Friday, November 27, 2015

Thoughts on Earl & the season

Four games in and the Keydets are 2-2. Exactly where I expected them to be at this point, and exactly where they should be. There have been two disappointments (Tusculum and Virginia Tech) and two encouragements (Penn State and Presbyterian). It's still too early to tell how far this team can really go, but Tuesday's win indicates we are much less likely to tank than some may have originally thought.

VMI thus far has averaged 66.5 points per game while allowing opponents to score 68.8. They have shot nearly 40% from the floor while opponents have hit 43% FG (2nd in SoCon), and only 32% from three (1st) - both numbers are down from last year. Earl stated several times in the offseason that he wanted to play relatively fast, but have a defense-first mentality. We should've expected around 70-75 PPG with this "modified" up-tempo system, but so far, this hasn't been the case. There is, of course, plenty of time to up our offensive output, and I think we will - but our lack of height makes it awfully difficult to penetrate down low, and you can't rely on three point shooting forever.

The stark drop in scoring obviously correlates with our slower style of play. So far we are scoring 97.8 points per 100 possessions, while giving up 101.2. Last season these numbers were 104.0 and 104.5, respectively. So adjusting for pace, our defense is getting better! But the offense is getting worse. The fact that we are shooting three-pointers almost 30% less certainly has something to do with it. But it also takes time to get adjusted to a new offensive system. Players playing under the same coaching philosophy for 2-3 years develop habits, and they need time to gel in a new system before they can get their legs going.

Tim Marshall is a prime example of this. Tim launched almost 9 threes per game last season, connecting on 32% of them. But this season he has taken just 9 total in three games, having been hampered by a hamstring injury he sustained early in the 1st half of the Va. Tech game, which also held him out of the PC game. He has yet to score against a Division I team, and has more fouls (7) than points, rebounds or assists (5). It may be that he has failed to adapt to not having the freedom to shoot he did last season. It's still too small a sample size to draw a conclusion - the next several weeks will be telling.

Of all players Eleby has impressed the most so far. He leads the team in 3PT shooting (a stunning 53%), FT%, and effective FG%. His true shooting %, a statistic that calculates a player's total shooting accuracy, is not surprisingly a team-high 63.8%. He is very smooth with the ball and has a knack for finding teammates when they're open.

Anglade has been good but foul trouble has limited his ability to really get on a roll. Other role players, like Weethee (11 pts, 3-3 3PT vs. PC), Trey, and Fred (5 reb, 3 ORB, 9 pts vs. PC) have impressed. Rich has come onto the scene in his rat year, and been a solid backup to Eleby. QJ got it together against PC after two horrific shooting performances against PSU and VT. He leads the league with 20.8 PPG, but is shooting at a 36.1% clip and has the highest usage percentage in the league, and 9th-highest nationally.

The Campbell game Monday is critical. Not in the grand scheme of things, but for the morale of the team. If we win that one, we go 4-4 into the Navy game on 12/12. If we lose, we go 3-5 into that game. Even in the latter scenario, we could still head into the New Year with a winning record, given wins over Navy, Gardner-Webb, and DIII Bridgewater. Best-case scenario headed into the conference opener at Furman is 7-4; worst case is 4-7. The more likely scenario is 5-6 or 6-5. Navy killed us last season, and GWU's 1-4 record is misleading due to their brutal November schedule. Campbell is the one game we'd really like to win. In three years in the BSC, VMI never beat the Camels on the road. Monday would be a good time to get that first 'W'.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Newcomers, returners, and thoughts on 2015-16

Oh, hey — it's basketball season!

After one of the more eventful offseasons in recent memory, the Keydets enter the 2015-16 campaign with a whole lot of question marks.

Can Dan Earl live up to the legacy of Duggar? Is this a rebuilding year, or will we surpise some teams? How fast will the Keydets play? Will Weethee ever return to his 2012 form? Will Julian Eleby ever amount to anything special? Is QJ more than just a complementary player? How is it that ESPN ranked us 216th out of 351 Division I basketball teams, better than four SoCon schools, yet both the coaches and media thought we would finish no better than last? Are we overlooked, or overrated?

