Mountain West Basketball: Hofstra vs. San Jose State–Preview, Odds, Prediction
Spartans, Pride battle in matchup of 3-0 teams
Game 4: Hofstra Pride (3-0) @ San Jose State Spartans (3-0)
When: Thursday, November 17th – 7:00 PT
Where: Provident Credit Union Event Center; San Jose, CA
How to Watch: NBC Sports Bay Area, Livestream on Mountain West Network
Odds: Hofstra – 3 Over/Under 142.5
After another matter-of-fact performance on Tuesday night, the San Jose State hoops team is back at it Thursday, completing a season-opening four game homestand. They welcome Hofstra to town and will look to cool off the red-hot Pride.
Both teams enter with records of 3-0, but not all records are created equally. To say the Spartans have not been tested thus far would be an understatement. According to KenPom’s numbers, they have played the 349th ranked schedule out of 363 Division I schools. While many teams play DII programs early on, they will often follow that with a much more challenging game. Tim Miles has instead chosen to ease into this season with three lesser talented opponents, all at home. This is not a knock on Miles; coaches have reasons for their scheduling strategies, and Miles has opted to build some confidence in his guys by seeing positive results on the court. Tuesday night will definitely be a step up in class, however.
Hofstra on the other hand, has played three quality opponents, and all three games went down to the wire. There is no big fish that the Pride caught, just solid teams that prepare you for the meat of your schedule. And in taking down Princeton, Iona, and George Washington, by 6, 5, and 5 respectively, Hofstra has become battle tested, before the season is even two weeks old. They also have already played a road game (Princeton), and have a quality win against Iona, coached by none other than Rick Pitino. It’s the ideal start under second year coach Speedy Claxton.
Claxton is a former star for the Pride in the late 90’s, where he played for recently retired Hall of Famer Jay Wright. His preferred style of play is up-tempo and his guys are averaging 84 points a game and rank highly in offensive efficiency stats to date. They also love to let the 3-ball fly, and have connected on a remarkable 14 3’s in back to back games, while shooting above a 50% clip. Doing the math, that tells us that exactly half of Hofstra’s points in their last two games have come from behind the arc. Regression will occur at some point, but the Spartans may not want to roll the dice that it starts on Thursday, and better focus on perimeter defense.
Who is doing the damage for the Pride? Well let’s start with returning CAA player of the year–Aaron Estrada. The 6’3” senior is coming off a 33 point outing in the win over GW on Monday. Estrada is known for his mid-range game, a lost art in today’s style of basketball, but against the Colonials he backed it up a few feet and knocked down 6 triples. He is not just a scorer either, as he averaged over 5 rebounds and 5 assists per game last year, one of only three players in the country to have an 18/5/5 line in 2021-22. Estrada has help from two other main sources – one returnee, and one newcomer. Darlinstone Dubar was a double-figure scorer for Hofstra a year ago and was expected to be the second banana, and he has looked the part through three games, averaging 15 per. Transfer Tyler Thomas rounds out this explosive trio, chipping in 16 a game in the early going. That’s a very high 55 points per game between the three of them. If the Spartans can hold two of these three below their averages, they will have a great chance to pull the minor upset.
For as much as Hofstra stresses tempo, and pushes the ball in transition, they have been outstanding at protecting the rock, with only 26 turnovers total on the season, less than 9 per game. Don’t expect a lot in this tilt either, as the Spartans are not forcing many, and it’s not really the preferred defensive mantra of Miles.
As for that D of SJSU, they have been up to the task, although again, the numbers are skewed because of the lesser competition played. Still, it’s a positive sign to see great effort exerted on that end, when that may not have always been the case a year ago. It obviously helps to have a 7-footer patrolling the paint, and Ibrahima Diallo has been the definition of a rim protector. He blocked 8 shots in the Tuesday win against Alabama State, and while that is a remarkable number, more impressive is the fact that he wasn’t ‘chasing’ blocks. No recklessly falling for pump-fakes, or leaving his man to come flying over and get out of position while hunting for another block. It was just really good, fundamental big-man defense, and the staff should be both commended and encouraged. The box score does show 4 personal fouls on the big man, but 3 of those were committed on the offensive end. Keeping Diallo on the floor will be instrumental to the Spartans success this season.
Another surprise development to start the year, has been the play of point guard Alvaro Cardenas. The sophomore guard from Spain compiled modest numbers as a freshman, but looks poised to make a second year leap. He is averaging almost 12 ppg, and has an 11/2 assist to turnover split. Beyond that, he is running the offense beautifully, getting the ball where it needs to go and when it need to get there, isn’t forcing shots, and seems to be turning into a coach on the floor; exactly what you want out of your point guard.
Let’s look at a couple areas of concern for SJSU, starting with Omari Moore. On the surface, Moore’s stat line appears top notch – 15 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists per game. He has also been very active defensively, and has been able to get a bucket attacking the rim almost anytime he wants one. The problem is, Moore has chosen to settle for far too many jump shots, mainly from 3-point land, and has struggled mightily. He went 1-7 on Tuesday and is now 2-15 on the year, a frigid 13%. The confusing part is, Moore shot over 40% a year ago from downtown. Until he finds his stroke during this campaign though, it may be best to scale back on the number of jump shots attempted. Definitely something to keep an eye on.
Also, a major source of frustration against Alabama State was the foul line; 13-26 for an even 50%, a good percentage from the field, not so much from the charity stripe. At 59% for the season, that’s too many free points left out there, and that will come back to haunt the Spartans in close games if it’s not improved.
Fascinating tactical matchup here between Miles and Claxton. It’s very likely Diallo will not have the impact he did the other night because Hofstra doesn’t use the paint much. That takes away an advantage the Spartans would enjoy. They should, though, be able to own the glass on both ends, and that should provide some easy second chance buckets. The Pride have been super efficient offensively so far, and while that will be tested, they are too experienced and talented in the backcourt to be completely shut down. San Jose State will have some advantages offensively as well, in addition to on the boards. Moore will be a tough cover for the Hofstra wings, and Cardenas is playing with extreme confidence at the moment.
There is one other angle that must be mentioned. Hofstra is flying out to California for a two-game set, with SJSU first on the docket. Up next on Saturday? That would be St. Mary’s. The Gaels, currently ranked in the top 25, are the much sexier opponent for the Pride, and it is entirely possible they have half an eye ahead toward that matchup, as it’s only human nature. What does it all mean? The hunch here is that both teams will get their share of points, and we get a nail-biter. Hopefully we read this one wrong, but it says here the combination of close-game experience and tougher competition pays dividends for the Pride, and they hand the Spartans their first loss of the year.
Prediction: Hofstra 77 San Jose State 71
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