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Big East/SEC Invitational Preview

by Andrew Force | December 4th, 2007

West Virginia at Auburn
December 5, 7:00, ESPN2
Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center; Birmingham, Ala.

Auburn Probables
6’7” F Korvotney Barber
6’4” G Frank Tolbert
6’1” G DeWayne Reed
6’3” G Quantez Robertson
6’5” G Rasheem Barrett

West Virginia Probables
7’0” C Jamie Smalligan
6’8” F Joe Alexander
6’8” SF Da’Sean Butler
6’6” F Alex Ruoff
6’2” PG Darris Nichols

How to Attack WVU: Covet each possession and treasure the ball. West Virginia is wreaking havoc with opposing offenses generating two dozen turnovers a game. Huggins knows how to motivate his men to commit to the defensive side of the ball. There feet will move and they will be bodying up constantly.

How to Attack Auburn: Slam the boards. Auburn would have had a hard-working, formidable front line. Unfortunately, Josh Dollard is out for the season with a “medical condition,” and Quan Prowell is suspended for five games. His return coincides with the Big East SEC Invitational. The depth in the paint is pretty poor. While Prowell’s return will help substantially, whether he will be in game shape remains to be seen. An ankle injury to 7-footer Boubacar Sylla has the frontline thinner than Olive Oyl.

How to Defend WVU: As this team was constructed with versatility in mind, the taller players certainly have the ability to step outside. Do not give the customary soft cushion to them. Their shooting touch can be deadly.

Huggy Bear has not entirely abandoned the three-point attack John Belein favored. The Mountaineers create 25-28 attempts a game from deep. Honestly, early in Huggins’ tenure the offense is still taking shape. He is attempting to mold soft, fluid players into feared, hard-nosed ruffians.

How to Defend Auburn: Auburn’s Tigers have grown up together. Their experience individually and as a group is invaluable. The core of the Tigers is still in tact as 13 of the 14 letterwinners from last year returned.

You can foul the Tigers at their own risk. AU is shooting only slightly better than chance from the supposed charity stripe. As a team the embarrassing mark of 53% free-throw shooting stains their stat sheet.

Barber is a wiry strong and increasingly active big man. His athleticism will be difficult for Mountaineers Smalligan or Alexander to match. He is not worth doubling down on, but extra attention should be paid to the 77% shooting post-player.

During the softer portion of their schedule the Tigers only pulled down four more rebounds than their inferior opponents. A bright spot for Auburn’s offense has been Matt Heramb. Playing alongside Barber he gives AU post players worthy of the SEC.

Prediction: West Virginia 72-64.

Georgetown vs. Alabama
December 5, 9:30, ESPN

Alabama Probables
6’8” F Richard Hendrix
6’7” F Demetrius Jemison
6’6” F Alonzo Gee
6’6” F Mykal Riley
6’4” PG Mikhail Torrance

Georgetown Probables
7’2” C Roy Hibbert
6’8” F Patrick Ewing Jr.
6’8” F DaJuan Summers
6’3” SG Jessie Sapp
6’1” PG Jonathan Wallace

How to Attack Georgetown: Patience. The Georgetown defense under John Thompson III is stifling. For Alabama to score consistently they are going to have to be steady. A matured point guard like Ronald Steele would have been nice, but we don’t choose our injuries. Swinging the ball around the perimeter and taking advantage of the rare openings given are possible ways to score against the Hoyas.

Quick decisions. Georgetown will double the ball almost anywhere on the floor. Reacting quickly and prudently is paramount. Georgetown does have a tendency to bite on the shot fakes. There is a chance, albeit a small one for the aggressor to get to the offensive boards. Hibbert and Ewing lose their rebounding position when they block or try to block shots.

Its good ole fashioned basketball, yet inside outside works against the goliath Hoyas. The guards, particularly Jessie Sapp collapses when the ball gets down in the post. He yanked down 4.0 rebounds per game. This sagging has the potential to be exposed.

Driving straight at the basket is a bad choice. The height of the diminutive GU squad is quite the deterrent in the lane. Their size is frightening and their execution is a coach’s dream.

How to Attack ‘Bama: Bombs away! In its three true tests of the young season, Alabama has allowed opponents to shoot 38% from behind the arc. Several players are big, strong, pride-filled players. They prefer to body you up and overpower you. This leaves stray guards open from the outside.

