Who they are
East Tenneesse State is a public university located in Johnson City, Tenn. The school boasts over 14,000 students and the basketball team competes in the Southern Conference, with schools such as UNC-Greensboro, Mercer, Wofford, and Furman. Their mascot: the Buccaneer.
What they did last year
East Tennessee State placed second in the Southern Conference last year behind UNC-Greensboro. They finished with a record of 25-9, and went 14-4 in conference play. The Bucs had an impressive 16-game winning streak in the midst of their season, from late December to February before losing three conference games in a row to finish the regular season. They finished second to UNC-Greensboro in both record and the conference tournament. Despite having 25 wins, ETSU did not participate in a postseason tournament.
There were not a great deal of quality wins on the 2017-18 Bucs schedule. They lost the opener to Northern Kentucky, 81-63, but did beat them the second time around, 84-71. The Bucs also lost to No. 7 Kentucky, 78-61, and No. 10 Xavier, 68-66, in Cincinnati. That was a close call, for sure. Other than that, they defeated Georgia Southern and UNC-Greensboro. Again, nothing crazy to note.
Players to watch
So far this year, ETSU has already dropped its first conference game to Wofford but has recorded a record of 8-3. The good news for Illinois, though, is that there are only four (4!) returning players for ETSU. So let’s take a look at who has been an impact on the court for the Bucs:
As of now, four players are averaging double figures in the 11 games ETSU has played: Tray Boyd (13.1 PPG), Jeromy Rodriguez (12.2), Patrick Good (11.4) and Isaiah Tisdale (10.5). Good and Tisdale are both right around the 6-foot mark, Boyd measures in around 6-foot-4 and Rodriguez at 6-foot-7. So, even though none of the leading scorers will be significantly taller than the impact players for the Illini, the Bucs do have their fair share of size. Octavion Corley is a 7-footer who averages 4.5 points and five boards per game. Mladen Armus is 6-foot-10 and averaging 9.5 and 8.5. Oh, and Rodriguez? Along with his 12.2 points, he pulls down 12.5 rebounds per game.
This makes me think Brad is going to try and really plan his defensive scheme around Rodriguez’s althelticism around the rim. Trent, Ayo and Da’Monte can probably take care of Good, Tisdale, and Boyd on the defensive end, but Rodriguez will provide more issues. I don’t know if Kipper is a great matchup there, and Giorgi will likely be stuck on the bigger guys. If Samba and Adonis play quite a bit, that might allow Giorgi to rotate to Rodriguez. Da’Monte and Aaron Jordan can also guard a little above their position, but I wouldn’t expect Underwood to rely on it. Mixing in a little zone here or there might help throw the Bucs’ offense off-balance. Whatever Underwood chooses to do, he must pay special attention to Rodriguez.
This is going to be a tough one for Underwood and the Illini. I think the defense is going to have to be more versatile than previous games if there is any chance of stopping scoring on the interior and rebounding on the part of ETSU. Frazier is going to have to step up big time in the first half to help the Illini take the lead. Giorgi and Samba (if he plays) will need to throw whatever weight they have around in the low post and fight for rebounds. And on the perimeter, Da’Monte and Ayo will need to lockdown defensively.
I think this one will come down to the final minutes, and I think the Illini can pull away if they make fewer mistakes.
Illinois 78, ETSU 71
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