The Retrievers of UMBC are currently sitting in second place in the America East Conference, and tonight they will head to NJIT to take on the seventh-place Highlanders. We’ll preview the game before going over why I’ll be backing the road favorite in this one.
NJIT has dropped two straight conference games heading into tonight’s match-up, and both games are good examples of why the Highlanders rank 308th in the country in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. Both opponents shot over 53% from the field against them, and on the season, teams are making an average of 26.7 field goal attempts per game, which has NJIT ranked 279th in that category.
Opposing teams this season have been able to accomplish whatever they want on the offensive end of the floor against the Highlanders. An inability to force turnovers has led to opponents averaging just 10.8 turnovers per game, leading to teams being able to move the ball efficiently and average 13.5 assists per game.
Unfortunately for the Highlanders, their offense does not possess the ability to make up for their defensive shortcomings, as NJIT is ranked 282nd in shooting percentage and 318th in offensive efficiency, according to KenPom. The one positive for them heading into tonight is UMBC is ranked lower than them in defensive efficiency this season at 331st in the country on KenPom.
The Retrievers have been able to find success this season for one reason, and that is offense. Unlike NJIT, the Retrievers possess the offensive ability to make up for their inability to limit their opponents' scoring. UMBC is currently 39th in the country in points per game, making an average of 9.1 three-pointers a game on 36.5% three-point percentage, the 56th best percentage in the country.
For a large majority of conference play, the Retrievers have just been able to outshoot teams, as they have scored 80+ points in six of their eight conference games. The only two games they failed to score 80 or more were their two America East losses.
UMBC is currently -5.5 point road favorites, and I’ll be taking them as my play for the game. The Retrievers have a very similar playing style to another team in their conference, the Bryant Bulldogs, who recently beat NJIT by 12 points while shooting 53% from the field.
The Highlanders' inability to limit ball movement plays right into a significant strength of the Retrievers, as they average 15.6 assists per game, which leads to them getting far more efficient shooting looks. UMBC is 50th in the country in shooting efficiency this season, while NJIT has allowed an opponent shooting efficiency that ranks 214th in the nation.
Defense may not be a strong suit of the Retrievers, but in the last two games they were favored, they held their opponents to 62 and 69 points for the game. NJIT has not shown the offensive capability to keep pace with a high-scoring team like the Retrievers, especially with them shooting 42% from the field and making an average of just 6.8 three-pointers per game.