East Region Preview: 2017-18 NCAA Tournament

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(1) Villanova vs. (16) LIU-B / Radford

-Matt Cox

Initial Thoughts: Regardless of who wins in tonight's East regional 16-seed play-in game, expect to see a heavy dose of full-court pressure from either Radford or LIU-Brooklyn when one them squares off with Villanova this Thursday. Unfortunately for the two low-major conference representatives, this will be a dangerous game to play against 'Supernova's' pristine passing ability and could manifest into a perpetual lay-up line for the Wildcats. In case you haven't checked recently, Villanova's kenpom.com team page is one of the prettiest images you'll find on the interwebs, overloaded with green shaded team stat boxes and yellow shaded player stat boxes that serve as color-coded indicators of the Cats hyper-efficient offense.

Villanova on Offense: Per synergy's offensive efficiency breakdowns by type of defense (see picture below), it really doesn't matter what type of scheme you throw at Nova. Whether you go zone or man, they will carve you up with continuous drive and kick action from the perimeter and if they are knocking down 3s at a high-rate, well, you're essentially toast...

The Wildcats offense against the press ranks in the 91st percentile nationally, which should spell doom against the full-court pressure of LIU-B or Radford:

In the half-court, the Blackbirds are much more effective at running shooters off the 3-point line, which should give them a relative edge over Radford from a stylistic perspective.

LIU-B / Radford on Offense: The only areas where Nova can be exploited on defense is through a formidable post-up scoring threat or with hyper-quick guards that can consistently beat Jalen Brunson and Donte Divincenzo off-the-dribble. Neither Radford nor LIU-B has a bonafide low-post weapon (though Randy Phillips' size could be a tough cover for Omari Spellman if the Highlanders prevail), and Eric Paschall is an ideal defensive matchup for either Ed Polite (Radford) and Raiquan Clark (LIU-B), both of whom typically present mismatch opportunities against inferior competition.

Key Factor(s): Villanova catching a cold shooting streak is the only way the play-in winner has a prayer on Thursday. As I've cited on our podcast recently, examining the DNA of historical Final 4 and National Championship teams tells us that it's a suboptimal to bet on a team that so heavily relies on the 3-ball to put points on the board efficiently. One of the few exceptions to this rule was, ironically, the 2016 Villanova squad - remember when they morphed into human flamethrowers during their tear through the bracket? Nova will be fine in this one, but an extended shooting drought from long range could keep the margin of victory inside the number to help the underdog sneak into cover territory.

Final Predictions: Much like Duke, Villanova is currently trending positively on the defensive side of the ball - Jay Wright was quick to point out his contentedness with the Cats defensive effort over the course of the Big East tournament, which helped the Cats eek by a pesky Providence team in the title game. Nova now holds claim to a top-25 defense nationally, which combined with the most efficient offense in college basketball, obviously bodes well for their long-term tourney prognosis. And in this matchup vacuum, there's no glaring signs for any real risk of an historic opening round upset.

SU Pick: Villanova
ATS Pick: [To be updated Wednesday]
O/U Pick: [To be updated Wednesday]

(8) Virginia Tech vs. (9) Alabama

-Matt Cox

Initial Thoughts: Congrats to Avery Johnson for getting the Tide back to the Big Dance in just his 3rd season at the helm in Tuscaloosa. Johnson needed a heroic effort from Collin Sexton in the opening round of the SEC tournament to solidify their at-large fate - with under 5 seconds to play, Sexton went coast-to-coast and canned a buzzer beating floater to down Texas A&M by a point. Sexton parlayed that jaw-dropping effort into two more excellent showings in St. Louis, including a 30-point explosion against arch rival Auburn followed by an efficient 20-plus point performance against Kentucky.

Given how dominant the freshman phenom has been over the past two weeks, the key to this 8/9 matchup will revolve around how well Buzz Williams and the Hokies corral Sexton, both in the half-court and out in transition.

Alabama on Offense: After stumbling out of the gates in ACC play to a 2-4 record, Virginia Tech promptly responded by tightening up the screws on defense. Buzz has attributed the timely correction to simple focus and repetition in practice, citing no significant stylistic changes from earlier in the year. The Hokies have been especially effective at walling off dribble penetration during their recent turnaround, which is the perfect recipe to slowing down the penetration-heavy Alabama offense. 

