Tyler Has The Scout - Chattanooga
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*Author's note: We apologize in advance to those who might be offended by this infringement upon the sacred "Craig Has The Scout" brand, but this being the NCAA Tournament and all, we thought a nod to IB tradition just felt kind of right. So with all due respect to Craig...
Within a millisecond of the reveal of the Illinois-Chattanooga first round matchup in the NCAA Tournament during the Selection Show on Sunday, Seth Davis already had Chattanooga into the Sweet 16. While Illini fans everywhere lost their collective minds and raged on Twitter, I'm guessing Brad Underwood smiled a bit at the instant bulletin board material he was gifted.
In contrast to Seth Davis, my initial response to the Chattanooga reveal (besides a quick shudder of a flashback to 1997) was kind of a shrug. I remembered the highlight of them making a desperation three in overtime to win their conference tournament and send them dancing, but beyond that I enjoyed no insight whatsoever into this team. I didn't even know what conference they won (it was the Southern Conference).
I figured I should probably do a little scouting in advance of Friday so I got to internetting.
Let's start with the basics. They are Chattanooga Mocs - not the Chattanooga Moccasins. When we lost to them in the 1997 tournament they were officially the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga - and they were the Moccasins. But in similar fashion to what occurred at Illinois, the school made the commitment to move away from Native American imagery and after that 1997 season they changed the school nickname to simply the Mocs. Not short for Moccasins, mind you, just Mocs. As the school's athletic website claims - "that name stands alone."
They use railroad themed branding to reflect the city's railroad heritage and their mascot is a big creepy bird named "Scrappy". Scrappy is apparently a mockingbird - which is also the state bird of Tennessee. The school website goes on to claim that: "MOCS are fiercely territorial creatures which protect their homes with courage, determination and skill." So, yeah, I'm not sure "Mocs" really stands alone, but whatever, I should probably get to the basketball.
The Mocs were the regular season Southern Conference champions - finishing the regular season at 24-7 and 14-4 in the conference. They qualified for the NCAA Tournament by beating Furman in OT - via the aforementioned buzzer beater. So for starters, we should note that it took kind of a miracle for Chattanooga to even be in this position, because they would not have made it as an at-large team. They were 63rd in NET and 70 in KenPom. They played no "Power 6" conference schools all season and they finished with only one Quad 1 win - against VCU in Richmond in the first week of the season. They had two other Q1 opportunities and lost them both (Murray State and Belmont). To their credit they were 3-0 in Q2 games (Wofford and Furman x 2), but they also suffered three Quad 4 losses - including back to back home losses in mid February against 165 VMI and 166 UNC-Greensboro - lest you think they are riding a crazy hot streak entering the NCAA Tournament. Again for clarity - the Mocs had more Q4 losses than they had Q1 wins.
So all in all, I'm not sure their resume is all that daunting. I mean they are a 13 seed for a reason. So why have they become such a trendy upset pick? Well for one, there are a lot of national experts who are watching "That Team Over There" (as Robert so deftly defined) instead of the Illinois team we've watched for four months. I've seen so much stuff about last year's loss to Loyola (and the Big Ten's struggles overall as a conference in last year's tournament), but I'll never understand how that has any bearing on anything. Illinois stumbled as a favorite last season - so they are a prime candidate to do so this season? That's just lazy logic.
So what about the real nuts and bolts? What does this team do on the court and how do they match up against us? I was more than willing to dive in to see if their style of play is contradictory to ours or if there are any glaring matchup concerns that should give Illinois fans pause, so I found some film of that SOCON championship game and put together a little primer for your consumption.
Their team revolves heavily around three guys - Malachi Smith (#13), David Jean-Baptiste (#3), and Silvio DeSousa (#22).
Smith is their dude. He's a 6'4" sophomore off-guard who played with EJ Liddell at Belleville. He averaged 20 points a game and did so pretty efficiently - shooting 41% from three and 54% from two. He doesn't get to the line much, but he's good when he gets there (83%). He's not particularly athletic, but he's strong and they use sets to get him isolated for dribble penetration or backing down his defender from the wing. My Big Ten comp for him is Penn State's Jalen Pickett.
