North Florida hit the road Wednesday for what Coach Driscoll has said is the toughest conference trip of the season. USC Upstate (11-7, 1-0) and NJIT (8-9, 0-1) is a trying Thursday night-Saturday afternoon set. The Ospreys will have to show a good amount of the focus and consistency with effort they had Saturday at JU.
Last season, North Florida (6-12, 1-0) went 5-0 against the Spartans and Highlanders. This time last year, the Ospreys snapped a five-game losing streak at the Hodge Center in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Both games will be on ESPN3. Thursday’s game coverage will begin at 8 p.m. on 1010XL. Saturday at NJIT can be heard on 1010XL at 3:45 p.m.
USC Upstate has more wins right now than it did all of last season. Looking for a fifth straight win, the Spartans always pack their small venue for the Ospreys. Since Upstate stud of yesteryear Ty Greene dominated UNF in the 2015 regular season, the Ospreys have won four straight over USC Upstate.
NJIT has played some strong non-conference opponents. But, other than UNF’s win over JU, the Highlanders getting manhandled by Upstate last week was the most surprising outcome of the ASUN opening day. The talk all last year was how close NJIT was to the likes of FGCU and UNF. Not much was the best way to answer it from 2015-16. Do the Highlanders have enough good depth this season to win their first game over North Florida? Or are the Highlanders yet again in the second tier of this conference?
Michael Buchanan is a monster for USC Upstate. Everything the Spartans do is centered around the Las Vegas beast. Buchanan, a fifth-year senior, has nine double-doubles. He might be the best ASUN big man at kicking out for spot-up threes.
For NJIT, the Highlanders are much like USC Upstate in that they might be better than last season but not by all that much. Other teams have caught up to them. We really like sophomore transfer Abdul Lewis. He gives them the size they need to go deeper in the conference tournament.
The Ospreys have no reason to change the lineup: Dallas Moore (#14), Aaron Bodager (12), Garrett Sams (2), Wajid Aminu (11) and Romelo Banks (33).
USC Upstate will only play eight to nine guys. The starters for Saturday’s NJIT game: Mike Cunningham (#1), Jure Span (3), Ramel Thompkins (4), Josh Cuthbertson (10) and Michael Buchanan (44).
NJIT keeps it fairly simple: Tim Coleman (10), Damon Lynn (5), Rob Ukawuba (25), Osa Izevbuwa (23) and Abdul Lewis (0). You might see three to four players come off the bench.
Upstate’s Ramel Thompkins catches our eye of who can hit some bigger shots in the Hodge. He had all nine of his points versus NJIT from downtown. Cunningham and Cuthbertson should reach double figures, but Thompkins is the key to significant runs.
What can Damon Lynn do? UNF contained him easily last season with Trent Mackey locked onto him. Does Garrett Sams or Aaron Bodager take that assignment? Lynn isn’t the best player on the team. That would go to Tim Coleman, who had 16 and 10 at Upstate.
How UNF Can Win:
North Florida can beat USC Upstate by continuing to play Osprey basketball of getting out quickly, defending the arc well and having everyone taking smart shots. Defend the Spartans’ big Buchanan well and everything else should fall into place.
At NJIT, it’s a matter of silencing Damon Lynn like UNF did last season in Newark and like Upstate did last week. The Highlanders are not difficult to scout. But does having a new head coach change much for them in conference?