Saturday, January 26, 2013

Falcons, Rockets, Rivalry

So, the BG-UT rivalry renews itself again tonight at Savage Arena.  In the long story arc, BG has been enjoying very unusual success against the Rockets, with 4 straight wins over their arch-rival and nemesis.  The streak has coincided with the darkest days of the UT program--Gene Cross, APR sanctions, etc.

You might say that BG has feasted on the Rockets during those four games, but it is really more like the Falcons have lightly grazed.  Even when UT ran out teams that were among the worst in D1, each of the games has been close.

In the shorter story arc, UT had gone a long way to resurrecting itself with a pretty decent team last year.  However, they were slapped with APR penalties which cost them scholarships, games and post-season play for this year.  The 2012-13 season has been more of a struggle for the Rockets than I think they expected.  In fact, the media picked them as the favorite to win the MAC West.

They have had three players transfer or announce their intention to transfer since last summer:  Curtis Dennis, last year's 2nd leading scorer--Delino Dear and AJ Matthew.

The Rockets have now lost 3 games in a row.  Their coach, Tod Kowalczyk, who inherits the "Scariest Face in the MAC" award from John Groce--is not taking it well.  According to the Blade, he "vented at length on various topics bugging him" after their recent loss to Akron--which included criticizing his best player for not being a "good teammate."

I'll say a rivalry game on a 3-game losing streak playing at home....the Rockets are going to come out hard on Saturday.  I think the Falcons are going to see a very good performance from them.

On the year, the Rockets are 6-10 and 2-3.  Their signature wins are a 19 point win over a pretty good UIC team at Savage and a 12 point win @Kent.   On the other hand, their New Year's Eve loss to Chicago State can't be too well remembered.

In common opponent land, they beat Samford (as BG did), lost to Detroit (BG won) and lost to Cleveland State (BG lost to them as well).

Their 3-straight losses have come against the better teams in the MAC.  They lost @WMU, @OU and then at home to Akron.  I'd be hard pressed to think BG would have done any different with those 3 games.

Their RPI is 201 and their is 179 and they are only 3-2 at home.

Offensively, the Rockets are scoring 1 point per possession, which is 6th in the MAC and almost exactly the NCAA median.  They are 7th in effective field goal percentage, so they are not a great shooting team.  They combine that with being last in the MAC in turnovers and 10th in offensive rebounding % and 8th in free throw rate, and it is actually pretty amazing that they are even getting one point per possession.

They are the best free throw shooting team in the MAC, but only have a +14 advantage on free throws due to the fact that they also commit more fouls than any team in the conference.

On defense there have been real struggles.  They are 11th in the MAC, allowing 1.05 points per possession.  They are 9th in effective FG defense, 11th in offensive rebounds allowed, 8th in defensive turnover percentage and 5th in free throw rate allowed.  In general, they are not good defensive team, and give their performance on the four factors, worse than they actually should be.

Individually, they are led by Rian Pearson, who is averaging 18 points per game on 45% shooting, a level of efficiency that is pretty good for a big scorer.  They are pretty reliant on him...he takes 31% of their shots, which is 4th highest in the MAC.  He leads the MAC in scoring.  He also leads the team in rebounding.

Their other double figure scorer is PG Julius Brown, who scores 13 points a game and adds 5 assists against 3 turnovers per game.  He is 3rd and 4th in those categories, respectively.  He is not a great shooter--38% in all FGs and 19% from 3.

They do have a little scoring depth--they have 4 players who average between 8 and 9 points a game. Two of those players--Nathan Boothe and Reese Holliday--are also claiming 5 rebounds per game.  Sidenote:  Boothe, a 6'9" FR averages 3.9 fouls per game.

The basic game dynamics are this.  UT has to come into the game hungry, both in terms of their streak against BG and their 3-game losing streak.  BG is coming off its best performance in a month with the Kent win, but has yet to win on the road this season.  This game presents an opportunity for the Falcons to bring their best game into the big game and break that streak.  UT's last 3 losses were in tough games, and while they might be better than their record, this is not a great UT team.

Add in that they are struggling to defend, and you have an opportunity for the Falcons to maybe find some holes defensively and score enough points to win.  But, until we see the Falcons do it on the road, you gotta figure we're the underdog.

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