January 3, 2013
Preview: MT at Arkansas State
This Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (11-3, 3-0) will travel west to Arkansas this Thursday to take on the Sun Belt West Division leading Arkansas State Red Wolves (8-5, 2-2). Entering the game, the Blue Raiders are riding a four game winning streak with three of those four wins being by 17 or more points. Tipoff is set for 7:05 PM.
MT was looking to give their fans a win to bring in the New Year on Monday when they went up against the preseason SBC favorite North Texas Mean Green. The Blue Raiders would do just that, jumping out to an early 21-6 lead before heading into halftime leading 37-24. UNT would start the second half on a 7-0 run, but the Blue Raiders answered the bell and eventually extended their lead once again in route to an easy 75-57 victory. With the win, MT improved to 8-0 on the season when playing at home and have won their last 20 games inside the Murphy Center.
As for ASU, the Red Wolves last played on Saturday when they took on SBC foe South Alabama - who were looking to stay undefeated in conference play. The game would be close in the early goings as both teams would struggle shooting, but ASU would take a 28-23 halftime lead due in large part to USA only hitting eight shots in the first half. The second half would not get much better for the Jaguars as the Red Wolves never trailed in this game before grabbing their second straight win 63-54.
Shifting gears into the history between MT and ASU - since the 2001-02 season, the Blue Raiders lead the series with ASU 12-6, but here of late the Red Wolves have had Middle Tennessee's number, winning three of the last four games. The Blue Raiders will be certainly looking for redemption in this game though after ASU eliminated MT from the SBC Tournament last year - erasing MT's chances of making it into the Big Dance.
Offensively, things for the Blue Raiders could not get much better as they are firing on all cylinders right now, performing better than they have all season. In the last two games, MT has averaged 72 points per game and in those games the team has shot 47 percent from the field and 40 percent from behind the arc.
While the team has shot well in their last few games, the Blue Raiders most recent game was a disappointing one when it came to free throws as they only connected on 50% of their attempts. Middle Tennessee has hit 70 percent or better in most games this season, so one would hope this was just a fluke game from the free throw line.
The defense has also been playing lights out as they have only allowed an average of 55 points in the last two games. In those games, they have shut down opposing offenses, holding them to 37 percent shooting from the field and just 28 percent from the three-point line.
Perhaps the biggest improvement the Blue Raiders have made in the last two games is in the rebounding department. On the season, the team has averaged around 35 rebounds a game, but in the last two games the team has been able to average 40.5 boards per game.
When it comes to the offense of Arkansas State, they haven't performed too bad themselves lately. As a team, they have averaged 75 points per game in their last two and have shot well, hitting 42 percent from the field and just under 30 percent from the three-point line.
Just like MT, the Red Wolves are a good offensive rebounding team, averaging 12.5 per game in their last two. With all that said, though, the team still has some areas to work on - like their turnovers. In the last two games, ASU has averaged around 15 turnovers per game - a number that they would like to slim down.
Defensively, the Red Wolves have been playing above average in their last two games as they have allowed an average of 62 points per game. In those two games, ASU held the opposition to just 37 percent shooting from the field and a miserable 20 percent from the three-point line.
Looking at the stat sheet, the two teams are very similar in the rebounding department as ASU has struggled all year in this category, but in the last two games the team has really improved, averaging just over 40 rebounds per game.
Going into this game the two teams look almost identical, which could mean this game will be a close one, but for the Blue Raiders to come out on top there is some things they will have to accomplish.
For beginners, they will have to continue rebounding just like they have been as of late. Both teams come into this game rebounding better than they have all season and this game could very well come down to who controls the boards.
Another thing Middle Tennessee will have to do is rebound from their horrific free throw shooting from last game. Last season, horrible free throw shooting cost the Blue Raiders some games and for a team that has been much improved from the line this year, you do not want to see them go backwards if you are a Blue Raider fan.
One last thing to consider in this game is the depth of Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders are the deeper squad, and will need to utilize their fresh legs to wear down the Red Wolves throughout the course of the game.
F Shawn Jones - Against North Texas, Jones put up nine points, six rebounds, and two blocks. Early on this season, Jones looked like the player that could replace LaRon Dendy inside, but unfortunately here lately he has been in a funk. In the last two games, however, the big man has seen an increase in minutes and production, showing flashes of the double-double machine that he was earlier in the year. Look for Jones to have another solid outing against the Red Wolves.
F Brandon Peterson - Coming off a 15-point, seven rebound performance against South Alabama. Although Peterson is not the top scorer for his team, he deserves to be the player to watch for this game as the game might come down to who can win the battle of the boards. On the season, Peterson has been a rebounding machine, leading his team with 9.8 rebounds per game to go along with 11.2 points per game. It should be a good matchup to watch in the paint Thursday night as Jones and Peterson should see a lot of each other.
PREDICTION: MT 73,
Look for this game to be a fairly even game throughout with both teams trading the lead back and forth. The game could really go either way though as both teams statistically are fairly even.
I give Middle Tennessee the edge, however, because they are the hotter team coming in and they are the much deeper team - which I believe will play a major role in this game.
An x-factor to watch for in the game is the Blue Raiders ability to move the ball around to create shots. In the last two games the team has averaged 18 assists per game - getting back to the style of offense that has been so successful for them in the first place.
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