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Game #19: Niners at Explorers

Posted on 22 January 2010 by NLP

The Forty Niners take to the road again Saturday to play the La Salle Explorers at Tom Gola Arena.  The Niners (13-5, 3-1) logged perhaps their most complete win of the season in their most recent game, besting Richmond on the road 71-59 to break a 4-game winning streak for the Spiders against Charlotte.  For La Salle (10-8, 2-2), the Explorers enter the game coming off a 19-point win against fellow Big 5 school Penn.  For the Niners, Saturday’s game represents an opportunity to get a quality, road victory against a conference foe -something that has been at a premium over the 5 seasons the Niners have competed in the A10.

The Explorers would like to call themselves a veteran squad, but unfortunately injuries have continued to take a toll on the team.  Sr. SG Ruben Guillandeaux remains out with a stress fracture in his right foot suffered in Charleston.  This is a big loss as he brought size (6’6″), scoring (10+ ppg.), shooting (>30% career 3 pt shooter), and play making (3+ apg.) to the Explorers backcourt.  Another La Salle Sr. struggling with an injury is Kimmani Barrett.  Barrett has missed the last three games with a sprain to his right foot (do La Salle players only have right foot injuries) and is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game.  When available, Barrett does a lot of good things for the Explorers from the SF position, scoring 13.3 ppg. with solid shooting from both the field (46.4%) and from behind the arc (37.9%).

La Salle does have two excellent Srs. that are still healthy in Yves Mekongo and Rodney Green.  Mekongo in particular has scored well of late averaging 14.5 ppg. over the last 4 games; however, his shooting has suffered as he’s under 40% for the first time in his career.  As for Rodney Green, well he’s nothing short of a beast.  The current active leading scorer in the A10 has not disappointed his Sr. campaign averaging just under 18 ppg. along with 5 rpg. and just over 4 apg.

The principle newcomer to the Explorer squad is highly regarded Fr. C Aaric Murray.  Murray has certainly not disappointed in his debut, putting up over 12 points a game, leading the team with 7.2 rpg., and blocking over 2 shots a game.  Murray is also very well rounded offensively, having the ability to step out and shoot the three effectively, leading the team at 46.5% from behind the arc (of players in the regular rotation).  He will definitely be a handle to defend as the Niners have not faced many players this season with his combination of polish and brawn.

The Explorers aren’t particularly deep (due to injuries for one) and play 3 guys more than 35 minutes a game.  While they do have a significant size advantage at most positions (Rodney Green is the “shortest” starter at 6’5″), the lack of depth is a problem and could lead to fatigue.  Though La Salle does do a good job of limiting fouls compared to the opposition they turn the ball over considerably more than foes.  DiJuan Harris and Derrio Green with their speed advantage may be able to harass taller players handling the ball in the open court and the perimeter, though for the latter I expect us to be playing a lot of zone to limit the size advantage.

La Salle will also pose a strong challenge on the boards, especially the offensive glass if the Niners opt for mostly zone defense.  The Explorers are outrebounding the opposition by 6.5 rpg. (the Niners only outrebound opponents by 2.8 per game).

Saturday’s game will be difficult for the Forty Niners, but it is winnable.  The Niners will have to do several things well to win this game, and avoid a few others.

Keys for Charlotte:

  • Rebound the ball well.  I expect another slugfest like the previous two conference games the Niners have played.  Winning the rebound battle probably means winning the game.
  • Limit turnovers.  La Salle doesn’t force a lot of turnovers and as long as we’re patient in the half court like we were against Richmond that shouldn’t be a problem.
  • Work for open shots in the halfcourt and push the ball when transition opportunities present themselves.  We have a speed advantage and they have a turnover issue.

Keys for La Salle:

  • Force the issue inside to get the Niners in foul trouble.
  • Crash the boards and dominate the rebounding game.
  • Limit turnovers by controlling tempo.

I don’t want to take this game for granted, because I don’t.  La Salle is well coached, has considerable talent, and a significant size advantage.   But the Niners seem to be playing a style of basketball that reminds me more of the 98-99 team I cherish and less of the chuck-and-duck style we abhor.  It’ll also be interesting to see how much, if any, playing time Javarris Barnett and Gokhan Sirin get after playing well against Richmond.  The former especially.

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Niners hop back on Swaggermobile, drop Spiders 71-59

Posted on 20 January 2010 by NLP

Seriously?  We did that?  To Richmond?  Shut up.

What a game.  To beat Richmond in the Robins Center playing their style of basketball was truly a sight to behold for Niner fans.  On a night when Richmond could have set a new mark for home court dominance, the Niners dropped the Spiders 71-59 and re-invigorated talk of an at-large berth.

The game started out like most thought it would -Richmond capitalizing on Charlotte errors and misses to build a 27-20 lead.  From that point the Niners went on a 12-0 run over the final 4:49 to build a 32-27 halftime lead.  Keying the surge was seldom-used Javarris Barnett who snagged 3 rebounds, blocked a shot, and hit a three-pointer to provide a much needed spark off the bench.

In the second half, it was more of the same despite an early run at the outset to put the Niners in a brief deficit.  The most remarkable aspect of the game was the oft-mentioned patience the Niners exhibited in the half court offense, contrasting with Richmond seemingly dead set on shooting 3 pointers.  To the Niners credit, the latter was in good part due to some of the best defense the Niners have played all season.

One major area of concern, ball-handling, turned out to be the bane of the Spiders instead of the Niners as Richmond committed one more turnover and generated three less steals by game’s end.  On the boards, the Niners dominated grabbing 10 more loose balls.

