Tuesdays are usually a big day for college hoops and this coming Tuesday, January 12th, is no different. Let's dive a little deeper into the marquee matchups:
1 Kansas v. 17 West Virginia
KU has been one of the best teams in the nations thus far in the early season, but Tuesday they travel to Morgantown for a tough matchup against the scrappy Mountaineers. This matchup is more even than you'd think on paper. Here are the things to watch:
WV Perimeter Defense
West Virginia is one of the best defensive teams in the land and has the size to compete with the KU bigs. WV's guards Carter, Paige, Miles, and Phillip have wreaked havoc this year with constant ball pressure and jumping into passing lanes. The Mountaineers force more turnovers than anyone in the nation and own the #1 steal percentage in the country. Unfortunately for WV, KU point guard Frank Mason is about as cool and confident as they come and rarely turns the ball over; however, I think the Mountaineers will be able to get to Devonte Graham a bit. Another perimeter defensive topic to watch is how well WV can take away the three. This season, Kansas is shooting 45% from deep (3rd in the land), while West Virginia is allowing teams to shoot only 25% from range (2nd in the land).
The Selden Factor
Wayne Selden will be the toughest matchup for West Virginia. At 6'5'', Selden has the size to shoot over the shorter WV guards, which is bad news for the Mountaineers considering Selden is shooting 49.3% from three this season and is one of the best spot-up shooters in the country this year. Expect Kansas to run the offense through Selden this game: using him in the pick and roll (something he excels at, though has seldom exploited), posting up smaller guards, and of course - spotting up for threes off Mason drives. I'd wager Huggins might throw freshman wing Esa Ahmad on Selden, at least for a few possessions. Ahmad, at 6'8'', has the size to bother a Selden spot-up and opponents shooting over Ahmad on a spot-up have converted only 31.8% of their shots this season per Synergy.
Stopping WV Transition
West Virginia relies heavily on transition offense to put points on the board - about a quarter of their shot attempts come in transition, oftentimes off a steal. Kansas is one of the best teams in the land at stopping transition buckets. They've allowed the 13th fewest initial shot attempts in transition in the country (per Hoop-Math) and have held opponents to under a 45% shot percentage in transition (20th nationally).
Verdict and Spread
I think this one's close. The WVU Coliseum is a tough place to play and the crowd will be especially hostile as this is by far the biggest game of the Mountaineers' season. KenPom has this game slated as West Virginia -1, but I assume Vegas will make Kansas the favorite by 3 or 4 points. I'd assume the public will mostly be on Kansas, heavily so if the line starts off under 3. Anything over WV +4, and I'm taking the Mountaineers.
12 Miami v. 4 Virginia
This one will be interesting - Virginia is coming off two bad losses to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech on the road, while Miami couldn't be hotter right now. We'll get to see UVA's lock-down defense try to stop one of the best offenses in the country. Things to watch:
Miami Three-Point Shooting
Virginia plays a pack-line style defense, and as a result they allow teams to shoot a lot of three-pointers. While Miami doesn't over-rely on three-point shooting to help them win games, they do have some knock-down shooters. Sheldon McClellan is shooting 41.2% from deep this year on 55 attempts, Davon Reed hit three threes against Florida State and is shooting 34%, and reserve big Uceda is shooting 50% from three on 50 attempts. One guy who CANNOT shoot is Angel Rodriguez, who has chucked up a team-leading 66 three-point attempts this season, converting on only 28% of them (not good). Rodriguez has the potential to shoot Miami out of this game, which is exactly what the Cavs want, but if McClellan and Reed catch fire - look out.
The Battle for the Interior
Virginia has been somewhat offensively challenged the last couple games. The Cavs rely heavily on getting to the basket, getting easy put-backs, and scoring off post-ups. With 7'0'' Tonye Jekiri of Miami clogging the middle for the Canes on Tuesday, scoring inside may be easier said than done. Virginia center Anthony Gill is a great player but is vastly undersized at 6'8'' compared to Jekiri and the lesser-used Mike Tobey isn't scaring anyone on defense. Staying in front of a slashing Malcolm Brogdon so as not to allow easy buckets or dump-off passes when Jekrir helps, will be the key for the Canes D. On the other side of the ball, the Canes won't score much inside with UVA's pack line D and superior rebounding.
