Scouting Report: Jackson State
Air Force knew that its ballgame in Boulder this past Sunday was going to be a tough one. The Buffaloes – adrift three years ago – have found themselves and become a factor on a national level. Such a reality should give Air Force hope. The Falcons, after all, were an NCAA tournament team in multiple seasons not too long ago. They can regain a measure of prominence, and that goal begins with Sunday's game at Wichita State. If the Academy can swipe an upset against the Shockers, it can build a resume that national college basketball watchers will have to take seriously.
The lead-in to Wichita State is this Wednesday's game against Jackson State. Coach Dave Pilipovich doesn't need to see a top-flight outing from his players… that needs to happen on Dec. 2. What the Air Force coaching staff does need to see is a team that can make relevant adjustments and force opponents to work extremely hard for every bucket.
JACKSON STATE AT-A-GLANCE
The Tigers flourished in the Southwestern Athletic Conference from 2009 through 2011, averaging a 15-3 league record (rounded to the nearest whole number) over three seasons. In 2010, the team went 17-1 in the SWAC but got stunned in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. Head coach Tevester Anderson's program has not really recovered from that moment. JSU went 12-6 in the SWAC in 2011, and then plummeted to a 5-13 league mark last season, finishing with a 7-24 overall record. This year's team is 0-3. It has played superior opponents, but has nevertheless been outclassed each time it has taken the court. The Tigers are getting the revenue needed to keep a SWAC program going, but a tough schedule might also affect their sense of confidence at this tender point of a still-evolving season.
There was only one statistical area in which Jackson State fared particularly well last season: forcing turnovers. The Tigers' defense forced an average of 13 turnovers per game. Jackson State forced opponents into a turnover rate of 20. In other words, 20 percent of the possessions by JSU's opponents ended in turnovers, as opposed to missed shots, free throws, or other non-turnover outcomes. Jackson State finished 111th in the nation in the "opponents' turnover rate" category.
The Tigers also held their foes to 34.3-percent three-point shooting, and they blocked 3.3 shots per game. Here was the sobering reality for the Tigers at the end of the 2011-2012 campaign: In four categories – turnovers forced, turnover rate, three-point defense, and blocked shots – Jackson State finished 181st or better in national ratings. In every other major statistical measurement – every offensive statistic plus rebounding and scoring defense – the Tigers finished below 200 out of 345 Division I teams. Nothing from the first three games of the 2012-2013 season suggests that the Tigers are going to be much better (if at all) this season.
Forward – Sydney Coleman – Sophomore, 6-7, 215 2011-12 STATISTICS: 3.1 points per game, 3.8 rebounds per game. 2012-13: 2 ppg, 3.3 rpg
Jackson State uses what is mostly an eight-man rotation, though ten players will sometimes see the court for the Tigers in a game. Last year, JSU used a nine-man rotation, with nine players averaging at least 14 minutes per game. Most of that core is back for this season, and Coleman is a part of it. This grunt-labor forward doesn't ring up big numbers. Coleman's focus is on defense and providing a rugged low-post presence for the Tigers.
Forward – Willie Readus – Junior, 6-6, 250; 2011-12: 5.7 ppg, 4 rpg 2012-13: 9.3 ppg, 8 rpg, 1.3 assists per game.
Readus has been a very productive player for a team that is noticeably undersized. Jackson State carries just three forwards and one center on its roster. One forward, Davon Jones, received only two minutes of playing time this past Monday in the team's 84-75 loss at Texas Tech. Center Gregory Raymond did not play in that game. It's up to Readus and Coleman to shoulder the load for Jackson State near the basket. Readus has done his fair share for the Tigers so far this season. With one more point and two more rebounds per game, he would be averaging a double-double. Air Force needs to match Readus's work ethic on the glass.
Guard – Jonathan Lewis – Sophomore, 5-10, 180; 2011-12: 2.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.5 steals per game 2012-13: 2 assists per game, 2.3 steals per game
Lewis is primarily a facilitator for Jackson State's offense, a player Anderson and the coaching staff depend on for defense and other benefits that can't be found in a box score. As long as Lewis takes care of the ball and puts his teammates in position to get clean looks at the basket, he's doing his job.
Guard – Kelsey Howard – Sophomore, 6-4, 190; 2011-12: 14.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg 2012-13: 20 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.5 steals per game
Like Readus, Howard has come out of the gate this season with authoritativeness and a noticeably increased skill set. It's true that three games represent a small sample size, but keep in mind that Jackson State has played two power-conference opponents – Baylor and Texas Tech – while also taking on an upper-division team from Conference USA (Tulsa). It's hard to conclude that Howard's numbers are inflated or cheaply arrived at. You can also see that Howard, like Lewis, is a ball-thief, an active perimeter defender who will punish lazy passing or casual ballhandling by Air Force's guards.
Guard – Christian Williams – Senior, 6-1, 180; 2011-12: 11 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.4 apg 2012-13: 16 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 1.7 apg
Williams is not the highest scorer on the Tigers, but he is the best high-volume shooter on the team. Whereas Howard relies more on attacking the basket for his points, Williams has twice the number of three-point makes as Howard does (12, compared to 6). Air Force has to run him off the three-point line, or at the very least, prevent him from getting a free shooting hand.
Three players will likely gain a majority of minutes to round out the Jackson State rotation. Guard Derrell Taylor, who returns from last season's roster, scored 18 points off the bench for JSU in Monday's loss at Texas Tech. He hit 7 of 14 shots, none of them from three-point range. He snapped down eight rebounds, five of them on the offensive glass. He should have the full attention of the Air Force coaching staff.
Jeff Stubbs, who was not on last season's roster, is a very active guard for Jackson State. He averages eight points per game, but what's more impressive is the way in which he throws himself into the fray at both ends of the floor. Stubbs collects 2.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game. He also hands out two assists per contest, making his presence felt in many different ways.
Phillip Williams provides 1.7 assists per game and is a solid, competent backup guard for the Tigers. He wasn't part of last year's team, and his lack of production makes him the bench player Air Force can probably leave on defense if there's a need to hedge, help, or double-team elsewhere on the floor.
Keys to the Game
1) Contain Howard and Christian Williams. Jackson State has two players who can score copious quantities of points and change the nature of this game. Air Force needs to force the other members of the Tigers to beat them with mid-range jump shots, if not 18-footers. Jackson State's chances of winning are slim, but if the Tigers' best combo flourishes, the Falcons could sweat a little more than they might want to.
2) Match the energy of Readus (in the paint) and Stubbs (on the perimeter). Jackson State has two "energy guys" who can supplement what Howard and Williams do for them at the offensive end of the floor. If Air Force can box out Readus and protect the ball from Stubbs's defense, the Falcons should be in good shape. .
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