Big East/SEC Challenge Face-Off: Other Friday Games

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 2nd, 2011

To preview the match-ups in the Big East/SEC Challenge, the RTC Big East & SEC Microsites are facing off in conversational analysis. Brian Joyce and Michael Lemaire take on Auburn vs. Seton Hall and Louisville vs. Vanderbilt. 

Vanderbilt v. Louisville

Vanderbilt and Louisville will feature two top 25 teams facing off in the KFC Yum! Center.

Mike: The matchup has all the makings of a classic offense v. defense battle. Even without senior center Festus Ezeli, the Commodores are a prolific scoring team (#23 in adjusted offense) and swingmen John Jenkins (20.2 PPG) and Jeffery Taylor (15.4 PPG) can fill it up in a hurry. Of course they haven’t played a team as talented as Louisville. Even with the injuries to Wayne BlackshearMike MarraStephan Van Treese, and Rakeem Buckles, the Cardinals are still undefeated and the main reason why is they play suffocating defense (#3 in adjusted defense). However, with apologies to Butler, Louisville has played a relatively easy opening slate, and their depth will be tested against Vanderbilt’s talented lineup. Offensively the Cardinals don’t have a go-to scorer per se, but they do have seven players who average at least seven points per game, led by sweet-shooting forward Kyle Kuric (12.5 PPG). They also have a rugged, albeit thin, frontcourt which is led by talented freshman Chase Behanan (9.8 PPG, 8.7 RPG) and center Gorgui Dieng (8.3 PPG, 8.2 RPG) who has been one of the best shotblockers in the country thus far and is a big reason why Louisville is so successful on defense. But as balanced as Rick Pitino’s club is, star guard Peyton Siva is still what makes the team go, and he hasn’t quite found his comfort zone yet, missing two games with an ankle injury. Siva had 11 points, five assists and five steals in the team’s last game, a win over Long Beach State, but he also turned the ball over six times. No matter how good Louisville’s defense might be, Siva and fellow guard Chris Smith cannot be careless with the ball, because Vanderbilt is too efficient on offense to be gifted with so many extra possessions. What do you think, Brian?

Will Rick Pitino employ his full court press against Vanderbilt's struggling guards

Brian: I agree that this should be a great one. I think Vanderbilt will really be tested in this matchup. The Commodores haven’t taken good care of the basketball, and Louisville is a team that uses a full court press and creates lots of turnovers. Brad Tinsley has struggled when pressured, and it will be interesting to see how he responds to the Cardinals’ defense. You pointed out Vandy’s efficient offense, but you were nice by not mentioning its struggling defense. The ‘Dores have struggled to cut off opponent’s three-point shot allowing three teams to shoot at least 40 percent from outside the arc so far this year. Louisville loves to shoot the three, so it could be a long night for coach Kevin Stallings if his team lets the Cardinals get hot. It will be interesting to see how Stallings handles the defensive assignment for Siva. Siva is a player who could really hurt Vanderbilt with his penetration. He can score, as you point out, and he can also find open teammates. And one of the teammates he may find in this one is Dieng. Dieng is still developing his offensive skills, but his 6’11” frame could be difficult for Vanderbilt’s post players to defend. 6’9″ Steve Tchiengang and 6’8″ Lance Goulbourne will be down low for Vandy, but they will have to box out better than they did against Xavier when the Musketeers grabbed 25 offensive rebounds.

Mike: I think Brian is right to highlight the frontcourt matchups as the key to the game, but I don’t think Dieng will be the biggest thorn in the Commodores’ side, at least offensively. His length will pose serious problems to Vanderbilt’s plans inside, but I think against good athletes like Goulbourne and Tchiengang, Dieng’s raw offensive game will be exposed and his primary impact will be felt defensively. However, I think Kevin Stallings’ forwards will have a lot of trouble with rugged freshman Chase Behanan. At just 6’7”, Behanan is an undersized big man, but he has grown-man strength and is going to develop into an excellent rebounder if he isn’t already. If Ezeli was playing, I would feel more confident about the Commodores’ chances to crash the glass and contain Behanan and Dieng, but Vanderbilt was badly outrebounded in their loss to an undersized Xavier team, and you can bet Rick Pitino will have his team attacking the glass with reckless abandon and Behanan is a huge part of that. I agree that Vanderbilt’s ability to handle Louisville’s full-court press will be a difference-maker in this one. The Cardinals have likely done plenty of prep work on Vanderbilt in the early season and I imagine they are acutely aware of Brad Tinsley’s struggles against pressure. Pitino will have his defense dialed up early and I think Louisville will jump out to an early lead and then hang on for a close victory. Prediction: Louisville 66 – Vanderbilt 59

