For 23 games, the Charlotte 49ers have encountered a variety of teaching moments. For game No. 24, they'll have to execute those lessons from their prior 23 exams in order to walk away from Hinkle Field House with a victory over No. 11 Butler.
The Charlotte 49ers (17-6, 5-4) have lost four of their last six games after starting 15-2 and 3-0 in Atlantic 10 play.
Their 68-61 loss to VCU on Saturday marked the first time they lost consecutive games all season and it was their first loss at Halton Arena in 12 games.
The 49ers are 12 point road underdogs to the Bulldogs (20-4, 7-2), who will be without senior center Andrew Smith, who was injured at George Washington on Saturday.
It's not as if the 49ers have played poor for 40 minutes in their last two losses and they've shown signs that they can compete with most teams.
"They're starting to understand that when we're really hooked up, we can play with a lot of people," said 49ers Head Coach Alan Major. "They're also starting to understand in a league like this, where it's such a fine line conference, that it's very important to stay on your path throughout the course of a game."
Slow starts to each half and poor decision making (i.e. unforced turnovers) at inopportune times kept the 49ers from defeating Temple and VCU. Unlike previous games against Richmond and George Washington, they were able to stop early bleeding to an extent.
The 49ers will be without DeMario Mayfield for the fourth consecutive game due to indefinite suspension and J.T. Thompson who tore his right ACL against Temple.
FOUR Keys to the Game for the 49ers
1. Start, maintain and finish the game as the aggressor: The 49ers have had a bad habit of starting the first four minutes of each half in slow fashion. In the last three games, each opponent has flexed their muscles against the 49ers in the opening minutes of the game. Umass, Temple and VCU succeeded in setting the tone as the aggressor and they were able to get most of the looks that they wanted to. Teams are looking to set the tone against the 49ers to frustrate them, they'll have to maintain that intensity from start to finish to defeat the Bulldogs.
2. Protect the ball: Is it really necessary to elaborate anymore on this?
3. Limit Clarke's opportunities: Clarke is one of the top players in the Atlantic 10 and he is the Bulldogs leading scorer. It's impossible to completely stop him, but the 49ers must limit his scoring opportunities and they cannot give him any easy looks to get going.
4. Attack the paint: With Smith out of the lineup, the 49ers must make a habit of attacking the paint early. The Bulldogs will probably pack the paint and be extremely physical with Chris Braswell, Willie Clayton, Darion Clark and Mike Thorne. The post guys will have to do a good job of protecting the ball down low and passing out of potential double teams, especially Braswell. They have the advantage in the paint and they'll have to convert on their opportunties early and often.
Tim's Closing Thought
I tweeted out what I think will happen tonight...