Defense-first affair expected at Alumni tonight
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • February 01, 2012 @ 11:56am
Riding a four-game conference win streak, the Buffalo Bulls return home to Alumni Arena for a 7 p.m. match-up tonight against the Ball State Cardinals (12-7 overall, 4-3 in MAC). The teams are headed in different directions: Buffalo has found balance, patience and production, while Ball State’s whimpering offense is pressing to a great degree.
Watching Ball State’s ESPNU clash against Ohio on Saturday, it wasn’t tough to figure out what stonewalled the Cardinals. Regardless if it’s against man-to-man or zone defense (but especially zone), Ball State has difficulty getting the ball to star senior forward Jarrod Jones, the MAC’s second leading scorer. Coming off a 25-point showing in the loss to Akron, Jones was the defensive focus of the Bobcats, and he mustered only a 4-13 shooting line with five TOs.
The same issue struck St. Bonaventure for a long stretch early in the season, as well-constructed zone defenses prevented Mark Schmidt’s club from featuring Andrew Nicholson into the offense. Will Bulls’ head coach Reggie Witherspoon show more zone tonight? His club is comfortable playing both man-to-man and zone, but the zone’s success has been spotty.
BSU’s defense smothered the Bobcats’ Preseason First Team selection D.J. Cooper into a 1-7 shooting, five turnover performance, but when point guard Randy Davis, the John Boyer-esque NCAA leader in assist-to-turnover ratio, has an off-game for the Cardinals, the team is dead-meat.
Both the University at Buffalo and Ball State are atop the MAC in field goal percentage defense, with UB holding opponents to 38% from the floor and the Cardinals allowing only a 38.3% clip. I expect this game to be a lot like the Bulls’ win over Eastern Michigan: a hard-fought, often sloppy contest that’s decided by which team is more proficient from beyond the arc. The pressure will be on Tony Watson II, Dave Barnett and Auraum Nuiriankh to sink open looks, as Ball State will commit to stopping Javon McCrea and Mitchell Watt by clogging the paint.
The game will air at 7 tonight on Time Warner Cable SportsNet. At 5-2 in the MAC, the Bulls are tied with Ohio at one game behind MAC East leader Akron. Buffalo stands 2-0 against the MAC West so far this season, while Ball State is win-less against the MAC East in two games.
Prediction: 62-57 Buffalo.
(Featured photo courtesy of photographer Dave Marino from the UB vs. Akron home game earlier this year).