PREVIEW: FGCU Begins the 2nd Half of Conference Play on the Road Against Liberty – 2/1

After playing each team in the ASUN once, FGCU managed a 4-4 conference record. Some would say they are underperforming and others might say they have improved. When presented with 2 extremes, the answer nearly always lies somewhere in the middle. FGCU stole 2 road games from Stetson (the surprise current 1st place team) and Jacksonville while losing winnable games against UNA and NJIT. Considering that FGCU had 1 D-I win coming into conference play, there has been definite improvement. At the same time, the Eagles have to learn to close out games better. Last time out, FGCU won on a last second shot and they are looking to use that momentum to shock the ASUN with an upset against Liberty.

Liberty has been the consensus pick to win the ASUN all season. They started 14-0 before losing to LSU and entered conference play at 14-1. The first time around, FGCU suffered a 13 point loss (59-46). Since then, Liberty was upset by UNF and Stetson before shellacking Kennesaw 83-45. They currently sit at 20-3 on the season and tied for first place in the ASUN at 6-2. Below we will revisit their impact players, discuss 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 has been back to 100% for some time. Homesley is a 6’6″ / 205 lb redshirt senior guard. He is averaging 12 points, 2 assists, and 5 rebounds in 29 mins per game. He is a do-it-all guard who can drive, shoot, and pass with the best of them. Homesley was the biggest thorn in the side of the Eagles last time these teams played each other. In that game, he finished with 24 points and 6 rebounds.

Scottie James (#31)

James is a 6’8″ / 235 lb redshirt senior forward and another leader on this team. He has started all 23 games this year but is only playing an average of 21 minutes per contest. James is currently managing 11 points and 8 rebounds. James has excellent athleticism and shooting ability for a big. In the first matchup between these teams, he was somewhat held in check as he managed 10 points and only 2 rebounds and a +/- of 0.

Darius McGhee (#2)

McGhee is a small sophomore guard at 5’9″ but he plays very big. He has made 23 starts this season and is a fantastic shooter (44% from the floor and 41% from deep). In 31 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 10 points, 2 assists, and 2 rebounds. He also does a decent job of getting to the line where he shoots about 92%.

Elijah Cuffee (#10)

Cuffee is a versatile 6’4″ / 185 lb junior guard/forward combo. He has started all 23 games for the Flames, averaging 31 minutes per contest. Shooting 46% from the floor and 41% from three, Cuffee has been the best shooter on the team. To this point he is averaging 8 points, 2 assists, and 3 rebounds. His numbers are actually down since the last time these teams met.

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 23 of their games, averaging 18 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 8 points and 3 rebounds per game.

Kyle Rode (#22)

Rode is a promising freshman for the Flames. He has played in all 23 games, making 5 starts and playing about 21 minutes per contest. He is listed at 6’7″ and about 200 lbs. Rode is already a great shooting forward from really anywhere on the court. This is coupled with a strong repertoire of post moves. Currently he is averaging 5 points and 3 rebounds per game while shooting 46% from the floor and 39% from 3.

The 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). Last time these teams squared off, it was really only Homesley who made a huge impact. The Eagles had a very difficult time containing his combination of size, speed and athleticism. FGCU’s Caleb Catto struggled mightily in that game and finished with only 5 points. Since then he has averaged 18 points per game and has scored 20 or more in three straight. It’s possible that Catto could be tasked with shadowing Homesley a bit when the Eagles opt out of zone coverage. FGCU guards were also responsible for 10 turnovers. Likewise, Liberty’s starting guards alone managed 9 steals. FGCU has played a cleaner brand of basketball recently. Jalen Warren and Zach Scott have found their form and Sam Gagliardi is always a candidate to get hot from deep.

Forwards

Outside of Homesley, Scottie James is the best player on this team. 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 imposing redshirt senior, Myo Baxter-Bell. Lastly, Brendan Newton is a towering figure at 7’2″ / 225 pounds but the sophomore has only played in 6 games this year.

The FGCU frontcourt has seen it’s ups and downs recently. Brian Thomas is back in the lineup but has played sparingly. Justus Rainwater, the season long workhorse, will be matched up with Scottie James for most of the game. Coach Fly has stated that one of the reasons Rainwater was brought to the program was because of the defense he could play against some of the ASUN bigs, like Scottie James. Tracy Hector Jr has been a reliable and versatile player for FGCU. He is sure to contribute in some way for the Eagles, whether by points, assists, rebounds, or by just being a solid body on the court.

Projected Starters

FGCULU
Jalen Warren (#5) – GCaleb Homesly (#1) – G
Zach Scott (#1) – GDarius McGhee (#2) – G
Caleb Catto (#2) – GGeorgie Pacheco-Ortiz (#11) – G
Tracy Hector Jr. (#13) – FElijah Cuffee (#10) – G/F
Justus Rainwater (#32) – FScottie James (#31) – F

The Outlook

FGCU has improved in many areas over the course of the season. They are currently 4-4 in conference play after beating Jacksonville on the road. Beating the Dolphins was a must-win, considering they will be playing the top 3 teams in the ASUN back-to-back-to-back, starting with Liberty. The Flames have been dominant this season until losing 2 straight to UNF and Stetson. Liberty’s resounding near 40-point win over Kennesaw most recently may have put them back in track. The Eagles have a chance to fully turn the outlook of the season around with an upset win over the Flames. It is important for FGCU to achieve the upset in at least one of these 3 upcoming games as their schedule softens significantly after that.

The Predictions

Elliott Kresse (18-5)

“FGCU manages to keep it close in the 1st half before getting derailed as Liberty goes off in the 2nd.” – Elliott

78-63 – Liberty

Russell Kelly (13-10)

“It was a dirty, gritty game last time these teams played and I expect the same this time around. Ultimately FGCU will likely have trouble guarding Homesley again.” – Russell

70-60 – Liberty

Dawson Jordan (13-10)

“FGCU shocks Liberty” – Dawson

68-67 – FGCU

Bryan Genter (12-11)

“The Flames are just too much for the Eagles to handle.” – Bryan

66-53 – Liberty