Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Men's Basketball Preview

And so we're back.

Remember when we last saw the Falcon men's hoop team?  What a time that was.  Yes, we had lost the title game...but we were standing in support and appreciation for our guys, who had provided us with a year we won't forget...the first MAC Championship game since Dakich, huge win over Buffalo at the Stroh, a run into the MAC finals...just a fantastic and unexpected season.  It will be one we will remember.

It starts again tonight with an exhibition game against Findlay.  Tiffin comes next week.  And there can be only one goal for this team.  Let's take a minute to look at what we can expect.

The most important thing to be noted is that the Falcons are doing something unusual in today's college basketball world, and that's returning a significant number of starters.  They lost only Demajeo Wiggins, Antwon Lillard and Jeffrey Uju.  That's very unusual in collegiate basketball today.  You just don't see it very much.  I think EMU has nine new players coming onto their roster this year.  You just usually have some unexpected people leaving.

But the nucleus of the Falcons remains.  That includes Justin Turner, the pre-season choice for MAC POY.  It also includes Dylan Frye, Daeqwon Plowden (who came on strong at the end of the year), Michael Laster, Caleb Fields and Marlon Sierra, among people who had played significant minutes last year.  Actually, all of those guys were playing strong at the end of the year.

To that solid nucleus, BG added Trey Diggs from JUCO and Davin Ziegler and Chandler Turner as FR.  All three of these guys could contribute this year, giving BG a huge amount of depth.

In today's world, it is hard to be more set up than this.  Not that it is a sure thing by any means, but it's a real-live no-excuses situation.  BG is picked to win the MAC East by Blue Ribbon and play Toledo in the MAC title game.  Interestingly, Kenpom projects BG to go 10-8 in MAC play and finish behind Buffalo.

To me, there are two key challenges for the Falcons.

That first is to battle expectations.  Last year, BG was coming from nowhere and playing with house money for the entire the point where we were excited to get to the title game.  It's a different story when you are expecting to be there and win.  Teams will be looking for us more than they were last year.  BG will get everyone's A-game. 

How BG responds to that will be the first test.  Winning is incredibly hard, and this is why.  To me, the two things to watch for are cohesiveness and killer instinct.  In the past when you watched a team like Akron play, you saw them slip into another gear for the last 8 minutes and ruthlessly find a way to win.  We need to develop that kind of closing ability.

The other key--and I think this is behind the kenpom rating--is the center position.  BG lost its only 2 5s and one of them was all-MAC.  They have Dylan Swingle in as a very promising transfer and there was hope for a waiver, but I don't think that's happened.  Which leaves us with Tayler Mattos and Joniya Gadsen in the post. 

Mattos is a sophomore who played 67 minutes and Gadsen is a junior who played 107 minutes in two seasons.  We are not seen much of these young men in game action, is the point.  Coach Huger sees them practice and told Blue Ribbon that they had both improved playing against Wiggins in practice and either could do the job.  I guess I would think if that was true they'd have both seen more minutes, but they've also had time to develop in practice since the last season ended.

Either way, BG will need some strength in the post.  No doubt, today's game (and our team ) is built on strong guard play and creating matchup problems on the wing.  When you do run up against a team with a true post player though (ie, Toledo), you need to at least be able to defend him effectively.  You also need to replace Wiggins on the boards.  BG needs quality post play to be a complete team.

Last year, BG was the #2 offense in the MAC in terms of efficiency.  (All stats are MAC only).  There's no reason to think that won't continue.  The Falcons return a lot of weapons and even add some.  BG was #5 in shooting, #1 in avoiding turnovers, #6 in offensive rebounds and #4 in getting to the line.  BG was #2 in 3FG shooting but #6 in FT shooting--that's an opportunity right there to get better, given how often they get to the line.

Essentially, there's no reason to think BG can't be as good offensively as last year.

Defense...BG was #6.  I'm sure Coach would say that this is an area that can improve.  BG was 9th in shooting defense and 5th in forcing turnovers.  They were 4th on the boards and #3 in keeping their opponents off the line.  Specifically, BG was #9 in shooting defense on 2FGS and #7 on 3FGS.  You could live with the latter, but the Falcons could take a big step by being tougher around the basket.  Wiggins was not really a defensive shot-blocking presence and there were lots of times when the guards and wings were torched on drives to the basket.

To win, you're going to need (I think) to get into a top 3 or 4 defense.  It's tough to just rely on scoring to win games...especially in a tournament.  To that point, UB led the MAC in both offensive and defense last year.

Which brings us to 1968.  We all know it.  Coach knows it.  The players know it.  The road to get there is consistency.  We want to establish ourselves as a team that is in the conversation for a MAC title every year.  If we can do that, we'll break through.  And man, I hope we don't see a step back.  I don't think we will, but basketball games so often hang on a knife's edge.

The schedule has two tough games...@LSU and WKU on a neutral floor.  The other non-MAC games are all predicted to be wins...two of them against DII opponents and the other six against teams we would be projected to beat.  So, we could easily enter MAC play at 8-2 and then kenpom thinks we will win our first 6 MAC games, meaning a 14-2 record heading into the Toledo game at Savage.

Heady stuff.  It will need to play out. I hope our fans will support the team.  I look forward to being there.

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