We won't know the answer to these questions for awhile. In the meantime, some good news - VMI inked three early commits last Thursday, and the group has potential.

  • Tyler Creammer, 6'10 C (Miller School) - arguably the most intriguing commit, Creammer is a stud on the court and in the classroom, with a 4.5 GPA. He attracted attention from several schools, including Liberty, averaging 10 points and 10 rebounds his junior year. He needs to bulk up a bit, which will come with time, and work on his post play. I can't say that he is the next DJ Covington, but it's a start.
  • Will Miller, 6'8 C (Halifax County HS) - ah, yes, more height! Miller, a first-team All-District and All-Conference selection, is a solid post presence. Coach Earl specifically noted his high basketball IQ, passing ability, and lateral movement. Like a Weethee or Chapman, his length will allow him to defend multiple positions, most probably the 3 and 4.
  • Drew Rackley, 6'2 G (John Glenn HS [Ohio]) - the only guard of the bunch, and one of the few out-of-state players on the roster, Glenn is a versatile guard who was named his District Player of the Year as a junior, helping John Glenn win two state titles. He averaged 21 points and 7 rebounds last season. Given how stacked we are at the guard position, it's doubtful Rackley will see much playing time in his first two seasons, but we'll take all the depth we can get.
As for tomorrow's game, our probable starters are as follows:
  • PG - Julian Eleby. No surprise here. Eleby came on in mid-February after QJ went down to medical hardships. He wowed with a 43 point performance against Western Carolina on the road where he made 8 of 15 three-pointers. While neither of those states is indicative of Julian's true talent, he still managed to average 11 points and 4.5 rebounds while shooting 36.8% from the floor.
  • SG - QJ Peterson. QJ is back, but better than ever? Not sure. It appears he has regained composure of himself after what happened last season, where he averaged 19.6 points and 4.9 rebounds in 18 games. Don't let the stats fool, you, though - his 34% FG percentage and 29% mark from three are major red flags. QJ has yet to prove he is more than just a complentary shooting guard. This is the year he needs to show something.
  • SG - Tim Marshall. No surprise that Coach Earl will continue the three-guard starting five that we used often under Baucom. Timmy stumbled through November and January before an onslaught of three-point shooting during a week-long stretch in February vaulted his numbers. He finished the year with 11.7 points on 36% shooting, 32% from three. I think he will fit well in Earl's modified up-tempo system, given how he has emphasized shot selection as a priority.
  • PF - Trey Chapman. Trey has proven over the course of the past year and a half that he belongs in a starting role over Jordan. Though not as strong or as physical, Trey's long wingspan and athletic ability allow him to finish at the rim in a way that Weethee cannot. Defensively, he's solid - nearly a steal per game last season with 3.6 rebounds and 14 blocks. The 3PT and free-throw shooting need some work, though.
  • C - Phil Anglade. I should put quotations around the "C", because Phil is by no means a traditional big man. He's listed on the roster as 6'5, and legend has it that his real height is 6'3. But with a 39 1/2-inch vertical leap and 210-lb. frame, Anglade is an absolute monster. He was second in the SoCon only to Justin Tuoyo in blocks per game (2.9), but first in the league in blocks per 40 minutes at 5.02. No one else (save Tuoyo) even came close to that number. Most encouragingly, his personal fouls are down too, from 6.48 per 40 sophomore year to 5.8 per 40 last season. He needs to cut down on the TOs (nearly two per game in 2014-15), and though he has gained a reputation as a laughably bad FT shooter, he ended the last five games shooting 67% from the line, better than his career average of 43%.
Weethee, Iruafemi, and the freshman will be first off the bench, but we aren't too deep this year. The coaching staff snagged three walk-ons - Jack McGarry, Clayton Gardner, and Chase Jones - to help bring the roster to 15 players.