To be honest, I thought I was in the twilight zone watching the game.  Practically every point I mentioned seemed to work as I hoped when writing the pregame.  Derrio did more than bring the ball up -he picked up 5 assists and 0 turnovers.  The bench provided a spark -Sirin hit a 3 and Javarris dropped a double-double!  Even Shamari picked up a pair assists although he still forced it a few times in traffic.  Regardless, Spears played a solid if not spectacular game, scoring 20 points as the Niners remained committed to feeding him in the post. Braswell also did his usual excellent job in the paint rebounding the ball and kept his cool when matched up with an obviously chippy Dan Geriot.

For Richmond it was a very tough loss.  The crowd was absolutely pathetic and UR fans should be ashamed.  The lone bright spot on the evening was the stellar play of Justin Harper who benefited from the attention paid to Kevin Anderson and David Gonzalvez, scoring 24 points on 8-11 shooting.

Going forward the Niners can ill-afford to look ahead to Temple.  La Salle remains a talented team with plenty of size and strong coaching.  As previous seasons can attest, winning on the road is very difficult.  Two straight on the road would be a feat for this team and a sign the team is coming together in the heart of the season.

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Niners prepare for annual root canal, face Richmond Spiders

Posted on 19 January 2010 by NLP

It’s never fun to play the Richmond Spiders under the cruel tutelage of Chris Mooney.  They’re exactly what banes the Niners most:  a team focused on precision, execution, backdoor cuts, and screens galore.  Since taking the helm in 2005, Richmond has won 5 of 8 against the Niners, including the last 4.  That’s going to have to change if the Niners have any hopes of making an A10 run to get into the picture for an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament.

Offensively Richmond does a lot of things fairly well but nothing particularly great.  They do have an outstanding backcourt duo though in Kevin Anderson and David Gonzalvez.  Gonzalvez, a Sr., typically plays the shooting guard position for Richmond and is putting up 13.4 ppg.  His shooting from long range has dropped off a bit from seasons past (36% in 09-10 versus better than 40% the previous two years) but remains a dangerous threat on the perimeter.  Perhaps suffering a bit from senioritis, his FT shooting has also dropped off considerably, converting on under 60% of his attempts at the charity stripe.

Anderson is perhaps the most complete point guard in the A10 and one of the best you’ll find on any roster.  Anderson is averaging 18.4 ppg., tops on the Richmond squad, and is solid if not spectacular from behind the arc.  He’s also steady at the line hitting over 80% of his FTAs and leads the team in assists.  Oh that’s right, I said complete.  That means I need to mention his defense and team leading 2.2 steals/game.  Given our tendency to turn the ball over against tight man-to-man, particularly in the halfcourt offense, Anderson could have a field day if the Niners are not careful with the ball.

He totally deserves a big photo smack in the middle of the article.

The Richmond starting frontcourt gets the bulk of the remaining 68.2 ppg. that Richmond averages after Gonzalvez and Anderson.  Out on the wing the Spiders start 6’7″ Sr. Ryan Butler.  Though not a prolific scorer or rebounder, Butler does a little bit of it all for Richmond averaging 7.7 ppg. and 3.3 rpg.  He also shoots better than 80% from the foul line and hits over 30 percent of his 3 point attempts.  In the post, the Spiders start Justin Harper, a 6’10″ Jr. who leads the team in rebounding with 5.8/game and is third on the team in scoring at 9.7 ppg.  He’s joined in the post by former all A10 player Dan Geriot who sat out last season recovering from a knee injury.  Judging by the drop in his stats it’s arguable he’s not all the way back yet, with a sizeable drop in scoring, shooting percentage, and rebounds/game.  Though the scoring could be attributable to the development of other players like Anderson and Gonzalvez, it’d stand to reason his shooting percentage and rebounding would stay the same, if not increase.  Regardless, he’s still a highly skilled player that will keep the Niners busy in the paint.

At the start of the article I mentioned that Richmond does a few things well on offense but nothing great. What they do great however is play defense.  Richmond opponents are averaging just 61.4 ppg. and 38.5% shooting from the field, the latter being good for 21st best in the nation.  Richmond also generates a lot of steals (see Anderson) and blocks a lot of shots.  Leading shot blocker Darrius Garrett gets 2.2 bpg. in just 14 minutes/game off the bench.

Facing a tough defense on the road from a team that seems to have the Niners’ number of late, a number of things are going to have to happen for the men in green to pull out a win.  Making this more difficult are mounting roster losses, this time the very unfortunate career-ending knee injury SF Rashad Coleman suffered scoring a key layup in the win over Saint Louis (you’ll be missed Rashad).  Ther Niners are going to have to reverse the trend of poor ball-handling and passing to have any chance of victory.  Richmond is too good as it is picking up steals and the Niners are seemingly too willing to give the ball up.  Not a particularly good recipe.  Hopefully DiJuan Harris can continue his strong play of late and take good care of the basketball as Richmond is sure to know the scouting report on us and exploit some glaring weaknesses.  Derrio Green will also have to do a much better job with ball handling, being more of a PG when he moves over to spell DiJuan and not just a shooting guard who brings the ball up.  I do however love what he’s doing in transition and off the dribble of late.  Borderline unstoppable off the dribble.

In the post, Shamari Spears must must must must must must must start recognizing double and triple teams and pass out to open guys on the perimeter.  I say this every pregame.  I will continue saying it every pregame until he does.  Too many points are left on the court trying to force the ball up over two or three defenders, resulting in unlikely to convert attempts and stripped balls.  As for Chris Braswell and An’Juan Wilderness, they just need to be themselves.  Both continue to be steady interior options for the Niners.

