Mercer, BYU a nice contrast of styles, hunger

Macon TelegraphMarch 25, 2013 

    A pair of winning coaches, two teams that wanted bigger things but will certainly settle for a trip to New York, a crowd of 10,000-plus?
    Yeah, I'm kinda thinkin' Mercer-BYU will be more entertaining than Arizona-Harvard or Michigan-VCU.
    The fun part is the matchup. Mercer and BYU aren't running each other's playbook.
    Mercer uses clock, makes teams play defense inside and out.
    BYU pushes and runs and will throw long passes downcourt to get going.
    The refs will get a break, watching two fundamentally sound teams that aren't really going to be hammering each other.
    Mercer will, as no-name underdogs who are better than people think, surprise BYU fans with poise.
    For one, this is the Bears' fourth game in the high altitude in a year.
    For another, Mercer knows that Utah is a  mad hoops state and that the Cougars will have a raucus crowd. The Bears know that from playing at Utah State in the Tournament title game and winning.
    In the past two seasons, Mercer has played at Alabama, Florida State, Missouri, Seton Hall, Georgia and Tulsa.
    Mercer is about consistency and balance, so BYU can't necessarily focus on anybody. Mercer clearly has slow down forward Brandon Davies and guard Tyler Haws. That means the Bears have to again execute a low-post double team, as they did with Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes. But BYU has more perimeter threats than the Vols did, so nobody can sleep when somebody helps. Lots of rotation and sticking to Haws.
    The Bears have an edge on the bench, and will use the backups much more in this game than against Tennessee, thanks to better physical matchups as well as the need to because there will still be an adjustment to the altitude. Mercer gets a higher percentage of points (26-21 percent) and rebounds (40.4-38.1 percent) from its bench, and has nine players getting at least 10 minutes a game to seven for the Cougars. And take out the injured Josh Sharp (Achilles) from that BYU rotation, another edge for Mercer. Throw in the fact that BYU doesn't practice on Sundays, and that adds to the storylines.
    Mercer uses its bench more in tight situations, and it won't be surprising to see some big play from Monty Brown, Kevin Canevari and T.J. Hallice.
    Mercer is a 7-point underdog. projects an 81-69 BYU win. Course, that site also picked Geoergetown and San Diego State over Florida Gulf Coast by seven and four.
    BYU was more engaged in its opener last week against Washington, and hit 90 points for the fifth time this season. The Cougars will certainly be engaged again, especially with a bigger crowd on hand.
    If Mercer can do a better job of getting a talented forward in foul trouble than it did last week, the Bears' odds increase. Avoiding dumb fouls, like Daniel Coursey's 21 feet from the basket that led to three free throws, is vital, too. Mercer won't survive having two post players foul out this time.
    For those who like more than dunks in their hoops, this should be an entertaining game.
    Prediction? Every Florida Gulf Coast win most likely gets Mercer more focused, and that's what wins games against better teams and programs. The Bears will have emotion, but hunkering down and trying to outlast the Eagles is something to note. They're tired of hearing about Dunk City, and need to keep playing to get some attention back. So the call here is Mercer 75-71,

Atlantic Sun noise
    Between FGCU and Mercer, the A-Sun its own Broadway musical:
    Bring in Da Dunk, Bring in Da Poise.
    FGCU has dazzled with explosiveness, and Mercer impresses with calmness.
    The notable part about the success of the Eagles and Bears? Both have some bad losses on the resumes.
    FGCU lost twice to Lipcomb, once to East Tennessee State and once to Stetson. None are in the top 220 in the NCAA's RPI. The bad non-conference loss is to No. 272 Maine.
    Mercer lost to Jacksonville, Kennesaw State and Northern Kentucky. RPIs of 271, 280 and 341. The Bears' worst non-conference loss is to No. 178 Illinois-Chicago

    The Atlantic Sun's NCAA RPI as of March 18:

Rank    Previous    School    Record    Road    Neutral    Home    Non-DI
93     94         FGCU                24-10     7-9     2- 0     13-1     2-0
137     137     Mercer           23-11     8-7     0- 3     13-1     2-0
220     219     Stetson          15-16     6-9     1- 1     7-6     1-0
224     225     USC Upstate   16-17     5-12     2- 1     7-4     2-0
229     229     North Florida   13-19     4-14     2- 1     6-4     1-0
236     238     Lipscomb       12-18     4-12     0- 0     7-6     1-0
271     271     Northern Ky.   11-16     6-9     0- 3     5-4     0-0
274     274     East Tenn. St. 10-22     5-11     0- 3     4-8     1-0
280     281     Jacksonville    14-18     3-13     1- 2     8-3     2-0
341     341     Kennesaw St.  3-27     1-15     0- 2     2-10     0-0

    As of lunchtime Monday, FGCU was up to 67th in Warren Nolan's RPI, and Mercer to 115. In RealtimeRPI, the rankings are 76th and 110.
    The surprise of the success, so to speak, goes back to A-Sun commish Ted Gumbart saying a few weeks ago that the conference RPIs were always hurt by a bad non-conference loss.
    FGCU had a sub-250 RPI loss, or the Eagles' RPI would have been in the 70s and 80s much of the year. The win over Miami helped keep FGCU under 100.
    Mercer had two top-100 wins, but also losses from 135-178. Three non-conference games were against teams in the bottom 20 percent.
    Loving parity. That's why FGCU and Mercer can lose to who they lost to, and why they can beat who they've beaten.

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