The first half was certainly more interesting than it should have been with VU only leading by a scant 40-38 margin at the break. The Dores showed a renewed intensity in the second half in putting away Tigers, making the game look at least somewhat lopsided. Center Festus Ezeli continued his stellar play and the VU frontline dominated its weaker inside foe from Louisiana.
After the game, head coach Kevin Stallings remarked that he "was disappointed with [the] defensive intensity in the first half." That was, unfortunately, to be expected by Commodore fans after the high level of opposition in Puerto Rico. It is also impressive the Dores responded with much better intensity in the second half. Too often in college basketball you will see a better team let a weaker team hang around and not be able to shake them until very late in a game. That did not happen Wednesday night as the Commodores blew out the Tigers in the second half.
Saturday's opponent cannot be overlooked the way Grambling was. If the defensive intensity is lacking in the first half, it will take a lot to get back because Appalachian State is one of the better offensive teams in the nation and has already proved it can play with SEC competition this year.
APPALACHIAN STATE AT-A-GLANCE
At least there should be officials at Memorial Gym on Saturday.
ASU ran into an embarrassing situation on Tuesday night when it forgot to get referees assigned to its road game at Tennessee Tech. Due to scheduling conflicts, the game was canceled and will not be rescheduled. (Since the TTU game was a return game from last season's Bracket Busters series, the duty of getting officials fell on the visitors, when it usually belongs to the home team.)
Much is expected of this Mountaineer squad under first-year head coach Jason Capel. The Southern Conference Preseason Coaches' Poll predicted ASU to win the SoCon North Division and it returns last season's SoCon Player of the Year in Donald Sims. Last year the Mountaineers, under Buzz Peterson, were one win away from earning an NCAA berth, but fell in the conference title game to Wofford.
ASU hopes to play with some consistency this year. While its 24 wins were quite an achievement, it also dropped some games it should have won, namely Furman, Georgia Southern, The Citadel, and a King College team making a transition from NAIA to NCAA Div. II.
2010-2011 has started well for the Mountaineers who are 2-1 and nearly beat Mississippi State in Starkville, falling 76-74 after leading by nine late in the game. The Bulldogs could not find an answer for Sims who scored 40 points against them, making seven 3-pointers.
ASU's and Capel's style is to run and shoot a ton of threes. Having tremendous shooters such as Sims and Omar Carter can make this very effective, but when they are not hitting it can make the Mountaineers struggle.
Capel would like to balance the 3-point shooting with solid post play, but has not been able to. This is due to the absence of 6-10 senior center Isaac Butts, who had knee surgery back in August and has not yet been cleared to play. When he is finally cleared, the addition to the roster will give Capel his leading rebounder from one year ago when he was an assistant coach under Peterson.
Guard – Donald Sims – Senior, 6'1", 170; 2010-2011: 26.3 ppg, 5.3 apg
Any conversation about the Mountaineers has to start with Sims. He is both the reigning Southern Conference Player of the Year from 2010 and the current SoCon Player of the Week after the 40 points he dropped on Mississippi State. That total is the highest of any Division I player so far this young season. A year ago he led the nation in 3-pointers made and free throw percentage. He shows no signs of slowing this year.
Sims runs the point for ASU and uses his outstanding shooting ability to the benefit of his teammates, dishing out 5.3 assists per game when he faces double teams and extra pressure.
Guard – Mitch Woods – Freshman, 6'3", 195; 2010-2011: 4.0 ppg, 3.0 apg
The addition of Woods has allowed Capel to frequently play Sims off the point in the early going this season. As the third option in the backcourt, Woods benefits by drawing a weaker defender, thus being able to develop his quarterbacking skills. The freshman has certainly – and quickly – learned to take advantage of getting the ball to his two prolific-shooting wing mates.
Forward – Omar Carter – Junior, 6'5"", 220; 2010-2011: 20.0 ppg, .500 3PT %
Had Carter played a year ago (when he was sitting out after transferring from Charleston Southern), there is a very good chance ASU would have won the SoCon and gone to the NCAA Tournament instead of the CIT. Carter, the 2009 Big South Freshman of the Year, has made a big splash so far with the Mountaineers by giving Capel one more weapon to stretch defenses. Even more impressive is Carter's well-rounded game. At 6'5" he has the ability to take smaller defenders into the post and score using his physical body. Provided that Jeffery Taylor is fully recovered from his eye injury, this may be the matchup to watch Saturday afternoon.
Williamson is the stereotypical forward who earns his keep scoring trash points and snagging rebounds. Rarely will a play be run for him, but he will always be ready should his man leave to double one of the penetrating guards like Sims or Carter.
Forward – Petey Hausley – Junior, 6'6", 245; 2010-11: 7.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg
Hausley finally found himself as a Mountaineer this year. He committed out of high school but did not qualify and went the JC route. Now that he's at ASU Hausley is showing why ASU originally wanted him. He is the team's best pure low-block scorer as long as Butts is out; his go-to move is jump hook. He'll be tested though against the larger and stronger Ezeli.
For a team that likes to run, Appalachian State does not have the greatest depth. That may partly be due to Capel's desire to keep Sims and Carter on the floor as much as possible. Their numbers back up that decision. The nice thing for Capel though is the balance his bench provides.
Nathan Healy, a 6-7 forward, is the primary backup down low and has good variety with his game. Healy averages 6.7 points per game and is also a 40 percent 3-point shooter. In addition, he secures just under six rebounds a game.
Keys to the Game
1) Pound the interior - Without the 6-10 Butts, the Mountaineers are woefully undersized against the Dores. It will be tempting for Jenkins, Tinsley, and Taylor to get into a long-range contest against Sims and Carter, but the primary goal for coach Stallings should be to go inside to Ezeli, Walker, etc. Another strategy of going inside would be to establish Taylor on the post if Carter is guarding him and see if he does not pick up a couple quick fouls playing in Memorial Gym.
2) Guard your guard - What does this mean? It means take responsibility for the guy you are assigned to guard and not worry about someone you're not. Sims is going to draw a lot of attention because of his accolades and reputation, but if everyone is too quick to help out on him, he'll make the Commodores pay by finding Williamson and Hausley. The Dores should certainly help when it means an easy basket for the opposition, but VU cannot be so overly concerned about stopping Sims that it forgets about everyone else.