These ‘Dogs run fast

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Bryant is averaging better than 77 possessions per 40 minutes in their five games against Division I opponents this season, meaning the Bulldogs are the fastest team in college basketball.

At least according to Ken Pomeroy’s advanced analytics, that is. 

Because the NCAA does not track possessions, Pomeroy uses a formula involving field-goal and free-throw attempts, offensive rebounds and turnovers to calculate the adjusted tempo for each team. 

Bryant came out running to start the season. The Bulldogs used a 17-3 run to take a 51-44 halftime lead at Syracuse on Nov. 27 and pushed the Orange to the end, losing 85-84 as a 22.5-point underdog. Bryant had 88 possessions in the game, according to KenPom.com numbers. 

Not surprisingly, the game went over. So did Bryant’s next three contests — setting aside a 138-83 win over Division II Rhode Island College for which there were no lines.

The Bulldogs are middling in KenPom’s offensive efficiency ratings (176th of 357 schools) but they shoot the ball well from the free-throw line (39th in the country) and are excellent from 3-point range (19th at 41.2%). 

Of course, linemakers are privy to this kind of data, as well, and they made the total for the Bulldogs’ Saturday game against Stony Brook 165. Bryant won 81-72.

It should be no shock that Iowa has been the best Over team in this young season. The Hawkeyes are 26th in adjusted tempo and No. 1 in overall offense thus far, and linemakers haven’t been able to post big enough totals on their games. 

The Over is 6-0 in Iowa games, and one wonders what the total will be when the No. 3 Hawkeyes face No.1 Gonzaga (12th in tempo, second in offensive efficiency) on Saturday (we hope!). KenPom.com suggests a line of 171. 

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Speaking of the game of the week (year so far?), here are this week’s picks. The numbers for the spreads are based on game predictions at KenPom.com.

Thursday

Wagner at Bryant -5: The Seahawks are slow, and don’t shoot the ball well from anywhere. Those factors mean this could be a lower-scoring game for the aforementioned Bulldogs.

But Bryant has the appearance of a real contender in the Northeast Conference. KenPom has the Bulldogs as favorites in all but two of their remaining games, back-to-back contests at St. Francis (Pa.), the preseason NEC favorite.

These teams were scheduled to play Wednesday, as well. Let that be a guide. BRYANT

Saturday

Iowa vs. Gonzaga -3, total 171 (at Sioux Falls, S.D.): This battle of the nation’s two best offenses could be decided by defense, and that gives the Bulldogs the edge. 

Gonzaga, No. 2 on offense, is 16th nationally on the defensive end, according to KenPom. Iowa’s defense is 77th, continuing a three-year improvement trend, but the Hawkeyes, who haven’t scored less than 93 points in any of their six wins, haven’t needed much defense.

Iowa has faced just one top-75 team (North Carolina) and has wins over some less-than-stellar opponents — including North Carolina Central, Southern, Western Illinois and Southern Illinois.

Luke Garza, the Hawkeyes star 6-foot-11 center, and up-and-coming 6-11 sophomore Jack Nunge give Iowa a size advantage. Head coach Fran McCaffrey has frequently paired Garza with Nunge or 6-9 freshman Patrick McCaffrey, Fran’s son, for extended minutes. 

Rising Zags star Drew Timme, a 6-foot-11 sophomore who’s currently No. 4 in KenPom’s player-of-the-year rankings (Garza is No.1) and his backup, Oumar Ballo, a 7-footer from Mali, will have to avoid foul trouble.

Even against the Hawkeyes size, however, Gonzaga could get second-chance points. The Hawkeyes are not particularly good on the defensive glass (hence those overs).

This will be the first outing for the Zags in 17 days after the program was shut down due to COVID-19 concerns. And that may play to their favor.

Five-star freshman point guard Jalen Suggs will have had time to heal from what originally appeared to be a catastrophic ankle injury against West Virginia. After exercising it on the sidelines, Suggs actually returned to the game and gave his teammates an emotional lift in their 87-81 win. 

This won’t be a 60-59 game. GONZAGA and OVER

Tuesday

Abilene Christian at Arkansas -11: In his second season in Fayetteville, former Nevada coach Eric Musselman has his Razorbacks at 6-0. But they have yet to be challenged. Tulsa on Dec. 8 could have been a test before that game was postponed. So, Arkansas’ gaudy efficiency numbers may be ­inflated.

Abilene Christian coach Joe Golding oversaw his team’s transition to Division I, starting in 2014, and the Wildcats have posted consecutive 20-win seasons, with a chance for a third. The only blemish on their 6-1 record was a not-at-all-embarrassing 51-44 loss at Texas Tech.

Abilene Christian shoots the ball well from deep and has a really good defense that can keep this close. ABILENE CHRISTIAN

Last week: 2-0-1

Season: 8-0-2

About the Author

Ched Whitney

Ched Whitney has been a journalist in Las Vegas since 1994. He worked for the Las Vegas Review-Journal for 18 years, where he was the paper’s art director for 12. Since becoming a freelancer in 2012, his work has appeared at ESPN.com, AOL, The Seattle Times and UNLV Magazine, among others. ​

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