Larry Ness' 10* LEGEND Play (3-0 in March!): Larry swept his Sweet 16 and Elite 8 Side & Total GOY plays (4-0) plus dominated the "minor tourneys" as well, winning G.O.Y. plays in the NIT, the CBI & the CIT. That doesn't include a LEGEND win on Pit/But Ov (3/21), which made him 3-0 with those "signature" plays in March's CBB. His final LEGEND Play in March goes tonight. BE THERE!
Game: Mercer at Utah St. Mar 28 2012 9:00PM
Prediction: Utah St.
Grade: Loser (-110)
Reason: My 10* LEGEND Play is on Utah St at 9:00 ET.
Stew Morrill’s accomplishments at Utah State are quite special, as he entered this season having led the Aggies to 12 consecutive postseasons, winning at least 23 games each season. The only other schools which could say that were Kansas and Gonzaga (pretty good company). However, Utah State lost FOUR, senior starters off LY’s team. The do-everything 6-7 Wesley (14.8-8.0) and 6-9 Bendall (6.5-5.8) up front plus guards Williams and Newbold. PG Pane (11.8) was the lone returning starter and the 6-7 Jardine (7.5-7.0) was the only other returning contributor of note. Pane has played well all season (12.4-3.61-4.1) but the 6-7 Jardine (7.7-7.7) was lost for the year with a foot injury after just three games. However, Utah St ‘caught its stride’ down the stretch and has added four consecutive home wins here in the CIT. There was a non-cover vs Cal State Bakersfield (a team that’s better than most think), then 'covers’ over Idaho (76-56) and Loyola-Marymount (77-69), plus last Sunday, a near-perfect performance vs Oakland. The Aggies won that game 105-81, while shooting 63.8% from the floor (12-of-16 on threes). Talk about a team ‘jelling’ at the right time. Sophomore guard Medlin (17.1-4.4-3.4) has come into his own this tourney, averaging 23.3-6.8-4.0. Pane is averaging 14.8-4.0-7.0 and up front, the 6-7 Grim (13.8-7.3) and the 6-6 Reed (11.5-5.5) are both exceeding their seasonal stats in this tourney. Depth has been provided all season by guard Berger (6.4-3.3), who had 17 points vs Oakland, plus frontcourt players like the 6-7 Clifford (4.4-3.4) and the 6-5 Bruneel (4.1). Mercer is out of the Atlantic Sun and after finishing second (13-5) to Belmont this year in the regular season, has accomplished quite a bit here in the CIT (why this tourney has been so helpful to schools like this). The Bears opened with home wins over Tenn St (team which beat Murray St) and Georgia St plus then went on the road to win at Old Dominion (79-73 as 7 1/2-point underdogs) and Fairfield (64-59 as six-point ‘dogs). The team enters this game 26-11, quite an improvement over the last five years, when the Bears were 72-86 overall, including 46-48 in Atlantic Sun play. This year is quite a turnaround, as last year’s team was 15-18 (11-9 in the Atlantic Sun), despite very good seasons from the 6-7 Mills (16.2-6.0), guard Smith (14.7) and the 6-6 Moore (11.9-6.5). All three of those players did not return, yet head coach Bob Hoffman has fashioned a 26-win season with the school one win away from taking the CIT title. Point guard Hall (11.3-3.3-4.2) is joined by what is basically three forwards and a center in the starting lineup. The 6-8 Cecil (10.9), the 6-6 Gollon (10.5-5.9-3.3) and the 6-6 Thomas (8.5-4.6) are the forwards with the center being the 6-10 Coursey (9.2-4.2). Smith (8.1) is a guard who gets solid minutes. Cecil averaged 20.0 PPG in Mercer’s first three tourney wins but then had just six points vs Fairfield. Hall has been steady as always with the 6-10 Coursey alternating good games with bad ones. He’s totaled 26 points and 12 rebounds in the team's first and third games but ‘disappeared’ in games two and four, totaling four points and eight rebounds. I mentioned in taking Utah St last Sunday, that Stew Morrill is known for his various defensive schemes and most rank them with some of the most creative in all of college hoops. At the other end of the court, Oakland would have to deal with Morrill’s patented motion offense, which should regularly give Medlin and Co. good perimeter ‘looks!’ I guess the team made those good looks (63.8% overall, including 12-of-16 on threes!). Morrill’s motion offense is much more complex than what Mercer has faced in the earlier rounds of this tourney. Georgia State and ODU were hardly offensive ‘heavyweights’ while Fairfield was minus PG Derek Needham, the team’s only double digit score next to Sanders. I spoke earlier regarding Mercer’s “odd” forward-dominated lineup, which will likely be hard-pressed to “beat Utah St to its spots!” Do I expect the Aggies to shoot 61%-plus again? No, but this team scored 75, 76 and 77 in its first three games of this tourney, before its 101-point outburst vs Oakland. Mercer has topped 68 points in a game this tourney just once (79 vs ODU), averaging 65.3 PPG in the other three. That’s NOT enough vs the Aggies. Now to a pair of final “key factors.” Mercer plays in a “bus” league (Atlantic Sun), meaning a trip like this to far away Logan is an anomaly. This trip will involve a bus trip to an airport, a LONG flight to Salt Lake City and then another bus trip to beautiful downtown Logan, where Mercer will attempt to win a third straight road game as an underdog (tough sledding). That win will have to come over a red-hot and confident group of Aggies, led by Stew Morrill, a coach who is just one win away from earning a postseason title. His career at Utah St has been impressive (see above) but his Aggies are just 1-9 in nine NCAA appearance. The CIT is a tourney this team can win and Morrill and the Aggies won’t miss this opportunity! The Aggies have won 100 of their last 106 home games here at Dee Glen Smith Spectrum and while win No. 101 out of 107 may not come as easily as win No. 100 did (after all, that was 105-81), it will come with “room to spare!”