Where the Niners really need help on offense is from the bench.  With Bowden transferring and Coleman out, the options continue to dwindle.  KJ Sherrill and Sirin Gokhan are showing more comfort in their limited minutes but aren’t ready to contribute on a regular basis.  Charles Dewhurst seems like he has the tools but also seems unwilling to showcase them.  Ian.  Well if he’s hot that’s great but it simply hasn’t happened this year and he’s been mostly a sieve on defense.  That leaves Javarris Barnett, who while being intriguing in what he does when he’s on the court, simply does not get enough minutes to really be an option as well.  Until something changes, bench scoring is going to be a major concern for the Niners now and going forward.

This will be a difficult game for Charlotte and one that we’re certainly going to be underdogs.  While the task is large, it’s certainly not insurmountable.  The Niners must take care of the ball, work for open shots, and keep Kevin Anderson under control.  If the Niners are going to have any hopes to make the NCAA tournament, these are games that they are going to have to start winning.  Tomorrow night sounds like a good time to start.

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DiJuan is my hero – Saint Louis Postgame

Posted on 17 January 2010 by J Felt

DiJuan celebrates after making the game winner. courtesy HP

Anybody remember the last time Saint Louis and Charlotte went down to the wire in Halton Arena? Saint Louis hit a game-winning alley-oop with only a few tics left on the clock to send the Niners home demoralized and ashamed.

But tonight, the tables were turned by Niner warrior DiJuan Harris and his game winner with 3 seconds left in overtime. Forget the missed free throws and the inability to keep a lead, that shot made the entire night worth it. Usually on the losing end of game winners, it was a breath of fresh air to see that ball hit the net and go through. Everyone in Halton Arena (all 35 of us, it seemed) erupted and celebrated going 2-1 in conference play. Here’s the crazy part. DiJuan Harris only made 2 FGs tonight, and they were both buzzer beaters, one at the end of the first half to take a 1-pt lead, and the other to win the game.

That said, I really hate Saint Louis. Not because of any conference affiliation or rivalry reasons, I just hate games we play against them. The ground-it-out and slow basketball is extremely tiring to watch and it is easy to find yourself bored. That’s probably part of the game plan, when you think about it. Bore the other team to lose. Make them not care anymore.

We got off to such a great start, mostly thanks to the great play of Derrio Green, but quickly found a way to squander the lead and make it a game. Got to give people their money’s worth, right? How Saint Louis, with their painfully slow offense, managed to erase a ten point margin in a few minutes is beyond this author. We have got to step on our opponents’ proverbial throats and never let up.

But who are we kidding, we know why the offense sputtered to a stall and Saint Louis came back so quickly. As much as we hate to call him out, Ian Andersen is killing our flow on offense AND defense. Got to love his heart and hustle, but the 5 minutes he was in the game in the first half felt like 50. Those minutes need to go to developing Sirin and Barnett at this point. Ian just doesn’t mesh with this group of guys. It’s time to move Ian to “spark off the bench when down or up by 15″. NLP said it best when he sent this text: When Bobby said Ian calms the team I think he actually meant sedates. Ian “Tranquilizer” Andersen, everybody.

Braswell and Spears impressed once again. Spears had eight turnovers, but his presence on the court demands respect and opens everything up for the rest of the squad. It was nice to see him grab rebounds tonight and get a double double (16 pts, 13 rbds). Braswell played like a seasoned member of the squad tonight, playing with 4 fouls through overtime but still playing aggressively and taking it to the Australian Cody Ellis. He’s already very good, and he’s going to be extremely good in the next few years.

Time for bullets, because the game is being rebroadcast and I want to pay attention.

The Good

  • Derrio Green is awesome, going to be fun watching him through the next few seasons
  • An’Juan Wilderness is becoming part of offense now and has started to assert himself
  • We missed all seven of our threes, and still won
  • K.J. Sherrill got 9 minutes and is developing nicely
  • The Green, Black, and Gold Man suits in the student section

Put on your Green Tinted Glasses

  • Ian Andersen is killing the flow of our offense
  • Shamari needs to work on passing out of those double teams and not forcing it
  • Phil Jones has seemingly regressed, but still has moments
  • We let Saint Louis dictate the tempo after the first five minutes
  • We didn’t make a three for the first time since 1989, wow!
  • Gave away too many dunks

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Game #17: Saint Louis at Charlotte

Posted on 16 January 2010 by NLP

Raise your hand if you're the stupidest mascot in the nation.

Sunday afternoon the St. Louis (just kidding run49er), I mean Saint Louis Billikens take to the Halton Arena floor to square off against our beloved Charlotte 49ers (11-5).  The Billikens enter the game sporting the same 11-5 record on the Niners but enter the contest with a 2-0 conference record.  Saint Louis has defeated Richmond at home and most recently posted an impressive double-overtime win at Duquesne.

A welcome addition to svelte Head Coach Rick Majerus’ squad is freshman import Cody Ellis.  Ellis, a 6’8″ power forward finally received clearance to play by the NCAA (we know how that goes) and has posted a 12 point average in two games coming off the bench.  Despite being unproven in live game action, Ellis has logged an average of 27 minutes in this two games, and has pulled down 8 rpg.  His addition brings a very welcome addition for Saint Louis and changes the complexion of the team as well as how teams will have to prepare for them.

As young as the Xavier squad was that the Niners fell to on Wednesday, Saint Louis is even younger.   With Paul Eckerle out with a pre-season knee injury, the Billikens are comprised of entirely Freshmen and Sophomores.  According to Ken Pomeroy, that makes the Billikens 2nd least experienced team in the nation.  Leading the Billikens in scoring is So. PG Kwamain Mitchell, who puts up 16.2 ppg. on 46.6% shooting from the field and 36.1% from behind the arc. Giving the Billikens good inside balance to go with Mitchell is post man Willie Reed.  Reed is also a So., and averages 12.8 ppg. and 8.6 rpg. giving Saint Louis along with Ellis a pair of very good, young post players.

