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ESPN+ Preview: VMI hosts East Tennessee State in SoCon Saturday matchup

chris graham vmiI’m the emergency COVID fill-in on play-by-by for the ESPN+ broadcast of VMI-East Tennessee State on Saturday.

My goal: not to mispronounce some guy’s name the same way for two hours.

Broadcast time is 1 p.m. Saturday.

The matchup pits mirror-image teams. ETSU (12-10, 4-5 SoCon) and VMI (12-10, 4-5 SoCon) are both coming in on modest two-game losing streaks.

The Bucs own a win over a Power 5, but Georgia (86-84 ETSU, Dec. 22) is ranked just 208th by

There are two nice non-name wins on ETSU’s ledger – Murray State (KenPom: 42) and Missouri State (KenPom: 51), both back in November.

VMI’s best win is a SoCon triumph over KenPom 77 Furman on Jan. 1.

There’s also the near-miss 77-70 loss at KenPom 31 Wake Forest (Dec. 14) in a game in which the Keydets led by as many as 17 points in the first half and still led by 10 midway through the second half.

The two teams met on Jan. 5 at ETSU, a game won by the Bucs, 80-79.

VMI rotation

Coach Dan Earl has shortened his bench a bit of late, largely going with a six-man group, with scattered minutes for a couple of guys beyond that.

The focal points are 6’11” senior Jake Stephens (18.9 ppg, 8.9 rebounds/g, 3.2 assists/g, 53.5% FG, 43.3% 3FG) and 6’1” junior guard Kamdyn Curfman (17.2 ppg, 3.2 rebounds/g, 2.7 assists/g, 44.8% FG, 40.5% 3FG).

Stephens is a tough matchup at the five – excelling in post-ups (105 possessions, 48.5% FG, .848 PPP) and pick-and-roll man (62 possessions, 48.1% FG, 63% AFG, 1.21 PPP) down low and spot-ups (68 possessions, 48.4% FG, 66.9% AFG, 1.294 PPP) on the perimeter.

Curfman is also adept at spot-ups (109 possessions, 48% FG, 70.6% AFG, 1.349 PPP), in transition (38 possessions, 50% FG, 66.7% EFG, 1.316 PPP) and off screens (23 possessions, 45.5% FG, 56.8% AFG, 1.087 PPP).

Curfman and 6’0” sophomore guard Trey Bonham (9.9 ppg, 3.9 assists/g, 46.7% FG, 35.6% 3FG) are used a lot in pick-and-rolls (Curfman: 62 possessions, Bonham: 58 possessions).

It’s Bonham that you need to watch for: he averages .845 PPP and shoots 43.6 percent.

5’11” freshman point guard Honor Huff (8.3 ppg, 2.5 assists/g, 42.1% FG, 34.2% 3FG) is also effective in the pick-and-roll (39 possessions, 38.5% FG, 50% AFG, .846 PPP).

6’5” junior Sean Conway (9.4 ppg, 6.8 rebounds/g, 40.0% FG, 33.3% 3FG) is the undersized four. He does most of his damage on the offensive end on spot-ups (85 possessions, 40.5% FG, 57.6% AFG, 1.071 PPP).

The sixth man is 6’6” sophomore Tanner Mans (6.0 ppg, 3.8 rebounds/g, 46.7% FG, 40.3% 3FG), with scattered minutes for 5’11” freshman Brennan Watkins (3.3 ppg, 35.4% FG, 34.0% 3FG) and 6’4” junior Louis Tang (2.3 ppg, 48.6% FG).

ETSU rotation

Four guys average double-digits in scoring for first-year head coach Desmond Oliver, led by 6’5” junior Ledarrius Brewer (13.5 ppg, 4.8 rebounds/g, 2.3 assists/g, 42.0% FG, 35.8% 3FG) and 6’0” senior David Sloan (13.3 ppg, 5.0 assists/g, 43.3% FG, 41.8% 3FG).

Brewer gets most of his usages from spot-ups (97 possessions, 27.9% of his total), but only shoots 30.1 percent, with a 41.0 percent adjusted field-goal rate and .722 points per possession, on those.

Sloan is used a lot in pick-and-roll (119 possessions, 36.4% of his total usages), and shoots 43.3 percent, with a 48.3 percent adjusted field-goal rate and .840 points per possession.

6’0” sophomore Jordan King (13.0 ppg, 3.2 rebounds/g, 2.5 assists/g, 44.2% FG, 40.3% 3FG) joins Sloan in the backcourt.

