DAYTON, Ohio — Southern would prefer to play at a faster tempo.
Holy Cross would prefer to play at a slower tempo.
Whichever team can dictate the tempo at which their NCAA tournament First Four men’s basketball game is played Wednesday night in the UD Arena will most likely be the one headed to Spokane, Washington, to face top-seeded Oregon in the second round Friday.
“I think the thing for us is to be able to attack and speed the tempo up and try not to walk the ball down and face their defense,” Jaguars coach Roman Banks said before practice Tuesday.
The Crusaders’ improbable four-game run from the ninth-seed in the Patriot League tournament to an NCAA automatic qualifier was due in large part to their defense. They used a match-up 1-3-1 zone.
In the tourney, they gave up an average of 58.3 points even after playing two overtime periods.
“Going to the 1-3-1 helped us out a lot,” guard Robert Champion said. “We tried to do some things with it earlier in the year and weren’t very successful with it. I think it just goes to playing harder and trusting it a little bit more.
“I think during the regular season when it wasn’t really working for us, some guys wouldn’t trust it or were trying to do a little too much when we just had to trust our teammates that our slides would work and that the defense would take care of itself.”
Southern led the Southwestern Athletic Conference in scoring (72.9) and had the highest 3-point field-goal percentage (35.3), but Banks said, “I don’t want to be a team that just sits out and shoots a lot of 3-point shots against it.”
One of the Jaguars’ strengths is the ability of guards Christopher Hyder, Trelun Banks and Adrian Rodgers to dribble penetrate and create scoring opportunities for themselves and teammates.
“Hopefully we can get our perimeter guys to penetrate the gaps a little bit, something that we’re good at,” coach Banks said, “and create some other easy opportunities into the 1-3-1.”
On the other end of the court, Southern will mix defenses, primarily between man to man and a 2-3 zone against the Crusaders’ disciplined offense.
Holy Cross first-year coach Bill Carmody coached Princeton from 1996-2000 and uses the “Princeton offense” that was created by Hall of Famer Pete Carril, whom Carmody succeeded after Carril’s 30-year run as the Tigers head coach.
The offense features constant motion that includes screens and back cuts and will take advantage of easy scoring chances early in a possession as well as force teams to defend deep into the shot clock.
“You have to have a little more discipline on defense,” coach Banks said.
Another feature of the offense is the use of big men to shoot 3-pointers. Crusaders starting center Malachi Alexander (6-foot-7) has shot the third-most 3-pointers on the team and has made 43 percent of them. His backup, 6-foot-11 Matt Husek, has made 37.5 percent of his 3-pointers.
“We’re basically traditional bigs around the basket,” Banks said. “So in a short period of time, we’ve got to train our minds to go out and guard them beyond the 3-point arc. With the Princeton offense, you usually like to have about three days to prepare for it, but we only have 24 to 48 hours to get ready for it.”
Both teams are playing their best basketball of the season entering the tournament. The Jaguars were the fourth seed in the SWAC tournament and won three straight games to advance.
“They’re an explosive team,” Carmody said. “We’re going to have to take care of the basketball.”
The Crusaders led the Patriot League in turnover margin (plus-2.18) and assist-to-turnover ratio (plus-1.3), and the Jaguars led the SWAC in turnover margin (plus-2.53). Hyder is seventh in the country in steals per game (2.44).
Holy Cross (14-19) has the fewest wins of any team in the 68-team NCAA field, four fewer than the next fewest (Fairleigh Dickinson and Austin Peay) and they have the most losses, two more than Austin Peay.
Even Carmody said of his team’s march to the NCAA tournament, “It definitely was a surprise.”
Carmody, like Banks, had a limited amount of time to prepare for this game, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for either coach.
“We’ve been in a pretty good place the last two weeks,” Carmody said. “So I really don’t want to coach that much and to upset the balance of things. Their heads are just where we want them to be.”
Follow Les East on Twitter, @EastAdvocate.