Rounding out the main starting unit for Saint Louis are wing players Brian Conklin (7.8 ppg.) and Christian Salecich (7.6 ppg.).  Coming off the bench to give the Billikens a boost from the perimeter is diminutive Fr. G Justin Jordan.  Jordan hits on 40% of his 3-point attempts and contributes 6.6 ppg. in just over 20 minutes a game.

As a team, Saint Louis provides a stark contrast to the Niners’ style of play, preferring a slower tempo and grinding out victories.  Saint Louis “only” averages 64.3 ppg. and limits the opposition to 58.5 ppg.  More impressive is their ability to force defenses into poor shooting, limiting them to just 38.0% from the field and 26.3% from the 3-point line.  The Billikens do have some weaknesses though that the Niners can hope to exploit.  Though a respectable team at blocking shots, Saint Louis does not excel at rebounding, allowing the opposition to out-rebound them by about 1.3 rpg.  Chris Braswell and KJ Sherrill could have big games on the glass, as the Niners will likely need plenty of second-chance scoring to overcome the Billikens’ excellent floor defense.

Additionally, Saint Louis is a bit suspect from the line, particularly at the F positions, where they convert just 63% of their attempts from the charity stripe.  If players like Phil Jones and Shamari Spears get beat on defense, strong fouls might be a better alternative to giving up the easy basket.  Of course, that’s not a good strategy if it leads to following out or extended stretches on the bench, of course.

For the Niners, some consistency in scoring is absolutely needed.  Though DiJuan Harris appears to be breaking out of his funk, Derrio Green needs to utilize better shot selection lest he fall in a slump of his own.  The Niners can ill-afford another 0-9 performance behind the arc from Green, particularly with the defection of Shamarr Bowden. As for Shamari Spears, I’m going to be a broken record.  When he gets the ball early in the possession he’s deadly.  If he’s not double or triple teamed, that is.  If he does receive pressure after the catch, he absolutely must do a better job of getting the ball back out, whether it’s to a backdoor player, a slasher like An’Juan Wilderness, or back out to the guards.  Too often has he forced the ball up in a crowd either missing the shot or getting stripped.  That’s not to say he’s a poor player; Shamari has been terrific.  But he can’t be his best until he can also use the attention he draws in the post to make his teammates get better scoring opportunities.

Two other players to keep an eye on are Fr. F Gokhan Sirin and So. F Javarris Barnett.  Both received more action in the Xavier game and this trend may continue as the Niners look to replace the perimeter offense of Bowden.  Sirin in

Rick is bringing sexy back.

particular, despite missing all his attempts against the Musketeers, continues to look more comfortable in the offensive flow.  One can only hope more opportunities leads to more improvement.  As for Barnett, it’s hard not to notice that he tends to do good things in the few minutes he receives.  Against Xavier he drilled a 3 in the corner that was waived off due to an offensive foul, and hit a little flip shot in the paint while collecting 2 rebounds in just 6 minutes.  Though he’s neither a true guard or true forward, his blend of skill and size can potentially lead to matchup problems in the time when he’s on the court.

Another player to keep a watch on is Wilderness, who is shooting a sizzling 63.9% from the field since his return from an early season calf injury.  Though Wilderness continues to struggle at the line, he is a terror around the rim and is probably the Niners best finisher close to the basket.

This game is going to be tougher than some anticipate.  A very young Saint Louis squad continues to improve and the addition of Cody Ellis will only help.  If the contest was at Chaifetz, I’d put this down as a loss, but I think the Niners go to 2-1 in A10 play by grinding out a victory tomorrow afternoon.  The rebounding of Braswell and the rest of the squad will be the determining factor, as the Niners will prevail in a game that will probably be ugly in terms of scoring and field goal percentage.

Oh, and kennethhouck gave a little tid bit in the comments to the X game that I’m going to pass along to anyone who hasn’t seen it.

Tough loss to X.

For St. Louis, do you know what a Billiken is? It’s a Blue Demon. Do you know why SLU has a Blue Demon? Did you see the Exorcist? The movie is based on a real story. The real exorcsim was in a building on the SLU campus. No one goes in the room where the exorcism takes place. It’s sealed up. A window cleaner was on the fire escape cleaning windows, & went down to the floor to clean the outside of the window of the sealed room. He was scared s**tless when he saw a blue demon in the room.
The Niners will have to perform a real life exorcism to beat Rick “tub of lard” Majerus. SLU always has tough defense. We had a game there one time where both were in the 30′s with 3 minutes to go.
Pick: Niners 13, Scary A** Window 12.

We’ll move this to the predictions tomorrow when J Felt gets off his butt and writes it.  Or gets on his butt.  I really don’t want to know in what state of being he writes his articles now that I think about it.  I’m going to go bleach my eyes now.

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Niners take to the road to face Musketeers

Posted on 13 January 2010 by NLP

After a hard-fought win over St. Bonaventure, and in hindsight, a not-so-surprising player defection, the 11-4 Charlotte 49ers head to Cincinnati to face the Xavier (pronounced Eggs-savier) Musketeers.  Xavier enters the game 10-5 (2-0) with a pair of road wins in A-10 play to open their conference slate.  Most recently the Musketeers bested much-improved George Washington in a game that saw Xavier down 11 points in the 2nd half before surging ahead and winning by 7.

