Appalachian State gets a day or so to process the 67-58 loss at Texas State before they travel around 230 miles north with UT-Arlington waiting to host the Mountaineers. UTA is 5-0 at home this season and 11-3 overall.
For a team playing as well as the Mavs you’d think there would be a statistical fingerprint. Things they do so well that only three teams, teams with a combined 35-9 record, have managed to defeat Arlington.
Funny thing is, at least statistically, there’s nothing that blows you away. They score, but not to shocking levels. They play defense, but nothing totally suffocating. There’s nothing their opponents do better than UTA does it, but the Mavs don’t seem overwhelming in any one area either.
Maybe that’s why they’re 11-3; they have shown the ability to adapt to whatever their opposition is doing well and more often than not find a way to overcome it.
Kevin Hervey: The Sun Belt preseason player of the year, Hervey is back after missing the last half of 2015-16 with a knee injury. Hervey is big (6’9”, 230) and very skilled, shooting and scoring both inside and out. So far this season Hervey has been good (13.9 points, 7.5 rebounds & 40% from the floor) but not totally dominant.
Jalen Jones: Physical junior-college transfer guard, Jones is a versatile jump shooter with a strong 42% three-point shooting percentage. Last season, Jones hit Appalachian for 16 points per game on 55% shooting as UTA swept the Mountaineers. App State’s scorers have to force Jones to expend as much energy defensively as on offense.
Erick Neal: First-team All-Sun Belt playmaker, Neal led the league in assists last season and does so again this year (7.4). Neal is a more modest scorer (9.7) but has to be respected, especially from the perimeter where he’s a 38% shooter from the arc. Neal is very quick but not big, so play him physically and hope to wear him down.
Drew Charles: Grad-senior guard is a must-find at the three-point line. Charles takes 78% of his shots from the arc and connects on an impressive 47% of those attempts. He’s a primary beneficiary of Neal’s drive-and-kick expertise. Again, the temptation may be to leave him on help defense but he’s too likely to make you pay for that.
Jorge Bibao: Powerful fifth-year senior uses strength and savvy to make contributions that are relatively modest statistically but still meaningful. Bilbao attacks the paint aggressively; not only is he shooting 52% from the floor but he’s second to Hervey in getting to the free-throw line for UTA. App’s quicker post players can potentially force him into foul trouble.
Kaelon Wilson: The senior scorer comes off the bench for less than 19 minutes per games but scores as nearly the per-minute rate of Hervey and Jones. Wilson is actually much more effective scoring off the dribble, with nearly 68% of his attempts coming inside the three-point line. Wilson provides the scoring punch for the Mavs’ bench unit.
Faith Pope/Nathan Hawkins: Pair of seniors who round out the primary rotation, Pope actually leads the team in blocks off the bench and Hawkins is a three-point shooting specialist. All told, UTA really has a reliable eight-man rotation and only spot minutes from anyone beyond that. If App can force foul trouble it can potentially stretch UTA.
APP STATE MOUNTAINEERS
Ronshad Shabazz: At Texas State, Shabazz showed why he may well be the most dangerous offensive player in the Sun Belt; spearheading Appalachian’s furious comeback he scored 13 points in just 4:20. Texas State doubled him the rest of the way, but Shabazz showed the scoring ability App State will need from him in Arlington, especially.
Griffin Kinney: Kinney comes into the game at Arlington having recorded a double-double in each of his last two games. He’s shooting 15-22 from the floor in his past three games, but has struggled with turnovers (13 in the last three games). Kinney has scored in double figures four of the past five games, where App State also has a winning record.
Emarius Logan: After shooting less than 25% from the floor through Appalachian’s first nine games this season, Logan has made 76.5% of his shots in the last three games including 7-13 from three-point range. With his re-discovered touch has also come enhanced playmaking, as Logan leads the Mountaineers with nearly a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Kelvin Robinson: This is a key matchup for Robinson, who has the kind of defensive abilities to bother Neal. If he can help disrupt the flow of their offense then there may not be a more important role for him in this game. Appalachian has missed his scoring punch, though, as Robinson has scored in double figures just once in the past six games.
Tyrell Johnson: Johnson’s shooting woes continue (40%), though he has gotten to the free-throw line with 25% of his season attempts coming in the past three games alone. Johnson has made a greater impact defensively with eight blocked shots in the past three games, as well. It will take a group effort to contain Hervey, led by Johnson.
Isaac Johnson: Johnson continues to lead Appalachian in rebounding despite being sixth on the team in minutes played. He’s also tied for the team lead in steals, emphasizing Issac’s importance defensively. Whether it’s man-to-man or the 1-2-2 zone, Johnson is a key contributor in the battle against Hervey, in particular.
Pat Good: Good can be a huge difference-maker in this game, as he was in wins over James Madison and Hampton. Good averages nearly 10 points per game in Mountaineer wins, underscoring what his contributions mean to this team. UTA doesn’t feature the taller guards who have given Good trouble this season.
Jake Babic/Craig Hinton: As the rotation has shortened Babic’s minutes have declined a bit, while Hinton has been a consistent if not huge piece of the puzzle. With App State finding themselves in so many close games this season the contribution of even a single play from either Babic or Hinton could have a meaningful impact on a conference win.
App State can hang with UT-Arlington, despite being a prohibitive underdog. But it will require the Mountaineer team that outscored Texas State 29-15 to start the second half, instead of the one that fell behind 17-5 at the beginning of the game.
For the most part, Arlington doesn’t run away on the scoreboard. They’ve won 11 of 14 but only three of those wins were by more than 20 points, and two of those came against non-DI opponents.
Still, a blowout awaits Appalachian if they can’t play the game as well as they’re capable, as Coastal Carolina discovered when they played the Mavs on New Year’s Eve. After Coastal hung with UTA until halftime (35-35) the Mavs put up 55 points fueled by an assault on the paint and points from turnovers.
Again, whatever an opponent is willing to give UT-Arlington they’re capable of converting into wins. There’s not an area they won’t exploit, so Appalachian has to limit the mistakes that provide UTA those opportunities.
It will take a complete team effort, including strong scoring production from the bench, great team rebounding, and solid ball control (less than 15 turnovers). It can be done, but the Mountaineers have to play the full 40 minutes that has evaded them of late.
It’s not about the team’s effort, but the execution has to match their resolve.
UT-ARLINGTON 78 – APP STATE 63