And don't be fooled by the highlight reels from the SEC tournament when Sexton and John Petty were raining in 3s from 30-plus feet - Bama is most efficient offensively when they get to the rim and draw contact. This is problematic against a Buzz Williams coached team that historically defends well without fouling: The Hokies currently rank inside the top-60 nationally in defensive free throw rate and dating back to Buzz's coaching days at Marquette, his teams have failed to crack the top-100 only twice in 10 seasons.

Virginia Tech on Offense: The Hokies always space the floor well thanks to a laundry list of potent shooters on the perimeter in a 4-out, 1-in lineup that revolves around Kerry Blackshear in the middle. Chris Clarke is the X-factor as a positionless 4-man who possesses one of the more complete offensive games in the country. Avery Johnson will lean heavily on Herb Jones and Braxton Key to blanket Clarke in this matchup, both of whom are plus defenders with the size, strength and quickness to cover Clarke.

The challenge for the Tide will be staying disciplined as a cohesive unit against a Va Tech team that will scatter multiple sharpshooters around the 3-point line at at all times. Despite the bevy of athletic guards and wings at Avery Johnson's disposal, Bama has been susceptible at times to leaving open shooters on the perimeter - this cannot happen against the Hokies, who will burn you with quick ball rotations after they break down the initial defensive structure.

Key Factor(s): Two key areas to watch are the Hokies' effectiveness at defending the high pick-n-roll and shutting down transition opportunities. The Tide are tough to stop when their top-flight athletes are attacking east and west with a full steam of momentum, which typically is incepted off of a ball screen in the half-court or out on the break in transition.

The good news for Va Tech is that Buzz and the boys are well prepared to guard these two primary scoring avenues for Bama. How? Well...

1. Buzz has an extensive track record of deprioritizing the offensive glass in favor of getting back quickly to set up his half court defense...

2. The Hokies have covered screen and roll action as well as anyone in the country this year - thanks to a variety of athletic, multi-positional guards and wing, Va Tech ranked in the 94th percentile in points per possession surrendered in defensive pick-n-roll situations, per synergy.

Final Predictions: The Hokies are one of my higher confident plays of the East region - it's hard to see an avenue in which Alabama scores consistently, unless John Petty and Collin Sexton go bonkers from deep.

SU Pick: Virginia Tech
ATS Pick: Virginia Tech -2
O/U Pick: Under 141.5

(5) West Virginia vs. (12) Murray State

-Matt Cox

Initial Thoughts: Full disclosure: I had a man crush on this Racers team all year - led by Johnny Stark and a high-octane offense, Murray 'raced' through the OVC en route to a 16-2 league record and outright conference title...

But as I put my sentimental feelings for the Racers to the side and assess this matchup objectively, it may be a tall task for Murray to go toe-to-toe with the Mountaineers for a full 40 minutes...

Murray State on Offense: The Racers lean heavily on their 1-2, inside-out punch of Jon Stark and Terrell Miller. Stark is exceptional at changing speeds to maneuver by defenders and his general composure with the ball in his hands separates him from so many other good lead guards in the country. Stark's cerebral approach to the game has clearly rubbed off on his freshman backcourt mate Temetrius Morant, who has been a revelation for head coach Matt McMahon. While Morant has played wise beyond his years this season, he and Stark now have to deal with the ferocious West Virginia defense, which will be incomparable to anything they've seen so far this season. Not only will Stark have to free himself from the best on-ball defender in the country in Jevon Carter, but Morant will likely draw either Daxter Miles or James Bolden each of whom are stingy defenders in their own right.

The real opportunity where Murray can create some mismatches in the half-court is by playing through Terrell Miller - the 6'8 senior is a unique asset on the offensive end as a primary screener in pick-n-roll action who can also score in mid-to-low post isolation settings. While Huggins has a few versatile defensive options to throw on Miller (see Esa Ahmad, Lamont West and Wesley Harris), Miller typically plays the 5 for the Racers and could be lined up with the shot-blocking supremacist Sagaba Konate. If Huggins opts to throw Konate at Miller, look for the Racers to stretch Konate away from the rim with some pick-n-pop action through Stark / Miller and/or  Morant/Miller.

If one of the less imposing 'Neer bigs draws the Miller assignment, McMahon will try and isolate Miller's side of the floor and let him go to work - these two situations below are where Miller needs to convert when the opportunity presents itself:

West Virginia on Offense: Much has been made of West Virginia's dicey half-court offense, which can often turn into a mid range jump shooting contest - this is usually the root cause of West Va's extended scoreless droughts, which bit them in the ass multiple times throughout Big-12 play. The key will be how well the Racers can slow down West Virginia's relentless brigade on the rim whenever the 1st shot does go up. Miller is a monster on the defensive glass himself, but the Racers do a nice job of rebounding in numbers across all 5 positions - this is critical against Neers, who will throw waves of bodies to the glass in hopes of playing volleyball at the rim against a relatively undersized Racers frontcourt.