Winning at the Cintas Center will be a very tall order for the Niners -no team has won in Cincinnati in the last three years and Xavier was won 24 straight conference home games.  Xavier is a very deep, albeit still young team.   The Musketeers can do it from inside and out.  As a team they hit 45% from the field and an impressive 39% from behind the arc.  Choose your poison with Xavier.   They rebound the ball about as well as the Niners;  a little better on the defensive glass, a little worse on the offensive glass.  Xavier turnsover the ball about 13 times a game (similar to the Niners) and generate about the same amount of steals and blocks.

The lone Sr. on the squad is Jason Love, brother of former UCLA standout Kevin Love.  Love is a load in the paint at 6’9″ and 265 lbs.  He’ll be quite the matchup to contain for Chris Braswell, Shamari Spears, and Phil Jones as he averages nearly a double-double a game: 10.7 ppg. and 9.5 rpg.  Joining Love upfront is fellow upperclassman Jamel McLean.  McLean had been essentially the same player who averaged 4 and 4 last year for Xavier, but that certainly changed against Wake Forest with an eye-opening 21 point, 10 rebound performance.

For the game tonight it appears Xavier coach Chris Mack again will go with Kenny Frease at the C position, going big as opposed to the three-guard starting lineup Xavier has used often this season.  Frease, a 7 foot So., has averaged 6.0 ppg. and 4.3 rpg. in just under 19 minutes of action/game.  Despite his considerable size, Frease is a pretty even matchup with the Niners as he’s not particularly fleet of foot.  Phil Jones and Chris Braswell could be productive against him when he is in the game.

In the backcourt is where Xavier really excels with a pair of terrific So. guards in Jordan Crawford and Terrell Holloway.  Holloway is tied with Love for 2nd on the team in scoring at 10.7 ppg. and also leads the team in assists with 3.8 ppg.  He’s also a tremendous asset at the end of games as he sports a better than 90% FT percentage.  Though Holloway gets his buckets fairly evenly both inside and outside the arc, he’s a surprisingly poor shooter overall from the field at just over 35%.  This presents a bit of a conundrum for the Niners:  do they play man and encourage someone like Holloway to drive or play zone and try to take away the Xavier inside game?  That problem gets magnified all the greater when considering Crawford, clearly the most talented player on Xavier, and across the A-10 conference.  Crawford is a transfer from Indiana who is famous for posterizing Lebron James over the summer.

Crawford is definitely as good as advertised, leading Xavier with 19.3 ppg. and also putting in 5.0 rpg.  He’s dangerous both inside and out hitting 43% from the field and just under 30% from behind the arc.  Of late, Crawford has been taking the ball to the hoop more, scoring practically at will with his athleticism and finishing.  He does have a selfish streak though, and that can work against them when he’s determined to score and forces bad shots in traffic or out of the “flow” of the offense.  That’s been less the case recently, and that’s a credit to Chris Mack who’s doing a nice job in his rookie campaign as Xavier’s coach.  So back to the problem:  how do the Niners defend Xavier?  Our hunch is there will be a lot of zone, and perhaps some exotic flavors such as box-and-1 to keep track of Crawford.

This is going to be a battle on par with Duke, Tennessee, and ODU for the Niners.  Xavier is about impossible to beat in recent years during A10 play at home and there’s no reason to believe this year will be any different.  Though not impossible, a win tonight will be a very tough task for the 49ers.  Balanced scoring inside and out is a must and the Niners can not fall into big first half deficits like they have against Duke, ODU, GT, and Tennessee.  Xavier is too tough defensively to let Charlotte get back into the game should that happen.

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Halfway Point – Where do we stand?

Posted on 12 January 2010 by J Felt

Please hold the Bon Jovi references to the comments section.

With Saturday’s win over Saint Bonaventure we’ve not only matched our win total from last season, but we also crossed the mid point for our regular season. At 11 wins last year, we were in February. At 11 wins this year, we’re just starting conference play. That’s an improvement I’d take any day of the week.

However, compared to last year, any winning record at 15 games would be an improvement. But that doesn’t mean we’re all content in Niner Nation. Even the most optimistic of the fanbase (contributors to GreenTintedGlasses.net, perhaps) are feeling almost disheartened at this season so far.

We’ve been absolutely demolished twice (@ ODU and @ Duke), solidly defeated once (@ Tenn), and missed a great opportunity to make a statement against Georgia Tech in Halton. Of course, if you look at those losses as just Ls on paper, they aren’t bad. Duke is pretty darn spectular, and Georgia Tech just beat them. Tennessee took down undefeated #1 Kansas and ODU is a solid team all around and hard to beat at home. So our losses (again, not looking at score margin) aren’t that bad.

What about our wins? Our fantastic eleven wins. Well, they look alright on paper, but taking a closer look they aren’t that impressive. We have one key win at Louisville, one fairly solid win at Hofstra, and then 9 wins over teams we might’ve beaten last year.

The truth is, we might be really good and don’t know it yet. Or we could be really bad and have just padded our record versus terrible teams. Or we’re just mediocre. It’s hard to tell at this point, but we’ll see how things go in conference play. Here’s a look back at the past half-season…

Best Game – @ #18 Louisville, Charlotte wins 87-65

Is there another game this season that even comes close to the smack down we put on the Cardinals in Freedom Hall? While the Cardinals may have been out 3 players, there’s a good chance we would’ve won that game anyway when you consider the way we played. Chris Braswell put up a 21/14 double-double, Derrio and Bowden poured in 37 points, and DiJuan Harris looked unstoppable breaking the press. Blame this game for everyone’s expectations being raised.

