Saturday, October 29, 2016

MBB Preview: Two Feet In.

So, men's basketball.  Coming down the pike.

As we look ahead to Year Two of the Huger Era, let's take a minute and recall where we left the team last Spring.

In short, it was good.  BG got hot in the MAC tournament and made the semi-finals, something they had not done in 7 years...and for the first time in years, there was a positive sense around the Men's Basketball program as the year ended.

And I believe that the program is on the way up.  But, that might not be immediately evident just this year.  Don't get me wrong, it could.  But I think that it might still take a year or two more...but, even signs of improvement and competitiveness could be evident and enjoyable as the team moves forward.

Let's remember...notwithstanding the tourney run, BG had a very tough season.  The Falcons were 5-13 in regular season MAC play. The last Falcon team to struggle that much was in 2007 when Dakich's final team went 3-13.

Huger told the Blue Ribbon Yearbook that “there were divisions on the team last year.  They had three coaches in three years, three different styles, three different personalities. Guys had one foot in and one foot out until the very end.”

And you have to admit, that was a difficult situation.  Recruited by Orr, bought in to Jans and then, boom, here comes another Coach.  So, the first reason for optimism is that the players for whom that's an issue are becoming fewer and fewer.  In fact, only Zack Denny remains on the current roster as a player who played significant minutes for all three coaches.  Fox and Worrell have been here that long...but far more of the players on the roster are new.

From last year's team, Spencer Parker and Pep Joseph graduated. Parker was the team's leading scorer and Joseph played a lot of PG minutes.  JD Tisdale and Garrett Mayleben have also moved along.

BG is picked to finish 5th in the East by the MAC media...ahead of Miami....and 6th by the Blue Ribbon preview...behind Miami.  On paper, that's hard to argue with.  On the current roster, 8 of the 13 players are FR or SO.  Of the five who aren't, only one (Denny) has had a full career as a D1 regular.  3 are JUCO and one is Matt Fox.  So, this is a young team and probably younger than last year.

Further, BG has a long way to climb.  The Falcons were 11th in the MAC in both offensive and defensive efficiency last year.  I think they are addressing those issues, but immediate results might be another matter.

For example, on offense BG's biggest issue was shooting.  BG was 7th in the MAC in protecting the ball and 6th in offensive rebounds.  (All stats MAC games only).  However, BG was 10th in effective FG%...which comes from being last in the number of FG attempts that were 3FG attempts and only shooting 47% on your 2FGs (9th).  If that's going to be your mix, you need to do better on your 2FGs.
The other issue was at the FT line.  BG was good at getting TO the line (4th in the MAC) but ranked dead last in making FTs, which is another kind of shooting.

So, I think help is on the way for shooting.  Dylan Frye is a FR from Miami who (I have heard) has been lighting it up as a shooter in the early practices.  I think he's a guy to keep an eye on.  Two other FR--Justin Turner and Rodrick Caldwell--were scorers in HS, and if they can translate that to D1 (as seems likely) than BG begins to line up some offensive playmakers.

Beyond that, you have the continuing opportunity for Antwon Lillard to improve, along with Wiggins and Worrell, and you can see signs of an improved ability to score.

For this year, you also have Denny and Alcegaire, both of whom have proven themselves to be solid-good D1 players.  Also, Ish Ali is a solid PG...BG was 9th in assisted field goals, which probably is as much about missed shots as it is point play.  I felt like BG's PG was solid, but there was no star playmaker at the position.

On defense, BG was also 11th.  Here, as well, the issue was shooting.  BG was 11th defending the shot.  That grew out of being 11th in defending the 3FG and only 7th in defending the 2FG.  BG was just average in forcing turnovers (7th)...stops either come from missed shots or turnovers, and you generally have to be able to do one or the other to have a defense that puts you in a position to win.

This will be interesting to see.  You have another year of people buying into the Huger system...and I have heard coaches say that defense is partly if we had one foot in and one foot out...anyway, you'd hope to see improvement, but we're young and you don't get stats on whether your recruits are good defenders, so that will be a wait and see thing.

One thing...actually stops come from missed shots and rebounds.  BG was 10th in protecting the defensive boards.

Which brings up another issue that runs all throughout the defensive stats, including shooting percentage...and that is big men.  The MAC has changed a little bit on this front.  You are seeing the emergence of big, 747-style 5s out there.  Akron's Isaiah Johnson, OU's Antonio Campbell, and NIU's Marin Maric are all traditional centers who presented huge issues for BG, which has no current players in their mold.  This year, Kent, Buffalo, and Miami have added large bodies to try and combat that.  Now, Johnson, Campbell and Maric can play...and we can speak from experience that just being big isn't enough (not naming names here, you know the examples)...but BG is a little behind the curve on this.  (A big guy is on the list for '17).

Anyway, offense or defense, there's really only one direction to go. I think we are on the right track, but the results might not come right away.

If the team has both feet in, then (as Coach says) he can stop coaching effort and coaching basketball.  I think we're going to exceed expectations and be more competitive, but my guess is we will still have room to improve after this season.

Tomorrow, a look at the schedule.

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