Game #9-287: Hampton Pirates at South Carolina-Upstate SpartansJanuary 2, 2013 7:30 pm
G.B. Hodge Center
Once I became a team captain for the Hopping Cats, one of the first things I had to figure out was who to take as my fantasy player. Unlike in the past where we had guys celebrated on this site like Stephen "Flash" Curry and Lester "Done Ruthless" Hudson, there was no name that jumped out at me. There are plenty of good players in mid-major basketball, but nobody playing Our Game happens to be a star player you see mentioned frequently on ESPN. There is no member of Hoops Nation likely to be a future NBA star. I do watch plenty of mid-major basketball, but most of which is concentrated in a few conferences. The solid majority of players and teams I am familiar with are in either the Big South or Southern Conference. Most of the top players from the Big South last year graduated, and nobody in the SoCon really jumped out of me. I thought of all the players I had seen the season before, and tried to figure out which returning player did I remember the most. I had the second pick, and I felt I finally was able to come up with a player who was pretty good but yet would be overlooked. So on the night of November 1 just prior to November 2, I was excited about the draft right as I was finishing up my tour of Division I soccer stadiums in South Carolina with a visit to Clemson. As I was halfway home, I pulled into a truck stop in Newberry that had a McDonald's where I could eat and set up my computer for the draft and chat
to kickoff Season 9. And it was then I turned heads with my pick of Torrey Craig out of USC Upstate.
So why did I pick Torrey Craig? He does have very good stats, but nothing out of the ordinary. He did win Atlantic Sun Player of the Year last year, making him a qualified candidate. And he won A-Sun Player of the Year as a sophomore as well. I figured that as a junior he would become an even better player which would make him an exciting player to follow. And being an exciting player to follow was what I decided to shoot for with this pick. I could have just looked at ESPN's stats from last year and formed a cheat sheet of which players would bring the Hopping Cats the most points. Or better yet, I could have gone to Basketball State and looked at last year's top efficiency leaders
and crossed off the players above the Red Line plus those not returning and then picked the top player not picked by Prestige Worldwide. But that would be too easy. And I might end up with a player I know little about, which would be fine except I would want to see them in person. I do not have the budget to travel 20,000 miles like Kyle did, so I figured it would be best to have a player regional to me unless I wanted to follow that player like a casual sports fan and hope to see them on TV. Picking a High Point player would not be good for two reasons: that would be homerism and I had no confidence in any HPU player coming in. John Brown would have been a good choice, but there was no way to know how a player who never played a college basketball game before would do. I would consider picking a Big South player, but the best choices available in Stan Okoye and Anthony Raffa played too inconsistent at times last year. The only SoCon players I could think of were Andrew Lawrence of College of Charleston and De'Mon Brooks of Davidson, neither of which have really been big stat guys. But then I remembered that Torrey Craig was a defending Player of the Year in the Atlantic Sun. I also remember seeing Craig catch fire in a state championship a few years ago where he came close to scoring 40 points in a 32 minute game but yet his team still lost. Torrey Craig is the only player I have seen lead both a high school game and a college game in scoring since I started tracking games I have attended. USC Upstate is a school I have not really followed that much in prior years either, with seven mid-majors closer and two more approximately the same distance from me as Upstate is. Torrey Craig was a defending Player of the Year from a school not close enough to be a homer pick but close enough I could still follow. So this seemed to be the right choice.
But then I thought to myself that I had probably gotten swept up into USC Upstate's hype machine, which is as active at promoting themselves as any school below the Red Line (although my High Point Panthers can come close at times). Hearing all of his baskets at the Hodge Center called out in an excited pro wrestling-style voice makes Craig sound like a pretty important player. Once more of his statistics started to come in at the start of the season and I saw his efficiency totals, it was quite obvious that Torrey Craig is an outstanding player for a small program like USC Upstate, but no more than that. But that also means we need to promote players like him here. Torrey Craig is the kind of player like AZ Reid when I was at High Point who would get more attention if he was not in the Atlantic Sun (or Big South in the case of AZ). I figured that his impact in the fast-tempo Atlantic Sun would make an impact. And it certainly still could. I planned to write more about him the last time I saw him play when USC Upstate played UT San Antonio until the dead scoreboard became the bigger story in the game
. In that game, Craig scored 31 points, the most he has scored in a college game. Yet despite a big game I saw weaknesses that concerned me for no reasons beyond fantasy potential.