Key Factor(s): The press offense for Murray is a no-brainer here: Can the freshman Morant, along with Stark and Leroy Buchanan, make smart decisions against the pressure? Morant only tallied one turnover in Murray's non-conference showdown with Auburn - the closest stylistic and talent comparison to West Virginia the Racers faced this season - which is certainly an encouraging sign for the Murray faithful.

Final Predictions: Ultimately, I don't think the press ends up disturbing Murray all that much, but Jevon Carter has proven he can shut down the nation's most prolific guards no matter what defensive scheme Huggins chooses to play. This will be an uphill battle for the Racers, given they'll likely need a big time performance from Jonny Stark to carry them to the 2nd round. Do keep an eye on Miller's usage in this game - he's an underappreciated weapon for McMahon's offense with the size and skill combination needed to get buckets against a stout WVU frontline.

SU Pick: West Virginia
ATS Pick: Murray State +10
O/U Pick: Under 145.5

(4) Wichita State vs. (13) Marshall

-Matt Cox

Initial Thoughts: If you're sick and tired of the slow, drag out rock fights that we witness far too frequently in college hoops, this matchup will serve as a breath of fresh air. My jaw dropped when I saw an initial total of 167 posted by the oddsmakers, but Vegas is smarter than all of us combined and they're likely on to something here...

Wichita State on Offense: What's crazy is that of all of the great teams Gregg Marshall has had during his magical run at Wichita, none have been as a good offensively as this year's Shockers. The unselfishness and general balance of Wichita's offense is a delight to watch - all five guys on the floor are constantly looking to make the extra pass, whether it comes off penetration from the perimeter or starts with an inside-out kick out from the post. Going against the ultra-extended Marshall man-to-man defense, Landry Shamet should have ample opportunities to initiate offense off-the-dribble and break down the shape of the Thundering Herd's defense.

But Shamet and the other Shocker guards / wings will need to be weary of the nation's leading shot-blocker, Ajdin Penava, policing the paint area when they attack. Penava was the catalyst in Marshall's monumental improvement on defense this season and he's the invaluable chess piece in Dan D'Antoni's analytics-based defensive strategy: take away the 3-point shot and funnel all shots into the mid range area with a reliable rim-protector guarding the basket. 

Marshall on Offense: If you haven't seen Jon Elmore play basketball this season, we encourage you to saddle up and witness one of the nation's premier point guard orchestrate an NBA-style offense that can rack up points faster than almost any team in America. The Thundering Herd played at the 3rd fastest tempo in the country this season, which is spearheaded by the dynamic Elmore racing the ball up the floor the second Marshall gains possession:

 While his somewhat skinny 6'3, 180 pound frame gives a false perception that he's a forgettable spot-up shooter, nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, he won't hesitate to pull up from 30 feet if his defender sags off, but his true bread-and-butter is attacking the tin as a crafty penetrator and foul creator. He and CJ Burks headline an all-league caliber backcourt that could be a major challenge for a Wichita State defense to slow down, especially given how poor the Shockers have been defending the pick-n-roll this year.

Key Factor(s): Viewer beware: The Thundering Herd may get absolutely 'trampled' on the boards. For as productive as Penava has been this season, he's Marshall's only reliable rebounder and his relatively frail frame could be a problem against the big bodies of Shaq Morris and Darral Willis down low.

Final Predictions: From a wagering perspective, the 12-point line seems a bit inflated at first glance, but the Shockers shouldn't have much of an issue extending their lead to double digits in an up-and-down, high possession game. Only a barrage of 3s will keep Marshall competitive in this one and the Shock should score at will in the paint, even against a bonafide shot-blocker in Penava.

SU Pick: Wichita State
ATS Pick: Wichita State -12
O/U Pick: Over 165.5

(6) Florida vs. (11) St. Bonnies / UCLA

-Matt Cox

Initial Thoughts: It feels like a century ago when everyone was swooning over the Gators and their offensive outbursts at the PK80 over Thanksgiving break. Florida came crashing back down to Earth shortly after - the home loss to Loyola was borderline inexcusable - and have been on a bumpy ride since SEC play began in January.