Worst Game –

No question, it’s the Duke game.  From opening tip-off to the end of the game, the Niners were in the fetal position.  It was a comedy (dark comedy) of errors, turnovers, wild three-pointers, and turnovers and errors, and wild three-pointers.  Duke of course responded with transition basket after transition basket and the Blue Devils steam-rolled the Niners by 42 points.  I think I still have a bruise from that game.

Most Memorable Play – Derrio Green’s 3 at the half against Louisville

I wanted to mention his barrage to open the game, but I refuse to be mathematically challenged and instead opted for Green’s dagger at the half against the Cardinals.  You could feel the crowd seething as Derrio swaggered off the court with his hand holding up three fingers.  In all, it was Derrio’s 4th three-pointer of the first half and was really his first coming out party for the Niners.

Honorable mention goes do DiJuan’s shot to give the Niners a 1 point lead against GT, capping a furious comeback from a deficit that was as large as 15 points in the second half.  The basket nearly blew the roof off the arena, but the celebration wasn’t to last.

Most Forgettable Play – Ian Andersen steps on the line at Tennessee

If one moment summed up why Ian has moved into the “disdain” category for 49ers fans, it might be this one. In the midst of a semi-comeback against the Vols, Ian Andersen inbounds the ball to Phil Jones and goes for the handoff in the corner. Usually this play is followed by a three pointer, instead Ian Andersen hadn’t stepped across the inbounds line, and was essentially still out of bounds. Boneheaded plays like this will lose close games later in the season.

Biggest Surprise –

The Turkish Terror, Gokhan Sirin.  After looking absolutely lost against JCSU, he’s performed well in spots.  Particularly encouraging was the 12 points in just 7 minutes of action against Winston Salem State.  Though WSSU isn’t exactly top notch competition, it’s always good to see freshman play well when given the chance, and Sirin showed he’s much more than a spot-up shooter.  Sirin hit a nice mid-range pull-up jumper in transition and also attacked the basket on occasions.

Team MVP –

DiJuan Harris.  Statistically it’s probably Shamari Spears but DiJuan is the one who makes it click.  We go as he goes.  When he’s in we play much, much better than when he’s out, and it’s clear the players respond to his leadership.  DiJuan is by no means the flashiest player we’ve ever had on the court, nor the most statistically productive, but he has tremendous heart and that’s a intangible that’s hard to put a measure on.

Best Newcomer –

Shamari Spears, but Derrio and Braswell are also invited to the conversation.  Spears wins because he gives scoring in the paint, which the Niners have lacked for years now, and he commands a near constant double and sometimes triple team.  Though he doesn’t pass out of the pressure in the paint like he should, it does free up opportunities for other players.

Best Returner –

DiJuan Harris.  See above.

Biggest Disappointment –

This is easy.  Definitely Shamarr Bowden.  Heralded as a savior of sorts, Bowden is one of the first things people point to when suggesting last year’s 11-20 record would have been much improved were it not for personnel losses of the likes of Bowden.  Pointing to his performance in Canadia last summer where he led the team in scoring, you can see the reasons for optimism.  Unfortunately it didn’t pan out once the games started counting.  Aside from his outburst against UNCA in the first game of the season, Bowden has been anything but consistent… or patient.  This combination culminated last with Bowden’s decision to leave the program.  We respect Bowden here at GTG.net and wish him well, but wonder what might have been if he learned to play within himself and the team.

Coach’s Grade –

Some here would want to put a big fat F and cite our losses to Duke, ODU, GT, and Tennessee. It’s hard to fault a team for losing all of those games, but sometimes our fans can expect too much right away. Duke, GT, and Tenn were all ranked opponents, and OSU is no slouch at home. And while the ultimate blame falls on the coach, he isn’t the one that curled into the fetal position against Duke and ODU, our players have to step up. We should have beaten Georgia Tech, and our shot selection was part of that, something Bobby is known to have little control over, but it’s hard to hold the loss against Tennessee against anyone. That “depleted” squad just knocked off the #1 team in the nation. All in all, Bobby’s doing a lot of the things this year we have wanted him to; reign in his shooters and go inside to our bigs Spears, Jones, and Braswell. However, our defense alone prevents him from getting a great grade. We’re giving him a B minus. The B is because we’re 11 and 4 and haven’t lost to any “bad” teams, the minus is because we don’t play defense. This could very easily turn into an A if we show some improvement and return the swagger, but a C or D isn’t out of the question as we go into conference play.

Expectations for rest of season…

We at GreenTintedGlasses.net collectively have no clue what to expect for the rest of the season. Ask us in Febuary.

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Game #14: Niners look to shoot up Volunteers

Posted on 05 January 2010 by NLP

Wednesday night the Niners roll into Knoxville to take on the Tennessee Volunteers in the final non-conference game of the season.  The Volunteers, ranked 15th/16th in the polls, will sport a much different look than in their latest victory, a 66-59 victory over the Mempiss Tigers.  Tyler Smith, Cam Tatum, Brian Williams, and Melvin Goins will all be suspended for the game (and perhaps beyond) thanks to their recent brush with the law.  Despite the depleted roster, the Volunteers are still a dangerous, talent-laden squad with an excellent coach in Bruce Pearl.

The most likely changes to the Vols lineup will be part-time starter J.P. Prince (Sr. G/F) taking over for Tatum.  Prince, cousin of NBA star Tayshaun Prince, puts up 6.0 ppg. in just under 20 minutes of action/game.  The biggest drop off in play compared to Tatum is from long range.  Prince is much less of a threat to hit the 3, managing just one across 12 games this season.   What he does add is tremendous length at the swing position.  Prince gets a lot of dunks for a wing player and blocks plenty of shots as well, not to mention being tied for 2nd on the team with assists.  He could certainly give the Vols some interesting looks defensively if they opt to play zone to preserve players:  Imagine Ian trying to shoot over him.  SLKDjf;saf.  Do not want.

