Nationally-Ranked Teams Meet in Saturday Showdown

by Brent Harris

January 7, 2011

Just like last year, while the rest of the state gears up for an important Indianapolis Colts football game, Wabash fans will pack Chadwick Court for the biggest game on the North Coast Athletic Conference men’s basketball schedule to this point in the season. Saturday at 2 p.m. the seventh-ranked Little Giants will play number-one ranked Wooster before the Colts play the New York Jets in the opening round of the NFL playoffs.

Last season the two teams met on Sunday afternoon prior to the Colts’ 31-17 loss to New Orleans in Super Bowl XLIV. Wooster came away with a 64-61 win at Wabash that day, outscoring the Little Giants 5-2 in the final 40 seconds of the game.
Both Wabash and Wooster enter the game with identical 13-0 records. The Little Giants hold a half-game lead in the conference standings with a 5-0 record, while Wooster and Wittenberg are tied with 4-0 marks. The 13 wins to open the season are the most by a Wabash basketball team since the 1907-08 team went 24-0. The Little Giants opened the 1999-2000 NCAC season with six straight victories, the only time since Wabash joined the league in 1999 the team has started 6-0 in conference play.
Wabash head coach Mac Petty is not worried about the rankings or the records. He and his team are ready for a challenge against a very good opponent Saturday — nothing more.
“The rankings are fun for the fans. I don’t know what the rankings necessarily mean to the guys on the team, but to me it means nothing,” Petty said. “This is a conference game and that is what is important. Whichever teams wins Saturday will be tied for first with Wittenberg at the top of the NCAC standings.”
“Rankings only indicate how other people perceive your program. They don’t affect whether you make the NCAA Tournament or conference tournament seeding. Only wins and losses can determine that, so our focus is on Wooster and not the rankings.”
The Little Giants have already gained some experience in terms of keeping their focus and not getting wrapped up in the national rankings. Wabash handed Randolph-Macon College a 15-point loss earlier this year at Chadwick Court when the YellowJackets were ranked second in the nation in the poll.
However, Petty believes that victories over Wooster in the past few seasons are even more important than the win over Randolph-Macon earlier this year. Despite a 28-4 edge in the all-time series in favor of the Scots, Wabash is 2-4 versus Wooster in the last six meetings. The two teams have split the last two games at Chadwick Court. Wooster lost 75-58 to the Little Giants in 2009 before taking the three-point victory in last year’s game in Crawfordsville. Petty believes that win two seasons ago provides an important key to his team heading into this year’s contest.
“I think our confidence heading into Saturday’s game comes from the fact we’ve beaten Wooster before,” Petty said. “We beat them here in 2009 and we beat them in the conference tournament semifinal the game the year before that. Guys on this team have experienced what it takes to beat Wooster. They understand they have to play well, but our juniors and seniors have played on teams that have beaten Wooster.”
The Little Giants’ defense has helped keep the team’s undefeated streak in tact through the first 13 games of the season. Wabash has only allowed two teams to score 60 or more points this year and rank fifth in the nation in scoring defense (54.5 points per game). The Little Giants are third in the nation in field goal defense, holding opposing teams to 36.1 percent shooting on the season.
Wabash is led by All-Great Lakes Region and two-time First Team All-NCAC guard Wes Smith. The Lawrence North High School product tops the NCAC scoring list and is 13th in the nation with a 23.1 points-per-game average. He is sixth in the league in shooting percentage, hitting 52.5 percent of his shots from the field this season. Junior guard Aaron Zinnerman is averaging 8 points a game, while senior starter Ben Burkett is scoring 7.2 points a contest. Junior transfer AJ Sutherlin (6.7 ppg) and junior Derek Bailey (6.2) have been key contributors coming off the bench. The Little Giants have used a rotation of ten players throughout the year to provide balanced scoring on the floor.
“I’m really pleased with how all of our players have accepted their roles,” Petty said. “Derek Bailey is a good example. He’s a good ball player who has come off the bench for three years. He doesn’t complain, he just gets in the game and makes plays. There was an interview with George Hill of the San Antonio Spurs in the Indianapolis Star. He said the same thing. It’s not who starts the game that makes a difference; it’s the plays the five players in the game make that are important. Our players have taken that attitude this season. That’s what has allowed us to achieve our success to this point in the season.”
Senior Ian Franks, a 2010 All-American and NCAC Men’s Basketball Player of the Year, paces the Wooster offensive attack by averaging 18.5 points a game. The second-leading scorer in the NCAC, Franks also averages 6.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists per contest. Junior Justin Hallowell and senior Nathan Balch are also scoring in double figures. Hallowell is scoring 13.5 points a contest, while Balch adds 12.6 points a game. Starters Matt Fegan and Bryan Wickliffe are each scoring more than eight points a game. The Scots average 79.5 points a contest and are holding their opponents to 62.5 points a game.
Petty believes four simple principles will help decide the outcome of Saturday’s contest against Wooster.
“We can’t turn the ball over, we have to rebound, we’ll need to guard the threes, and we have to make free throws. If we can do those things we have every opportunity to win this game.”
Admission to Saturday’s game is free of charge. A live video feed is also available free of charge here, or if you live in the Montgomery County area you can listen to the game on WNDY (91.3 FM).
Photos - (top right) Wes Smith's 23 points a game have helped the Little Giants to their best start since the 1907-08 Wabash team went 24-0.

(Middle left) Junior Derek Bailey has been a key reserve for Wabash this season. His two free throws and Franklin and a buzzer-beater 3-point shot at Kenyon have preserved the Little Giants' winning record.
(Bottom right) Indianapolis Colts offensive line coach Pete Metzelaars played football and basketball at Wabash. He stopped by Chadwick Court Friday afternoon after the Colts' walk-through to watch his former basketball coach, Mac Petty, put the Little Giants through their final practice before Saturday's game against Wooster.


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