Don't look now, but despite the massive lack of size on the interior (shame that John Egbunu was never able to make it back on the floor), the Gators have quietly blossomed into a top-25 defense nationally. The ability to generate consistent stops has kept Florida competitive with those 3s no longer falling at the astronomical rate they were earlier in the season. The Gators crossed the finish line with a pedestrian 36% team shooting percentage from behind the arc, to go along with SEC's 11th and 10th ranked 2-point and FT percentages, respectively.

The real head scratcher has been the diminishing impact of KeVaughn Allen, who was picked by many to win conference player of the year. Here we are in March on the eve of the NCAA tournament and you could make a reasonable argument that Allen is Florida's 4th option on offense as his usage has plummeted to 20% of all team possessions (which kenpom.com's formula characterizes as a "role player").

For the Bonnies, what a weirdly pleasant start to your 2018 tournament ride – while Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley were shells of themselves for most of the night (for the exception of Adams’ late wing jumper and free throws in the final minute), Courtney Stockard (shouts to Jennings High STL, MO) made it ABUNDANTLY clear that he’s back to full strength. It was up in the air whether or not Stockard would play, but he wasted no time asserting himself as the Bonnies' alpha  dog for a night, a far cry from his typical 3rd banana role on offense.

As disgusting as last night’s game was, it served as a timely teaching moment for the broader college hoops fan base: Bonaventure is NOT just a two-man band. While everyone just attended Stockard's official coming out party, LaDarien Griffin and Idris Taqqee each showed why they’ve been key cogs for the Bonnies all year long as well. Griffin tallied 10 huge points on just 6 shots and accounted for 3 of the Bonnies’ 11 team steals, while Taqqee’s work on the glass allowed Schmidt to get away with playing his preferred small ball lineup (albeit, the zone certainly helped as well).

St. Bonaventure on Offense: Let’s start with that aforementioned 5-guard/wing lineup of Adams, Mobley, Taqqee, Stockard and Griffin. This is not your typical 'small-ball' lineup that’s looking to shoot opponents out the gym with a flurry of 3s. Rather, Taqqee, Stockard and Griffin are all athletic and physical slash-first wings who are always looking to drive the ball hard downhill. This mindset is what allows the Bonnies to live at the foul line, where they racked up 15 huge points against the Bruins in an ugly, grind-it-out battle.

While I expect both the Gators and the Bonnies to play a much cleaner game than what we saw in Dayton, Florida must keep their hands in check against the Bonnies’ relentless penetration. The Gators did a decent job of not sending their opponents to the charity stripe this season, which is rather impressive when you consider Mike White’s extended man-to-man defensive scheme likes to get up into opposing guards on the perimeter. This is predicated on Chris Chiozza and KeVaughn Allen, two excellent on-ball stoppers, being able to disrupt opposing backcourts far beyond the 3-point line without letting their man beat them off the dribble.

Florida on Offense: As we discussed on the podcast last night, Florida’s offensive ceiling is significantly lowered when they settle for jump shots – and per hoopmath.com and haslametrics.com’s shot selection trend data, wayyyy too many of these shots are in the midrange area or just inside the stripe. For all the hoopla surrounding the Gator’s affection for jacking 3s, they ranked 101st in the country in 3-point attempt rate (and just 5th in the SEC). In many ways, Florida's jump-shot reliant offensive flaw is similar to what we see with West Virginia’s half-court offense at times.

The encouraging sign here for Florida fans, at least from a matchup lens, is that the Bonnies aren’t in any hurry to chase the Gators off the 3-point line, especially if Schmidt decides to go zone. And given how effective that zone was against UCLA last night (although, I’d argue much of that was self-inflicted by Aaron Holiday), I wouldn’t be surprised to see Schmidt showcase the zone again in this matchup. However, per synergy, Florida’s zone offense ranked just inside the top-50 nationally, and with the array of shooters always on the floor for UF I just don’t see the Gators being disrupted by this look.

Key Factor(s): Hopefully Egor Koulechov saw the impact Courtney Stockard and Idris Taqqee had against UCLA because odds are Mike White will have ‘the Mad Russian’ cover one if not both of them for large stretches of this game. Egor is often a matchup conundrum for traditional opponents, but that won’t be the case against the Bonnies and their guard / wing heavy lineup. While my eye-test tells me Koulechov is prone to taking some forced shots on occasion, he’s undoubtedly been a major asset for the Gators this season offensively. But it’s his defense that Mike White will need more than ever tomorrow, specifically corralling the Bonnies’ wing core that proved to be the X-Factor against UCLA. Griffin and Taqqee will both hit the offensive glass hard, so Egor needs to assert himself on the glass to ensure the Bonnies don't get 2nd and 3rd shot opportunities on offense.

