Before I start doing some conference previews, I want to note something. As I have noted before, I do watch the big boy conference games. I just don't report about those games often, unless I see something worthy of note. Such was the case last night with Wisconsin at Minnesota, which I caught the end of on the Big Ten Network. The Badgers had come back in the second half to go ahead 46-41 with under three minutes left.
Then as I like to call it, Wisconsin pulled a "Hofstra", where they run the shot clock down to under 10 seconds left then "run a play". They did this twice in a row when they had the ball and they came up empty. Meanwhile, Minnesota's Lawrence Westbrook hit two runners in the lane to cut the lead to one. Then it all unraveled for the Badgers. After a missed three point field goal, Westbrook got fouled, hit two free throws and that was the game. The Gophers would score the last 10 points in the game and win 51-46.
I can't say this enough and I have in the past. When you are up only by a few points late in the game, the CLOCK is NOT your friend. POINTS ARE your friend. It's not only my philosophy. I have heard this from two successful coaches that I have been fortunate enough to talk to. I have seen Hofstra many times dribble the ball down, then "run a play". This "play" is really the player with the ball driving to the basket and putting up a shot. Sometimes it works. Often it does not. Just ask Wisconsin about how those two plays worked out. The Badgers now have placed themselves on the bubble by losing to Minnesota twice and are only 9-8 in the Big Ten with only 18 wins on the season. Next time they might want to run their normal offense late in a close game.
Atlantic Sun Preview
I guess I wasn't paying close enough attention that I didn't notice until late that the Atlantic Sun started its tournament last night with the #2 seed East Tennessee State downing Stetson 90-76 as Kevin Tiggs went off scoring 37 points shooting 15 of 23 from the field. The Buccaneers now face the winner of #3 Belmont vs. #6 Mercer. Meanwhile #4 Lipscomb faces #5 Campbell to take on #1 Jacksonville.
The A Sun actually has eleven teams, but four are new to the conference (North Florida, USC Upstate, FGCU, and Kennesaw State), but due to NCAA rules, they can not play in the conference tournament this season. Thus the seven team tournament. The A Sun has its share of parity. The top six teams (and the now six remaining teams in the tournament) all finished above .500.
Statistically, Jacksonville is a very odd team. They are first in scoring defense in the A Sun, only allowing 67.9 points per game. How the Dolphins do it is beyond me. Jacksonville is next to last in FG percentage defense at 45.2 percent per game and ninth out of eleven teams in three point field goal percentage at 35.2 percent per game. They are second in steals, second in rebounding margin and in the top three or four in turnover margin and assist to turnover ratio. They are very balanced offensive team with four scorers averaging in double digits led by junior guard Ben Smith who nearly averages 17 points per game.
I saw ETSU play in the Charleston Classic. They went 1-2 there, but there was talent to be seen. Tiggs, Mike Smith (19 points, 11 rebounds against Stetson) and Courtney Pigram (15 points, 5 assists against stetson) make a terrific trifecta. The Bucs are also first in the ASun in scoring offense, scoring margin, second in FG percentage at 46.6 percent, first in FG percentage defense at 40.7 percent, first in steals, first in turnover margin and second in blocked shots.
Belmont is the team most people know. They almost knocked off Duke in the first round of the NCAA tournament last year. They are a veteran team with four senior starters scoring in double figures led by guard Alex Renfroe at 16.3 points per game. Matthew Dotson, Shane Dansby and Andy Wicke are the other seniors scoring in double figures. Belmont is first in the A Sun in assists at 16.6 per game, second in turnover margin and first in assist to turnover ratio. Belmont loves to shoot the three, attempting 813 three point attempts, 141 more than the second most, Mercer. One Hundred and Forty One more than the next team in that statistic. WOW!
The dark horse is Lipscomb, an awfully hot team that has won eight games in a row in conference after a 4-8 start. Their leading scorer, Adnan Hodzic averages 17.7 points and 7.4 rebounds a game while shooting nearly 60 percent from the field. In that eight game stretch, the Bisons' center has averaged nearly 21 points per game with four double doubles. The Bison are first in the A Sun in FG percentage at 47.3 and second in FG percentage defense at 41.9. They are also first in the A Sun in three point FG percentage at 36.7, first in three point FG percentage D at 31.4 and first in rebounding margin.
This is going to be a shootout of a tournament, and the ETSU win last night is a good harbinger of things to come. I think the winner of ETSU- Belmont will win this tournament. As for the top seed in their semifinal, the statistical peripherals are not good for Jacksonville. Plus they do not match up well against Lipscomb having lost their previous game to the Bison. The Bison move on. I think ETSU is going to come out on top of Belmont in matchup of two teams that handle the ball the best. It will be a close game. Then the Bucs ability to cause turnovers plays well against Lipscomb, who is next to last in the A Sun in turnover margin.