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04.03.2024

Jacksonville @ Kennesaw State Game Preview and Pick: Owls Live to See Another Day

March basketball is about one thing: living to see another day. While that may sound like the next James Bond movie, it is the reality for teams starting conference tournaments. The first conference tournament that fans are treated to is the ASUN Tournament, and we’ll take a look at one of the opening-round games between Jacksonville and Kennesaw State before going over why I think the Owls are better suited to keep their season alive.

Game Preview

Atlantic Sun teams typically follow a similar mold. Offense tends to be the strength of most teams, so it’s rare to find a defensive-minded team. Jacksonville is the lone exception, as they rank dead last in the conference in adjusted offensive efficiency (94.8) but first in adjusted defensive efficiency (108.1), per Bart Torvik.

The Dolphins prefer to slow the game down and rely more on their defense to win games. That style of play did result in them ranking 23rd in the country in field goal attempts allowed per 100 trips upcourt vs the average opponent, according to Haslametrics. For as impressive as that is, the Dolphins' inability to score consistently does not bode well in slower-paced games.

Jacksonville’s offense comes down to two things: the play of Robert McCray and their offensive rebounding ability. McCray leads the team with a 29.7% usage rate and has averaged 18.5 points per game on 46.2% shooting from the field over the last ten games. As a team, the Dolphins still rank dead last in the ASUN in effective field goal percentage, but they are 1st in offensive rebounding percentage.

In their last meeting with Kennesaw State on February 14th, the Dolphins managed just 61 points in a 66-61 loss on the road. That win gave the Owls a clean sweep in the regular season series between these teams, but it was also only one of two conference games in which they held a team under 70 points.

Unlike the Dolphins, the Owls don’t have one glaring strength. They are below the conference average in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, according to Bart Torvik, and they are 8th in both effective field goal percentage and effective field goal percentage allowed.

Pick for the Game

Neither team in this matchup finished the regular season on a high note, but BetWay Sportsbook currently has Kennesaw State favored by (-2.5), and I’ll be backing the Owls for my play. The Owls' offensive metrics are by no means impressive, but they can still put up some remarkable scoring nights thanks to Terrell Burden's play and the Owls' tendency to rely on threes.

Burden had 28 points when these teams last played, and his tendency to get to the free-throw line exposes one of Jacksonville's few weaknesses. According to Haslametrics, the Dolphins rank 324th in free throw attempts allowed per 100 trips upcourt vs. the average opponent. If you mix that with the fact that the Dolphins are also 226th in opponent three-point percentage, I think the Owls can still score on Jacksonville’s top-ranked defense.

The biggest problem for the Dolphins tonight is the same problem they’ve had all season, which is scoring. Even with the Owls' defense being below average, the Dolphins are still ranked 324th in the country in field goal percentage and 12th in the conference in three-point and two-point shooting percentages (Bart Torvik).

Recap

  • Kennesaw State (-2.5)(-110) on BetWay

*odds subject to change

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