Final Predictions: This should be a wide open track meet with both teams likely to go significant stretches of the game without a true post presence on the floor. In a battle of the backcourts, I lean ever so slightly toward the Gators. As great as Adams and Mobley are, I still think the best guard on the floor will be Chris Chiozza and I give a slight edge to the Chiozza / Allen duo on the defensive end. The Bonnies completely shook Aaron Holiday with their physicality, but they won’t be able to do that against Chiozza and Allen who have multiple years under their belt playing in the brutal SEC meat grinder.

SU Pick: Florida
ATS Pick: Florida -5.5
O/U Pick: Over 143

(3) Texas Tech vs. (14) Stephen F. Austin

-Matt Cox

Initial Thoughts: Remember the last time SFA was a 14-seed? Rewind back two seasons to the 2015-16 tournament when the Lumberjacks whooped up on West Virginia in the 1st round and were a last second tip-in away from bouncing their way to the Sweet-16. While much of that roster has graduated - along with their former head honcho Brad Underwood - the Jacks have an eerily similar team assembled this season that is ripe to give Chris Beard and the Red Raiders all kinds of headaches in this opening round 3/14 matchup.

Texas Tech on Offense: The Red Raiders will need a steady floor game from freshmen off-guards Jarrett Culver and Zhaire Smith if they want to limit SFA's defensive perimeter disruption. Both Culver and Smith have been relatively solid taking care of the basketball in their inaugural collegiate seasons - it's worth calling out the matchup with West Virginia a few weeks back when the young guards were thrown right into the fire against the 'Neers terrifying perimeter havoc without their backcourt leader Keenan Evans there to support.

That learning experience, along with the pair of games against Oklahoma State this season - Mike Boynton is a former Brad Underwood assistant and the Pokes style of play highly replicates what Tech will see in this game against SFA - should pay major dividends against the Jacks perpetual perimeter pressure that feasts on shaky ball security. However, the Raiders' young backcourt did show some cracks at times this season as Tech turned in the Big-12's 2nd highest offensive turnover rate, despite Keenan Evans posting one of the lower individual TO rates in the league. 

SFA on Offense: While SFA exploited the Southland this season with a long and athletic starting 5, the Jacks will run into a mirror image of themselves against the Red Raiders, who also have plus length at all 5 positions. SFA starts 6'4, 6'5, 6'6, 6'7 and 6'8, compared with Texas Tech who trots out 6'3, 6'5, 6'5, 6'6 and 6'9. Both teams are both highly interchangeable at the 1-4 spots, which makes them both so tough to matchup with on either side of the ball. The key guy for SFA on offense is TJ Holyfield, who will likely be covered by the hyper athletic Zach Smith - Smith missed the bulk of Big-12 play with a foot injury, but he has been eased back into the rotation over the last 3-4 games. Against the highly active 6'8 Holyfield, Smith's defensive presence will be invaluable in this round 1 showdown, even if he only gives Beard 15-20 minutes.

Key Factor(s): The zebras have no choice but to play a pivotal part in the outcome of this game - much like West Virginia's 'hack-a-thon' pressure, the Jacks foul at the highest rate in the entire country, which should put the Raiders in the bonus early in both halves. It's very likely Tech could see their postseason destiny come down to whether or not they cash in on their free chances from the charity stripe.

Final Predictions: From a defensive lens, both teams are constructed with blueprints that should derail the opponent's offensive rhythm - SFA should surely give the Red Raider guards some difficulty initiating offense, while Tech's pack line defense should be the perfect kryptonite against the drive-heavy Lumberjacks. The under is my more confident wager here, but I lean ever-so-slightly with the jumpin' Jacks and the 11 points Vegas is offering.

SU Pick: Texas Tech
ATS Pick: SFA +11
O/U Pick: Under 138


(7) Arkansas vs. (10) Butler

-Matt Cox

Initial Thoughts: I have many thoughts on both of these squads after catching two of their games live at the PK80, as well as watching them play countless more times on TV since then. Upon further reflection, Arky and Butler's 2017-18 regular seasons could both be evaluated as "meeting expectations", so this projects to be a super tight matchup with neither team being particularly over or under seeded.

