By BLAKE TOPPMEYER
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
The Quincy University men's basketball team faces a pair of great challenges this week with nationally-ranked Kentucky Wesleyan and Southern Indiana coming to Pepsi Arena for the Hawks' two-game Great Lakes Valley Conference homestand.
QU coach Marty Bell also sees it as an opportunity. In particular, it's a chance for the Hawks to show they're not as bad defensively as the numbers say they are.
"It's a very critical part of our year," Bell said. "There's no better time for us to have our defense tested and try to make an improvement with this kind of competition coming."
The Hawks (6-5, 1-2) rank 13th in the 16-team GLVC in scoring defense, with their opponents averaging 68.9 points per game. Opponents are making 45.7 percent of their field-goal attempts against QU and 36.1 percent of their 3-point attempts, putting the Hawks last in the league in field-goal percentage defense and 3-point percentage defense.
This comes from a team that had intended to make defense its calling card.
"Defense needs to be our staple for the rest of the year," QU sophomore forward Scott Hahn said. "I know we've been saying it all year, but we need to start focusing on it."
If the Hawks' defense isn't improved this week, they could be in for a long couple games.
KWC (10-0, 2-0) is ranked No. 6 in NCAA Division II. It leads the GLVC in scoring offense (85.6 ppg), field-goal percentage (53 percent) and 3-point percentage (45.1 percent). KWC's field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage rank second and third, respectively, in the nation.
USI (9-1, 2-0) is ranked No. 10 in Division II. The Screaming Eagles are fourth in the GLVC in scoring offense (83.3 ppg) and fourth in field-goal percentage (50.4 percent).
"I think that's great motivation for our guys. These guys are ranked nationally in the country, so we know we have to bring it," QU senior forward Tyler Thompson said. "With teams like Southern Indiana and Kentucky Wesleyan, you have to give them your best shot."
The Hawks have alternated defenses between man-to-man, 1-3-1 zone and a 2-3 matchup zone in most games this season. QU plays man defense about 80 percent of the time, but Thompson said the 1-3-1 zone probably has most effective for the Hawks recently.
Still, the Hawks consider themselves a man-to-man team and want to shore up that defense and keep the zones as a wrinkle.
"That's where we really have to hang our hat, is man to man," Bell said.
The Hawks have been particularly plagued by a dropoff in their second-half defensive performance.
In its last five games against Division II foes, QU has limited opponents to 34.8 percent shooting from the field in the first half, including 25 percent shooting from 3-point range. If those numbers were QU's season averages, it would put the Hawks at the top of the league in field-goal percentage defense and 3-point percentage defense.
The trouble for QU is, in the second half, those five opponents shot 53.3 percent from the field, including 39.3 percent from 3-point range.
"It's just a lack of urgency," Thompson said. "We need that sense of urgency to stay consistent in our defense and carry it over to two halves."
The Hawks' first-half performances indicate they have the ability to be a good defensive team. Now QU's challenge is playing strong defense for 40 minutes.
"We need to figure out something out as a team that's going to pump us up and get us going to play better defense in the second half," Hahn said.