While USC Upstate men's basketball was not in conference play yet, taking on the Hampton Pirates of the MEAC, the Spartan women were opening Atlantic Sun play by playing East Tennessee State prior to the men's game. USC Upstate's women got an unexpected big win in taking down ETSU by a score of 90-79. I felt disappointed by the women's game, only because a late ETSU rally meant that the Spartans could not empty their bench and put in Shanice Cooper, a player who I saw at USC Sumter last year when I worked at the games while doing internship and volunteer work for the school. But it was a pretty good start for the home team this evening at the Hodge Center. The gym would be mostly full as the men's game got under way, mainly because filling the 818 seat Hodge Center does not take much. The general admission seating where I was on the side towards the main entrance was pretty full with a group from Holden Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, which had a step team that performed at halftime. The church had so many people that they had to put late arrivals in the mostly empty student section. Attendance was only 721, but that meant that the Hodge Center was at 88 percent capacity.
Hampton is a MEAC team that has often been up and down. The Pirates have certainly had many good years where they have won the MEAC recently, and in 2001 won a game as a 15 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the last 15 seed to do so until both Lehigh and Hampton's cross-Tidewater MEAC rival Norfolk State did so last year. Yet while Hampton won the MEAC only two years ago, this was a game USC Upstate needed to prove themselves worthy going into Atlantic Sun play. The best player for the Pirates is Du'Vaughn Maxwell, who played his freshman year at High Point before becoming one of the many players below the Red Line to decide to transfer away. Hampton played hard scrappy basketball, coming out very physical to test the Spartans. It seemed that Hampton had been playing hard lately, as Jasper Williams seemed to have suffered an injury to his eye in a previous game but played through it here with tape over it.
The physical play of Hampton would get to Upstate early on. At the first media timeout, the Pirates led 8-0 as Torrey Craig struggled to find his shot. This is the most I have played fantasy sports of any sort with Torrey Craig this year, and I felt like most conventional fantasy owners do when watching their players. I kept wondering why a player who is 6-6 was playing so far from the basket. When Upstate had both Jodd Maxey and Ricardo Glenn playing at the same time as Craig, he effectively began to play like a guard. His inside-outside threat potential is a reason for his success and why I picked him as my fantasy player. But at 6-6, Craig could post up more than he does. To play away from the basket and be a good fantasy player, you have to be a good ball handler. But Torrey Craig looked awkward in that regard, turning the ball over several times with barely any assists. Craig also took more low percentage shots than most players of his height, missing a lot from outside and also driving his efficiency rating down. And playing away from the basket meant that he was not aggressive enough to get into good position for rebounds, which he is certainly capable of getting but has regressed at from last year.
But basketball is a team game. To be a versatile threat meant he had to step up and take chances from outside. And in the long run that could be very useful for him, as it was for VMI's Reggie Williams who has managed to get playing time the last few years in the NBA. But his impact in this game was making his teammates better, even if that did not show up in terms of assist totals. Craig playing away from the basket forced the Pirates to have to focus some of their backcourt defense on him and open up room for last year's A-Sun Freshman of the Year Ty Greene. And over the course of the game, the multiple options for USC Upstate broke down Hampton. Upstate would come back and take the lead late in the first half, and just before halftime Torrey Craig would step up and finally make some of those outside shots to give USC Upstate a 34-25 halftime lead. Yet Craig would again start slow and Upstate's momentum appeared halted as Hampton tied the game six minutes into the second half with a 13-4 run. But Upstate dominated the middle portion of the second half by responding with a 20-3 run. Torrey Craig did not do it all tonight for USC Upstate, and statistically had a bad game. Craig finished with a 6 for 18 shooting night (between field goals and free throws combined) and also had six turnovers. These numbers took away from his 15 points and eight rebounds on the night, and netted the Hopping Cats only six fantasy points on the night. But I do not think any good basketball player would take having great statistics over doing what was needed to help his team win. And that is what Torrey Craig did, as USC Upstate won 68-49.
