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Savannah State Scouting Report: Tigers a Wisconsin clone?

On the heels of its biggest win of the 2012-13 season, Marquette heads back to the BMO Harris Bradley Center after a one-week finals layoff to host Savannah State on Saturday afternoon.

The Golden Eagles last took the court on Saturday against Wisconsin, using a big first half to hold on late, 60-50, against the visiting Badgers. Vander Blue had 17 points in a rematch with his hometown school, but the story line was Junior Cadougan, who scored 13 points in the final nine minutes to secure the win.

So on tap following the long break are the Tigers of Savannah State. Their record (5-5) may be a bit misleading, as losses have come at the hands of Middle Tennessee State, Central Florida, Florida, Ohio State and Norfolk State. This is a team that are favorites to win another MEAC championship, as they bring back 14 players from a 21-win team a year ago.

Leading the way is 6-foot-7 wing Rashad Hassan, averaging a team-high 12.8 points on 55 percent shooting. He gets to the basket, as his percentages show, and draws contact when there, as his free throw attempts (34) would suggest. He scored in double-digits his first seven games, but has averaged just 8.0 points in his last three.

He’s complemented by senior point guard Preston Blackmon, who has struggled out of the gates in 2012. Last year his assist rate was a ridiculous 41.4 percent (fourth best in the country), but that number has dropped to 26.4 this year. He’s more of a volume scorer, as his 10.3 points per game come on 34.5 percent shooting and 11.3 shot attempts per game. He has already attempted 53 3-pointers, making just 14 of them.

Starting center Jyles Smith, a 6-foot-8 junior, is averaging a whopping 3.2 blocks in just 21 minutes per game. His 17.2 block percentage is fifth best in the country, and he has blocked at least two shots in all 10 games this season. He’s not a scorer, but he paces one of the more efficient defenses in the country.

Fifth-year senior Arnold Louis comes off the bench but is third on the team in the scoring at 6.2 points per game. The 6-foot-7 big enters more as a defensive sub, where he averages a team-best 6.1 rebounds per game in just 23 minutes.

Guards Stephen Wilson (5.6 points) and Cedric Smith (5.1 points, 5.7 rebounds) round out the three-guard backcourt, with Wilson the better defender and Smith a top offensive rebounder in the conference.

It’s worth noting that junior guard Patrick Hendley started the Tigers’ last game at Ohio State, taking Wilson’s place in the lineup for the first time all year. The 6-foot-4 Hendley has good size but doesn’t fill up the statsheet.

Where the Tigers are good

Annually one of the slower-paced teams in the country, Savannah State’s defense has been one of the more efficient groups this year. Teams are shooting a 42.7% eFG, just 40 percent from inside the arc and allowing 56.2 points per game, the 19th lowest mark in the country. The offense Marquette runs will be similar to the one it used against Wisconsin.

It’s tough to know whether or not this will help, but Savannah State won’t be starstruck when they take the court in Milwaukee tomorrow. With road games against Ohio State and Florida, combined with three seniors in the starting lineup, means the Tigers won’t be intimidated by what Marquette throws their way. That being said, they’ve still got to play the game.

Where the Tigers can be beat

With less possessions, one would think the Tigers take care of the ball. But they don’t. Their 28.2 turnover percentage is third worst, and their 17.2 turnovers per game are 26th highest in the nation. That’s a product of the teams they’ve played, but Marquette’s feisty defense should take advantage of a guard-oriented team that doesn’t take care of the ball.

The Tigers do few things, if any, well offensively, and shooting 3-pointers isn’t one of them. They’ve made just 33 shots from beyond the arc, and are hitting at a 23.9 percent rate (338th in the country). It’s odd to see a team so heavy on guards struggle from three, but the offense is seriously weak in Savannah.

Three keys to the game

1. Follow the Wisconsin plan

Statistically, Savannah State follows a similar gameplan as Wisconsin, the same gameplan Marquette blew up a week ago. With limited possessions coming, Marquette needs to find easy baskets in transition. What will be different tomorrow night is that the Golden Eagles should be able to score inside, but it won’t come easy against Smith.

2. Solid interior defense

Of the 56 points the Tigers score on average, almost 65 percent of those points come from two-point range. That’s the 11th highest percentage in the country, meaning Marquette will need to be solid in the painted area while allowing Savannah State to shoot from the perimeter. Like Marquette, the Tigers statistically are better when they get in the paint.

3. Give it to your scorer

Vander Blue has established himself as Marquette’s go-to scorer in 2012, and in a game with limited possessions and a tight defense that player needs to take over. He did it last week against Wisconsin, and it will be on him again to pace the offense early. With the way he’s played since Maui, that seems likely in what should be Marquette’s seventh win of the season.

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