Breaking Down the Thursday Night SEC/Big East Challenge GamesPosted by rtmsf on November 29th, 2012
The SEC/Big East Challenge tips off tonight with four games and will carry on throughout the weekend. The Big East microsite has you covered, with three reasons why each of its respective squads will win. As an added bonus, the SEC microsite counters with its own opinion on the Florida-Marquette game.
Three Reasons Why Notre Dame Will Win
- Experience. There is no one in the country with functional vision that thinks the Fighting Irish can match up with the Wildcats athletically, but that’s the beauty of college basketball, having the best athletes and most pure talent do not always translate into victories. Where the Fighting Irish do have the distinct advantage is in the experience department. Almost everyone in coach Mike Brey’s seven-man rotation has played in high profile games like this with the exception of freshman Cameron Biedscheid. Heck, forward Scott Martin was probably playing in big-time college basketball games while some of Kentucky’s players were still adjusting to high school. The Wildcats will be a force to be reckoned with once they learn to play together, but they are still figuring that out, giving Notre Dame a window they need to take advantage of. If they can punch Kentucky in the mouth early, it may be difficult for the young Wildcats to re-organize and come back in the game.
- Ryan Harrow’s Return. Technically the transfer’s return to the lineup after an undisclosed illness should be a boon for Kentucky. But, even though Harrow says he is ready, coach John Calipari has expressed concern about whether Harrow is up to game speed and it wouldn’t be surprising if his minutes were monitored closely. Fellow transfer Julius Mays and former walk-on Jarrod Polson have held their own in Harrow’s absence, but in the Wildcats’ loss to Duke, neither player made much of an impact at all. Notre Dame has a backcourt duo in Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant that can score in bunches and so look for the Fighting Irish to try and exploit their backcourt advantage by taking it to Harrow or his backups on both ends of the floor. There is little doubt that Atkins and Grant are going to get plenty of scoring looks tonight, and if they start knocking down their shots and attacking the rim at will, Kentucky is going to be in a lot of trouble.
- They will play Mike Brey basketball. If you are interested in watching a style of basketball that is effective yet will offend all of your sensibilities, just watch the Fighting Irish on offense. Through six games, Brey’s club ranks #331 in adjusted tempo and anyone who is even remotely familiar with the Notre Dame coach knows that is pretty much par for the course. Kentucky has the athletic advantage and in the frontcourt, so they will be looking to run and force the issue offensively. By contrast, Notre Dame will only run if Brey falls asleep or gets kidnapped, and they will put a lot of effort into getting Kentucky out of its rhythm and making them play a slower pace than they want to. This strategy is ugly, but it has been proven effective time and time again as Brey has upset more talented teams by limiting their offensive opportunities and taking care of the basketball at all costs. This strategy may be particularly effective tonight because the young Wildcats may get frustrated by the languishing tempo, and the Fighting Irish have experienced guards and wings to run the offense patiently and effectively. The Irish have enough offensive weapons to hang with the Wildcats if the pace gets pushed, but if the game is played in the low 60s or high 50s, that will probably mean that Notre Dame has the Wildcats right where they want them.
- South Carolina is not very good, especially defensively. No smart college basketball fan should be buying into the Gamecocks’ 5-1 start to the season. They haven’t beaten anyone of note, two of their victories have been underwhelming overtime conquests against inferior opponents, and their lone loss was a double-digit clunker in which they let Elon shoot better than 53 percent from behind the three-point arc. Their offense isn’t terrific, but they rank #168 in adjusted defensive efficiency while playing such powers as Morgan State, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Missouri State. They have been particularly atrocious defending the three-point line and while the Red Storm isn’t exactly a deadly team from behind the arc, they have more than enough firepower to score in bunches against the Gamecocks. Coach Frank Martin may eventually get his team to play better defense, but at this point in the season, they are struggling to stop anybody, and St. John’s has the talent and the depth to take advantage of that.
