APP STATE vs. TROY SUN BELT TOURNEY PREVIEW

Finally in their third year of Sun Belt play Appalachian State makes the trip to New Orleans for the conference tournament. In year one a six-seed was negated by a one-year APR penalty and last season the Mountaineers didn’t qualify. An 11-seed doesn’t normally offer much promise but this App State team has competed with every team in the league this season and faces a beatable opening opponent.

Appalachian State makes the first Sun Belt Tournament appearance in program history this week facing off with Troy, which beat the Mountaineers 76-66 just 17 days prior.

Appalachian comes in following a significant and much-needed win at home over Coastal Carolina and Troy arrives following a two-game home sweep over the league’s Arkansas contgingent.

Troy’s win in Boone was the Trojans’ first ever over App State.

LAST TIME…

Appalachian played Troy tough on the road last month. Troy led 33-32 at the half and Appalachian trailed just 56-52 with 10:35 remaining in the game. All this with leading scorer Ronshad Shabazz in the midst of one of only three games this season in which he didn’t score in double figures.

Then, the Sun Belt’s biggest weakness – the officiating – got in the way. From that 10:35 point, Troy scored 10 of their final 20 points from the free-throw line, while App State didn’t even attempt a foul shot the remainder of the game.

In particular, Troy’s Jordon Varnado, who is truly a very effective player, spent the entire second-half on the line, shooting 11 of his 13 free throws in the final 20:00. Two in the first half, 11 in the second. What changed? Very little, mostly just the way the refs called the game.

App State’s offense inside the arc was especially solid, with the team shooting 52% on two-point attempts. Overall, Appalachian posted 32 points in the paint, led by Griffin Kinney with 15 points on 7-11 shooting.

But, with Troy leaving the perimeter open for App to take three-pointers the Mountaineers fell prey to a cold-shooting game, going just 8-30 behind the arc.

At the end of the day, though, Troy shot three times as many free throws as Appalachian and their 18-4 scoring advantage at the line was quite literally the difference in the game, and then some.

APP’S OPTIONS…

Needless to say, Shabazz has to lead this team wherever they will ultimately go. Since his eight-point outing at Troy Shabazz has averaged 18.3 points and has rediscovered his dribble-drive game, resulting in his most frequent free-throw activity of the season. His 23 attempts in the past three games were more than in the previous eight games combined.

Next, work the ball to Kinney and don’t let anything prevent the offense from failing to give Griff his looks. Varnado has to be forced to play defense with just as much energy as he exerts offensively. If Troy chooses to play small, which they do often, then Appalachian has to make them pay for the decision in the paint.

Then, App State has to get all over the glass and outrebound the Trojans. In the first game, Appalachian allowed Troy to match them with 10 offensive rebounds and 10 second-chance points. The Mountaineers need to create scoring advantages in as many places as possible, especially one where they should have an advantage.

There needs to be at least a third scorer among the Mountaineers. Could be anyone, but they have to produce points and provide an offensive threat that forces Troy to spread their defense out.

The true X-factor could wind up being Kelvin Robinson, who has rounded back into shape in the past two games (9.0 points per game on 55% shooting) after understandably slumping in his first two games back (including the first against Troy). He’s under-scouted due to being out for a month, so Robinson could sneak up on some folks.

GAME ANALYSIS

The Troy game was one of Appalachian’s best defensive performances of the season. Varnado scored 21 points but was just 6-18 from the floor. Again, officiating had a lot to do with his and Troy’s scoring success. All-Sun Belt swingman Wesley Person was held scoreless in the first half and scored only seven on 2-9 shooting.

It will take that caliber of a defensive performance and some reasonable officiating for the Mountaineers to have their shot at this game, but they certainly aren’t outclassed by Troy.

Offensive discipline is important. Appalachian hasn’t shot better than 27.8% from the three-point line in four games and Troy will lay back inviting App State to fire away. Either those shots have to fall or the Mountaineers have to stay committed to working the ball down low and using penetration to break down the Trojan defense.

Three times this season App State has followed up a win with another victory. Again, in the first game Appalachian had more field goals than Troy (27-26), outshot the Trojans from the three-point line (8-6), and had fewer turnovers (plus-two). But, man, those free throws…hopefully the Sun Belt puts its best foot forward this week and allows the players to decide the outcomes.

APP STATE 78 – TROY 76


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