When the Chippewas head into Malibu on Sunday night to take on the Pepperdine Waves, both teams should be very well rested. Central Michigan has not played a game since December 8, eight days before their game on the West Coast. That game was a 78-66 loss to Charlotte. Their last game before that was on December 2, when they upset Niagara in McGuirk Arena, 66-64. That is one game in the 13 days preceding the contest in with the Waves. Pepperdine also played their last game on December 8, a 63-56 win at Hawaii. The game before that was a 62-40 win over UC Riverside on December 5. That is one game in just 10 days.
The Waves, led by head coach Marty Wilson, who is in his second season, have a 6-3 record this season, after going 10-19 last year. They come into the game ranked No. 210 on KenPom.com, compared to CMU's ranking of No. 299. They play a very slow tempo, ranking 320th in the country. They are an above average defensive team, with an adjusted defensive efficiency ranking of No. 156, and a below average offensive team, with an adjusted offensive efficiency ranking of No. 241. Pepperdine has been a somewhat inconsistent team so far and has played down to a couple of teams ranked below 300 this season. They lost to No. 306 Utah Valley, 67-63, on the road in overtime. The Waves also went to overtime with Houston Baptist, No. 332, but won, 57-53. Pepperdine did beat No. 95 Washington State in Malibu, 58-56 in overtime. Pomeroy (KenPom) gives the Chippewas an 18 percent chance of pulling off the upset and predicts a 63-54 win for Pepperdine.
The guys who get the most touches in the offense are wings Lorne Jackson and Jordan Baker. Jackson starts for PU and Baker was starting, but he has been the first man off the bench in the last two games. Nikolas Skouen was inserted into the starting lineup in place of Baker, but Baker is still getting a healthy amount of minutes off the bench. Jackson is the Waves leading scorer at 15.7 ppg. He is a slasher that can get to the basket and can also get a bunch of points from the free throw line. Jackson is an average three-point shooter, but has struggled so far this season, only hitting 14-of-50 shots from behind the arc, a clip of just 28 percent. Baker and Skouen both make their money by hitting outside shots. Baker is averaging 10.1 ppg and shoots 44.7 percent from three-point range. Skouen hits threes at a 41.2 percent clip and only averages 6.7 ppg, which is also because he is not nearly as active inside as Baker. Skouen is basically a guy who stands at the three point line and chucks rock.
Two true freshman start on the inside for Pepperdine: Stacy Davis at the five and Jett Raines at the four. Davis is the top option in the post. He gets more touches and averages 10.8 ppg. He is also the team's best rebounder and averages 7.4 rpg. Neither is extremely tall for big men. Davis is 6-foot-6 and Raines is 6-foot-7, although Davis makes up for it by checking in at 240 pounds. If Zach Saylor is out again, Davis will be the biggest issue for the Chippewas. With Saylor out, CMU will just have Olivier Mbaigoto and Blake Hibbitts up front. The Waves also have Moriba De Freitas coming off the bench. De Freitas, at 6-foot-9, leads PU in blocks and is fourth in the West Coast Conference in block percentage. The other big man off the bench is 7-foot-0, 300-pound sophomore Jan Maehlen, who has been a force on the offensive glass in limited minutes this season.
Senior Caleb Willis handles the point guard duties and although he is not featured prominently in the offense in terms of touches, he does a good job taking care of the basketball and keeping his teammates involved. He leads the team in assists and is ninth in the WCC in assist rate, with half the turnovers that Baker, Jackson and Davis have this season. After Baker, the other guard off the bench is Atif Russell
The biggest reasons that Pepperdine has had some success defensively this season is because they keep opponents off the free throw line and they have done a good job staying in front of shooters. The Waves are 45th in opponent's free throw rate and 39th in opponent's Effective field goal percentage. They are especially good inside the three-point arc, holding teams to 40.7 percent at their two-point shots. Pepperdine is an average defensive rebounding team and they have been below average at forcing turnovers.
Offensively, they are a decent shooting team and an average rebounding team. They shoot 47.6 percent inside the three-point arc, but have had some success at hitting three-point shots, knocking them down at a clip of 36.1 percent. The Waves have been bad at getting to the free throw line themselves, with the 282nd free throw rate in the nation. They have also been bad at not turning the ball over, with the 244th offensive turnover percentage in the country.
To this point, Central Michigan has been an average to above-average rebound team, although with Saylor out, that can change. They have also done a good job at getting to the free throw line and keeping other teams off the free throw line. Neither team has been good at forcing turnovers or taking care of the basketball so far this season. However, Pepperdine is the favorite in this game because they have been good at keeping other teams from shooting the ball well and CMU is not a good shooting team yet. For the Chippewas to pull off the upset, they will need to win in the other areas: dominate the boards, a tough task if Saylor does not play, win the turnover battle and get points at the free throw line.
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