Trouble on the 'Horizon' for Wright State Backers vs. Northern Kentucky

Rainman M.

Friday, February 16, 2018 2:46 PM UTC

Friday, Feb. 16, 2018 2:46 PM UTC

Wright State (19-8) hosts Northern Kentucky (19-7) Friday at 9 ET. The Norse are favored by less than a basket to protect their first-place standing in the Horizon League from second-place Wright State. Can they win an important one on the road?

Northern Kentucky Norse at Wright State RaidersFree NCAAB Pick: Northern Kentucky -1Best Line Offered: Bookmaker

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Sometimes a team wins despite matching up less favorably with its opponent. This was the case on Jan. 11 when Wright State beat Northern Kentucky at NKU 84-81. Northern Kentucky, which loves to shoot the three and is second in conference play in three-point shooting percentage, shot just 8-for-26. Conversely, Wright State, which is normally a poor shooting team and ranks 5th in the conference in three-point shooting percentage, shot nearly 50% from three. Because of this pair of anomalies, the Raiders pulled out a close victory.

Actually, the matchup is favorable for NKU's offense. The weakness of Wright State's defense is defending the three-pointer, which has been a strength of NKU's offense in conference play. WSU's perimeter defense ranks 10th in the conference in terms of proportion of attempted three-pointers allowed. A defense can only do so much when the ball is in the air. WSU's defense allows its opponent many opportunities to convert three-pointers. It also doesn't effectively contest attempted threes, ranking 5th in the conference in opposing three-point shooting despite the fact that nearly all of its opponents rank outside the top 200 in three-point shooting percentage.

Center Drew McDonald and guard Mason Faulkner have been doing the most to boost NKU's three-point attack. Faulkner ranks 417th in three-point shooting percentage and has completed 41.5% from three in conference play. McDonald, the team's primary shot-taker, has completed 36.7% from three in conference play. WSU has struggled in several games even against teams with weaker records, such as in its last game against Milwaukee and 10 days before that against Cleveland State, in large part because of their three-point shooting. NKU's three-point shooting has been sharp away from home to the tune of 31-for-61 from three in its past three road games, including against a strong Green Bay perimeter defense.

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What gives NKU's offense the edge that Wright State's lacks is its versatility. It is also effective inside the arc, ranking 17th in two-point shooting percentage. The Norse's offense is led by point guard Lavone Holland, who is an effective distributor, ranking 147th in assist rate. McDonald and fellow big man Carson Williams rank in the top 500 in two-point shooting percentage.

In the teams' first matchup, the Raiders turned the ball over 17 times, Northern Kentucky only 11. Losing the turnover margin is not a typical recipe for success, and I expect Wright State to do so again. The Raiders rank 240th in turnover percentage allowed thanks especially to the likes of second-leading scorer Loudon Love, who averages 2.5 turnovers per game and had five in the first matchup. NKU's defense ranks 57th in steal percentage.

NKU's ability to force turnovers is only one reason why its defense matches up well against WSU. Four of Wright State's five losses since December have come against teams who rank in the top 75 in opposing two-point percentage. NKU ranks No. 1 in the conference and 57th nationally in the category, which is important because the Raiders overwhelmingly rely on two-point scoring production.

Northern Kentucky is a more balanced team, ranking first and second, respectively, in the conference in KenPom's offensive and defensive efficiency. The Norse also matchup well on both sides of the ball, are tested road warriors and are ready to reward their backers tonight on our Friday NCAAB pick.

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