And here we go.
It is rivalry day--the only rivalry day for this year, as basketball does not protect rivalries. This one has the potential to be very interesting.
Neither BG nor UT are where anyone thought they would be when the season started. UT was picked to win the MAC and BG was picked to finish near the bottom of the East. BG has been winning and UT has too, but not as much as expected. The Falcons enter 4-1 in MAC play and UT is 2-3. So, in addition to the normal intensity of this game, before a sell-out crowd, you also have the fact that UT is in a little bit of a corner. You don't want your 4th MAC loss this early and it would be their 3rd home loss in MAC play and that just makes things really tough.
Toledo has won the last 3 in the series, including a soul-crushing defeat for BG at the Stroh last year. But this is a new year. UT is favored by 4.5 and in my mind remains a threat to win a wide-open MAC this year and the teams have conflicting strengths and all that makes this a very fun matchup.
The Rockets are 10-8. They lost to very good VCU and Duke teams as well as to a good Oregon team. They also lost at home to Detroit (who BG beat on the road) and @Oakland. Meanwhile, their best non-conference win was over Cleveland State, a team BG also beat. So, they entered MAC play with a couple soft losses and no huge wins.
They lost to CMU at home to open things up, beat Akron at Savage (BG lost @Akron), won @Ohio (BG beat Ohio at Stroh) and then lost at home to WMU and @Kent (BG won @Kent). There is a long, long way to go, but that's not how things were supposed to start, especially at home.
The key part of this game is obvious from the start. UT is scoring 1.09 points per possession, which is 2nd in the MAC and 37th in the country. BG is allowing .92 points per possession, which is 2nd in the MAC and 39th in the country. Honestly, there won't be many D1 games with a spread like that this year. As you can see below, the BG offense and UT defense are pretty evenly match...the game will be decided based on who wins the most possessions when UT has the ball.
When we compare the numbers, we see why UT is so potent on offense. They shoot really well. and take care of the ball. That shooting percentage is in the top 25% of the country as is the turnover percentage. UT is very efficient from beyond the arc--they are 9th in attempting 3FGs in the MAC and 2nd in making them. They are 3rd in the MAC in overall FG%. Beyond that, they are decent on the offensive boards and while they don't get a ton of FT attempts, they lead the MAC in making FTs at 73%. Bottom line, they're good at making the ball go into the basket...and BG has been good at stopping it.
The flip side is almost anti-climactic. What BG is used to scoring is about equal to what UT is used to allowing in each case. The Rockets are not a great defensive team, so if BG can get some guys going--especially from the outside--then it does take some pressure off the defense.
Individually, UT is led by Juice Brown, probably the best player at his position in the MAC. Brown is scoring 15.5 per game on 47%/45% shooting and 87% from the line and 4.4 assists over 2.1 turnovers. He's a legit MAC POY candidate and he's clearly first-team all-MAC and BG's first task is to guard him.
OSU-transfer JD Weatherspoon is also a beast. Scoring 13.4 PPG on 57% shooting, he also averages 7.6 rebounds. His match-up with Holmes deserves marquee-status.
Their third-leading scorer is Justin Drummond. He is scoring 12 PPG on 42% and 35% shooting, which is not great. He also average 4 RPG per game.
Note that all 3 players I mentioned are seniors. I think that plays into the urgency for the Rockets. This team loses a lot of talent after this season.
Their last double-figure scorer is Jonathan Williams, a sophomore who scores 10.7 PPG on 46% and 39% shooting. Junior Nathan Booth averages 5.7 RPG.
One last note. I was very impressed with how well BG used a couple days to prepare itself to beat the EMU zone. I will be very interested to see how BG does with a couple days for UT. This should be a great matchup in a great college basketball environment. Enjoy.