The Mocs are at an relatively early season fork in the road. Which road are they going to take?
Prior to a Sunday evening in Los Angeles, the Mocs had shown consistent effort that made fans think that eventually they would turn the corner. They had lost close games to Nevada and Kennesaw State, beaten two non-D1s and not played too poorly against Radford. Since that Sunday in Los Angeles, they have been blown out by UCLA and Georgia, while losing in ugly fashion against Morehead State. They also won ugly against Hiwassee. They did beat IUPUI and that was nice, but the rest of their performances have been ugly since that heartbreaking loss to Nevada.
So now, with finals behind them, the Mocs have four games before the SoCon season starts. Northern Kentucky is the first in that trek. The second game is at UAB this week, before the Dr Pepper Classic in Chattanooga. This four game stretch is really big for the Mocs in terms of building momentum as we race towards the SoCon season.
So what team shows up in Northern Kentucky?
One of the interesting things about this Northern Kentucky is their lack of height. The Norse have one 6-7 player that starts, and no one else who starts is over 6-4. Cole Murray is 6-7 and plays just 20.8 minutes per game. He scores 5.3 points per game and gets just 1.5 rebounds per contest. He has made twelve threes this year, but shoots just 32.4% from three point range. In other words, he may be their biggest player, but he does not play like a big player. The Mocs have a similar problem. They are not big, but Z Mason plays significantly bigger than that.
The Norse leading rebounder is Todd Johnson, who is 5-9. Last year, he averaged just 1.3 rebounds per game, but this year he is up to 5.4. He got 11 rebounds against Purdue, eight against Kentucky and then 10 against UT-Martin. He's averaged under three rebounds per game in the other five games. He's averaging 7.4 points per game and 2.3 assists per contest.
Jordan Jackson is the Norse leading scorer, second in rebounds, and leads the team in assists. Jackson is averaging 13.5 points per game, 4.7 rebounds, and 3.2 assists. Jackson is 6'2. He is shooting almost 52% from the floor, and has not made a three yet this year. Jackson is more of someone who gets to the basket. He scored 24 with 8 rebounds against Purdue, his highs in both categories this year. He was injured against Kentucky, then missed the next two games, before coming back. Since returning, he's averaged 13.5 points per game, 4.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists. He is probably the Norse best player.
Tyler White is the second leading scorer with 11.0 points per game. Jack Flournoy has made 16 threes this year and is shooting 51.6% from three point range this year. Jalen Billups is not a starter and is 6-6. He is averaging 3.0 rebounds and one block per game to go along with 8.5 points per game. Jake Giesler is 6-7 and plays eighteen minutes per game. He is averaging 4.5 points per game and 4.6 rebounds per contest. Billups and Giesler are probably the two players that are the biggest and both come off the bench.
The Norse and the Mocs play two very different styles. The Norse play, according to KenPom, at the 327th fastest pace out of 351 D1 teams. The Mocs play at the 24th fastest pace. It should be very interesting to see which team can force the other one into their style. The Mocs defense has not been good, especially in the halfcourt. The Mocs eFG% defense is ranked 333rd in the country. Northern Kentucky's is ranked 339th. Wow. This is two pretty lousy defenses trying to stop the other teams offense.
The Mocs are due for a good performance. This is on the road against a 1-7 team that lost to Morehead State by 13 (the same total the Mocs lost to Morehead State by), and played good Purdue, San Diego, Kentucky and SE Missouri State teams to go along with Morehead State. They beat Tulane on the road. They haven't played a home game since November 19 against Morehead State. They also got beat by 31 by San Diego at home. Still, the Norse should be excited to be home. This is a good match-up for the Mocs. The Norse are not a lot bigger than the Mocs and they don't play particularly good defense. Z Mason should be able to score a lot of points again, though putting up 41 like he did against Hiwassee is unlikely. Casey Jones and Gee McGhee may be the key to the game. The Mocs not committing a lot of turnovers will also be key. How does this go? I truly have no idea. This is as much of a toss up as I could possibly imagine. I'll go with the Mocs. Mocs 80, Northern Kentucky 78.