NC Central Scouting Report: Switchable Eagles rely on charity stripe

Marquette will try and close out its non-conference schedule better than it did last year when it takes on North Carolina Central tomorrow afternoon at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

Last year’s final tune-up to the Big East coincidentally was also the last time Marquette lost at home, a 79-57 loss to Vanderbilt. Since then the Golden Eagles have reeled off 15 straight wins in Milwaukee, tied for the seventh longest active streak in college basketball. Included in that streak are wins Pittsburgh, Louisville, Cincinnati, Connecticut and Georgetown.

Marquette should push that streak to 16 when a team from Durham — no, not that No. 1 team in the country — comes to town. The Eagles (6-6) enter Saturday without any notable wins, but have losses against Wyoming and Wichita State. They have been tested, and a solid returning core should help them contend in the MEAC, where Savannah State is regarded as the frontrunner.

Jamil Wilson will have his hands full against NC Central forwards.

Jamil Wilson will have his hands full against NC Central forwards.

Senior Ray Willis was the Eagles’ top returning scorer, but has not put up numbers to match his junior season. He transferred from Oklahoma after two seasons, and is averaging 12.8 points on 45 percent shooting through 12 games. His 3-point numbers are down, but the 6-foot-6 wing has scored 20 points on two occasions, and is shooting almost 90 percent from the free throw line.

Jeremy Ingram has been the top performer thus far, as his 15.8 points lead the team through non-conference play. The 6-foot-3 junior is heating up too, averaging 21 points in his last four contests. He’s the only real outside threat and is the player to watch on an otherwise average offensive team.

The Eagles do tout a switchable of their own, as 6-foot-7 Stanton Kidd has been a formidable inside-out forward. His 14.6 points are second to Ingram, and he leads the team with 7.0 rebounds. He’s made 9-of-20 3-pointers, and the former junior college junior has gone off for 23 and 24 points in two games during his first season in Division I.

Ball State transfer Jay Copeland also has been an efficient inside scorer for the Eagles, averaging 9.2 points on 58 percent shooting in just 23 minutes per game. At 255 pounds, the redshirt sophomore has been a force on the offensive glass, hauling in better than 14 percent of Eagle misses.

Returning starting point guard Emmanuel Chapman has taken on a larger role in 2012, and his 5.6 assists per game have led the Eagle offense. His 38.1 assist rate is 26th best in the country, and he’s also connecting on 45 percent of his 3-pointers. He’s not much of a scoring threat, but his 1.6 steals make the 6-foot-1 guard one of the better defenders on the team.

Notables off the bench include 6-foot-4 guard Ebuka Anyaorah, 6-foot-8 sophomore Kamaro Jawara and 5-foot-9 Drimir Ferguson. Time permitting, take a few minutes and read up on freshman point guard Rashawn King’s remarkable and inspiring story. He’s played in just two games this season, but he’s one to cheer for Saturday.

What the Eagles do well

NC Central has struggled offensively, but is making the most of its trips to the free throw line. Shooting almost 74 percent as a team, the Eagles receive more than 24 percent of their scoring from the charity stripe, the 33rd highest percentage in the country. They get to the free throw line 21.3 times per game.

Part of it can be attributed to so many missed shots, but the Eagles are slightly above-average rebounding their own misses. Grabbing 32.7 percent of those shots as a team, Copeland and Kidd are aggressive on the glass and solid scorers inside. As it did against LSU, Marquette must be stout defensive rebounders.

Where the Eagles can be beat

Despite a handful of scoring options, the offense as a whole has struggled. The Eagles rank 245th in efficiency and 278th in effective field goal percentage. The aforementioned free throws have helped some of the scoring, but this is a below-average scoring unit that struggles from outside. If they can’t get to the free throw line, the Eagles will struggle to score.

An interesting note is that opponents are taking 38.5 percent of its shots from beyond the arc, the 30th highest mark in the country. It’s a dangerous way to live and could bite the Eagles if Marquette gets hot from deep. Opponents are making 34 percent of its 3-pointers against NC Central, slightly above the national average.

Three keys to the game

1. Let Mayo lose

Surely Buzz Williams won’t leave any lesson unlearned, and there’s a chance Todd Mayo needs to put in the time off the court before seeing significant time on it, but Marquette needs to see what they have in the sophomore shooting guard. The rust is only going to come off with in-game action, so Saturday may be a chance to let Mayo play through a rough stretch, or allow him minutes with the rest of the starting lineup. With Connecticut and Georgetown looming, now is the time to let Mayo loose for 40 minutes.

2. Switchables aplenty

NC Central touts a pair of switchables and, as a whole, plays smaller despite its slow pace. Steve Taylor Jr. hasn’t seen much playing time the last two weeks and Juan Anderson has also taken a back seat to a rotation taking form. But with this the final tune-up before Big East season, look for Williams to use these two more than usual to match up defensively with the Eagles.

3. Consistency

Realistically Marquette could toss out a random group of five and handle NC Central, but the inconsistencies within the offense have been a major concern. The 3-point shooting is down, but there are no excuses for silly turnovers caused by, as Buzz Williams puts it, “not playing our game.” Easier said than done, but hopefully the Marquette staff is working on slowing down the offense as more of the playbook is implemented.

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