Delta State (9-1, 1-0 GSC West) at Harding (8-2, 0-0)
Delta State team stats:
The keys (percent +/-):
Average opponent rating: 37.1
Harding team stats:
The keys (percent +/-):
Average opponent rating: 37.6
Delta State regulars:
Let me try to put this simply: Delta State likes to run. They make easy shots and hard shots. They rebound well, and they don’t turn the ball over a lot. They also play solid defense, and have plenty of size. This puts them in the elite among D-II teams, even though they don’t have a national ranking. This will be a very tough game, but Harding does have one edge (albeit a stifled one, with everyone still on break), the home crowd. Even if there aren’t many people in Searcy, the Rhodes has a reputation as a difficult place to play, and not a lot of these guys have faced that type of challenge. DSU is an “experienced” team, but they haven’t played together long as a team, and many of their players come from JUCO backgrounds, where the crowd at the Rhodes might be a shock to them. It’s just too bad that most of the students won’t be there to see it.
The Statesmen are led by Jasper Johnson, who transferred from D-I Southern Miss, where he was one of the better players in Conference-USA. Jeremy Richardson is their best returning player, a great athlete who can shoot and defend well. Throw in about 6 or 7 more similarly talented players and you have the DSU roster. They also have an experienced coach in Steve Rives. If it’s not already clear, this is the best team the Bisons will play at home this year.
Harding has Ceso Sprewell back now after a semester of ineligibility, and his presence has been needed on the glass for some time. Sprewell is good at making inside shots and is a phenomenal rebounder for his size. He was one of the conference’s most efficient players last year, a trend I expect to continue in 2006. Along with Alassane Savadogo, it appears that we have some size to match up to Delta State, but I worry about quickness. Sprewell is more suited to guarding non-post players because of his height, and Savadogo probably isn’t quick enough to handle Jasper Johnson. He’ll even have to guard him on the outside, because Johnson has made 11 of 27 three-point attempts this season.
Reggie Bibb will face DSU point man Travis DeGroot, who is probably one of the more similar players to Bibb in the conference. DeGroot doesn’t shoot a lot, and he is a good distributor for his high-flying teammates. Turmaine Rice is the two guard for DSU, and while he shoots for a decent percentage from outside, he is not an accomplished sharp-shooter or scorer. However, this position is usually a size mismatch for Lonnie Smith, so there’s no telling what he can do. Smith will understandably give him problems on the defensive end, which should come as no surprise.
Richardson, Victor Brown, and Sandrell Spann take most of the minutes at these spots for the Statesmen, with Richardson being the most difficult matchup. While the others have size, Richardson is a great athlete and will create problems for Sprewell, Andrepont, or Sims, whichever ends up covering him. This area may be the Bisons’ strength, though, with solid outside shooters everywhere to bring the DSU big men out of their comfort zone a bit.
Simply put, Jasper Johnson is the best post player in the conference. He won’t have seen many players with Savadogo’s size, but if Alassane can keep up with him, he’ll be the first to have done so. Johnson has scored at least 20 points in eight of DSU’s ten games, with double figure scoring in the other two, and he has also recorded at least 10 rebounds in four games. Savadogo will likely need help on a double team whenever Johnson comes inside, although he may have a rebounding edge that the Bisons can exploit.
I’m not sure the Bisons can keep up in this game, but it will certainly be fun to watch, since both of these teams like to run the ball up and down the court. I expect the Statesmen to pull out a victory, though, making it a rough start in Harding’s conference opener.
Computer prediction: DSU 87-85
My prediction: DSU 88-81