After a week of early season games to whet fans' appetites, we are now beginning to dive into the first early season tournaments of 2010-11. Winning the 2K Sports Classic or the Charleston Classic shouldn't be the hallmark of any team's season, but these early games are still important.
Wins in these early tournaments can do wonders for a team's resume. For many teams, a deep run here will provide the most quality non-conference win on their schedule, so this is no time for any of these teams to enjoy the scenery. More importantly, these games give teams a taste of what it will be like playing games in rapid succession, like they'll do in conference tournaments and the NCAA tournament. A good showing in these early tournaments can do so much to build good will down the road.
It's early, but the Terrapins, Hoyas and Patriots can't afford to have growing pains this weekend as they try to make names for themselves. All three teams have three keys to success in their matchups today. How they perform in these areas will provide a good indication for their chances tonight and later on in the season.
Maryland vs. Pittsburgh
- Perimeter defense: Ashton Gibbs leads Pitt in scoring, averaging 19.3 points per game and shooting 45.8 percent from long range so far this season. Over his college career, Gibbs has taken over half of his field goal attempts from behind the three point line, but don't think of him strictly as a jump shooter. He's also averaging 5.3 assists per game this season, so Maryland has to respect him off the dribble as well. When he's putting the ball on the floor, he's got some great options, especially his backcourt mates Brad Wanamaker and Travon Woodall, who are both connecting on 50 percent of their long distance shots so far this season.
- Perimeter offense. The Terrapins are only shooting 33 percent from deep this season, and if it wasn't for Cliff Tucker's 4-for-6 outing against Maine, those numbers would be much worse right now. They have survived so far thanks to Jordan Williams' dominance inside and their ability to beat opponents off the dribble, but that's not going to be as effective against Jamie Dixon's stout interior defense. The most effective way to overcome their defense is with the long ball. Last year, the Panthers went 1-7 in games where the opposing team shot better than 40 percent on 3-pointers.
- Freshman Litmus Tests: Freshmen Pe'Shon Howard, Terrell Stoglin and Haukur Palsson have been given extended reserve minutes by Gary Williams and played well within their roles so far this season. But we all know how Gary likes to rely on his veteran players in times of need. Tonight, we'll find out just how much he trust his latest recruiting class and get a better idea of how these three freshmen stack up to talent in a major conference.
Georgetown vs. Coastal Carolina
- Don't overlook the Chanticleers: Last season, Coastal Carolina won the Big South regular season title and is the preseason favorite to win the conference this season. They might not be on the same level as Scott Jackson's alma mater, Old Dominion, but they won't make thing easy in the opening round of the Charleston Classic. If the Hoyas get caught looking ahead, a crowd that should be mostly in favor of Coastal Carolina, whose campus is a short, two-hour drive away from Charleston, could fuel the Chanticleers to a hot start.
- Don't rely on threes: Coastal Carolina led the nation in three point defense last season, holding the opposition 28.2 percent on three point shots. And don't for a second believe those numbers were deflated by playing Big South opponents. They held Duke to 26 percent from beyond the arc and held eight other opponents to 20 percent or lower last season. This isn't the game that Georgetown should try to put away early with a barrage of early, demoralizing threes. Instead, this needs to be the game where Georgetown needs to get their bigs some confidence. The Chanticleers only have one player over 6-foot-7 on the roster, and he plays less than 14 minutes per game. If the Hoyas can't use their size to their advantage now, when can they?
George Mason vs. UNC Charlotte
- Expect the unexpected: Charlotte returns four of the five starters who took down Louisville, Richmond and Temple last season, but also lost seven of their last eight games, killing any chance at an NCAA tournament bid. The late season collapse also cost coach Bobby Lutz his job. The late spillover continued to this season when two of the returning starters sat out the season opener after being suspended for breaking team rules. So although there's plenty of Charlotte game film available to study, it's anyone's guess which team will show up in Charleston.
- Cut down on coughing it up: George Mason and Charlotte both come in to this game with turnover rates over 20 percent, which means they're both turning the ball over at least once every five possessions. So far, they've survived by returning the favor on the other end; using pressure to force their opponents into a high number of turnovers as well. Neither team has a truly dynamic offense, so both sides have to stay ahead in the turnover battle to give themselves a shot.
- Frontcourt foul trouble: As GMU Hoops pointed out in its preview, Charlotte's biggest advantage is frontcourt depth. Against Harvard, Mason two big men, Ryan Pearson and Mike Morrison, each dealt with foul trouble in the first half that kept the Patriots from cracking the game wide open in the first half. Those are things that the Patriots can overcome against the likes of Harvard, but won't work against the 49ers. Mason needs Morrison and Pearson to stay out of foul trouble and especially needs Pearson to take it to draw contact on the other end and chip away at Charlotte's depth down low. The Patriots were 7-2 last season when Pearson had at least six free throw attempts.