Last season the East Tennessee State Buccaneers ended their season with a 100-71 loss to Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Well, they now start their 2010-11 campaign with another matchup with the Wildcats. ETSU, who has won back-to-back Atlantic Sun Tournament Championships, returns the majority of their team from a year ago. The Wildcats do not. In fact, 89 of the 100 points that were scored in last year’s win over ETSU are gone to the NBA.
Murray Bartow, the son of coaching legend Gene Bartow, enters his eighth season with the Bucs. In his previous seven seasons, he has compiled a 241-169 record and has made three trips to the NCAA Tournament. They made the dance in 2004, 2009, and 2010 and in 2009 they gave Pittsburgh a scare in the first round.
They only lost one player from a year ago and return three seniors and a redshirt junior. ETSU is the pick to win the Atlantic Sun conference again. One team that could prevent them from obtaining a three-peat is Lipscomb, who returns the nation’s leading scorer in Adnan Hodzic.
They also welcome back senior guard Mike Smith (6-6, 225) who missed last season with a knee injury and received a medical redshirt. During the 2009-10 season, Smith led the Bucs in scoring with 15.3 per-game, and also pulled down 7.7 rebounds and dished out 2.1 assists. He also knocked down 44 three’s and connected on 36-percent.
While they have Smith in the starting lineup for the first time in a little less than a year, they will be forced to face the Wildcats without last year’s leading scorer and rebounder, Tommy Hubbard. The 6-4 forward is out with a knee issue. Last year Hubbard was the heart and soul of the Buccaneer team and his absence really places a big road block on any hope of an opening day upset for the Bucs. He is their best defender and his motor never stops, which has earned him the nickname, “Tommy Hustle”. He will be sorely missed.
Murray Bartow’s teams love to press and in conference play their helter-skelter style is their trademark. In their two exhibition wins this season they used their press to reel off runs of 23 and 15 strait points. Their press resembles the same press that Rick Pitino and the Louisville Cardinals are accustomed to running. It is usually a 2-2-1 or a 1-2-2 and they switch up whether they deny the basketball or not. They aren’t running the press to just wear down their opponent. They are looking to force turnovers. They want to turn the game into a track meet and get 20-25 easy buckets a game.
Despite their desire to press, expect them to slam on the brakes a bit against Kentucky. A year ago against the Wildcats they really pulled the plug on the press because of UK’s explosive guards in Eric Bledsoe and John Wall. Expect much of the same on Friday. They will press in spurts, because that is their motto, but I’d also expect to see some 2-3 zone and maybe some 1-3-1 in an attempt to slow the game down.
Offensively, they like to get a lot of their buckets in transition, whether it be off turnovers, misses or even makes. In transition they look to penetrate to the basket and either finish or find an open shooter in the corner. In the halfcourt, look for them to run a four-out-one-in set, which means they will have four guys at the perimeter and one underneath, and run a weave at the top of the key. There is a lot of motion in this offense and it is very similar to UK’s dribble-drive.
Seniors Micah Williams and Justin Tubbs are decent threats from deep, but overall the Bucs are not what you would consider a great perimeter shooting team. A season ago they connected on just 173 threes and shot just 31-percent from deep. They like to get into the 15-foot range and hope to be able to do so against Kentucky, Without DeMarcus Cousins underneath that task becomes a little easier this time around. Bartow doesn’t want his squad going nuts from behind the arc and I would say that he would want their three point attempts to be around 13 or so.
To have a chance to pull off the upset at Rupp Arena, the Bucs have to get off to a decent start. An early deficit will be tough to overcome because their press should not be as successful against Brandon Knight and company as it is in Atlantic Sun play and they don’t have shooters that are capable of shooting them back into the game.
With Hubbard in the lineup for ETSU, I think the Cats still win, but this thing gets a lot more interesting. Without him, I think the Cats eventually roll. It’s tough to predict a score in the opener, but I’ll do my best.
Kentucky 88, ETSU 71