Crunch the numbers all you want. Finding a decided advantage for either team in today's men's basketball matchup between USC Aiken (6-2) and King (7-1) is no easy task.
Pacer head coach Vince Alexander recognized as much in his evaluation of the Tornado.
“I think it's a huge test,” he said of the 3 p.m. home contest. “King's going to be very, very good.”
King moved up to the NCAA Division II ranks prior to last season after previously competing in the National Christian College Athletic Association. The Tornado responded by advancing to semifinals of the Conference Carolinas tournament before earning the No. 5 seed in the Southeast Regional of the Div. II championship in their first NCAA season.
Alexander noted that, even in its NCCAA days, King was a quality program that could have competed with its NCAA counterparts. This year, the Tornado will give him a chance to measure his team's progress heading into its main Peach Belt Conference slate after New Year's Day.
“King's going to be one of those teams to give us a good barometer of where we are,” he said.
The Tornado average 84.2 points per game, just short of USCA's 86.8 per game, but the visitors own the field-goal percentage edge with a 47.1 mark to the Pacers' 46.7 ratio.
All the rest of the team stats belong to the Pacers, but the only significant gap is in rebounding – USCA holds a 40-32 advantage there.
The Pacers could maximize that advantage on size alone. The Tornado's leading rebounder is Jason Seymore, who averages 7.6 boards per game to go with 12.8 points, but he's only 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds. The Pacers have a pair of top-flight rebounders in Paul Larsen with eight per contest and Santoine Butler with 7.3, and Larsen is listed at 6-6 and 225 pounds while Butler is 6-8 and 200 pounds.
The home team also leads in the assists category with 19.4 to King's 16.1, but much of that can be attributed to senior guard Re'mon Nelson. He averages better than seven a game, whereas the Tornado's leader, Michael Fortune, is responsible for four per contest.
Both teams have formidable leading scorers, but the Pacers are averaging a little better. Ronald Zimmerman scores 18.9 points per game and connects on better than 45 percent (36-of-79) of his 3-point attempts. Eddie Piccini isn't far behind for the Tornado, with 17 points a contest, and he also collects 3.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists on average.
The teams last met on Feb. 26, 2011, with the Pacers winning 93-85 over the then-NCCA member Tornado in overtime. Nelson set a career-high in points in that game with 25 – a feat he matched earlier this season against UNC Pembroke – and he also hit a game-tying 3-pointer with 31 seconds remaining in regulation to force the extra time.
The teams have one common opponent this season in Mount Olive. The Pacers beat the Trojans 96-82 at home, while King collected a 73-66 victory on the road.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.
What: USC Aiken men's basketball
Who: USCA (6-2) vs. King (7-1)
When: Today, 3 p.m.
Where: USCA Convocation Center
USCA: Paul Larsen, Jr. F. Larsen had a 16-point, 14-rebound double-double in the Pacers' most recent win over Paine and is leading the team in rebounds with eight per game.
King: Eddie Piccinini, Sr. G. The 6-foot guard does a little of everything for the Tornado, averaging 17 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists a game.
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