A very quiet slate in college basketball on Monday night comes your way because college football takes center stage with the College Football Playoff National Championship Game between Clemson and LSU. The only conferences in action tonight on the hardwood are the SWAC, MEAC, Patriot League, and our spotlight game that comes from the Big Sky Conference between Portland State and Montana.
This was the first game mentioned in my college basketball situational spots article this week. Montana is a growing favorite of as high as 7.5 now with a total that is also growing up to as high as 144.5.
Why is this a bad situational spot? Portland State is in Portland, Oregon, which is 50 feet above sea level, with the highest elevation in the city proper at just under 1,200 feet. Portland State has the unenviable task of playing in the Big Sky Conference against a bunch of teams that play in altitude. In this particular spot, the Vikings go from Bozeman after playing Montana State at 4,820 feet in elevation to Missoula at 3,209.
Obviously the Vikings are used to this level of travel as conference play rolls along, but the Vikings haven’t played much in elevation to this point. This is a quick turnaround and Montana is rested. Portland State played Montana State on Saturday. Montana played its conference game on Thursday. This spot for the Vikings didn’t seem to be accurately factored into the line, hence the move up on the side.
It doesn’t help matters from a spot standpoint that the Vikings had to put out a lot of effort in the one-point road win at Montana State. This is actually the fourth straight road game in conference play for Portland State, with losses to Idaho and Eastern Washington to begin 2020. The Vikings sit at 8-9 and 2-3 in the conference games that they have played to this point.
Montana is only 8-8, but the Grizzlies are off to a solid 4-1 start in conference play. They scored a nice bounce back win over Eastern Washington after losing to Northern Colorado on the 4th. It wasn’t a particularly impressive non-conference performance for Montana. In fact, the Grizzlies only managed more than a point per possession twice in non-conference action. Travis DeCuire’s offense has been a real work in progress thus far to say the least. However, the total going up on this game suggests that maybe they’ve turned a corner.
The problem with Montana is that they cannot shoot. That is a pretty big problem when you talk about scoring points. They take good care of the basketball, but they miss a lot of shots and are predominantly one-and-done. The Grizzlies rank 319th in the nation in ORB%. They are 204th in 3P% and 251st in 2P%. They’re also under 70% at the free throw line. Perhaps conference action will help Montana figure things out offensively.
Sayeed Pridgett is shooting almost 51% on his two-point attempts, but he has only made 4-of-25 three-pointers. He has the highest usage rate on the team by a large margin over Kendal Manuel, who is only shooting 33% from deep himself. Freshman Derrick Carter-Hollinger may need more playing time and more minutes, as he has been the team’s most efficient scorer and only competent offensive rebounder. Timmy Falls and Josh Vazquez play a lot, but they are not contributing much on the offensive end of the floor. Collectively, they are shooting right around 30% on 75 three-point attempts and around 35% on 98 two-point attempts.
Maybe this is a get right game for the Montana offense. Portland State is a decent offensive bunch, but a horrendous defensive squad. Opponents are shooting 54.2% inside the arc against Portland State, which ranks 312th nationally out of the 353 teams. Portland State’s eFG% on defense is 52.6%, which is 287th nationally. The Vikings have a lot more depth than Montana, but they are a terrible defensive rebounding team. They do, however, sell out on the offensive glass, which is likely why they keep getting burned in transition on defense.
The Vikings take good care of the basketball with a 17% TO% rate on offense. They also have a 35.9% ORB% that is good for 15th in the nation. They aren’t the most efficient offense shooting the basketball, but they take good care of it and also pick up a lot of second and third-chance opportunities. Portland State is shooting 34.5% from three this season, but they don’t take a whole lot of them.
One area in which Portland State has been lagging is in getting to the free throw line. Good offensive rebounding teams generally get chances at the charity stripe. When Portland State led the nation in ORB% last season, they were also 60th in free throw rate. This season, the Vikings are 259th. They are getting cheated out of some free points. We’ll see if that changes in Big Sky play where games are likely to be called a little bit tighter.
With the line move, it seems like bettors have gotten to a point where they have priced the spot into the line. Montana has played a much tougher schedule than Portland State, which is why some of the Grizzlies’ numbers are lagging so much. Portland State has played the 126th-ranked slate of offenses per Ken Pomeroy and still ranks 301st in adjusted defensive efficiency. Bart Torvik has them 279th. This does look like a chance for Montana’s offense to figure some stuff out, much like it did against Eastern Washington.
There is a rogue 7.5 out there, but the market is predominantly 7, so that’s what we’ll use for the purposes of the article.
Pick: Montana -7