BracketBusters Breakdown

Now that the BracketBusters matchups for this season have been announced, here’s a quick look at the five best matchups.

Saint Mary’s at Murray State

You have to applaud this selection, which pits the best team slated for a road game in this event against one of this season’s biggest surprises.  It also gives Murray State another chance at a profile-enhancing win, but as I mentioned in a post on the Racers a couple weeks ago, the Gaels are well-equipped to knock them off.

Due in part to their general lack of size, Murray State has struggled on the defensive glass and has allowed a relatively high two-point shooting percentage.  They do a terrific job of defending the three-point line and rely heavily on their ability to force turnovers.  Saint Mary’s is 12th overall in adjusted offensive efficiency, shooting 55.1% on two-pointers and ranking 40th nationally in OReb%.  Led by Matthew Dellavedova in the backcourt, they take good care of the basketball as well.

On the other end of the floor, Murray State shoots 42.2% from beyond the arc, and Saint Mary’s has struggled to consistently limit long-range shooters.  The Racers also rank 11th in free throw rate, but the Gaels are 35th in opponents’ FTR, which makes that an area to watch in the game.  Saint Mary’s won’t be able to take advantage of Murray State’s subpar turnover rate, but they are 13th in DReb%, which should limit second-chance points for the Racers.

I’m looking forward to seeing the backcourt matchup in this one with Isaiah Canaan and Donte Poole facing off against Dellavedova and Stephen Holt.  The Racers have Ivan Aska back inside, but Rob Jones and Brad Waldow should give them trouble on the glass.  Expect an electric environment in this critical game for Murray State, but I like the Gaels to give the Racers their first loss.

Long Beach State at Creighton

Expect a high-scoring contest in this matchup, as both teams rank in the Top 30 for adjusted offensive efficiency and have some weaknesses on the defensive end. 

The 49ers rank 10th nationally in FTR, but that’s actually an area where Creighton has been most effective defensively.  The Beach has a solid eFG% and shoots 51.9% on twos and 36.0% from long range, and they are in the middle of the pack in both TO% and OReb%.  The Bluejays rank 329th in TO%, so don’t expect much there, but they have done a solid job on the defensive glass.  If they can find a way to limit LBSU’s shooting, Creighton should be able to do just enough on the defensive end to win the game.

The biggest area to watch when Creighton has the ball is three-point shooting.  The Bluejays lead the nation at 44.9% from beyond the arc, while Long Beach State ranks 208th in three-point defense.  Outside of that, the Bluejays have a solid TO%, and none of the other numbers really jump off the page for either team.  LBSU ranks 24th in opponents’ FTR, but that isn’t a huge part of Creighton’s offensive attack, which scores less than 19% of their points from the foul line.

There is no shortage of great players in this one, with Creighton boasting Player of the Year candidate Doug McDermott, a terrific point guard in Antoine Young, and a solid big man with Greg Echenique.  The 49ers have an impressive trio of their own with Casper Ware, Larry Anderson, and T.J. Robinson, all of whom log at least 82.1% of LBSU’s minutes.  This has the makings of a fantastic offensive matchup, but I’ll take the home team in this one.

Nevada at Iona

I would have rather seen Wichita State take on Iona, but Nevada has really improved after a poor start.  They are in the midst of a 15-game winning streak despite the fact that their adjusted efficiency numbers rank 84th on defense and 114th on offense.  Iona was once considered an at-large contender, but a few ugly losses have placed that status in jeopardy.

Powered by solid three-point shooting, the Wolfpack are 50th in eFG%.  They also rank 34th in FTR, but their poor free throw shooting (64.1%) doesn’t allow them to take full advantage of that strength.  Iona has done a nice job of limiting free throw attempts for their opponents, but they are ranked 199th or worse in both two- and three-point defense.

Iona’s offense will be the most efficient (and best) unit in this matchup.  They shoot 55.7% from two-point range and are seventh overall in eFG%.  Don’t expect many free throws from the Gaels since they are 314th in FTR, while Nevada is 28th in opponents’ FTR.  Keep an eye on blocked shots, as the Wolfpack rank 45th in block percentage while Iona rarely gets their attempts rejected.  With Scott Machado running the show against a Nevada defense who rarely forces turnovers, don’t expect many wasted possessions for Iona.

An individual matchup to watch here is between Momo Jones and Malik Story, both of who are sure to hoist more than their fair share of shots.  I’m guessing at least one of them winds up with 18 or more attempts.  Even though they have struggled a bit of late, I expect Iona to take care of business at home. 

Drexel at Cleveland State

In stark contrast to a couple of these other matchups, this game will be a defensive struggle throughout.  Drexel currently ranks 21st in adjusted defensive efficiency, while the Vikings are just outside of the Top 50.

The Drexel offense ranks outside the Top 100 in all four factors, although their FTR has improved in conference play.  That’s good news since they shoot 72.8% from the line and also because the Cleveland State defense ranks 345th in opponents’ FTR.  The Vikings do rank third in TO% and 11th in three-point shooting defense, which will be important against a Drexel team hitting 36.5% from beyond the arc. 

Cleveland State’s offense will have its hands full with a stingy Drexel defense.  The Dragons rank first in DReb% and three-point defense and sixth in defensive eFG%  Interestingly enough, those match up well with Cleveland State’s offensive strengths.  The Vikings are have a 35.4 OReb% and rank 55th in three-point shooting at 37.5%.  They are next to last in FTR and don’t take particularly good care of the basketball.

CSU has some nice pieces on offense with Trevon Harmon, D’Aundray Brown, and Jeremy Montgomery, but I’m just not sure they can score enough to win this one.  Drexel is playing better offensively as well, thanks in part to the addition of freshman Damion Lee.  Give me the Dragons…and the under.

Wichita State at Davidson

Maybe it’s the fact that both teams lost over the weekend, but this game just doesn’t do it for me.  Despite Davidson’s win against Kansas, this one should be a struggle for them even at home.

Wichita State ranks 14th in adjusted offensive efficiency thanks to a balanced attack.  They rank 19th in two-point shooting (53.5%) and are 43rd in eFG%.  The Shockers also have a low FTR and have done a decent job of getting to the line, where they shoot over 73%.  On the flip side, Davidson ranks 297th in defensive TO% and 308th in opponents’ FTR.  They are also 179th or worse in both two- and three-point defense, leaving their greatest strength an ability to control the defensive glass.

The Shockers are also in the Top 20 in defensive efficiency, ranking 14th in DReb% and 33rd in defensive eFG%.  Davidson’s strength is on the offensive end, where they are in the Top 100 in all four factors.  They would be well-served to make a concerted effort to get to the free throw line where they shoot 78.9%.  Wichita State’s below average opponents’ FTR suggests that the Wildcats could make that a reality.

In terms of individual matchups, keep an eye on Wichita State seven-footer Garrett Stutz and 6-foot-10 Jake Cohen of Davidson.  Stutz is a load in the low post, while Cohen can also step out and shoot three-pointers.  In the end, I think the Shockers have a big advantage on the offensive end and should come away with the road win.

Follow me on Twitter (@AndyBottoms) for more of my thoughts on college basketball.