PREVIEW: FGCU Opens Conference Play at Home Against Liberty – 1/2/20

FGCU opens conference play at home versus Liberty on Thursday, January 2nd. Liberty had loads of success in the nonconference portion of their season. They started 14-0 before losing to LSU 74-57. Last season was Liberty’s first in the ASUN and they quickly established themselves as the team to beat until further notice. FGCU managed to split the series 1-1. This year the Flames are the heavy favorites. Below, we will take a look at some of their players that could make an impact, go over the potential matchups, and give our predictions for the game.

The Players

Caleb Homesley (#1)

Homesley is among the leaders on this experienced Liberty squad. He missed 4 games due to injury earlier this year but is back and is expected to play significant minutes going forward. Homesley is a 6’6″ / 205 lb redshirt senior guard. Even with load management, he has averaged 11 points, 2 assists, and 5 rebounds in 28 mins per game. He is a do-it-all guard who can drive, shoot, and pass with the best of them. His numbers should improve as the season advances.

Scottie James (#31)

James is a 6’8″ / 235 lb redshirt senior forward and another leader on this team. He has started all 15 games this year but is only playing an average of 20 minutes per contest. James is currently managing 10 points and 7 rebounds but these numbers should increase now that conference play is here. James has excellent athleticism and shooting ability for a big.

Darius McGhee (#2)

McGhee is a small sophomore guard at 5’9″ but he plays very big. He has made 15 starts this season and is a fantastic shooter (45% from the floor and 42% from deep). In 30 minutes a game McGhee is averaging 10 points and 4 rebounds.

Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz (#11)

Pacheco-Ortiz is another senior guard on the team. He is 6’1″ / 170 lbs and has started every game this year. In 30 minutes per game, he is averaging 9 points, 2 assists, and 2 rebounds.

Elijah Cuffee (#10)

Cuffee is a versatile 6’4″ / 185 lb junior guard/forward combo. He has started all 15 games for the Flames, averaging 29 minutes per contest. Shooting 53% from the floor and 51% from three, Cuffee has been the best shooter on the team. To this point he is averaging 9 points, 2 assists, and 3 rebounds.

Myo Baxter-Bell (#0)

Baxter-Bell is one of the more unique bodies in college basketball at 6’5″ and almost 260 lbs. As a redshirt senior, he has played in all 15 of their games, averaging 19 minutes per contest. Baxter-Bell is a thick and strong presence down low and possesses a wide range of post moves. He is also an excellent passer from the post. Currently he is averaging 9 points and 4 rebounds per game.

Kyle Rode (#22)

Rode is a promising freshman for the Flames. He has played in all 15 games, making 5 starts and playing about 23 minutes per contest. He is listed at 6’7″ and about 200 lbs. Rode is alreading a great shooting forward from really anywhere on the court. This is coupled with a strong repertoire of post moves. Currently he is averaging 6 points and 3 rebounds per game while shooting 49% from the floor and 40% from 3.

Matchups

Guards

Liberty’s backcourt is full of experience and seniority. Additionally, the Flames typically go with a smaller lineup, featuring 4 guards (Homesley, Pacheco-Ortiz, McGhee, and Cuffee). FGCU is comfortable matching up with a lineup like this. Caleb Catto is a lock to start the game but there has been some shuffling as of late. Zach Scott and Sam Gagliardi are also likely to start as well.

Forwards

Arguably the best player on their team is Scottie James. Last season, he completely dominated the ASUN, posting averages of 13 points and 9 rebounds a game. After James, Liberty gets somewhat little production out of their bigs, but they do have depth. Freshman Kyle Rode has looked good thus far along with fellow freshmen Shiloh Robinson and Blake Preston (to a lesser degree). Lastly, Brendan Newton is a towering figure at 7’2″ / 225 pounds but the sophomore has only played in 5 games this year.

The FGCU frontcourt is looking better as of late with the return of Brian Thomas. Thomas is the big, experienced body that the Eagles were lacking earlier in the season. He, along with Justus Rainwater, will likely be tasked with neutralizing the effectiveness of Scottie James. Freshmen Dakota Rivers and Qwanzi Samuels should see action in relief roles as well. Tracy Hector Jr has been a reliable player for FGCU and he could be matched up with the big-bodied Baxter-Bell.

Projected Starters

FGCULiberty
Caleb Catto (#2) – GCaleb Homesley (#1) – G
Zach Scott (#1) – GDarius McGhee (#2) – G
Sam Gagliardi (#15) – GGeorgie Pacheco-Ortiz (#11) – G
Tracy Hector Jr (#13) – FElijah Cuffee (#10) – G/F
Justus Rainwater (#32) – FScottie James (#31) – F

The Outlook

The narratives of these two teams couldn’t be different heading into conference play. Liberty has been virtually unstoppable until losing to LSU in their last game. FGCU, on the other hand, is looking to conference play to show that they have improved since their abysmal start to the season. The Flames have a ton of experience and are the class of the ASUN. The Eagles are very young and the rightful underdog in this game. Of course, there is always a chance in college basketball.

The Predictions

Elliott Kresse (12-3)

“FGCU will show some more signs of cohesiveness, but will still be no match for Liberty’s defense and seniority.” – Elliott

78-64 – Liberty

Russell Kelly (8-7)

“The dawn of conference play is as good a chance as any for FGCU to upset Liberty. However, it’s still more likely that the Flames come out on top.” – Russell

74-68 – Liberty

Dawson Jordan (8-7)

“Liberty is the best team in the ASUN by a wide margin. The Eagles still have a lot to improve.” – Dawson

80-64 – Liberty

Bryan Genter (8-7)

FGCU is miles behind where Liberty is right now. Hopefully the Eagles find their form soon but until then, the Flames are the favorites for a reason.” – Bryan

76-60 – Liberty

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