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Giger: Back-to-backs against same team produce odd results in college hoops

Photo by Saint Francis Athletics (J.D. Cavrich): Bryce Laskey

Thursday night, UNC-Asheville beat Charleston Southern by 38 points, 92-54. In the rematch today, the team that lost by 38 less than 24 hours earlier, was leading at the half, 42-40, and had a 69-65 edge with 7 minutes to go before ultimately losing, 83-75.

That’s a remarkable turnaround between the same two teams.

A month ago, Iona beat Fairfield by 28 points (70-42) one day, then turned around and lost to the same team the next day by 15 points (67-52).

That’s an incredible 43 point swing between the same two teams in less than a day.

You won’t see back-to-back games between the same teams in major college basketball, even in a crazy year like this with COVID concerns. But in order to make things work in smaller conferences, teams are playing each other in back-to-back games at one spot all across the country.

Occasionally you’ll get two-game sweeps, with one team winning both games rather easily. Mount St. Mary’s just did that to Merrimack in the Northeast Conference the past two days, winning 77-57 on Thursday and 63-52 on Friday.

But more often than not, it seems, whatever happens in the first meeting, the exact happens in the second matchup.

They say it’s hard to beat a team three times in one season. Well, it’s extremely difficult to beat a team twice in two days, even when one of the teams would appear to be significantly better record-wise.

Saint Francis posted its first NEC win Thursday, 89-82, over an outstanding Bryant team that’s the favorite the win the league. In the rematch Friday at DeGol Arena in Loretto, Bryant came out hot with a 14-4 lead, stayed on top from start to finish and downed the Red Flash, 72-63.

Saint Francis coach Rob Krimmel said it’s actually easier to prepare for a back-to-back situation when you’re playing the same team.

“It makes personnel a lot easier,” Krimmel said. “Guys know who they are, so from that standpoint it is easier. A lot of times you play a team at the beginning of January and don’t see them again until the end of February, and in that four or five week span, personnel can change, injuries can happen. That makes it a little bit more challenging. But in terms of personnel, it’s a lot easier.”

But while playing against the same players might make it easier, the motivation factor has to be the biggest difference in these types of back-to-backs.

College athletes have a lot of pride, and you can’t underestimate how determined they can get after losing a game and then coming back looking for revenge the next day.

Bad teams — such as 1-11 Charleston Southern (0-8 in Big South Conference) — that don’t seem to have much business hanging around with good teams — such as UNC-Asheville (6-2 in league) — usually are able to stay more competitive in at least one of the two games on back-to-back days.

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Saint Francis has played two such back-to-backs so far. The Flash were swept in the first one at LIU last week, barely losing 78-75, before getting bounced 71-58 the next day.

This time around, Saint Francis failed in its chance to pull off a sweep. Bryant solved SFU in the second game and improved to 6-2 in the NEC, while the Flash fell to 1-4.

Krimmel said he’ll hold off on judging the ins and outs of back-to-backs until Saint Francis has played a few more of them. And more are coming — six in fact — as that’s how the entire NEC schedule is laid out.

Aside from playing the same team on consecutive days, Krimmel did say there’s one thing about playing back-to-backs that he doesn’t like.

“It’s a lot easier to teach on the court, and having a day in between, you get an opportunity to get these guys out and show them, hey, here’s what we need to be better at with press offense, or here’s what we need to be better defensively,” Krimmel said. “Those are some things that you can talk about on film. But to be able to have a day of prep, especially for our group, would be great. We don’t have that, so we’ve got to find ways to be able to play these back-to-backs and make the adjustments that we make.”

Personally, I don’t care for these back-to-back situations in college basketball. It’s not how the sport was intended to be played because the beauty of college hoops is, as Krimmel pointed out, teaching the players on off days what they did right or wrong and then using that to go up against a completely different opponent.

These back-to-backs are the only way we’re getting small-college basketball this season, though, so they are a necessary evil.

But let’s hope we never see them again after this season.

Comment below, or reach Cory Giger at cgsports12@gmail.com

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Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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