Battle of Irish is interesting match-up

YOUNGSTOWN – The match-up is clear when it comes to Ursuline and Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary facing off in a Division II regional semifinal.

The first clear point is that the Irish are playing the Irish, so an Irish team will win. The second is that whichever team imposes its style is going to have an advantage between two schools with vastly different ways of winning.

“The difference is we have a little more size, a little more post presence than what they do, and they have a little more speed, a little more athleticism than what we have,” Ursuline coach Keith Gunther said, “so it’s going to be who can better handle what the other team’s strong point is.”

The two meet at 6:15 tonight at the Canton Memorial Civic Center.

Ursuline (19-6) boasts a wealth of size and thrives on the interior. The three-headed monster of Devin Harden (6-foot-7), Armon Nasseri (6-6) and Anthony Howell (6-5) is a vaunted trio even for the always-talented SVSM Irish (23-3).

“I don’t think they have the typical size they did in the past,” Gunther said. “Their guard play is phenomenal. I just don’t think their post presence is what it’s been in the past. I think it’s a good matchup for us.”

SVSM probably feels the same way. The Irish from Akron beat Ursuline, 61-42, in a Dec. 15 regular-season game. Furthermore, SVSM won its four district games by an average of 29.8 points and possesses a pair of Division I college recruits in Jayvon Graves and Henry Baddley.

Graves is a 6-3, 185-pound point guard who can dunk with ease. He’s attracted scholarship offers from Kent State, Ohio University, DePaul, Cleveland State and Northern Kentucky, and he’s only a junior. Baddley is a 6-7 small forward who plays more on the wing because of his athleticism. He’s already committed to Butler.

“We don’t want an up-and-down game,” Gunther said. “We want to play a possession basketball game. We want to move (the ball) to get good shots. I would think they’d wanna get it up and down, press and try and get some turnovers and some easy buckets. I don’t think they want to play a half-court game.”

Just as SVSM must match up with Ursuline’s size, the Irish from Youngstown must contain the speed and athleticism of SVSM’s Graves, Baddley and point guard John Williams. The quickness doesn’t end there as SVSM often deploys as many as 10 to 12 players per game, all of whom Gunther said are capable of scoring in bunches.

“If we can handle pressure and not turn the ball over, I think we’ll be right with them,” he said. “I told our kids we can’t have more than 10 turnovers. If so, then that means they’re getting too many easy transition buckets off our turnovers.”

That puts the onus on inexperienced junior guards Mike Hughes and Anise Algahmee to bring the ball up court and stay in front of the speedy SVSM players. The pressure of a regional semifinal in a venue most haven’t played at adds to the scenario. Gunther said there’s no way to tell if his team is ready for it until game time, but he formulated a schedule that included Division I teams such as Warren G. Harding, Garfield Heights and Uniontown Lake to prepare for such an environment.

“That’s why you play those teams because you know you’re going to have to face somebody like that if you’re fortunate enough to get to the regional,” he said.

Another one of the upper-echelon teams on Ursuline’s schedule was SVSM, and that match-up didn’t fare well for Ursuline. Gunther believes his Irish have grown since then and are prepared to handle what SVSM has to offer.

“We played them once this year, and they beat us up pretty good, but I don’t think we were ready at that point,” he said. “It was the third game of the season, we had lost some pretty strong guys, and we were still trying to find our identity. At that point I didn’t think we were ready for what they bring to the table.”

He finds out how far his Ursuline Irish have come tonight.