College basketball expert picks and predictions
We’ve got 55 games on a Monday morning and the card was just about to get started as I sat down to sink my teeth into the November 20 slate. A lot of early-season tournaments are happening this week as well, so we’ve basically got games all day.
As I’ve mentioned before, when that’s the case, I typically won’t start looking at games that tip off prior to 3 or 4 p.m. in the interest of giving people time to consume the article. With these tournaments, it’s also tough to do work the afternoon or evening prior because the games are going on and these tourneys feature a lot of back-to-backs. So, look for those potential situational spots with teams coming off of an overtime game or something to that effect.
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Here are some thoughts on the November 20 card (odds from DraftKings):
4:30 p.m. ET
In the SoCal Challenge in San Juan Capistrano, Austin Peay and Tarleton State square off in the later of two games on the schedule. Austin Peay has two wins and two losses on the season, but both wins have come against lower-division competition. In the two games against Division I opponents - George Mason and UTEP - the Governors have scored .716 and .886 points per possession. Mason and UTEP are fine teams and they are ranked in the top 130 per Bart Torvik, but they are not juggernauts by any means.
Austin Peay has taken 23 shots defined as Close Twos and 52 shots defined as Far Twos in those two games, so they have not been able to get the ball inside against either D-I opponent. First-year head coach Corey Gipson brought over some Northwestern State players with him, including PG DeMarcus Sharp, who is 13-of-35 on 2s so far and has taken 30 mid-range jumpers. He also has a TO% of 23.4%. He has among the highest usage rates in the nation as an inefficient offensive player and his shot selection is really hurting the team.
That will be problematic against Tarleton State. Billy Gillespie’s Texans have a win over FIU and losses to Virginia and Bradley to go along with a win over lower-division UNT Dallas. Gillespie has been at Tarleton State the past three seasons and they have ranked 11th, 4th, and 5th in TO% in that span. Sharp doesn’t take great care of the basketball and takes a lot of bad shots, so I’m expecting a lot of empty possessions for the Govs here.
Against a FIU team with a similar ranking to Austin Peay, Tarleton State won by 17 and held them to .852 PPP with 21 turnovers. Austin Peay may not have that many giveaways, but between their shot selection, a neutral setting that could make it more difficult to make shots, and the potential for turnovers, I like Tarleton State in this one.
Pick: Tarleton State -2.5
6 p.m. ET
From California to Florida, as my colleague Greg Peterson may host Coast to Coast Hoops, but that’s what my plays span for tonight. South Dakota State and George Mason square off in the Jacksonville Classic in St. Augustine. Both teams played yesterday, as GMU was stymied by the pack line defense of Charlotte in an ugly 54-49 loss, while SDSU dropped a three-point decision to UCF by an 83-80 count.
In three games against Division I opponents, the Jackrabbits have allowed 1.177, 1.235, and 1.168 points per possession. They have been atrocious defensively, allowing the opposition to shoot 42.1% from 3 and 57.4% on 2s. While SDSU has kept up to some degree offensively with 1.09, .923 (Kansas State), and 1.125 PPP, they just cannot stop anybody. That’s kind of the Summit League way.
Opponents are only shooting 37.8% on 2s against the Patriots this season. They’re shooting 34.5% from 3, but Cornell rained down a 14-of-29 night in a 90-83 Mason victory to skew that number a bit. Charlotte was just 4-of-14 last night in the neutral setting. The Patriots had over a point per possession in their first three games, getting better each time out with 1.032, 1.067, and then 1.295 in that shootout against Cornell that was only played to 69 possessions, but had 173 points.
I think George Mason’s defense is quite a bit stronger than South Dakota State’s and their offense is plenty good enough to battle it out in a higher-scoring affair if need be. They’re also a better rebounding team, which may matter in a game such as this as well.
Once again, I prefer GMU’s shot selection, as they’ve taken almost twice as many Close Twos as Far Twos, while SDSU has taken more mid-range jumpers than attempts at the rim.
Pick: George Mason -1.5
12:30 a.m. ET
This is a late one in San Juan Capistrano, as we head to the Surf Division of the SoCal Challenge. Obviously the start time seems a little more palatable for Cal, as UTEP will be playing a 12:30 a.m. tip off by their body clocks. The Miners are undefeated, but they’ve played two lower-division teams, UC Santa Barbara at home, and Austin Peay at home. This will be their first game outside of El Paso this season.
It will be the first game not in Berkeley for Cal, but at least they don’t have time changes or anything like that to worry about. They’ve lost some winnable games to Pacific and Montana State at home this season, so I understand the hesitance and why this line has swung a bit towards UTEP, but I like the upside for the Golden Bears under first-year head coach Mark Madsen, who was extremely successful at Utah Valley.
Better fortunes should be ahead for Cal. They rank in the top 45 in OREB% and 27th in DREB%, so they’ve really done a good job on the glass in their four games. UTEP, who plays a pressure defense under Joe Golding, has not been well-versed on the boards. Rebounding prowess is a combination of height and athleticism and I think that should help Cal defensively here as well. UTEP is shooting 63.4% on 2s over their two D-I games. I can’t imagine that continues. They shot 50.7% last season to rank 160th. They were also among the nation’s worst 3-point shooting teams and don’t look improved in that area this season.
Cal is definitely a work in progress, but there’s a lot of talent on the roster and Madsen is an excellent coach. Maybe UTEP will be a good team, but there are a lot of regression signs in the profile and this is a step up in class against the Golden Bears, as the Miners rank 354th in strength of schedule per Torvik and 290th per KenPom, including the 320th-ranked SOS in terms of opposing defenses.
Pick: Cal +2.5
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