Replacing Tyler Smith in the starting lineup may likely go to Renaldo Woolridge, a backup So. PF who’s built and styled more to be a wing forward than a power forward but manages to get the job done in the paint pulling down 8 boards and blocking a shot in a win against NC A&T.   With Smith getting the bulk of the minutes at the PF position, Woolridge has averaged 3.5 ppg. in 8.2 mpg. of play.  Although not a deadly shooter from long range, Woolridge can step outside and hit 3-pointers, shooting just under 30% from behind the arc through his young career.

The regular starters are led by Sr. Wayne Chism.  Chism is a 6’9 C/F who’s UT’s leading rebounder (5.8 rpg.) and third in scoring at 10.9 ppg.  Like seemingly every Volunteer, Chism likes to drift out and shoot the three, and pretty well for someone of his size converting on 35.7% of this attempts.  He’s also very solid at the line, making more than 80% of his FTs.  He is a bit foul prone averaging 3.0 fouls/game in just over 21 mpg. of play, which could play into the Niner’s hands should the  men in green get the inside attack rolling.  Leading the offense from the point guard position is Sr. Bobby Maze.  Maze typically distributes more than he scores, putting up 7.5 ppg. on a modest 38.4% from the field; however, he is terrific from the foul line. Leading the team in scoring so far this season is terrific So. G Scotty Hopson, averaging 13.3 ppg. on 49.2% from the field and a stellar 41.3% from behind the arc.  Oddly enough, he’s a bit suspect at the FT line hitting on 56% of his attempts and somewhat careless with the ball, leading the team in turnovers.

In a game where so many players are missing, it is difficult to gauge how Bruce Pearl will approach the game.  Intuitively, it’s likely a given that UT will slow the game down from their usual frenetic pace (they average over 80 ppg.) and dial down their

typical pressure defense (teams average over 20 turnovers against the Vols).  The latter certainly comes as a relief to the Niners, as strong defense has been an Achilles’ Heel for Charlotte.

For the Niners, tempo and style of play will be key factors.  Clearly with Tennessee the Niners will want to play an intense, physical game, pushing the tempo where appropriate.  The inside game absolutely has to be up to snuff, as fouls will eat into a precariously thin Volunteer bench.  Shamari Spears needs to be a bigger factor in this game than the GT game, fighting for baskets closer to the rim as opposed to relying heavily on the fade away.  Phil Jones should also be a bit more comfortable, as Tennessee is a little smaller up front than Georgia Tech.  Two Niners who could play major roles are An’Juan Wilderness and Chris Braswell, who can frequently draw fouls on their defenders with their play close to the basket; however, a repeat of the free-throw shooting performance from the GT game can’t happen.  Fouls come more difficultly on the road, and Wilderness in particular needs to convert.

This is becoming a scary sight for Niner foes.

One intriguing matchup will be for whoever defends Derrio Green.  Green had a breakout performance against Georgia Tech, lighting the Yellow Jackets up for 31 points.  Derrio did it with an array of drives to the basket and superior perimeter shooting, showing signs of being the kind of complete shooting guard the Niners have lacked for years.  Teams are now going to have to pay major attention to the So. guard, possibly freeing up more room for Spears down low.  Play zone against Derrio Green at your own peril!

So let’s wrap this up; this author is getting prolix.  Despite the holes in the UT roster due to suspension, they remain a very dangerous team playing in an environment where they seldom lose.

Regardless, the Niners need to come into this game with the attitude they can win, and unlike the GT game, execute the entire game.  A first half performance like they had Saturday will put them down by 25 to the Volunteers.  That simply can’t happen for the Niners to have any chance at victory.

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Charlotte hosts Georgia Tech, look to swat Yellow Jackets.

Posted on 01 January 2010 by NLP

Niners look to take the sting out of the Yellow Jackets.

We wish we could pretend this is just another non-conference home again versus a team playing in a world where conference affiliation doesn’t matter.  But it does.  Saturday 20th ranked Georgia Tech swarms into Halton Arena (7 PM start time, VERY few tickets remaining) marking just the 2nd time an ACC member has had the testicular fortitude to play the Niners in a true home game.

GT enters the game sporting the same 10-2 record as the Niners, though this will be just their 2nd true road game of the season.  Most recently, GT defeated Winston Salem State 78-43.  That game was the second already against a common foe for the Niners.  The Yellow Jackets also bested Mercer, whom the Niners played on Tuesday, by 11 points -the same margin as the 49ers victory.  The two losses for GT came against quality competition:  a 4-point loss to A10 pre-season favorite Dayton in Puerto Rico and a 7-point OT home loss to Florida State in their conference opener.

Georgia Tech has one of the better frontcourts in the country and they use their size effectively gaining a considerable rebounding advantage (+8.3 rpg.) and scoring about 58% of their points inside the arc.  The Yellow Jackets also get to the line regularly averaging 22 trips each game to the charity stripe.  Upfront, GT is lead by sensational freshman Derrick Favors, a 6’10″ force in the paint.  Favors is 2nd on the team in both scoring (12.9 ppg. on 60.4% shooting) and rebounding (9.0 rpg.) and is a likely lottery pick in next year’s NBA draft.  He’s joined up-front by equally impressive6’9″  Jr. F Gani Lawal.  Lawal leads Georgia Tech in both scoring and rebounding (13.7 ppg. and 9.7 rpg.), and like Favors shoots at a very high percentage from the field.  Also look for Lawal to potentially go in the first round of the NBA draft should he declare after the season.

