I believe Middle Tennessee will beat Maine about 84-63 in the opening game of the Dr Pepper Classic. I think it is worth seeing, because the Blue Raiders are a good team, a team that received an at large bid to the NCAA Tournament a year ago. So everyone should take the opportunity to go see them.
The Mocs have competed in 23 Dr Pepper Classics in Chattanooga, and have won 15 of them. That's a pretty good mark. They have played in 22 Dr Pepper Classic Championship Games, and beat Utah Valley each of the past two years in the title game. Now, Grand Canyon (a current member of the WAC with Utah Valley) takes their shot at the Mocs.
Z Mason is listed as day-to-day. He'll be a gametime decision. The Mocs need him, and the Mocs need him now. He is their best guy in the paint, obviously. Without him, they lack a true identity. With him, they have their go to guy in the paint and one of their best defensive players. Is this a key game for the Mocs? Traditionally, this is when the Mocs season begins to take shape. The SoCon season starts in less than a week. The Dr Pepper Classic is the last chance to get into shape to play before the SoCon season opens. It would be nice for Mason to have a couple of games under his belt prior to SoCon play beginning. But if he's not healthy, it is much more important that he be playing at full strength for the SoCon play. So we'll see. I'll trust all the coaches and Mason himself 100% on this.
Demetrius Walker is a transfer from New Mexico and was suspended on Friday along with Jeff Lowery. He leads the team in scoring with 16.9 points per game, averages 5.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists. Walker is only shooting 29.4% from three point range, and takes quite a few of them. But he is a scorer, and missing him will hurt them considerably.
The Mocs biggest challenge with or without Mason will be finding a way to contain Killian Larson, the 6-9, 268 pound senior. He is averaging 14.7 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. His 52.3% shooting from the floor will post a gigantic challenge to the Mocs inside. He does not block a lot of shots, so he is not a game changer there, but he is aggressive on the boards, and that will present yet another challenge to the Mocs.
Daniel Alexander just recently became eligible after transferring from Texas A&M. He has made an instant impact. In just three games, he is second on the team in scoring at 15.7 points, second on the team in rebounds with 5.7, and first on the team in assists with 2.7 per game. He has made 57.9% of his three point shots in those three games. That's impressive. He takes mostly three pointers, but is such a good shooter, he has made the Antelopes a much tougher team.
Jerome Garrison is also averaging 11.9 points per game. Akachi Okugo is second on the team in assists with 2.5 per game.
Grand Canyon is a decent defensive rebounding team, but not a particularly good offensive rebounding team. They are 87th in the country in defensive rebounding and 285th in offensive rebounding. The Antelopes score 32.7% of their points from three point range, the 49th highest in the country. They only score 42.1% of their points from two point range, which is 340th nationally. That tells you all you need to know about how this team is going to try to score- by lighting it up from three point range. With Alexander, they have the horses to do it. Blake Davis is also shooting 42% from three point range, and a real threat from deep.
This is interesting, because the Mocs give up 63.5% of their points from two point range, which is the second highest total in the country, while allowing opponents to score just 17.5% of their points from three point range, which is 347th in the country. The Mocs do a terrible job of covering the paint at this point. Larson could do some serious damage to them, if the Antelopes feed him the ball and don't settle for threes. This team does not have a lot of driving guards, which is the Mocs biggest weakness-guards that drive the ball. Walker was the best at driving the ball to the hoop. That should play well to the Mocs advantage.
It would be nice to see Gee McGhee knock down a couple of long shots, and for Casey Jones to continue to show his development. Will the Mocs play the Chaos Zone, which worked reasonably well against UAB? We'll have to wait and see.
The Mocs defense actually should match up reasonably well against the Antelopes, provided that Mason plays and someone can contain Larson. This is a scary game for the Mocs, because so many people have had their game against Middle Tennessee circled for a while. A loss here probably means that game won't even happen. That could be disastrous. But the Mocs at home should probably win this one, especially if Mason plays. It should be a very competitive game, though, and come down to the final buzzer. Mocs 79, Antelopes 75.