Rashad Hassan and the Tigers face Ohio State Wednesday. - Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports
The Tigers of Savannah State head to Columbus to provide another valuable tune-up opportunity for the Basketball Bucks.
Unless you're a die-hard devotee of HBCU sports, the only thing you probably know about Savannah State is that their football team was paid a princely sum to get boatraced by Oklahoma State and Florida State early this football season. That's true, and this matchup between the Tigers of the Mid-East Conference (which, despite the name, does NOT have league offices in Dubai, although with the way realignment is going, who knows?) and Ohio State looks like a mismatch of a similar caliber.
Savannah State actually had a decent season last year, at least by low major standards. They were clobbered by the top level competition they faced early in the season (Georgetown, Wisconsin, Arkansas and Georgia Tech), but went on a major run once they got to MEAC play, going 14-2 and winning the league's regular season title before falling to Hampton in the conference tournament. Their strong regular season won them a trip to the NIT, where they were summarily dismissed by top-seeded Tennessee. Winning 21 games and playing in the postseason isn't a bad run for a low major by any means, but since Savannah State returns almost their entire team, expectations are high.
The Tigers sit at 5-4 (0-1) on the year, with close losses against Middle Tennessee State and UCF, and not so close losses against Florida and conference foe Norfolk State. Savannah State's best win was probably their most recent 9-point victory over Robert Morris, but none of their other wins would set the KenPom rankings ablaze (a win over a D2 team? Beating Western Illinois 39-38? Woof). Their matchup with Ohio State kicks off a 7 game road trip, so that record will probably get worse before it gets better.
The Tiger's best player is probably Senior forward Rashad Hassan (6-7). Hassan leads the Tigers in scoring at 13.2 ppg, while adding 5.1 boards per game. Hassan focuses on getting higher percentage shots near the basket (58% fg), and isn't a stretch threat by any means. He also isn't a very good free throw shooter, which is important for a team that struggles to score. Hassan is joined in the frontcourt by fellow senior Arnold Louis (6-7), who adds 5.3 points and a team leading 6.3 rpg. Louis has struggled both with his shot this season and with foul trouble, but when he can stay in the game, he's capable of grabbing ten boards.
Junior Jyles Smith will see time as a defensive stopped down low. Smith is a non-entity on offense (1.4 ppg, no field goals in the past five games), but he averages over 3 blocks a game and can cause havoc down low. If any of the three get into major foul trouble, junior reserve Christopher Spears (6-7) may get some burn as well.
Savannah State's guard duties will be paced by seniors Preston Blackman and Cedric Smith. The 6-0 Blackman is second on the team in scoring at 11 a game, and the team leader in assists at 2.9. Like many of his teammates, he hasn't been particularly efficient on offense, struggling to create easy shots for himself or get to the line. There have been flashes though, as he scored 20 points against Robert Morris on 7-11 shooting, while getting three trips to the line. Perhaps most concerning is Blackman's average of 3.7 turnovers per game against less than 3 assists.
The 6-3 Smith provides an impressing rebounding presence for a smaller player, grabbing 6 a game. He isn't a very dynamic scorer (5.2 ppg, zero 3 point attempts), but is averaging 2 steals per game over his last five games. Junior Stephen Wilson (6-1, 6.2 ppg) and Deven Williams (6-0, 5.3 ppg) will also see time in the backcourt. Williams is more of a three point threat, but Wilson has been the more consistent performer so far this season. Junior Khiry White is also getting 15 minutes of play a game, but hasn't made his presence felt on boxscores very much (2.1 pgg, 1.2 rpg).
Savannah State is near the bottom of the national rankings in a variety of offensive categories. Perhaps the most damning is their 9.2 assists per game, good for a staggering 334th in the country. Their 54.1 points per game is 342nd, out of only 347 D1 teams. Part of this is their style of play, which focuses on drawing out possessions, and part is their personnel. Savannah State is a small team that doesn't shoot three pointers particularly well and struggles to find easy looks inside. That should spell disaster against an athletic front court and a ball hawking backcourt.
Savannah State may very well heat up and go for a run in MEAC play again, but this looks like a horrible matchup for the Tigers. Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott should be able to wreck havoc on a smaller backcourt that has problems with turnovers, and even a modest run by Deshaun Thomas could put the Tigers in a hole they can't dig out from. This should be another good opportunity for Amir Williams and Trey McDonald to get playing time and confidence against smaller forwards. The Tiger's playing style should keep Ohio State's scoring total under what Long Beach State gave up, but Ohio State is 15-0 against MEAC opponents, and there isn't anything to suggest Savannah State can keep it from getting to 16-0.
Holy Diver. Buckeyes win a relatively easy one, 71-47.