BTH Gameday: Pressure rests with ASU as UALR heads to Jonesboro

The pressure rests entirely on Arkansas State tonight as the UALR Trojans visit Jonesboro for a 7:05 p.m. tipoff.

UALR (15-10, 9-5) leads Arkansas State (15-9, 9-6) by ½ game in the Sun Belt Conference West Division standings. The winner of tonight’s game will hold the lead in the division.

If Arkansas State wins, the Red Wolves will hold a ½ game lead in the division and have a schedule advantage the rest of the year. If UALR wins, the Trojans will hold a 1 ½ game lead and have some cushion to absorb a setback in coming games.

With the divisional race so tight right now, Arkansas State can’t afford a home loss. Just the same, UALR can’t afford to lose to ASU at home in two weeks.

In reality, nothing has changed for UALR since the loss to South Alabama. UALR still needs to do two of the following three things in order to have a shot at the West Division title. It needs to sweep ASU, beat Middle Tennessee at home on Saturday or sweep next week's Florida trip.
Tonight is a free shot for UALR, which is a nine-point underdog in Las Vegas. The pressure rests on the other side of the court.


We still don’t know the status of UALR sophomore guard Taggart Lockhart, who missed the last 1 ½ games with a concussion.


UALR Coach Steve Shields chose to go Norm Stewart for today’s trip to Jonesboro. The Trojans will bus up right before game time and bus back to Little Rock after the game. When Norm Stewart was the coach at Missouri, he refused to spend any money on his team’s trips to rival Kansas. They would travel up and back on game day and even stop for gas and food on the Missouri side of the border. I don’t think Shields is taking it quite that far though. Side note: Missouri did something similar last night, flying to Starkville and back on game day in a 78-36 victory over Mississippi State.


We’re expecting Arkansan Rakeem Dickerson to get the start tonight as ASU Coach John Brady indicated on radio this week. He’s one of three Arkansans in the ASU lineup, joining Trey Finn and Jordan Weaver. UALR’s Arkansans include Stetson Billings and Ted Crass.


Isler vs. Finn: It’s not that Trey Finn is the only offensive weapon Arkansas State has. But when Finn plays well offensively, Arkansas State plays well offensively. If UALR is to have success tonight it can’t allow Finn to make six three-pointers like he did on Saturday at Western Kentucky. Much of that responsibility will fall on UALR’s Leroy Isler.
Block out: Arkansas State statistically is a better rebounding team than UALR. And ASU’s Brandon Peterson is likely the best rebounder on the court. The Trojans can’t allow ASU to get second and third opportunities after defensive stops.
Free time: It is Thursday night so it figures there will be more experienced officials calling the game. Generally, more experienced officials let teams play. But regardless of how the game is called, UALR needs to get to the free throw line. ASU has outscored or tied its opponent from the free throw line in 12 of its past 13 games.
Survive and thrive: UALR can’t win tonight’s game in the first half, but they could lose it. No doubt it will be a hostile crowd in Jonesboro (when isn’t it?) as they always seem to get frothed up when UALR Coach Steve Shields makes an appearance. And UALR can’t afford to be rusty despite playing only once in the past 11 days and twice in the past 18. UALR needs to survive the first half in order to have a chance to thrive in the second.


Arkansas State opened as an 8.5-point favorite. The line slid to 9 points overnight. The biggest spread UALR has overcome this season came Jan. 19. UALR was a seven point underdog when the Trojans beat Western Kentucky.


Apparently there’s some UALR fans at CBS Sportsline. They are the only ones taking UALR against heavy odds tonight. Then again, CBS was the only predictor to take UALR over North Texas in the last road game:
Omni Rankings (12-4): ASU 69, UALR 57
Real Time RPI (18-6): ASU 76, UALR 62
Jeff Sagarin (16-7): ASU 79, UALR 70
The Sports Network (16-7): ASU 68, UALR 65
CBS Sportsline (15-8): UALR 69, ASU 65
BTH Average (15-8): ASU 71.4, UALR 64.6