East, Central set for crucial SMAC games
Tonight’s basketball action features four of the top five teams in the 3A/2A South Mountain Athletic Conference. East Rutherford (10-3, 3-0) will travel north to battle the Freedom Patriots (12-2, 3-1) while the R-S Central Hilltoppers (9-7, 2-2) host the Shelby Golden Lions (13-2, 3-0) tonight at 7:30 p.m.
“Obviously Shelby is playing extremely well this year,” Central head coach said of the visiting Golden Lions. “They have tremendous size. Theyll be, by far, the biggest team across the board that we’ve played this year.”
That size proves troublesome to a somewhat undersized Hilltoppers team.
“We’ll have to space the floor and utilize some of our dribble-penetration ability,” said Wright. “We also need to try to beat them up and down the floor to get some easy points in transition so we don’t have to go against that size and pressure each time down the court.”
Aside from their size, Shelby is expected to bring intense defensive pressure throughout the game.
“They’ll put tremendous pressure on the ball and try to trap you so we’re going to have to a good job recognizing the defense they’re in and see where the traps are coming from and get the ball away from the traps,” said Wright.
In a conference game such as this, each teams have a great feel for what the other team plans to do on the court.
“These kids know each other. We don’t have any secrets and Shelby doesn’t have any secrets so we expect a good game and a great challenge,” said Wright. “We just want to put our best effort forward tomorrow night and see what happens as a result.”
As for head coach Brad Levine and the Cavaliers of East Rutherford, they’ll be taking their show on the road to Burke County where an athletic Freedom team is waiting to prove their status as a top team in the conference.
“I feel that there is a good math-up game going on because they aren’t nearly the size they were last year,” said Levine. “They have great guard play. I think their guard play and our guards are about the best in the conference.”
The undersized Patriots run an up-tempo offense and press that looks a lot like that of East Rutherford’s.
“They’re playing a little bit more full court pressure than in the past so this could be a baseline to baseline game if that’s what they choose to do,” Levine said. “If they choose to play that style I think it could be to their disadvantage because the back half of their press isn’t nearly as strong as the front-end.”
The always-confident Levine feels his team has the advantage in size and strength that could be the difference.
“They don’t have one player that we’re not physically stronger than we are on the floor,” said Levine. “The size advantage is probably the absolute biggest thing since the guard play is such a wash.”
On thing is for sure, with two highly athletic teams the pace of the game is sure to be plenty fast.
“We’re wanting to run. ‘Slow it down’ isn’t even in our vocabulary. It can be as fast and chaotic as they want it,” Levine said. “If we mirror each other then the one who handles it the best will probably win the game.”