The UC Davis Aggies return the key parts from the most improved team in the Big West last year and that should be enough to handle a bad SIU-Edwardsville team Friday.
In a matchup of two teams that have yet to beat a Division I team while posting 1-2 records, the favorites appear to have much more upside Friday when the SIU Edwardsville Cougars (1-2, 0-1 away) take on those UC Davis Aggies (1-2, 0-2 away) in the Portland State Tournament from the Scott Center in Portland, OR at 6:00 ET.
The point spread at Pinnacle Sports has UC Davis as a middle-sized favorite for this contest with the current line at -6 with odds of -109.
The Aggies improved from 5-26 overall and 3-13 inside the Big West two years ago to a respectable 14-17 and 9-9 inside the conference last season, and that improvement should continue this year with their top two scorers from last season back and the addition of a nice recruit in Brynton Lemar, who has not looked intimidated in his first three college games.
Conversely, the Cougars just made the step up to Division I two years ago and went 10-17, but they finished one game worse at 9-18 last season and now this year are predicted by most experts to finish dead last in the lightly regarded Ohio Valley Conference, a conference that loses even more luster with national darlings Murray State not expected to be as strong as recent seasons this year.
Yes, UC Davis has lost at Portland and at Utah so far while beating only a small Division II school called Holy Names, but the Aggies are now finally facing a beatable Division I foe while not playing a true road game. The Aggies return their top two scorers Corey Hawkins and Ryan Sypkens, who combined for 34.4 points per game with Hawkins in particular filling out the stat sheet by averaging 20.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.5 steals in 2012-13.
Additionally, Josh Ritchart has stepped up his game while joining the starting lineup this season after coming off the bench last year, actually currently leading the team in scoring at 15.0 points per game through three games, but it is the freshman Lemar that is already showing glimpses of his expected greatness to come averaging 12.0 points while already being used as the team’s go-to guy according to the Pomeroy Ratings, being used on more than 28 percent of possessions.
Edwardsville had one of the worst offenses in the country last season while ranking a distressing 316th in offensive efficiency, and that problem has not been fixed yet as the Cougars are at 319th in the early going, no thanks to being extremely sloppy with the basketball while turning it over on 23.4 percent of its possessions compared to a national average of 18.3 percent. That is in stark contrast to UC Davis, which turns the ball over only 16 percent of the time.
Furthermore, the Cougars actually appear to have taken a step back defensively, which is something they cannot afford given the struggles of the offense, as opponents have an extraordinarily high 57.4 percent effective field goal percentage against them. Thus it is easy to see why Edwardsville is so poorly regarded while playing in a weak conference.
After losing a couple of true road games to good opponents, we see no reason why a UC Davis team that is probably on an upswing cannot beat one of the worst teams in the entire country by double-digits on a neutral court, so give the points on Friday.
NCAA Basketball Pick: UC Davis -6 (-109)