Verdict and Spread
This game screams bounce-back for a very good Virginia team. The Cavs are likely favored by three points in this one and will be foaming at the mouth to get another tally in their conference win column. Miami has been unstoppable so far this season, but they haven't gone against a defense as tough as Virginia's and will be heavily reliant on outside shooting. I think Brogdon has himself a day, Jekiri is neutralized and/or gets in foul trouble, and the Cavs win by six or seven.
3 Maryland v. Michigan
An up-and-down Wolverine squad coming off a tough Purdue loss faces off with one of the strongest teams in the country on paper in the Terps who come off a nail-biting win over Wisconsin. Stuff to watch:
Stopping Diamond Stone
Freshman phenom center Diamond Stone is just eating opponents so far this season. Stone averages only 20 minutes per contest (for some reason) and is putting up 13.1 points per game and pulling down 5.4 boards. He is shooting over 60% from the field, 77% from the line (outstanding for a seven-footer), is one of the best shot-blockers in the nation, and is the 9th best offensive rebounder in the country per KenPom. Honestly, it's baffling to me how Dodd still starts over him, but i won't presume to know everything happening behind the scenes in College Park. Michigan's best post defender is 6'9'' Ricky Doyle, and their second-best is Mark Donnal, who is an average defender at best. Stone is liable to eat both of them. Also - there's still the matter of guarding other forward Robert Carter, whose versatility and athleticism should cause headaches for the Michigan big men.
The Wolverines rely on three-point shooting to win ball-games. They are a top 20 team in number of threes attempted this season and are hitting 42.9% of them (9th nationally). Their best shooter is Duncan Robinson, a 6'8'' sophomore, who is shooting an absolutely ridiculous 56.2% from three on 96 attempts! In addition, Derrick Walton is shooting over 54% and LeVert and Dawkins are each over 45%. In summary - Michigan is lights out from deep. This matches up favorably for the Wolverines as Maryland isn't great at taking the three-ball away from its opponents. Layman is long though and could bother Robinson if he matches up with him and Sulaimon is a good pressure defender who may cause problems for Wolverine guards. In the end, this game is in all likelihood decided by Michigan's ability to hit the three.
Battle of the Stars
Two of the very best players in the Big Ten, and really even the nation, will square off in this game: Caris LeVert of Michigan and Melo Trimble of Maryland. LeVert's shooting slashes this year have been insane: .539/.450/.800 (2FG/3FG/FT), and he is one of the best passers in the country and turns the ball over at a minuscule rate. LeVert leads Michigan in scoring, rebounding, and assists - yes he is awesome. On the other side, Melo Trimble may be the best player in the country. We've seen his clutchness this season already with the game-winning shot at Wisconsin and after watching him in person completely dismantle a helpless Northwestern Wildcats team, I can honestly say he's one of the most impressive players I've ever seen live. Like LeVert, Trimble's shooting slashes aren't too shabby either: .570/.397/.870. This will be an epic battle between two of the nation's very best; a must-watch affair indeed.
Verdict and Spread
Like the KU/WV game, KenPom has this one as a one-point advantage to the home team. Like KU/WV, I see Vegas making the Terps the favorite in this one with similar public attraction to the higher-ranked squad. Unlike the KU/WV game, I do not think the home team will have enough fire power to come away with the victory. Maryland is just too deep and too talented to lose this one. They match up well with every player on the floor for the Wolverines and can really key in on LeVert, making it more difficult for him to impact the game. The wildcard though will be the coaching. Beilein of Michigan is frankly a much better coach than Turgeon of Maryland and will have the home crowd fired up helping his cause. I think the Terps scrape out a win here by about 5 (if the spread gets over that, which is unlikely, I may have to consider the dog).
Other games to watch
13 Iowa State v. Texas
Proj. Spread: Iowa State -1
Pick: Iowa State
8 Providence v. Creighton
Proj. Spread: Creighton -2.5
Florida v. 21 Texas A&M
Proj. Spread: Texas A&M -6
Texas Tech v. Kansas State
Proj. Spread: Kansas State -3
Pick: Kansas State
Wisconsin v. Northwestern
Proj. Spread: Northwestern -3.5
Arkansas v. Missouri
Proj. Spread: Arkansas -2