January 12, 2013
Preview: MT at ULM
This Saturday the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (13-4, 5-1) will travel south to take on Sun Belt Conference foe Louisiana Monroe (3-9, 2-4), who, while their record does not indicate it, have been a much improved squad this year.
MT will be looking for their third win in a row, while also trying to extend their lead in the East Division, which is currently at just a half game advantage. Tipoff is set for 4:00 PM.
The Blue Raiders will enter the game having played just two days ago against Florida Atlantic. Entering that game, the Owls were on a roll, but unfortunately for them the Blue Raiders would bring them back down to earth. FAU jumped out to the early lead until a 16-0 run by MT put them ahead 35-24 at halftime.
MT stretched the run out to 26-0 to start the second half before the Owls could finally make a shot. All in all, MT held FAU scoreless for over 11 minutes of play. Middle would struggle on offense from that point on, but would do just enough to maintain a comfortable in route to the 62-52 victory.
For ULM, the Warhawks also played Thursday when they took on a Troy team who is next to last in the Sun Belt. ULM jumped out to an early lead, stretching it to double digits at one point, but Troy chopped the lead to just three by halftime. After leading 31-28 at the break, the Warhawks were unable to hold it as the Trojans came out hot in the second half, outscoring ULM 36-24 over the final 20 minutes to secure the 64-55 win over the Warhawks.
The series between MT and ULM is a relatively new one as it only began back in 2005 and has been a fairly even. The teams have met a total of eight times with the Blue Raiders winning five of those, including the last four meetings. MT will enter Saturday with a 4-4 record on the road this season while the Warhawks are 2-3 at home.
In the last few games, the Middle Tennessee offense has been improved in some areas, but has really gone backwards in other areas as well. When it comes to shooting, the team has improved the last two games, having connected on 47 percent of their shots from the field, but have struggled shooting just 26 percent from the three-point line.
One of the areas the team has really gone backwards in is free throws. Early in the season the team was executing at or above 70 percent from the charity stripe, but here in the last few games the team has only shot 58 percent from the free throw line. MT will have to improve on this before it starts costing them games they should win.
Defensively, the Blue Raiders have played to near perfection in the last couple of games as they have only allowed an average of 54 points in those games. During this stretch, MT has held their opponents to 38 percent shooting from the field. The defense, however, has cooled off when it comes to rebounding as they have only averaged close to 23 defensive rebounds in the last two games, which has dropped them out of the top 100 teams in rebounding.
The ULM offense has struggled all year, averaging just 59 points per game - ranking them No. 322 in the nation - while also shooting 42 percent on the season - ranking them No. 239 in the nation.
However, in the last two games the Warhawks have come to life offensively, averaging 68 points per game while also shooting 51 percent from the field and 38 percent from downtown. The offense has also been on when it comes to free throws, hitting 76 percent of their shots in those same games. Conversely, while the offense has been hot they have struggled with turnovers, averaging nearly 14 per contest in those two games.
While the Warhawk offense has hit their stride, the defense has done okay, allowing 66 points per game while allowing the opposing offense to hit 45 percent from the field and 32 percent from the three point line - not world beating numbers but not bad, either. Just like the MT defense, though, the Warhawks have been struggling with defensive boards, averaging 22 defensive rebounds per game - a number that is close to their season average that has them ranked No. 333 in the nation.
The keys to the game for Middle Tennessee this Saturday will be plain and simple - for the offense, it will be taking advantage of their opportunities, whether that is easy baskets in transition or at the free throw line where the team has struggled as of late.
As for the Blue Raider defense, the key to this game will come down to rebounding. Both teams come in to this contest struggling in this area, so whoever wins the battle of the boards in this one will give themselves a leg up.
One thing to watch for will be how ULM comes out of the gates. Whereas the Blue Raiders have started slow in a lot of their games recently, the Warhawks have been stroking it in the last few games.
F Neiko Hunter - Hunter is coming off one of his career best game where he scored 12 points to go along with six rebounds against Florida Atlantic. Middle Tennessee coaches and fans have been waiting for Hunter to turn it up this season, but they have had to wait longer than expected. However, in the last seven games, Hunter has scored nine or more points in five of them. It will be interesting to see if Hunter can continue to progress and become a force inside that the Blue Raiders could use.
G Amos Olatayo - Olatayo is coming off of a 17-point, eight rebound performance against Troy. Olatayo will enter Saturday's game on a hot streak, having scored at least 17 points in the last three games. Olatayo has only played in eight games this season but has been ULM's most productive player on offense having scored more than 17 points in five of those contests. The guard leads the team in scoring with 13.4 points per game to go along with five rebounds.
PREDICTION: MT 72,
Going into the game the Blue Raiders are heavy favorites as Vegas has them favored to win by 15.5. I expect the game to play out just like that. Last season the Blue Raiders defeated the Warhawks by more than 30 points, but that game was inside the Murphy Center.
While I can see the Warhawks coming out and giving MT problems early on, I look for Middle Tennessee to hold a comfortable lead throughout the whole game and dominate just about every facet of the game.
Monroe may be looked at as one of the SBC's worst teams due to their record, but this squad is much improved from last year and cannot be overlooked by the Blue Raiders.
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