VMI's biggest concern should be on defense, where they allowed opponents to score 47% on FGs. Another alarming stat was that they committed 15 turnovers per game, and shot only 32% from three, the worst in the conference. All those numbers should improve this season, as Earl has preached ball control, shot selection, and a defense-first mentality. Will it change immediately? I doubt it. But he has us on the right track. This year is truly a toss-up, but given how Earl (unlike his predecessor) played four years in college as a starter, he knows the game incredibly well. Can he be the defensive mastermind Keydet fans have always yearned for? All we can do is wait and see....

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Recruiting Profile: Adrian Rich

In the third and final installment of the 2015-16 recruiting profile, we'll take a look at Adrian Rich, a 6'2 guard from Fishburne Military School. Though Fishburne is located in Waynesboro, Virginia, Rich is a resident of Fuquay Varina, North Carolina. He previously attended Village Christian Academy in Fayetteville where he lettered for three years and earned conference player of the year honors in 2013-14, averaging 21 points and 6 rebounds per game and leading the team to a 17-6 record.

Rich committed to the Institute last May. He is listed as a point guard, and, along with Niles Tate, is one of just two "true" point guards on the roster (though Eleby and QJ saw extended action at that position last season). In his senior year with Fishburne, Rich averaged 15 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds per game. He broke numerous records at Village Christian, including the all-time career record for points and assists as well as the single-game record for points (42).

Rich was selected to the All-conference team three times and was also named to the All-state and All-region teams.

He is very lean (170 lbs), but has great speed, can finish at the rim, and has a smooth three-point stroke. Rich is also not hesitant to attack the basket and draw contact, and is a very quick decision maker. He can create his own shot, which is something that the Keydets will need to have this season.

Depending on how Rich looks in practice, he should see some playing time competing with QJ and Julian for a starting role. Rich, being the only natural point guard among the three, has that advantage, but also lacks the game experience that QJ and Julian, now juniors, have. In any case, Rich provides the depth at guard that VMI did not have last year, especially late in the year with the absense of QJ. If he bulks up a bit, he should find himself in a starting role for years to come.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Recruiting Profile: Austin Vereen

One of two early commits from last season, combo guard Austin Vereen should see significant playing time in his first year on post. Vereen comes to VMI from Maret High School in Washington, D.C., a traditional baskteball powerhouse that went 22-5 last season and won the Mid-Atlantic Conference (MAC) regular season title. Maret has posted three consecutive 20-win seasons, all of which Vereen was a part of.

Vereen is a 6'4 combo guard, but mostly plays the two. He averaged 14.0 PPG, 10.2 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 1.2 assists in his junior year, leading Maret to a regular and postseason championsip. He was named to the 2014 DMVelite All-DC third team and was a Hoop Group Fab Frosh All-Star and MVP. Vereen also played on the Mid-Atlantic Select AAU team. He was actually recruited by Duggar in the early signing period back in August of 2014. Baucom noted his ability to play on and off the ball, and said he was an excellent shooter.

Vereen continue to impress in his senior season at Maret. He was to the DC Athletic Association All-State Team, the 2015 MAC All-Conference Team, and was a 2015 Capital Classic DC All Star. During his career, Maret won three straight MAC championsips and was a state runner-up in 2014. By the time he graduated, Vereen ranked in the top three all-time in Maret history in points, rebounds, and assists.

Even as a sophomore, Vereen averaged 8.8 points before a torn ligament in his wrist ended his season. He received interest from the likes of Xavier, Winthrop, and Gardner-Webb, among others, before he chose VMI.

Vereen's ability to cut to the basketb and make quick passes on a dime is impressive. Though he saw some time as a wing-forward in high school, he should be used primarily as a shooting guard at the college level. Vereen may back up Tim Marshall on the bench, and could be rotated with QJ and Julian for a starting spot. With the graduation of three guards from last year's team, our backcourt will look significantly different from a year ago. No starting spot is safe, save for that of QJ's. I expect Vereen to be one of our better freshman in recent memory.


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Recruiting Profile: D'Andre Mahaffey

Over the next several weeks I'll be previewing all three of our incoming Rats - starting with small forward D'Andre Mahaffey.

