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December 19, 2012

Chippewas host Bobcats in potential shootout

Expectations for Central Michigan were fairly low coming into the season. It was going to be a roster that was completely new and very inexperienced in Keno Davis' first season in Mount Pleasant. To this point, it is safe to say that the Chippewas have exceeded those expectations. They are 5-4 and have not been under .500 at any point this season. CMU does not have any bad losses and has competed in almost every game. The lowest ranked team that they have lost to is Utah, ranked No. 172 on KenPom.com, and that game was on Utah's home court. They played tough on the road against Iowa and Charlotte, two top-100 teams, and have beaten three teams they are ranked considerably higher than they are in Wright State, Niagara and Pepperdine.

At the start of their season, the Chippewas were ranked No. 324 on KenPom, but they have risen 50 spots to the 274th spot in the rankings. Now they have a very winnable game against Texas State, ranked No. 241 on KenPom, in McGuirk Arena. With a win, the Chippewas would push their record to 6-4 before heading to El Paso for the WestStar Bank Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational this weekend.

Texas State comes into McGuirk Arena on Thursday with a KenPom ranking of 243. They are No. 235 in adjusted offensive efficiency and No. 243 in adjusted defensive efficiency, but their identity is in how fast they play. They are third in the nation in tempo, averaging 75.6 possessions per game, behind only Seattle and North Carolina. CMU is 251st in tempo, 219th in adjusted offense and No. 300 in adjusted defense.

The Bobcats have a 4-7 record and their only win against a team ranked above 300 came in their opener when they beat Fordham at home, 86-76. They have two common opponents with CMU: Charlotte and Utah. They only lost to Utah by five points, but that game was at home, whereas CMU played the Utes in Salt Lake City. TSU lost to Charlotte by nine, but that game was in Anchorage, Alaska. CMU played the 49ers in Charlotte.

Junior small forward Joel Wright, a transfer from Duquesne, leads the nation in percentage of possessions used. He is used on 38.4 percent of offensive possessions when he is in the game, almost five percentage points higher than Lehigh's C.J. McCollum, who is second. The gap between Wright and McCollum is the same as the gap between McCollum at second and the three players who are tied for 81st. This is just a long winded way of saying that Wright gets the ball a ridiculous amount.

One thing is also pretty clear: the Bobcats run their offense through the post, which is a unique contrast to the idea of a running team. Including Wright, their top four players in touches are all forwards. Wright is actually second in ppg behind senior center Matt Staff. The reason for this is because Staff is second in touches and averages six more minutes every game. Staff is averaging 15.5 ppg and Wright is at 15.0 ppg. They are also the team's leading rebounders. Wright pulls down 6.4 rpg and Staff brings down 6.3 rpg. Staff is a better rebounder on the defensive end and Wright does more of his damage on the offensive glass. Staff is a very good shooter. He has been the team's best three-point shooter to this point and he is a perfect 33-of-33 from the free throw line this season. Wright does more of his damage inside and also does a great job drawing fouls.

The other starter on the Bobcats front line is power forward Corey Stern, who is fourth in touches and third in scoring at 8.9 ppg. He is a very effective scorer, especially around the basket and does a good job of getting to the free throw line, although he has only shot 52.3 percent from the charity stripe this season. Junior forward Reid Koenen has rotated in and out of the starting lineup this year, with seven starts in TSU's 11 games. He is third in percentage of touches and averages 8.0 ppg. Staff and Koenen are both solid shot blockers in the middle of the Bobcat defense

The two starting guards are senior point guard Vonn Jones and sophomore shooting guard Wesley Davis. Jones is third in the WAC in assist rate, but he has struggled with turnovers this season. He is a good outside shooter, but is more of a distributor in this offense. Jones and Wright are probably the best two on-ball defenders for this team. Davis is basically a spot-up outside shooter. Along with Staff and Jones, he has also been an effective shooter this season. Junior Phil Hawkins is the first guard off the bench. Texas State will most likely stick to a seven man rotation in this game. Wing Darius Richardson has not played in four games. He was the only other player that averaged over 10 minutes per game and since he has been out, those minutes have gone back to the top seven players.

The biggest advantages that Texas State will have in this matchup are size and experience. The Bobcats are No. 119 in effective height (height based on positions) and are 104th in experience. CMU is 207th in effective height and No. 311 in experience. Neither team shoots the ball particularly well, but the Chippewas have struggled to stop teams from shooting. They are No. 307 in defensive effective field goal percentage. Texas State has been good at forcing turnovers and average at taking care of the basketball, whereas CMU has been below average at both. Both teams are above average at getting to the free throw line, but CMU has been considerably better at keeping teams off the charity stripe. They are over 200 spots higher than the Bobcats in defensive free throw rate.

Despite the size advantage, CMU might also have an advantage on the boards. The two teams are equal in defensive rebounding percentage, but the Chippewas are 120 spots higher in offensive rebounding percentage. With Zach Saylor out for a fourth consecutive game, this will be something to watch. Expect senior Olivier Mbaigoto to start again for CMU and freshman Blake Hibbitts to be the first big man off the bench. Austin Stewart is also out for tonight's game, so the rotation will be a little shorter than usual.

These two teams are fairly equal in talent, but the Chippewas might have a slight advantage because they are playing in the friendly confines of McGuirk Arena. This will be a nice test for CMU before they head to El Paso this weekend. Pomeroy gives the Chippewas a 57 percent chance at beating the Bobcats and predicts a 75-73 win for Central Michigan.

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