Nittany Lions & Rhode Island Rams Are Super Bowl Champions On Tuesday Picks

Tuesday, February 5, 2019 12:09 PM UTC

Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019 12:09 PM UTC

After perusing Tuesday's schedule, I decided to break down Nebraska-Penn State and Rhode Island-VCU. The Nittany  Lions and Rhode Island Rams will exploit match-up opportunities on offense.

Nebraska (15-11 SU, 12-12-1 ATS) at Penn State (9-6 SU, 11-14 ATS)When: 7 p.m. ETFree NCAAB Pick: Nittany Lions ATSBest Line Offered: BetOnline

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On January 10, Penn State covered as 10-point underdogs in a 70-64 loss at Nebraska. Penn State did not win because Nebraska forward Isaiah Roby had a career-best game. He played with a ton of energy on both ends of the floor, scoring 22 points on nearly perfect field goal efficiency and blocking four shot attempts. Roby wasn't successful because he was unguardable - because he was too athletic, too skilled, or otherwise too good for Penn State defenders. Instead, he got numerous open looks at the basket by weaving and cutting inside.

Since the problem of Roby's scoring isn't at all generated by any deficiencies in Penn State's interior defense, I think that Penn State can conceive a stronger gameplan with which to account for Roby. Even if they don't, two factors helped Roby that won't help him in the rematch. One, Nebraska center Isaac Copeland absorbed the defense's attention. He was--was, because Copeland is injured--a three-point threat, so center Mike Watkins had to defend Copeland closer to the arc when Copeland stood behind it. Watkins' positioning left vast space behind him and he's too slow-footed to make up ground on the much quicker Roby. Also, Nebraska as a team overachieved from behind the arc, which likewise forced Penn State defenders to pay closer attention to the perimeter. With center Tanner Borchardt, who has attempted zero threes, playing for Copeland and with Nebraska's three-point shooting returning to its mean, PSU defenders won't leave the space in front of the rim that Roby needed to dominate in scoring.

The major flaw of PSU's defense is guarding the perimeter. A big reason is their proclivity to add pressure and double-team players along the perimeter. If they don't cause a turnover, then opposing players can locate an open shooter. As a result, Penn State ranks last in the Big Ten in opposing three-point percentage. Nebraska, though, is the third-worst three-point shooting team by percentage in the Big Ten. Plus, they're on the road. So they won't exploit Penn State's weakness.

The Nittany Lions' greatest success against Nebraska came on the offensive boards. They accrued 17 second-chance points. I expect this success to repeat itself because Nebraska ranks last in the conference in defensive rebounding, which has consistently and recently been an issue for them. Another success that will repeat itself is limiting Nebraska point guard James Palmer. Josh Reaves, with his great hands and footwork, is one of the Big Ten's top defenders. Jamari Wheeler, too, is known for being an awesome on-the-ball defender.

Penn State has covered four in a row - it would have been five, except for a referee's blown call costing them against Purdue. Still, Penn State has also beaten Michigan. A big reason for Penn State's strong run is its improvement on offense. Without departed guards Tony Carr and Shep Garner, Penn State has really leaned on its front court for production. But lately, PSU's young guards have been improving. Myles Dread has scored 27 points combined in his past two games, going 7-for-14 from three. Rasir Bolton, who has scored double-digits in six straight games, has also been more efficient from behind the arc.

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Rhode Island (12-12 SU, 9-15 ATS) at VCU (19-6 SU, 16-8-1 ATS)When: 8 p.m. ETFree NCAAB Pick: Rhode Island Rams ATSBest Line Offered: BetOnline

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Heading into this match-up, the Rhode Island Rams will be underappreciated because they have lost their last three games. But, one of the best antidotes for a team that might be lacking in confidence is to face a team that it knows it can beat. Rhode Island has covered five games in a row against VCU. Rhode Island won the last meeting 71-65 on January 23rd.

URI matches up well with VCU because of style. VCU loves to guard the perimeter closely. In fact, they often meet opponents relatively far behind the arc in order to force them to start their offense earlier than they'd like. VCU's defensive style would be problematic if the Rams were a three-point shooting team. Instead, URI has the A-10's highest distribution of points inside the arc, which is where VCU is relatively undersized and otherwise most vulnerable.

The issue with guarding players away from the basket is the space that it leaves behind. In its first meeting with VCU, Rhode Island moved the ball well and found ways to attack the open space. Scroll to 40:25 in the following video to see an example:

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Fatts Russell, URI's point guard who has done well lately at avoiding turnovers, is met by two defenders on top of the key. One teammate sets a screen for him and then drifts to the corner, taking a defender with him. Another defender meets Russell, forcing him to pick up his dribble. Russell is able to find a big who makes himself clearly available on top of the key. He is able to drive to the rim and draw a foul. The athleticism of URI's bigs is a helpful asset to its offense. URI's most important big is Cyril Langevine. He ranks 468th in offensive rebounding and helps the Rams be one of the top offensive rebounding teams in the A-10. He is also the conference's 23rd-most efficient two-point scorer.

On offense, VCU is one-dimensional because it possesses just one three-point threat, De'Riante Jenkins, who will try to avoid the let-down in shooting efficiency that he's suffered after the last three games in which he made at least four threes. Instead, VCU relies on scoring inside, where URI's defense is at its strongest. Rhode Island boasts two players who rank top-370 in block rate. As a team, they have one of the conference's better interior defenses by opposing two-point percentage. URI defenders' active hands will also disturb VCU point guard Marcus Evans, who has turned it over nine times in his past two games combined.

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