Who would have guessed that we could put together not one, but two previews for the play-in game between Albany and Mount St. Mary's? Ryan Peters of NYC Buckets, has seen the Mountaineers play at least eight times live this season, and answered a few of my emails about what we can expect from 'Mount Mayhem'.
Me: Ryan, so the Mount will travel to Dayton, Ohio on Tuesday to play the Albany Great Danes in the 16-seed play-in game. Both teams play contrasting styles. Will MSM be able to get the Great Danes to play at that 'Mayhem' style pace?
Ryan: That's the million dollar question, Stephen! Albany plays at one of the slowest tempos in the country at 62.3 possessions per game, whereas the Mount cracks the 70 possessions per game barrier, good for 31st overall in the nation.
Everyone these days calls it "Mount Mayhem" but this team isn't completely equipped to play at a constant breakneck pace. The truth is the Mount only has about 8 useful bodies, due to injuries and unexpected defections; therefore they'll mix up the tempo throughout the game depending on the game situation, the referees, etc. Mixing the tempo up is something they need to do to stay out of foul trouble, especially with their Big 3 senior trio of Julian Norfleet, Rashad Whack and Sam Prescott.
Despite the 8 man rotation, though, the Mount will still trap and press in the half court and 3/4 court a majority of the time, and they love to catch opponents off guard. Then if they can extract a couple of turnovers in a row and get some quick buckets in transition, that's when the pace will become rather unsustainable for a team like Albany. That's what makes Jamion Christian's team so much fun to watch, this is a team that can score quickly and in spurts. They're incredibly fit, so if you're worried about Norfleet or Whack playing 35+ minutes at a high tempo, then you shouldn't be. These seniors can certainly handle it.
Me: That’s certainly a great breakdown of how "Mount Mayhem" plays out over the course of the game. In my preview for this game on Mid-Major Madness earlier today, I said that I believe the Great Danes are going to try and work inside-out in an effort to get junior forward Sam Rowley going. I watched Rowley give a physical Pitt team problems a few months ago, and he’s a prototypical, heady International guy – Australia.
How important is the on-ball defense on Albany’s guards going to be to stop easy entry passes? Also, if and when the ball gets inside, do you think sophomores Taylor Danaher and Gregory Graves are going to be effective at making Rowley’s job tough?
Ryan: You made a great point about Rowley inside and I’d certainly expect Will Brown to get as many touches to Rowley near the basket. One weakness to this Mayhem scheme is that opponents will get open looks inside the arc if they can somehow break the Mount’s pressure. In fact, NEC opponents (who from a height perspective are similar to teams like Albany) were shooting a league best 52.5% from two. I’d be shocked if Brown’s crew wasn’t attacking the rim and posting up the Mount’s bigs with regularity.
So to answer your question about Danaher and Graves containing Rowley, I think the Australian will have his way down low if the entry passes are there. Of course, getting the ball down low is never a given with the athleticism of Whack, Norfleet and freshmen Byron Ashe and Khalid Nwandu hounding the perimeter players, but I think DJ Evans, Peter Hooley and company will do just fine in that regard.
Me: So, with all that being said, who do you have winning and why? I like the Mount with their varied looks and ability to deny easy entry passes into the low post, effectively neutralizing the one thing Albany likes to do offensively.
Ryan: KenPom projects this game to be a tossup, and I wholeheartedly agree with his computers. So for me, I'll side with the NEC counterpart even though both teams are playing incredibly well at the moment. Prescott has played well down the stretch here for Jamion Christian, and his athleticism will make things awfully difficult for whoever tries to cover him. With Prescott as the x-factor, I think the Mount's pace will be too much to handle for Albany, wearing down the Great Danes. I like the Mount, 68-66.