GVSU aims rare ‘UP sweep’ in crucial road trip
Laker men will span more than 1,000 miles in longest bus ride of 2014 campaign
The Grand Valley State University men’s basketball team will cross the Mackinac Bridge, the midway point of its regular season and a pair of familiar foes in what figures to be a pivotal three-day stretch of GLIAC North Division hoops.
GVSU will rely on its imposing defense to wreak havoc in the Upper Peninsula when it takes on Northern Michigan University tonight and Michigan Technological University on Saturday in an effort to bolster the second-best record in the conference standings.
“We’re coming into our own,” junior guard Ryan Sabin said. “We’re starting to know who we are as a team. We know that we have to play good defense, and our offense will come.”
GVSU has been able to attain a 10-2 record primarily because of its fundamentally sound defensive play on a consistent basis. It owns the second-best overall scoring defense in the conference as it gives up fewer than 67 points per game.
The team has also shown the ability to confuse its opponents with a number of different schemes.
“No matter what we do, it still comes down to attitude and effort,” head coach Ric Wesley said. “There is no defense if you don’t have that. If you have that, then you have the opportunity to maybe tinker within the game. We’re just trying to continue to get our guys to concentrate defensively and not have lapses no matter what type of defense we play.”
GVSU seems to force its opponents to settle for less than favorable looks late in the shot clock, and it has limited GLIAC squads to a league-low 41.1 shooting-percentage clip from the field.
A similar scenario could happen against the 3-9 Wildcats at the Berry Events Center, but limiting the Huskies at MTU’s Student Development Complex Gymnasium could be a different story.
It’s the only venue in the conference with a higher attendance mark than the Fieldhouse Arena this season, as more than 875 fans pile into the gym on average to watch GLIAC action.
“It’s always a challenge against those teams, and generally they’re very good teams,” Wesley said. “Northern Michigan is a tough place to play. It’s a hockey rink turned into a basketball facility, so it’s a little bit more wide open than we’re typically used to, and Michigan Tech is always one of the best teams in the conference.”
The Huskies currently trail GVSU by one game in the North standings, but they appear to have a plethora of firepower from long range. They shoot a scalding 46.6 percent from beyond the arc and are led by senior guard Austin Armga, who leads the conference with 25.5 points per game.
The Lakers have a much more balanced scoring attack.
“We’re a ‘hit the open man and take the shots when you’re open’ kind of a team,” Wesley said. “Generally the guys that are working the hardest are the guys that get the most shots. It’s not necessarily by design; it just comes with playing hard.”
Sabin leads the team with 14.2 points per game, followed by fifth-year senior point guard Rob Woodson, who averages 12.4.
GVSU has also benefitted from the play of quality role players who have been able to regularly come off the bench and contribute.
“Some of our bench players could be starters,” freshman forward Trevin Alexander said. “Sometimes we all play equal minutes. We almost bring the same thing to the table. If a starter isn’t have a good game, someone from the bench could be having an awesome game.”
Alexander and sophomore guard Darren Kapustka have combined to score 13.5 points per game.
It is far too early to call it a make-or-break road trip, but it’s one that has given GVSU issues in the past. The team has pulled off the road sweep just five times in program history.
The Lakers will tip off against NMU tonight at 7:30 and at MTU on Saturday at 3 p.m.