Fantasy player ratings such as efficiency are kind of fun to look at, because it quantifies what we see from a player on the basketball court. When I go to baseball games, I always calculate each player's fantasy score and record a Hitter of the Game and a Pitcher of the Game for every game I see based on these fantasy player stats. But yet I do not play fantasy sports, since that is not how I enjoy sports even though I love statistics. Even before Season 9 I had thought it would be fun to have some sort of fantasy mid-major basketball game. But if you go to ESPN's Fantasy Sports page, there is one college basketball game you can find on there. And that is the annual Tournament Challenge, something that is highly frowned upon on this site. And the reason the Tournament Challenge is classified under fantasy sports is that it is basically the same concept: picking individuals or teams you think will do well, with the owners of fantasy teams/brackets then rooting for their picks of various types. It takes away from the fun of the game itself. Perhaps it is a good thing that the last time I was at the Hodge Center that the scoreboard was dead, because I would have been too busy watching Torrey Craig's point totals on the side of the board. As much as we try, it is hard to quantify player value through statistics (although you can certainly come closer in baseball). The most important stat for Torrey Craig this night in Spartanburg was that his team won.
Of course, the reason we are doing fantasy stats for TMM this year have nothing to do with assigning player value or even trying to play actual fantasy basketball. The reason I believe has more to do with seeing how Our Game interacts with The Game, and trying to get a personal connection between us and the players we watch. And so I chose Torrey Craig, a player of regional interest to me that would not likely hurt the Hopping Cats' chances of winning The Game. While right now Torrey Craig's stats are the weakest of our fantasy players, he is only 166 points behind the top fantasy player in Doug McDermott of Creighton on Ballyfest Destiny which can be overcome by just going to two more games than that team. I really hope that The Game does not in the end come down to fantasy player performances, and considering the current lead of the Hickory Picket Fences I have my doubts that fantasy performance will make a difference. So all of this is really just for fun, just as The Game itself is. And it is nice to watch a player like Torrey Craig develop alongside his team the rest of the season. Torrey Craig is indeed the star player of the Spartans, but that does not mean he is the only contributor to the growing success of a relatively new Division I school. As my teammate James Squire said
, "I would say he was an integral part of the team's effort, but I don't think he was the alpha dog. In other words, I saw a player who generally knew his role on the team and tried to be a good teammate." Fantasy points often favor alpha dogs, as much of the team statistics go through them. But Torrey Craig happens to be a star player below the Red Line who isn't one, as he has good teammates he relies on such as Greene and Rodgers.
And of course, there is only one way to end this recap: GIANT HEAD OF TORREY CRAIG!
at SOUTH CAROLINA-UPSTATE 68, HAMPTON 49
HAMPTON 2-10 (1-0) -- D. Maxwell 7-13 3-4 17; J. Williams 2-11 1-2 7; R. Mercado 3-8 1-2 8; D. Meikle 2-4 0-0 4; E. Okoroba 0-7 0-0 0; K. Brown 1-4 0-0 3; D. Adams 1-1 1-2 3; A. Austin 1-4 0-0 3; A. Austin 1-4 0-0 3; A. Austin 1-4 0-0 3; A. Austin 1-4 0-0 3; A. Austin 1-4 0-0 3; A. Austin 1-4 0-0 3; D. Powers 0-1 0-0 0; W. Dunning 2-3 0-1 4; R. Price 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 24-77 6-11 64.
SOUTH CAROLINA-UPSTATE 6-7 (0-0) -- T. Greene 4-10 6-9 17; T. Craig 6-15 0-3 15; R. Glenn 2-6 3-3 7; J. Maxey 6-8 1-4 13; M. Blessing 1-7 0-0 2; A. Rodgers 1-2 2-5 4; F. Miller 2-4 4-5 8; R. Elam 1-1 0-0 2; B. Olumuyiwa 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 23-54 16-29 68.
Three-point goals: HAMP 10-34 (A. Austin 1-2; J. Williams 2-9; W. Dunning 0-1; K. Brown 1-3; D. Meikle 0-1; R. Mercado 1-6; D. Powers 0-1; R. Price 0-1), SCU 6-19 (T. Craig 3-7; T. Greene 3-8; F. Miller 0-2; M. Blessing 0-2); Rebounds: HAMP 30 (D. Maxwell 10), SCU 39 (R. Glenn 11); Assists: HAMP 17 (J. Williams 3), SCU 16 (F. Miller 5); Total Fouls -- HAMP 49, SCU 14; Fouled Out: HAMP-A. Austin; SCU-None.