Big East/SEC Challenge: Arkansas @ Connecticut, LSU @ RutgersPosted by Gerald Smith on December 3rd, 2011
To preview the match-ups in the Big East/SEC Challenge, the Big East & SEC Microsites are facing off in conversational analysis. Gerald Smith and Patrick Prendergast butt heads once last time over the final two games of the series: Arkansas @ UConn (2:15 PM EST on ESPN) and LSU @ Rutgers (7PM EST on ESPNU).
Arkansas @ Connecticut
Patrick Prendergast: We know Mike Anderson and his Arkansas Razorbacks want to play fast and outgun their opponents. They are averaging 83.7 points per game in their 5-1 start. Their lone defeat was an 87-78 setback to Houston and I just happened to catch a good portion of it on the tube. The game actually gave me the cold sweats because I thought I was watching the Keno Davis-coached Providence teams of the past few years. Arkansas could not find a shot it didn’t like, and it was a flossing of the cylinder for Houston to the tune of 52.5% shooting for the game.
Connecticut can score the ball at a fair rate themselves (75.6 PPG), and honestly have to be salivating at the opportunity to fatten up on the Hogs. Further, UConn should be able to have its way around the basket due to an overwhelming size advantage up front with the likes of the 6’10” Andre Drummond, 6’8” DeAndre Daniels, and the 6’9” duo of Tyler Olander and Alex Oriakhi pounding away. The freshman phenom Drummond (8.1 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 2.9 BLK) is the reigning Big East Rookie of the Week and is beginning to get his collegiate sea legs under him. Oh yeah, and Connecticut’s most dynamic players have not been mentioned yet: Sophomore forward and All-America candidate Jeremy Lamb (21.1 PPG, 3.9 RPG) is living up to the hype and Lamb’s classmate, point guard Shabazz Napier (17.9 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 6.0 APG) already has a triple-double under his belt this year.
Arkansas could control pace at times and hit a turnover-prone UConn team with a few runs to keep things within reach but the talent discrepancy appears enough to swing this one in the Huskies’ favor, especially at home. Connecticut 89, Arkansas 72
Gerald Smith: I also watched that Arkansas vs. Houston game. Houston, a team filled with young, athletic players, was just a bad matchup: The Razorbacks were significantly outrebounded (41-30) and despite forcing 20 turnovers could not limit the Cougars’ scoring (52.5% FG, 42.8% 3FG). The Razorbacks’ previous game was a 91-68 shellacking of Oakland University. Oakland has since won versus Houston and Tennessee.
The biggest change between the Oakland game and the Houston game: Junior forward Marshawn Powell was hurt and did not play against the Cougars. The 6’7″ Powell was expected to lead the Razorbacks in scoring this year until he tore ligaments in his knee. Without him, Mike Anderson really has no reliable scorer for his offensive sets.
With Powell, Arkansas could have a puncher’s chance against the defending National Champions; without Powell, Arkansas will need out-of-their-gourds performances by freshman guard B.J. Young and sophomore guard Mardracus Wade for any shot of keeping it close. Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, I’m afraid the Huskies defense will keep those players well inside their gourds. Connecticut 82, Arkansas 69.
LSU @ Rutgers
Patrick Prendergast: The top six Rutgers players in terms of minutes played are comprised of four freshman (Myles Mack, Eli Carter, Mike Poole, Jerome Seagers), a sophomore (Gilvydas Biruta) and a junior (Dane Miller). This is a talented but young group that figures to take its lumps as they learn on the fly as supported by their 4-3 record. LSU is also young and likewise 4-3, with their top five minute-getters going sophomore (Andre Stringer), freshman (Anthony Hickey), freshman (Ralston Turner), junior (Justin Hamilton), freshman (Johnny O’Bryant).
The 6’8” Biruta (12.1 PPG, 6.4 RPG) leads the way for Rugters but he may run into a tough matchup with 6’11” Justin Hamilton (11.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG). The “RAC” (Rutgers Athletic Center) can provide a nice home court advantage, and has thus far as the Scarlet Knights have yet to lose (4-0) in Piscataway. In an otherwise seemingly even matchup I will go with the home team in a close, low-scoring affair despite the fact that LSU has won two of their four games on the road (59-50 at Georgia Tech and 59-58 at Houston). Rutgers 62, LSU 60
Gerald Smith: LSU is an puzzle wrapped in an engima falling through the Springfield Mystery Spot. The Tigers’ losses are to a potential NCAA Tournament bubble team (Northwestern 88-82), a fairly-strong mid-major (Coastal Carolina 71-63) and, um, South Alabama (79-75 in OT). There’s no clear reason why LSU keeps losing other than a new problem pops up. LSU turned the ball over 20 times and allowed 12 made three-pointers versus Northwestern; woeful shooting (35.4% FG) and getting out-rebounded 34-53 by Costal Carolina; letting South Alabama shoot 50.8% FG and attempt 22 free throws (making 16) on just 19 Arkansas fouls.
Trent Johnson’s team is definitely still trying to learn to play together. Stringer and Turner have handed point guard duties off to Hickey, a better distributor of the ball. Yet Hickey’s on-the-job point-guard tutorial has caused its fair share of problems. Despite being clearly the most-talented forward on the floor, former McDonald’s All-American Johnny O’Bryant is averaging just 14 minutes a game.
Rutgers’ assist-to-turnover ratio is 0.89 and they average 15.1 turnovers a game. That’s to be expected since most of Rutgers’ starting guards are freshman. Since Rutgers has no clear advantage in the backcourt and LSU has experience and depth in the frontcourt to counter Biruta, I think LSU can surprise us yet again this season. LSU 74, Rutgers 70