Arkansas on Offense: Here's one myth that needs to be debunked before going any further - Arkansas is more than capable of scoring efficiently in a half-court game if this battle slows down to a snail's pace late in the 2nd half. Per synergy, Arkansas has actually been more efficient in half-court situations than in transition as they grade out in the 83rd and 81st percentiles in half-court offense and transition offense, respectively. While you won't see any fancy motion set plays from Mike Anderson, his dynamic duo of Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon don't need any help getting their own shots.

The seniors combined efficiency this season has been rather impressive given how highly contested many of their shots are - with their individual shotmaking brilliance, it should come as no surprise that Pig Suey ranked in the 97th percentile nationally in both isolation and pick-n-roll play types this season, which almost always runs through Macon and Barford. Kamar Baldwin and Aaron Thompson, both of whom are solid on-ball defenders, will likely draw the assignment of Barford and Macon defensively for the Bulldogs. 

Butler on Offense: Arkansas' defense has been MIA since the beginning of SEC play - the Razorbacks have been absolutely gashed by the 3-ball, much of which is due to a basic lack of effort and poor defensive rotations out of their shaky man-to-man defense. While Butler is not a deadly 3-point shooting team, the Kamar Baldwin, Paul Jorgensen, Sean McDermott and Kelan Martin lineup has the potential to blitz the Razorbacks with a flurry of 3s, especially if the streaky Martin is locked-in. This will be an interesting chess match to watch Lavall Jordan play out in this game - playing Jorgenson over Thompson should pay off on the offensive side of the ball, but Thompson is clearly the better perimeter defender and will be needed to check Barford and Macon on the other end.

What's wildly confusing is how poor Arky has been cleaning up the defensive glass, even with a fringe lottery pick in Daniel Gafford anchoring the middle of the defense. However, Butler has yet to wreak any real havoc on the offensive boards this season, so Anderson might have caught a break with their opening round draw here.

Key Factor(s): This matchup will feature a ton of 1-v-1 isolation and pick-n-roll possessions for both teams on offense. Just as the Razorbacks are highly dependent on their co-lead guards to make stuff happen on offense, Butler leans also heavily on the playmaking of Kelan Martin and Kamar Baldwin, a lot of which is through ball screen action. In fact, Butler runs more pick-n-roll than any team in the tournament not named Miami FL, per synergy - that shouldn't faze the highly athletic Razorbacks who defended screen and rolls at the 35th best rate in the nation, also per synergy.

Final Predictions: Perhaps I'm ignoring all of the troubling signs for Mike Anderson's defense as of late, but I'm stubbornly rolling with the Razorbacks - in a game that will likely be decided by players making individual plays, I think Macon and Barford are better 1-v-1 playmakers and scorers than Martin and Baldwin, which gives the slight edge to Arky.

SU Pick: Arkansas
ATS Pick: Arkansas +1
O/U Pick: Over 152


(2) Purdue vs. (15) Cal State Fullerton

-Matt Cox

Initial Thoughts: If there's one team in the field of 68 with the strongest immunity to an early round upset, I'd argue it's the Boilermakers. Their unrivalled inside-out balance on offense is virtually impossible for a mid or low-major team to matchup with - sorry Cal State Fullerton, but I just don't envision a scenario in which you compete in this one...

Purdue on Offense: I bet Fullerton's head coach Dedrique Taylor wishes he still had Jamar Akoh in the rotation, a former transfer and beast of big man who now plays for Montana. The Titans post defense has suffered without him and graded out in the 21st percentile of all teams in America this season - why is this a problem? Well, in case you've been on Mars for the past four months, Purdue has a couple 7'2 aliens who will each enjoy a 3-course meal inside in this game...

Cal State Fullerton on Offense: Matt Painter does not get enough credit for his defensive prowess as he's once again constructed one of the best team-based defensive units in the entire country. And what's one of his key principles? Defending without fouling...

Hmmmmm, this is not ideal for Fully, who basically owns a timeshare at the charity stripe: 25% of the Titans total points this year came via the free throw line, the 3rd highest percentage in the country, per kenpom.com.

Key Factor(s): Jackson Rowe is a unique player for the Titans, who at 6'7 splits his time between the 4 and the 5 positions for the Titans' offense. Perhaps Taylor could get cute and go super-small ball with Rowe at the 5, which is Fully's only hope to playing Haas and Haarms off the floor.

Final Predictions: Everything about this matchup on paper screams Purdue in a landslide, but feel free to go against the grain and laugh at the rest of us when Fully mucks this game up and keeps it inside 20 points.

SU Pick: Purdue
ATS Pick: Purdue -20.5
O/U Pick: Under 145