There are a lot of close lines in college basketball on December 16, but we have very few games with brand name teams. Those are actually the games with the biggest lines, as Pitt is laying 11 against Northern Illinois and Texas Tech is a massive favorite against Southern Miss. Most of the rest of the card is comprised of mid and low-major games. Guess that means we’ll have to dig deep for a game of interest.
The best game of the day is probably Kent State vs. UC Irvine at the Haskins Center in El Paso, but that is a 4 p.m. ET tip, so we don’t have as much lead time on that one. Guess we’ll head to Charlotte for the matchup at Halton Arena between Valparaiso and Charlotte. The 49ers are a four-point favorite in the game with a total of 137.5 and rising.
Valparaiso got a glimpse of what the season could look like on opening night. Senior star Ryan Fazekas scored 23 points in the 79-77 win over Toledo. In the next game against Saint Louis, Fazekas only scored three points over 10 minutes and suffered a wrist injury that, at the time, head coach Matt Lottich said would keep him out for the foreseeable future. Now 10 games into the season, Fazekas is still out.
Fortunately, sophomore Javon Freeman-Liberty has picked up his play. In Fazekas’s absence, Freeman-Liberty has a usage rate well into the 30% range and has taken 163 shots from the floor. Nobody else for Valpo has taken more than 69. The team largely goes as Freeman-Liberty goes, which is why Valpo has had a lot of ups and downs this season. Being dependent on one player is not easy, as Seton Hall has found out recently in the absence of Sandro Mamukelashvili.
Valpo is 6-4 on the season with a loss in that Saint Louis game when Fazekas got hurt, a lopsided loss to Nevada on a neutral, and overtime loss to Cincinnati in that same tournament, and a disappointing loss in a road game at Eastern Michigan in which Valpo put up 62 shots to EMU’s 44.
After the Fazekas injury, Valpo rallied to win three in a row, but it seems like opponents are starting to adjust to the watered-down Crusaders. More than anything, though, Valparaiso is having major problems on the defensive end. The Crusaders rank 311th in Effective Field Goal Percentage against and opponents are shooting 55.4% from two-point land, which ranks 318th in the country. With an average offense, that won’t get it done. Valpo is lucky that opponents are only shooting 66% from the free throw line against them.
This seems like a bad matchup for that scuffling Valpo defense. The Charlotte 49ers were awful last season in the first year under head coach Ron Sanchez, who took over for former NBAer Mark Price. This season, Charlotte appears to be making some strides. The 49ers have wins over Davidson and Wake Forest, but have also lost to James Madison, App State, and UNC Asheville. Given where they started in Bart Torvik’s preseason rankings, though, the 49ers have moved up about 70 spots in his metrics.
Charlotte is shooting 55.7% on two-point shots, which ranks 20th, and also has an Effective Field Goal Percentage of 53.2%, which ranks 57th. The 49ers don’t do well on the offensive glass, but rank 12th in defensive rebounding percentage. One area of concern for the 49ers is out of their control, but opponents are only shooting 57% at the free throw line against them. That is going to regress against them without a shadow of a doubt, so if you see Charlotte up against a team that goes to the line a lot and cashes in, look for that.
Nevertheless, this 49ers team has really shot well over the last four games, managing 1.028, 1.25, 1.019, and 1.139 points per possession.
The 49ers signed some interesting freshmen, including Jahmir Young, Brice Williams, and Anzac Rissetto, but the upperclassmen have been the primary scorers. Junior Jordan Shepherd is the team’s leading scorer and highest-usage player after transferring from Oklahoma and sitting out 2019. Fifth-year senior and Providence transfer Drew Edwards has had some big games here and there, but his inconsistency has been maddening.
The transfer market has really helped Sanchez and his team thus far and should help to a win tonight. The total going up on this game makes a ton of sense, as Charlotte shoots the ball well from inside the arc and Valpo cannot defend that. It will be interesting to see if Valpo, who does play at a higher tempo, can speed the game up a little bit. Charlotte has played at a variety of paces this season.
But, Charlotte is efficient inside the arc and Valpo is having major defensive issues this season.
Pick: Charlotte -4
Pick: Over 137.5