Mahaffey comes from Cedar Shoals High School in Athens, Georgia. Standing at around 6'6 and 190 lbs., he is a very versatile forward who can attack the basket and dunk at the rim. He is the first player under head coach Dreco Thomas, who took over in 2011, to sign a letter-of-intent. As a freshman, Mahaffey averaged 9.6 PPG and led Cedar Shoals to Region 8-AAAAA title. He had interest from Divsion II-Valdosta State (also located in Georgia), as well as Elon, Tennessee Tech, and VCU. His coach noted that he has maintained a 3.9 core GPA.

Mahaffey's production increased as a sophomore, averaging 12.8 PPG (2nd on team), 10.4 RPG (1st), and 1.4 SPG (3rd). In his junior season, he peaked with 18.3 points and 7.4 boards per contest, leading Cedar Shoals in both categories, and was named to the 2014 8-AAAAA All-Region Team while landing a spot on the 2014 GACA Junior North All-Star Team.

Coach Baucom, who recruited Mahaffey as an early-signee, noted his athleticism and ability to play multiple positions. He has a very slow but smooth three-point shot, but can use his long wingspan slash to the basket and draw contact.

Given our lack of size, we should see Mahaffey play at the 3 or 4, alongside Trey and Armani. With Hinton's departure, Mahaffey will get significantly more time than previously expected, but will have to earn it. With Anglade at center, Weethee should be the starter at PF along with Iruafemi as his backup.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

2015-16 Hoops Schedule

The first glance at the 2015-16 schedule, per The schedule features 29 games in all, 14 of which will be played at Cameron Hall. The Keydets will visit or host three Big South opponents, and the home opener Nov. 17 againt Division-II Tusculum, the first coaching job of he-who-shall-not-be-named. Like last year, we begin SoCon play with a bevvy of road games before a three-game homestand in late January. Interestingly the SoCon opted not to go with the two early conf. games in December, and instead will play all eighteen league contests in succession. The conference will continue the Thursday-Saturday format, with the occasional Monday matinee.

We'll play The Citadel first on the road on January 30th, after a date with Mercer. The Bulldogs will return the favor on Senior Day (Feb. 27) as Duggar Baucom returns to the venue he called home for ten years. This will also be succeeded by a Thursday game with Mercer, and the SoCon tournament will get started the following Friday, March 4th.

As for the non-conference schedule, VMI will have its home opener on Nov. 17th, against Divsion II (SAC) Tusculum College. We will also do battle with three of our old Big South foe; first, Presbyterian, at home on November 24th; then Campbell on the road during Thanksigiving; and finally, on the road at Gardner-Webb on December 21st. Also, Navy will be giving us their "return game" from last year on Sat., December 12th.

It was reported in mid-March that we will play Ohio State for the first time since 2011, on December 5th. As has been rumored for quite some time, the All-Military Classic will not be continued. VMI faired fairly well in the tournament, going 4-4 in all games with one title (2013), six players named to the All-Tournament team (Okoye, Gabriel, Glasgow 2, Peterson 2), and one tournament MVP (Peterson, 2013).

UPDATE 7/26: The Keydets will travel to Indianapolis on December 7th to play Butler University. The two schools have never met before. Last year, Butler went 23-11 in the Big East last season, and were ranked #23 in the final AP Poll. They fell to Notre Dame in the NCAA Tourney Round of 32. Butler will also play The Citadel to open their regular season.

UPDATE 8/4: It was announced earlier today that VMI will open the year with Dan Earl's alma mater, Penn State, on the road. The contest is set for Saturday, November 14. It will be the first time the Keydets have not opened the season on a Friday since 2005. The game will be played at the 15,000-seat Bryce Jordan Center, the same court where Coach Earl once played after the team moved there from the Rec Hall in '95-96. Earl was the Nitanny Lions' starting PG from 1993-97 and is among the all-time school leaders in scoring and assists. He also coached PSU as an assistant for five seasons from 2006 to 2011.