Alabama may press but any attempt would be toothless with the guards on the roster.

How to Defend Georgetown: The Hoyas post is opponents’ poison. Their size is unmatchable. Across the frontline GU runs out three 240-pound beasts. Not one of the three starters is pudgy either. Defenders simply have to front the post and try to keep the ball from entering. Bama can double down and hope the Hoya guards are misfiring. In the last year and half, Georgetown is shooting 37% from the outside.

Vernon Macklin, Roy Hibbert, and Patrick Ewing Jr. do the majority of the low-post scoring. The trio converts at an irrational rate of 60% from the floor. Once they get the ball they can not be stopped. Front Roy Hibbert. He is deadly in close, but takes possessions off around the blocks. Denying the post pass can wear on Hibbert. Box out. At times this rudimentary task will feel futile, but it must be done. The Hoyas have the rebounding ability to frustrate.

Keep floor balance. They use the skip pass better than any team in the Big East. Their spacing as a team is unbelievable. Cheat off the ball at your own peril.

One way to play Georgetown has been employed by Villanova in the last few years. Alabama might not have the depth necessary to implement this strategy, but there are few alternatives. Force the issue. Get out on the ball and do not sag back letting the Hoyas run their offense. They are super efficient while making smart decisions all over the floor. Rushing the guards can ruin the andante Hoya flow.

How to Defend ‘Bama: Against smaller teams Coach Mark Gottfried was able to play Alonzo Gee or Demetrius Jemison at the four spot. You can believe Georgetown has the size to warrant the anticipated bigger lineup. Gottfried has been holding off but wants to play Yamene Coleman or freshman Justin Knox alongside widebody Richard Hendrix.

The true threat remains Hendrix. His weight is not gravy-concocted. Hendrix has been eating the powerful, muscular part of the turkey, weighing in at 265 mighty pounds. Hendrix is an absolute mammoth of a man. He could fit a tattoo of the entire state of Alabama on his huge arm…a life-size version of the Cotton State. Think Danny Fortson with a little more shooting touch. Hendrix has an obnoxiously powerful body, country strong as they say. He also owns a baby hook. It will be interesting to see if Georgetown’s size can give the baby crying fits. Big Beefy uses the big butt his parents gave him to pin defenders behind him.

The point guard situation around Tuscaloosa has remained in flux for a year and half now. Ronald Steele is certainly out for the year, so the question gets resolved…right? The opening day starter at the point, Rico Pickett, is currently “suspended indefinitely.” For the last handful of games Mikhail Torrance and Brandon Hollinger split time at the critical position. A little extra pressure from Jonathan Wallace and Jeremiah Rivers will rattle Alabama’s inexperienced point men.

Prediction: Georgetown 74-57

South Carolina vs. Providence
December 6, 7:00, ESPN2
The Wachovia Center; Philadelphia, Pa.

South Carolina Probables
6’6” F Mike Holmes
6’7” F Dominique Archie
6’2” G Brandis Raley-Ross
6’0” SG Zam Frederick
5’9” PG Devan Downey

Providence Probables
6’8” F Jonathan Kale
6’7” F Geoff McDermott
6’1” G Dwain Williams
6’3” SG Brian McKenzie
6’1” PG Jeff Xavier

How to Attack USC: The Gamecocks can be battered down low. Despite the addition of a few bigger players, Coach Dave Odom still does not have the size to compete in a Big East or even SEC battle. Only one talented SC player weighs over 210 pounds. Mitchell Carter checks in at 260, but remains a project for Odom.

How to Attack PC: Providence will switch between a 2-3 zone and man-to-man defense. The form their ‘D’ takes will somewhat dictate the style South Carolina uses.

The matchup of Devan Downey and Sharaud Curry seems unlikely, as Curry is still not practicing with the Friars after breaking his foot in the preseason. The immobilization boot was removed over a week ago, but Curry’s return before Christmas is doubtful. Downey is amazingly quick and PC is susceptible to dribble penetration.

How to Defend USC: It all starts with Downey. Damon Stoudamire wore the Mighty Mouse tattoo with pride, but Downey might be more deserving. His superhuman strength and power around the basket allows him to finish in the lane. His former coach Andy Kennedy says, “He’s lightning-quick…and changes speeds and directions better than anybody that I’ve ever been around.”