Brian: Earlier I talked about Louisville’s use of the three point shot, and how it could be difficult for the Commodores to stop it. Even more importantly for this game, Vanderbilt loves the three-point shot. They are 57-166 thus far this season for 34.3 percent accuracy. But Louisville only allows opponents to shoot 25.3 percent from beyond the arc. This should be an area to keep an eye on tonight. Vandy hasn’t been effective at creating its own shot off the dribble. Jenkins and Taylor are better shooters when coming off a screen or getting set for an open shot. Louisville is sure to guard the perimeter to cut off Jenkins curling off screens, and because of that, the ‘Dores will have to find other ways to score. Without Ezeli, that could be a struggle. We have both discussed Louisville’s defense and Vandy’s offense at length. I think Louisville’s defense will be too good in this one. With UL’s full court press causing issues for Tinsley and Vanderbilt’s guards, I don’t see Vanderbilt being able to get in a groove tonight. Prediction: Louisville 77 — Vanderbilt 65

Seton Hall vs Auburn

Brian: Did you know that Auburn and Kentucky are the only two remaining undefeated teams in the SEC? Okay, so Auburn hasn’t exactly played a murderer’s row of competition, but they have played well thus far. Transfer guard Varez Ward is averaging 12 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game. The Tigers are one of the best shot-blocking teams in the conference (and in the country) behind Kentucky. Willy Kouassi and Rob Chubb have given Auburn a tough interior defense, and 6’8″ forward Kenny Gabriel does a little bit of everything with 11.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game. But Seton Hall’s Herb Pope has played well too. Pope is coming in with 20.5 points and 11.7 rebounds per game to lead the team in both categories. Seton Hall is a team that plays good defense (60th in defensive efficiency) by creating a lot of turnovers. I see this being a real defensive slugfest with the toughest team coming out ahead.

Herb Pope Could Cause Problems For Auburn

Mike: To say Auburn hasn’t exactly played the murderer’s row of competition is being way too nice to Auburn. Just glancing at’s strength of schedule index, only Tulane has played an easier schedule than the Tigers to date. However, that doesn’t mean Tony Barbee and his team can’t beat Seton Hall. If rosters were human, Kevin Willard’s would look emaciated. Only six players have been averaging more than eight minutes per game, and four of them are under classmen. As Brian pointed out, Herb Pope is far and away the best player on the Pirates’ roster and he should contend for first-team All Big-East honors this season, but he isn’t the only threat on the team. Senior point guard Jordan Theodore is shooting just 37.6% from the field and just 19% from behind the arc and he still averages 17.5 points per game and 6.7 assists per game. He still needs to work on taking care of the ball (3.3 TPG), but there is no way a shooter of his caliber will stay that cold for that long. He is quick off the dribble and his penetration has been a major reason why Pope has been able to get so many good looks close to the basket. Sophomore Fuquan Edwin has raised his game this year and has become an excellent third scoring option (14.8 PPG, 56.1 FG%). Edwin is another good shooter that the Tigers’ defense will need to keep an eye on if they hope to win. I think the key to the Pirates’ success will be the play of sophomore forward Patrik Auda. A native of the Czech Republic, Auda has been pretty much the only other big man playing meaningful minutes for Willard. He won’t need to score a lot of points, because that is Pope’s job, but he will need to stay out of foul trouble and play solid defense against Auburn’s burly frontcourt. Brian also noted that Seton Hall forces a lot of turnovers and I think that will be the difference in this game. Auburn just hasn’t played enough quality athletes to be able to cope with the pressure defense, and their offensive inefficiency has been glaring thus far, even against lesser opponents. On paper, this looks like a game Seton Hall should be able to win handily. Who you got Brian?

Brian: Points should be hard to come by for Auburn in this one. But they may not need many baskets to win this one. I think Auburn will play great defense on the interior against Pope, and defense will end up being the winner here. I just don’t think it’s the Tigers defense that will come out on top. I look for Auburn to play better than expected here, but they will drop a close one. Prediction: Seton Hall 61 – Auburn 55

Mike: I don’t think you are giving Pope enough credit. As you noted, Auburn’s interior defense has been excellent and Chubb and Kouassi are excellent shot-blockers. But we aren’t talking about Arkansas Pine-Bluff and Nicholls State anymore. Pope may be slightly undersized but he is as talented as they come offensively and skilled enough to force Chubb or Kouassi or whomever is guarding him to step outside the painted area. He has legitimate NBA talent and I think the Tigers won’t be prepared for that sort of play, at least not right away. I like Ward and think he will be a nice player for Barbee, but I also think that Theodore is due to breakout of his shooting slump. We are talking about a guy who made 34% of his three-pointers last season and just hasn’t been able to find his comfort zone yet this season. I think where Auburn has the distinct advantage is on their bench. The Tigers, although inexperienced, are much deeper than Seton Hall and if they can wear Theodore and the Pirates down they will have a good chance to pull off the VERY minor upset. In the end I just think there will be too much Herb Pope and the Pirates will pull off the win. Prediction: Seton Hall 63 — Auburn 54

Brian Joyce (333 Posts)

Brian Joyce is an advanced metrics enthusiast, college hoops junkie, and writer for the SEC basketball microsite for Rush the Court.

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