#11 Villanova Wildcats (2-0) vs. East Tennessee State Buccaneers (2-0)
When: Friday, November 20, 2015, at 7:00 p.m.
Where: The Pavilion
Coverage: Fox Sports 2
ETSU Previous Season Record: 16-14
Key Players for ETSU: #3 Ge’Lawn Guyn (6-2, 185) Sr., G; #0 T.J. Cromer (6-3, 190) Jr., G; #13 A.J. Merriweather (6-2, 185) Jr., G
Scouting Report: Despite hailing out of the Southern Conference, this ETSU team is not one to be meddled with. New head coach Steve Forbes has taken an assortment of transfers, freshmen, and returning players and transformed them into an offensive powerhouse. The Buccaneers come into this contest averaging 105 points per game and shooting 52.6% from the field, good for fourth and 33rd in the country, respectively. The Bucs are no slouch on the defensive end either, averaging six steals and nine blocks (seventh in the country) per game. These are impressive numbers, even with the weak schedule ETSU has played so far.
ETSU’s shooting guards are the engine that drives this potent offense. The Buccanneers’ top five scorers are all guards, and three of them are transfers. Senior Ge’Lawn Guyn comes over from Cincinnati (an ex-Big East foe), and is shining in his new feature role, averaging 22.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game. T.J. Cromer is averaging 18 points per game in his first year out of JUCO. Highflying Big 12 journeyman Deuce Bello (11.5PPG) is providing a spark off the bench after unsuccessful stints at Missouri and Baylor. Junior A.J. Merriweather and Sophomore Desonta Bradford are two key returners who help to pace ETSU.
The key to this talented group of guards’ success is their aggressive, attacking style of play. The team loves to get out and run in transition. They also attack the basket with ferocity using their collective athletic ability to create dazzling finishes and/or draw fouls. The Bucs are rewarded with 30 free throw attempts per game, and make the most out of their chances, shooting 85% (fourth best in the nation). The athletic ability of this group cannot be overstated. All five of their leading scorers are capable of posterizing defenders in the open court. Merriweather was on ESPN’s Top 10 plays last year with a one-handed alley-oop jam, there’s a video of Bradford dunking over a defender on the break, and Bello was once dubbed “The Best Dunker in High School Basketball.” If this group can get to the rim like they want, watch out!
On a more negative note, ETSU’s rotation of big men is murky at best. 6-foot-7 Junior Isaac Banks has consumed the most F/C minutes at 23.5 per game, but after that it has been big man by committee. Sudanese junior Peter Jurkin is the longest of the bunch at an even seven feet, but has just 27 career minutes to his name. Jurkin is still largely unproven, but possesses the raw ability to be a difference maker. Abednego Lufile paces the group with 7.5 rebounds per game. Lufile, another JUCO transfer, is a tough slasher who can stretch the floor a little too. He is most likely the best bet to eat up those front court minutes for the Bucs.
Outlook: At the very least this should be a fun game to watch. ETSU possesses that much highlight reel ability. Villanova is a smart, heady team though. The Wildcats will not commit unnecessary fouls and will try to contain the Bucs to the 3-point arc, where they shot just 31.3%. This contest offers another chance for Daniel Ochefu to continue his strong start. Ochefu should be able to dominate any big man ETSU puts on him and could be in line for his third consecutive double-double. Ochefu and Darryl Reynolds will also play key roles in guarding against the Bucs’ slashes to the rim.
Facing such a soft opponent in the middle, the ‘Cats should really look to drive the ball more. Fifty percent of Villanova’s shots this year have been 3-pointers. A little high considering the Wildcats are shooting 66.7% from inside the arc yet just 28.8% from beyond. If Villanova as a unit looks to attack the rim more and settle for less early shot clock threes, they will have no trouble with ETSU. A fast start would also help Villanova, as the Bucs aren’t a good enough shooting team to claw their way back into the game with threes.
Ultimately, I think the terrific ball control of point guard trio Ryan Arcidiacono, Jalen Brunson, and Phil Booth (combined 5.2:1 Assist-to-Turnover Ratio) will find good shots and limit ETSU’s opportunities, while Ochefu, Reynolds, and Mikal Bridges provide the defense to contain the Bucs. I’ll take Villanova, but in a closer contest than you might think.