- The Red Storm’s noticeable frontcourt advantage. Put it this way, the Gamecocks’ leading rebounder is Lakeem Jackson who averages eight rebounds per game. Jackson is also only 6’5″ and his teammates aren’t exactly blessed with tremendous size either. The only two players in the rotation over 6’6″ are forwards R.J. Slawson and Mindaugas Kacinas, who are solid players, but will never be confused with intimidating post presences. The Red Storm aren’t the country’s largest team either, but there is no one on their roster under 6’2″ and freshmen Jakarr Sampson and Christopher Obekpa form an intimidating interior defensive duo that will leave South Carolina struggling to find open looks from the post. Ironically, the Gamecocks are the much better offensive rebounding team and their lack of depth and experience doesn’t even hurt them that much because the Red Storm has similar problems. But there is no one on South Carolina who can match up with Sampson or Obekpa athleticially, and without anyone to protect the rim, slashers like Amir Garret and D’Angelo Harrison should have a field day attacking the basket.
- No one on South Carolina can stop D’Angelo Harrison. Harrison has been one of the most dangerous offensive players in the country through the team’s first six games. He is launching a lot of shots, but his shooting percentages are up slightly from last season and he is nearly automatic at the free throw line (which he is getting to better than four times per game). We have already discussed South Carolina’s defensive issues, but the Gamecocks haven’t played anyone as talented as Harrison yet, and there may not be a defender on the team who can keep up with someone who can score in as many ways as Harrison can. The sophomore from Texas has the look of one of the best players in the conference and is the type of player who will get his points no matter who is guarding him. Expect Harrison to get to the basket at will and probably shoot a lot more free throws than he has in the two previous games. And if he gets hot from behind the arc, look out, because you may blink and South Carolina will be getting blown out.
Three Reasons Why Marquette Will Win
- They match up well with the Gators. Unlike Wisconsin, which sorely misses the steady hand of injured junior point guard Josh Gasser, the Golden Eagles have an experienced, athletic, and talented backcourt that matches up well on both ends with the Gators’ potent backcourt. Vander Blue is expected back for Marquette and he joins Junior Cadougan and Trent Lockett to form a formidable three-guard lineup that won’t be rattled by pressure, will be more effective than the Badgers at attacking the Gators’ staunch defense, and plays the type of defense that can neutralize (to an extent) the offensive firepower of Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario, and Scottie Wilbekin. Even in the frontcourt, Jamil Wilson is versatile enough to hang with the efficient Erik Murphy and Davante Gardner might not be as athletic as Patric Young, but he is strong enough to hold his own in the post against the Gators’ bruising junior. Beating a team as well-rounded and balanced as Florida is no easy task, but it always helps to have a steady hand in the backcourt when things aren’t going well and luckily for coach Buzz Williams and his team, the Golden Eagles have three.
- Marquette is going to force the issue offensively. Florida coach Billy Donovan is well-versed in Williams’ style of up-tempo basketball and the Golden Eagles currently rank inside the top 50 in the country when it comes to adjusted tempo. The Gators will have been drilled all week in transition defense and preventing the Golden Eagles from getting out on the fast break, but it seems unlikely Florida will be able to impose its will on Marquette so easily. As mentioned above, the Golden Eagles have a smart and experienced backcourt that won’t get rattled by pressure and knows how to force the issue in transition without getting disorganized. If Marquette can do what it wants and get out in transition early and often, they may force Florida to play up-tempo as well, and if that happens, the style of play favors the Golden Eagles, who are far more comfortable on the break.
- Trent Lockett is bound to get untracked soon. Much was made of the addition of the Lockett and he was expected to fill at least part of the void left when Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom graduated. But thus far, Lockett has been good, but not what the Golden Eagles expected of him. It is fair to give him a break considering he broke three bones in his face in the second game of the season and is dealing with his mother’s lymphoma as well. But it is also fair to expect more from the graduate student as the season progresses. Lockett is far too talented to be playing as poorly as he is, and one would think that Lockett’s abysmal shooting performance in the early season will eventually even out, perhaps as soon as tonight against the Gators. Lockett is the type of strong combo guard who can give Florida’s defense fits, and if he starts making shots on the perimeter, that will open up more space for Gardner and Otule to operate. He seems to be getting healthy and a player as competitive as Lockett will absolutely be fired up to play in such a high-profile game. Look for Lockett to have his best game as a member of the Golden Eagles, and Marquette will need it if they expect to knock off the Gators.
