When: Saturday 3pm
TV: ACCNE (check local listings)
I find myself entering the cautiously optimistic zone with this team. It remains just cautiously because of last year’s nose dive after a promising start. I will say I like what I’m seeing in terms of much improved team chemistry and consistent play out of Donte Grantham. I noted in my schedule breakdown that if Grantham somehow emerged as a consistent force, the team could exceed the 17 win plateau and really challenge for an NCAA birth. So far it seems he has turned it around, mostly by playing a much tougher, physical brand of basketball than in previous years. That new number is looking good.
The second half of the Ohio State game was some of the best basketball I’ve seen a Brownell-era team play. It was total domination the last 15 minutes of that contest on the road, which has been as rare as a total solar eclipse around Tigertown. Eli Thomas is a serious problem for people inside and when the team ran through him, everything else opened up nicely. Grantham was content to fill in here and there and allow Thomas and Reed to explode, rather than force offense himself in hopes of “getting his”. This was encouraging to me. Donte has clearly spent serious time in the weight room as well as he is noticeably more developed in the shoulder area this year. So far Mitchell has been able to remain mostly healthy as we keep our fingers crossed that knee holds up. He delivers the transition threat top level teams have to have.
The team still hasn’t fully arrived defensively, though the last outing vs. UNCA was impressive on that front. UNCA can score the ball with their variety of quality guards, but the Tigers just brutalized them in a runaway win. The Tigers are using some 1-3-1 zone as a change-up to the usual man to man. The Tigers are a respectable 32nd in KenPom’s Adjusted Defensive Efficiency rankings. If they can hover around that mark as they enter the daunting conference schedule, the chance for 20 wins is there. Thomas staying out of foul trouble is a major factor in that, for certain.
The Tigers shouldn’t expect much resistance from the Samford Bulldogs. While Samford did just narrowly lose to Memphis by 1 the last time out, their other 6 losses have all been lopsided. They have given up points in droves, including 95 to Arkansas, 105 to LSU, 88 to Loyola-Chicago, 88 to Valparaiso, and 89 to Jacksonville State. A team that defensively challenged will have a hard time containing the Tigers who have four guys who can go for 20 in any game (Grantham, Mitchell, Reed, and Thomas) and five guys averaging double figures. KenPom has this game as a 83-65 win and much less than that spread would have to be considered a disappointment. This is the last tune-up game before the Tigers face the Gators and the Gamecocks next week. Getting out of the non conference at 10-2 (with a very remote shot at 11-1) would be considered a win.