fairly straightforward man-to-man defense with no gimmicks or tricks. This simply means Alston, along with Quinton Rose and Nate Pierre-Louis, will need to slide their feet and redirect any and all dribble drives out of the paint. Temple is a bit undermanned on the interior, especially with Ernest Aflakpui likely to miss his third straight game tonight, but Damion Moore and Justyn Hamilton are serviceable enough to prevent a bloodbath inside.
Even in a hostile environment in front of a hungry Memphis fan base, there’s both a matchup and motivation edge tonight for the Owls. We advise you to take Temple and the points in this one.
Miami (OH) at Bowling Green
3MW Pick: Bowling Green -6
As I was looking over Tuesday’s slate of games, very little jumped out to me at first. On a late February evening with a relatively thin slate, finding value is a challenge, but an unexpected hero emerged…
I (and the rest of the Weave) have been slow to catch up with Bowling Green’s tremendous play over the past two months. My colleague Ky did not have exceptionally high hopes for them in the preseason, so when BGSU dropped nonconference road games at Detroit, Hartford, and Cleveland State, I didn’t really bat an eye. But when MAC play began and the Falcons ripped off eight wins in their first nine games (including knocking off league power Buffalo), we had to thoroughly re-examine how we had evaluated this squad. They’re now kenpom’s No. 3-ranked team in the MAC, a top-100 squad that has had success on both sides of the ball. The key in this particular game, though, is how each team finds points.
In a way, both teams’ defenses are mirror images of each other. Both Bowling Green’s Michael Huger (a longtime Jim Larranaga assistant) and Miami’s Jack Owens (a Matt Painter guy) favor a conservative man-to-man scheme, concerned more with shutting down the rim and the defensive glass than running opponents off the three-point line or forcing turnovers. The Falcons struggled to crack the Redhawks’ defensive shell during their first meeting in Oxford exactly one month ago, shooting an abysmal 9 for 30 (30%) from inside the arc, and uncharacteristically had 15 turnovers. However, I don’t credit that to a poor matchup, as Miami’s defense does not excel at either of those aspects. Rather, I believe it was simply a poor road effort for a team that had won 10 games in a row and was looking ahead to its mega-marquee home spot against Buffalo.
Ordinarily, I’d be semi-concerned with giving six points to a team that will run smart action on offense and willingly fire away from three (that’s Miami in a nutshell). But Bowling Green is coming off a disappointing overtime road loss to Ohio, meaning they should be locked in mentally for a much better performance. Bowling Green is 7-2-1 as a home favorite this year, covering spreads by an average of 7.5 points (per teamrankings.com), and this game sets up perfectly for a bounce-back, “get right” kind of game in front of the home crowd.
After this weekend’s loss, both senior center Demajeo Wiggins and Coach Huger expressed dismay at the team’s effort level, particularly defensively, and I fully expect a renewed vigor in the Falcons’ step tonight. Miami managed only 1.02 points per possession in the first meeting in Oxford, and barring an unforeseen barrage from beyond the arc, I’d expect a dialed in BGSU defense to keep that number closer to 0.90 PPP this time around. If the spread gets up past -7, I’d be wary, but I like it at -6 or -6.5.
Texas A&M at LSU
Meyer's Pick: Texas A&M +12
This is a classic letdown spot. LSU is coming off an enormous 82–80 overtime win over Tennessee to vault itself in a tie for first atop the SEC standings. The Tigers did it without star point guard Tremont Waters (illness) and getting just one point from five-star freshman Naz Reid. Three days later, they now have to play a Texas A&M team that is just 5–9 in conference play. Even though this contest is in Baton Rouge, it’s a tough ask to immediately get up for this one after notching one of your biggest wins of the season.
Despite A&M being tied for the fourth-worst record in the SEC standings, the Aggies have actually been playing their best basketball of the season. They’ve won four of their past five games, including their first-ever victory at Bud Walton Arena this past weekend after dispatching Arkansas 87–80. The one loss over that stretch came at the hands of South Carolina, which beat the Aggies 84–77 in Columbia. But it was also a game where Texas A&M led by double digits in the second half and the Gamecocks needed a scorching 16-of-31 effort from three to escape on their home floor.
So why have the Aggies been better since their horrific 1–8 start in SEC play? Massive improvement on the offensive end: A&M is 35th in adjusted offensive efficiency in the month of February, per T-Rank. Considering how dismal this team was on that end of the floor for the majority of the season, this is a surprising development.
The key switch has been point guard TJ Starks coming off the bench. Starks is shooting 36.6% from the floor (22.6% from three) and averaging 3.8 turnovers per game. This is not the player you want taking the most shots for your team and handling the ball for a good chunk of the game as well.
With Starks’s role lessened, that has really opened the door for the emergence of junior guard Wendell Mitchell and sophomore guard Savion Flagg. The duo is averaging 26.2 PPG on the year, but since Starks started coming off the bench five games ago, Mitchell and Flagg have averaged a combined 33.6 PPG. They’ve also been far more efficient than Starks, as Mitchell and Flagg have shot at least 50% from the field seven times in those five games. Flagg was actually just named SEC Player of the Week after averaging 20 points, nine rebounds and 2.5 assists in wins over Alabama and Arkansas.
So this is not the same Texas A&M team that LSU beat 72–57 on Jan. 31.
Meanwhile, Waters is questionable to play in this one as he still battles his illness. In even bigger news, it was reported Monday that LSU coach Will Wade is expected to be subpoenaed in the April federal trial related to the FBI’s investigation into fraud in CBB. And this is still an extremely young team (323rd in experience per kenpom) having to deal with the emotions of coming off a monumental victory against one of the country’s top teams. Earlier this month, the Tigers squeaked by SEC bottom-feeder Georgia 83–79 four days after its buzzer-beater win at Kentucky.
LSU is dealing with quite a bit currently, and this is a Texas A&M team that can take the Tigers by surprise if they aren’t fully into this one. I’m betting on the juicy letdown potential here (and praying that the Aggies don't get destroyed on the glass).
OVERALL RECORD: 53-47-1