They do run a fair amount of iso sets for Smith, but in this SOCON game at least he showed a tendency to get too deep and turn the ball over.
Even though Smith has a couple of inches of height advantage, this seems like exactly the kind of guard Trent Frazier eats for lunch. I'll be surprised if Trent doesn't draw this defensive assignment on Friday.
One thing you can never do is double off of this guy. I mean what is Furman doing here anyway? That just cannot happen. If this were to happen on Friday, the Mt. Underwood eruption would be Pompeii level historic.
Jean-Baptiste averages 14.6 PPG but is not as consistent a shooter as Smith. He will certainly knock down open shots when presented with them, but he's more of a spot up shooter than he is a dribble-drive guy. Then again he did do this for them…
Now DeSousa is a guy you might have heard of. He's a transfer from Kansas, who fell out of favor in Lawrence after he helped rearrange the Allen Fieldhouse furniture after a game against Kansas State two years ago…
On the floor he averages 11 points and 7 rebounds, but is only averaging 20 minutes per game. He's committed 73 fouls in 543 minutes - which comes out to a foul every 7 minutes - so apparently he's kind of a hack. (Kofi fouls only once every 13 minutes of floor time by comparison).
He's an effective scorer in the paint (59% on 2P FG attempts), but as we aren't likely to double team him, he's going to have to figure out ways to score by either going over or through Kofi. Considering he's giving up three inches and 40 or so pounds, that may prove to be rough sledding for him on the block.
Chattanooga runs a lot of ball reversal action to create post feed opportunities....
but Kofi is not going to be fronting him on defense (at least I hope not), so again he's going to be facing a much tougher catch and finish on Friday.
DeSousa has also shown the ability to put the ball on the floor…
…but Kofi is likely going to be in drop coverage in this situation, so unless he shows that he can knock down some jumpers (he's 5/19 from three on the season), that's not going to be a factor.
Another wrinkle to look for from the Mocs on offense is they will clear out the floor to invite back cut opportunities. That is Ball-You-Man heresy right there. Losing sight of your man in this situation is a cardinal sin, so let's hope we don't fall into this trap.
On defense, Chattanooga uses a pack line - keep the ball out of the middle type of man to man similar to ours, but in contrast to the drop coverage we face so often in the Big Ten, the Mocs will hedge on high ball screens. That's all well and good, but if Furman can take advantage - you have to figure Belo and Trent will be able to as well.
I also watched them give up some easy opportunities in the SOCON championship game when their perimeter guys got caught ball watching…
…so that's potentially something our guards could take advantage of - especially if they are doubling Kofi.
Lastly, Furman was also able to get a lot going against the Mocs off of dribble penetration so I also expect that Andre Curbelo will have opportunities to get into the lane and do some damage. If he's successful and avoids his finishing issues he had against Indiana, it's going to be tough for Chattanooga to contain him.
So, yes, it's the NCAA Tournament. Upsets happen - it's kind of what makes the thing so great. Foul trouble, injury, Cam Krutwig, 3-22 shooting from the arc - anything can happen. One of the 13 seeds will likely win on either Thursday or Friday. That said - I kind of love this matchup for us. The Mocs aren't an offensive juggernaut, they don't shoot the three particularly well, they don't play at a dramatically different tempo compared to us, they don't have a "stretch-4" type of matchup nightmare, and they don't really have the physical presence down low to challenge Kofi.
They are just 267th in the country at preventing three point attempts, and they do not have the type of defensive length on the perimeter against which we have struggled. That adds up to a strong possibility that we will have plenty of good looks from the arc.
They are a plus offensive rebounding team, and while that could be an opportunity for them to gain a few extra shot attempts, they don't really force many turnovers so consider that shot volume wash.
But most eye opening to me is their two point field goal percentage defense (or lack thereof). They allow two point baskets to the tune of 52% - 272nd worst in all of college basketball. That reads to me like Kofi should be able to feast all day.
Sorry Seth - I'm just not seeing it.