King is solid on spot-ups (71 possessions, 44.1% FG, 61% AFG, 1.169 PPP), pick-and-rolls (60 possessions, 46.2% FG, 58.7% AFG, 1.05 PPP) and off screens (30 possessions, 50% FG, 61.5% AFG, 1.133 PPP).

6’9” junior Ty Brewer (10.5 ppg, 6.5 rebounds/g, 44.6% FG, 31.4% 3FG) is the starter at four, with 6’8” freshman Jaden Seymour (4.3 ppg, 3.1 rebounds/g, 48.6% FG, 15.0% 3FG) getting the starts at the five of late.

The bench is 6’5” freshman Mohab Yasser (6.5 ppg, 3.6 rebounds/g, 48.7% FG, 29.4% 3FG), 6’9” sophomore Charlie Weber (6.2 ppg, 3.7 rebounds/g, 55.0% FG, 30.0% 3FG) and 6’8” freshman Kordell Charles (2.0 ppg, 1.5 rebounds/g, 36.0% FG, 14.3% 3FG).

Last time these two met

VMI rallied from 19 down with 17:36 to go, but came up short at the end in the 80-79 loss.

David Sloan had 20 points to lead ETSU. He was 6-of-16 from the floor and 2-of-10 from three.

Ledarrius Brewer had 19 points (7-of-21 FG, 4-of-12 3FG) and eight rebounds. King chipped in 13 points (5-of-16 FG, 3-of-8 3FG).

Jake Stephens had a game-high 29 points (11-of-19 FG, 3-of-9 3FG) and 13 boards for VMI.

Kamdyn Curfman had 17 points (6-of-17 FG, 5-of-14 3FG). Mans, who started, added 13 points (5-of-9 FG, 3-of-7 3FG) in 25 minutes.

Trey Bonham had 10 points (4-of-8 FG, 1-of-4 3FG) and five assists for the Keydets.

VMI notes

  • Jake Stephens has 11 20+ point games this year, including eight of his last nine games. His 18.9 points per game and 2.1 blocks per game rank second in the SoCon, and his 8.9 rebounds per game is first. Stephens has been named SoCon Player of the Week three times this season – most recently on Jan. 17 after a week where he posted a career-high 34 points at Mercer Jan. 13 and two days later pulled down a career-best 21 rebounds at The Citadel – the most by a SoCon player this season and tied for seventh on the NCAA Division I game-high list this season.
  • Kamdyn Curfman became the 44th player in VMI history to score 1,000 points in his VMI basketball career after a 16-point effort at Furman on Jan. 26. He is tied for first in the SoCon in 3FG per game (3.8) and his 80 makes from beyond the arc top the league. Curfman has scored in double figures in all 21 games this season with six 20+ games, including a career-high 27 points at Marist Nov. 20. Curfman matched his career-high in three-pointers in a game when he nailed six threes vs. Samford Jan. 20 after doing so at Wake Forest on Dec. 14 and Central Arkansas Nov. 25. Curfman and has hit 5+ 3FG in eight games this season.
  • Honor Huff set career scoring highs in three consecutive January games. The Brooklyn native had 15 points at The Citadel Jan. 15, 21 points vs. Samford Jan. 20, and 23 points against Chattanooga last Saturday.

ETSU notes

  • David Sloan ranks 16th nationally in total assists (110), 38th in steals (38) and 40th in assists per game (5.0).
  • Jordan King is one of the top three-point shooters in Division I: ranking 31st in made threes (58) and 54th in three-point field goal percentage (.403).
  • As a team, ETSU ranks 13th nationally in three-point attempts (572), 16th in three-pointers made (200), 32nd in total rebounds (787) and 46th in total assists (303).
  • Since Feb. 16, 1987 in a game against Davidson, the Bucs have made at least one 3-pointer in 1,082 consecutive games … ETSU was 0-for-8 in that 1987 game … The Bucs currently rank as the fourth-longest streak in the NCAA, with UNLV topping the list with 1,149 games.

Quick notes

  • VMI averages 68.1 possessions per game; ETSU, 66.0 possessions per game.
  • VMI is shooting 37.8 percent from three-point range this season, ranking 25th nationally. The Keydets rank third nationally in three-point attempts per game (33.0) and second in makes (12.5 per game).
  • This will be the 69th meeting between the teams that first met in 1953. ETSU leads the series, 54-14, and has taken the last 13 meetings. In games played in Lexington, ETSU leads 24-7. The last VMI win over the Bucs in Cameron Hall occurred in 2014-15, by an 84-79 final.
  • projects a 78-74 VMI win, with a 65 percent win probability.
  • The ESPN BPI favors VMI by 7.7 points, with a 77.1 percent win probability.

Story by Chris Graham

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