Another talented Fr. for GT is G Mfon Udofia, who like Favors, was a heralded addition to the team.   Udofia leads the team in assists and scores 11.4 ppg.  He’s also a modest threat from the perimeter hitting 34% from behind the arc.  Zach Peacock and Brian Oliver are a pair of bench forwards who also see frequent action and have the ability to stretch perimeter defenses with their strong outside shooting.  Rounding out the key players for GT is So. G Iman Shumpert who returns to action after missing a month of action with a torn meniscus.  Shumpert is the top distributor for the GT offense and was leading the team in assists at the time of his injury.  It will be interesting to see what kind of impact, if any, his return has for the Yellow Jackets squad; Niner fans will recall An’Juan Wilderness was limited in his return as he lacked both game conditioning and cohesiveness with the rest of the team.

As a team, GT is stout defensively, particularly at defending the perimeter.  The Yellow Jackets are limiting opponents to just 27% from behind the arc, meaning the Niners likely will have to go inside to win this contest and not rely on shooting from outside -though that’s been the case much of the year.  It will be an exciting matchup to see Phil Jones, Chris Braswell, and especially Shamari Spears go against the dominant front court of Georgia Tech.  Should the Niners win the scoring battle inside and keep the rebounding margin close, winning what should be an intense battle will be much easier.

If the Niners do have to turn to the arc for open shots, fans should feel relieved at the performance of Derrio Green against Mercer.  Green, perhaps finally getting back to 100% after his bout with plantar fasciitis, erupted for a season high of 23 points and was much more aggressive in going to the basket.  Derrio also showed improvement on defense, picking up 3 steals with one leading to a fast break dunk and another drawing an intentional foul.  With 1/3 of the three headed-monster at guard spots looking better, hopefully a little of the magic will rub off on DiJuan Harris and Shamarr Bowden who both appear mired deep in a funk.

This will no doubt be a tough contest for the Niners but we think they’re up to the challenge.  With a huge shot of confidence from what we expect to be a raucous Halton Arena crowd, the Niners can prevail if:

  • They remember it’s Georgia Tech that should fear our team, our arena, and our fans, and not the other way around.
  • Phil Jones and Chris Braswell put in solid performances on both sides of the ball.  That doesn’t mean 20 points each, but it means 20+ rebounds between them.
  • DiJuan Harris breaks out of his funk and can deliver or set-up points in transition

Otherwise Georgia Tech will succeed by:

  • Dominating the inside play and forcing a precarious Niner perimeter attack to win the game
  • Keeping Shamari Spears from scoring from the field or the line
  • Winning the turnover battle

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Bobby gets new bear rug, Charlotte defeats Mercer 91-80

Posted on 30 December 2009 by J Felt

Was anyone else bored last night? Watching the game, it seems that score could have been 70-59 at the end considering the lack of excitement on the floor, in the crowd, etc. Even the Golddusters seemed bored as they gyrated all over the logo at center court. It might have been the most boring 90+ points Charlotte has ever scored. Only 11 fast break points, 1 dunk, 5 three pointers… What’s the point of scoring 90 points if you don’t make it exciting?

Regardless, it was nice to get the win. We started off extremely sluggish, and it even looked like we might lose early on the 1st half, but somehow our team got it into gear and started scoring points. And score we did. 40 in the first half, and 51 in the second, not a bad offensive output. It was extremely quiet, but we were relatively efficient on offense (45.7%). We also went to the line 29 times and made 22 of them. Our three point shooting was abysmal (27.8%), but we still had our way on offense, even with our starting PG, DiJuan Harris, on the bench.

Game ball definitely goes to Derrio Green. With Harris in foul trouble early on, Green stepped into the PG position. After logging 39 minutes of play, Derrio finished 23 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds, 1 block, and 3 steals. Not a bad night at all for the sophomore guard. In fact, he looked confident at the PG position and provided scoring from that spot where DiJuan often struggles. It was nice to see him dunk on that breakaway, too often our players go for the layup and misjudge it. While he struggled against the press, Derrio’s ability to create offense from the PG spot will be an interesting plot line as the year progresses.

Have to give obligatory props to Florence from Mercer, that kid is a true scorer. Would love to see him in Green and White, but one can dream. He broke Mercer’s all time scoring record last night to little applause, but we at GreenTintedGlasses.net aren’t afraid to give credit where it’s due. We had no answer for him other than to score more points.

Speaking of that, our defense isn’t very good. We’re giving up easy looks left and right and have trouble stopping the dribble penetration. If the ball is in the post, the defense collapses too quickly, leaving players open on the perimeter all the time. But other times we react too slowly and find ourselves out of position. What the 49ers lack on defense is intensity. Get your arms up, scream at the other players, call out screens, just be energized in general. It seems our players view defense as a “must-do” rather than a “proud to do.” This single aspect of our game must improve versus GT and Tenn or we will be 10-4 going into conference play.

And now to end, just a few short observervations:

  • Shamari’s fadeaway is sick, especially when he’s hitting it
  • Shamari rarely follows his shot, maybe he knows he needs to get back on D
  • Phil Jones has steadily improved every season, and he came up big last night, stop hating on Jones
  • Stop hating on Phil Jones, had to be said again
  • Someone needs to step up at the two and hit shots
  • Bowden is in a funk and is obviously frustrated, get over it, kid, you’ll find your stroke soon, don’t worry
  • DiJuan is timid on offense still, 3rd game in a row, what is going on
  • Officials were awful, just inconsistent all around
  • NCAA needs to do away with the “cylinder” charge/block rule and get the arc, or go back to the previous rules, because officials suck at understanding the current one
  • 10-2 is a beautiful sight to see after last season, bring on the Jackets!

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