- Veteran experience in tough games. Florida was hyped in the preseason due to their high volume of returning starters and for good reason; only Brad Beal (NBA) and Erving Walker (graduation) depart from the team’s third Elite Eight appearance in as many years. The Gators’ return Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario, Patric Young, Erik Murphy and Scottie Wilbekin from last year’s loss to Louisville. Of the five listed above, only Boynton, Young, and Murphy all started on the Florida team that defeated Marquette last year in the Sweet Sixteen. All three, while marginally contributing with scoring, came up with key rebounds in the 68-58 win. Marquette also lost Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder to the NBA. The return of Florida’s stars and loss of Marquette’s will give the experience edge in this game to the Gators.
- Balanced scoring attack. The five guys mentioned above who are returning from last year’s squad averaged 45.8 PPG, or 60% of Florida’s scoring last year on an outstanding 48% shooting clip. Excluding Young, who did not attempt a single three-point field goal last year, the squad shot 40% from beyond the arc. In the current season, all five are in the top tier of scoring on the team, ranging from 9.7 to 16.2 PPG, and shooting at least 41% from the field. Florida is averaging seven threes made per game, slightly down from last year’s mark of nearly 10 per game, but are still lethal from outside.
- Marquette has avoided tough games in the non-conference so far. With the exception of Butler’s buzzer-beating three to win in Maui, Marquette has avoided any other tough games this season. The Golden Eagles’ season-opener was scheduled in Charleston, SC, against Ohio State, but that was canceled due to court moisture on the deck of the USS Yorktown. A trip to Maui for Marquette (and coupled with the first round loss to Butler) kept them on the loser’s side of the island. They throttled a terrible Mississippi State squad and beat an upstart Southern California team for fifth place. Outside of the trip to paradise, Marquette has not been challenged this season and their first real test of the season versus Florida could result in an early season loss.
Three Reasons Why Seton Hall Will Win
- Their opportunistic defense will make the difference. Star forward Fuquan Edwin may be the best perimeter defender in the conference. Freshman point guard Tom Maayan is not far behind and uses his active hands and quick feet to create and force turnovers. And the Pirates have a whole slew of long, athletic defenders on the wing that will give the Tigers’ offense lots of trouble. LSU ranks just #180 in adjusted offensive efficiency and that’s have played the fifth-easiest schedule in the country to date. Meanwhile the Pirates, who have admittedly played an easy schedule themselves, are ranked #42 in adjusted defensive efficiency and are wizards at forcing turnovers and creating steals. Tigers’ coach Johnny Jones is relying on a sophomore point guard, Anthony Hickey, to run his offense and if he struggles with the on-ball pressure of Maayan or Aaron Cosby, it could be a really long night for the LSU offense.
- The LSU schedule does them no favors. It is always nice to be undefeated, but it is a lot nicer to be undefeated when the team’s best victory isn’t a 14-point win over UC Santa Barbara. This isn’t to say that Seton Hall is a markedly better team than LSU; it just means that the Tigers have feasted on inferior competition, and playing against a Big East opponent with legitimate talent may be a shock they aren’t prepared for. The Tigers definitely haven’t faced anyone as talented as Edwin, and no one they have played yet as an interior force like the Pirates’ burly center Gene Teague. The Pirates have depth, size, and athleticism across the board. Maybe not the type of depth, size, or athleticism that will help a team win their conference, but certainly better ability that the creampuffs LSU as scheduled thus far. The Tigers are young and untested, so if Seton Hall comes out the gates quickly and jumps to an early lead, it may be difficult for the Tigers to respond in kind, especially if they aren’t used to the caliber of opponent that Seton Hall represents
- Brian Oliver can’t possibly stay in this shooting funk… can he? Oliver transferred to Seton Hall from Georgia Tech and carried with him the reputation as a dangerous scorer who would help fill some of the offensive void created when Herb Pope and Jordan Theodore graduated. Thus far Oliver’s performance has been a mixed bag as he continues to adjust and become more comfortable in the offense. His shooting percentages are the worst of his career across the board, he has more turnovers than he has assists, and his avoidance of the free throw line is puzzling considering his size and athleticism. Oliver remains one of the team’s most talented offensive players and one of the only players on the roster who can score in a variety of ways, but he isn’t going to get to prove it if he keeps tracking around the perimeter bricking shots everywhere he stops. His playing time has increased dramatically in the last three games and that could be indicative of his increased comfort and understanding of the offense. If that is the case, we may see the sharpshooting Oliver again soon. And if LSU pays too much attention to Edwin or Teague, Oliver could have a field day in leading the Pirates to victory.