In high school, Downey dropped 36 per night and 67 on one glorious occasion. Against an under-manned Cincinnati Bearcat squad in 2005-2006, Downey contributed 12 ppg as a freshman. The guy can score.

South California freshman OJ Mayo calls Devan Downey, “the toughest guard I have ever played against. He is really quick. He’s really heady. He can knock down the jumper and make players around him better.”

How to Defend PC: Geoff McDermott is everything. The team thrives when McD is pounding the boards and overwhelming the defense with his strength. Stopping him or even limiting his touches would go a long way for South Carolina. The outside shooters are immeasurably better when McDermott is demanding all of the defensive attention.

Right now the frontcourt, an expected strength of this team, is reeling with the graduation of Herbert Hill. His absence was long anticipated and the poor transition is mostly on the players who have been slow to adopt the new roles.

Jon Kale and Ray Hall in particular are not playing to their capabilities. Even McDermott has been reamed for playing below his potential.

Getting out on the guards is imperative as they share the ball and like to fire from deep.

Prediction: South Carolina 75-72

LSU vs. Villanova
December 6, 9:30, ESPN

LSU Probables
6’11” C Chris Johnson
6’10” F Anthony Randolph
6’6” F Garrett Temple
6’4” G Marcus Thornton
6’6” G Terry Martin

Villanova Probables
6’10” C Casiem Drummond
6’8” PF Dante Cunningham
6’7” SF Shane Clark
6’5” SG Reggie Redding
6’2” PG Scottie Reynolds

How to Attack LSU: Punch them in the face. Go right at the feeble, wishy-washy defense LSU employs. Coach John Brady has a lot of work to do with this unit. The team has not committed to defense yet. They don’t get back well on defense, either. They don’t cover the ball well in the halfcourt. They are lazy and uninspired. They have no leadership despite having upperclassmen.

The Tigers’ halfcourt defense is atrocious. It amounts to careless street ball. There is no pride outside the low blocks where Randolph and Johnson love to take turns as flyswatter. As a team, the defense is sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.

Against the Tigers, passing inside is easier than penetrating via the dribble. Villanova is loaded with darting guards who penetrate constantly. LSU guards will have to shuffle their feet better to stay in front of Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher.

Once in the paint, opponents need to be leery of the blocking forwards. Long arms await the driver. Highly touted freshman Anthony Randolph goes for the block way too often. Get into his body and give him some pump fakes.

How to Attack Nova: Villanova is a very gritty team that embodies the spirit of its hometown, Philadelphia. Every player has twenty pounds of muscle more than they did when their Wildcat career began.

Rebounds are not impossible to retrieve against Nova, the pursuit is just a rugged process which typically boils down to hunger.

Villanova likes to play an active defense that often dictates where you pass the ball. There are times the Villanova defense is moving more than the opposing offense. When the Cats are pressing, look out. They have quick hands and quicker minds. Overall the athleticism quotient in this contest will be very high.

How to Defend LSU: Retreat! Get back on defense, because LSU is most potent in the street ball format. They have super athletes and fly up the court. This style is the source of LSU’s success.

Leading scorer Tasmin Mitchell is out indefinitely while contemplating surgery on his shin bone by the ankle. Brady realizes the void left by Taz’ absence, saying, “Tasmin was so important to what we had planned to do. That’s 15-to-16 points and eight or nine rebounds a game that we’ve got to pick up somewhere else.”

If Villanova is able to settle the Tigers into a halfcourt offense, then the results will be much better.

Keep Marcus Thornton off the glass. He is an absolute bulldog from the guard spot, attacking the boards with impressive consistency.

Communicate. The Tigers will throw a lot of high screens at you. The defenders must vocalize to keep track of everyone.

Anthony Randolph will be good down the line. Right now he is thin enough to crawl through a slinky. Most of his points will be on put-backs.

Help towards the lane because LSU has plenty of players capable of beating their man off the dribble. When they do, there needs to be someone to slow the penetration.

How to Defend Nova: Rotate defenders on Scottie. His motor is like that of a Tour De France competitor without the drugs. More than one player will exhaust themselves running with Scottie. It is a tall task, but keep Scottie Reynolds out of the lane and your chances for victory improve dramatically.

Conjure up your greatest inner strength. You will need it.

The Wildcats possess a dizzying duo of post power and guard quickness. The two compliment each other very well as SF Shane Clark ties it all together with both.

Prediction: Villanova 83-64

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