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Scouting Report: UNH reliant on threes, Pelcher

Chris Otule will face a tough opponent in UNH center Chris Pelcher (44) tonight. (USA Today)

Chris Otule will face a tough opponent in UNH center Chris Pelcher (44) tonight. (USA Today)

After arguably its worst offensive performance in the shot-clock era, and certainly its worst performance under Buzz Williams, Marquette looks to rebound in a big way tonight as it faces off against the New Hampshire Wildcats.

Saturday against the Ohio State Buckeyes, the Golden Eagles made 10-of-53 shots from the field, 1-of-18 3-pointers and committed 20 turnovers in a 52-35 loss at home. Buzz Williams’ group compiled just four assists and was below-average form the free-throw line, making just 14-of-21 freebies.

So they move on, looking to begin a new home win streak after the Ohio State loss broke a 27-game streak, the longest in the NCAA. And what better team to go up against after an offensive sputtering than a team with a below-average defense and even worse turnover marks?

That’s the New Hampshire Wildcats (2-1), which are bound to struggle this season after losing their top two scorers from a team that won nine games a year ago. Wins over Suffolk and at Duqusesne were tempered by a home loss to NJIT. The Wildcats won’t do much competing in the America East Conference this year, and Marquette should have little trouble rebounding at the Bradley Center.

There are four players to keep an eye on tonight, beginning with redshirt senior Chris Pelcher. The Iona transfer has been incredible in his second year, averaging 19.7 points and 16.0 rebounds through three games. The 6-foot-10 center has grabbed at least 15 boards in each contest and also has nine blocks to go with it. He’s been a force early and will be a good challenge for Davante Gardner and Chris Otule.

6-foot-6 senior Patrick Konan, originally a transfer from Liberty — is averaging 17.0 points and 6.7 rebounds while hitting 40 percent of his 3-pointers. Konan and Pelcher account for more than a quarter of their team’s possessions when on the court. Simply put, when these two are on the court they are going to have the ball in their hands.

There’s senior point guard Jordon Bronner, who has seen his minutes increase from 24 to 33 this season. His 3.7 assists lead the team, and he’s averaging 11.7 points on 50 percent shooting in the early going. And freshman Daniel Dion is averaging 3.7 assists in 25 minutes off the bench, so expect another tough matchup for Derrick Wilson and John Dawson.

Where the Wildcats are good

— Field-goal percentage: The Wildcats, led by Pelcher’s 65 percent shooting, are one the most efficient shooting teams in the country. It’s somewhat ironic that Marquette faces such a team after Saturday’s performance, but here we are. Four of the Wildcats’ five leading scorers shoot better than 50 percent from the field, and their top five 3-point shooters have made 28-of-70 attempts (40 percent).

— 3-point offense: Though Pelcher is good inside, the Wildcats have made their mark from the outside. They rarely get to the free-throw line (see below) and rely greatly on a 3-point attack, headed by the freshman Dion (7-of-15). In fact, New Hampshire receives almost 47 percent of its points on 3-pointers, the fourth-highest mark in the country. If Bill Herrion’s team gets going from outside, it could put up some serious points. If not, a blowout is on the way.

— Interior defense: Though the Wildcats have just one player taller than 6-foot-8 (Pelcher), their 6.2 block percentage ranks in the top-65 in the country. Opponents are making around the country-average on two-pointers, but the Wildcats have recorded 19 blocks in three games. To put that in perspective, Marquette has seven blocks.

Where the Wildcats struggle

— Lack of free throws: With a team so reliant on the outside shot, the Wildcats rarely get to the free-throw line. In three games they have been to the line 53 times, the 17th fewest attempts of teams that have played at least three games. Pelcher has taken 19 of those attempts, but outside of him only Konan has attempted double-digit free throws. Marquette shouldn’t have to worry about foul trouble in this one.

— Lack of turnovers: Through three games the Wildcats have played at an expected slow pace, and it hasn’t helped their turnover numbers. They are averaging 2.7 steals per game as a team, tied for the fourth-lowest mark in the country. They have eight steals on the season, as many as 165 Division I players have individually. Expect the Golden Eagles to take care of the ball tonight.

Three keys to the game

1. Chris vs. Chris

With so many of these lower-tiered schools, cutting the head off means the body dies with it. That’s the case tonight, as Chris Otule will draw the matchup with Pelcher, who has been phenomenal to start the season. Otule’s defense has been less than stellar to begin the year — especially against Ohio State — but he’ll be tasked with the most important matchup tonight. If Otule slows down Pelcher early, New Hampshire will be forced to take bad shots.

2. Limiting 3-pointers

Ken Pomeroy has argued against the notion that a team has any real effect on an opponents’ 3-point field-goal percentage, bur rather can only limit the number of attempts a team has. Guard play will be important against the outside-reliant Wildcats, meaning close-outs and understanding assignments will play a key factor. Marquette has done well in this category to begin the year, and it will have to keep that pace up tonight.

3. Derrick Wilson

Buzz Williams wouldn’t come right out and say it after Saturday’s loss, but Derrick Wilson must play better to give the Golden Eagles a chance to win; their offense isn’t good enough on its own to have a point guard that doesn’t contribute. He’ll face a tougher task than most of his opponents tonight, playing against Bronner and Dion, and he needs to make the most of his opportunities. Performance isn’t always stat-based, but it’d be nice to see him fill up the box score tonight.

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