UPDATE 8/5: Mark Berman of the Roanoke Times confirmed that VMI will be playing Va. Tech this season. The date of the game is yet to be announced, though it is likely to be played in late November, perhaps sometime between Nov. 19th-22nd. It will be the fourth straight year the Keydets and Hokies have met on the hardwood.

UPDATE 8/27: The official schedule was released on the school's athletic website. Added to the schedule were home matchups against Tusculum (Nov. 17), D-III Central Penn (Dec. 2), and a road matinee at former Big South foe Campbell (Nov. 30). The Keydets are 3-0 against Central Penn all-time, with the last meeting coming on Nov. 13, 2012, a 116-81 win. VMI played Campbell five times in the Big South, as the two teams were Northern division opponents for two seasons. VMI went 2-3 against the Camels, with all three losses coming on the road. The Keydets have never played Tusculum before.

Nov. 14 @ Penn State

Tue, Nov. 17 Tusculum

Nov. 21 @ Virginia Tech

Tue, Nov. 24 Presbyterian

Mon, Nov. 30 @ Campbell

Wed, Dec. 2 Central Penn

Sat, Dec. 5 @ Ohio State

Mon, Dec. 7 @ Butler

Sat, Dec. 12 Navy

Mon, Dec. 21 @ Gardner-Webb

Wed, Dec. 30 Bridgewater

Sat, Jan. 2 @ Furman*

Tue, Jan. 5 Wofford*

Sat, Jan. 9 @ Western Carolina*

Mon, Jan. 11 @ ETSU*

Sat, Jan. 16 @ UNCG*

Thu, Jan. 21 Samford*

Sat, Jan. 23 Chattanooga*

Mon, Jan. 25 Furman*

Thu, Jan. 28 @ Mercer*

Sat, Jan. 30 @ The Citadel*

Thu, Feb. 4 ETSU*

Sat, Feb. 6 Western Carolina*

Mon, Feb. 8 @ Wofford*

Thu, Feb. 11 UNCG*

Thu, Feb. 18 @ Chattanooga*

Sat, Feb. 20 @ Samford*

Thu, Feb. 25 Mercer*

Sat, Feb. 27 The Citadel*

Mar. 4-7 @ SoCon Tourney (Asheville, NC)

Home games in bold
*-conference game

Monday, July 13, 2015

Hinton Transferring to App. State

Rising junior forward Craig Hinton will be transferring to Appalachian State, according to Brant Wilkerson-New of the Winston-Salem Journal.

As mentioned, Hinton averaged 5.1 points and 2.5 rebounds in 13 minutes of action last season. He missed the All-Military Classic with a foot injury but played in every subsequent game and started twice (home vs. The Citadel and Western Carolina). Other than that, his only minutes were off the bench. He scored in double figures three times, all in November, including an incredible 23-point performance against Maryland where he shot 6-of-6 from three and 8-of-9 from the field. From there, though, his averages dipped down and his shooting stroke was wildly inconsistent. He shot 3-of-14 and 1-of-11 from three against WCU in January, and shot 2-of-11 the final five games as his minutes and production decreased. He ended up shooting 40% overall and 35% from behind the arc.

In his freshman year Hinton started 8 games and played in 24 but was again hampered by injury early in the year. He averaged 2.6 PPG on 33% shooting in limited action. He was notable for finishing second in the High School Slam Dunk Contest back in 2013.

Hinton, who is listed as a small forward at 6'7, came from East Forsyth High School in Kernersville, NC. The town is only about 90 minutes from Boone, where he will be playing. Hinton was recruited by former VMI assistant Jason Allison, who is now at ASU. We can assume that Allison tried to pick up Hinton, and that Coach Earl found no place for him in his sytem. It should be noted that App State was one of Hinton's top choices as a recruit, but Coach Baucom and staff won him over as he signed in November of 2012.

Per NCAA transfer rules, Hinton will sit out the 2015-16 season but should have two years of eligibility left after that. He will not cost the Mountaineers a scholarship this season, but they can offer him one next year if the coaching staff likes what they see.

As for VMI, Hinton's departure shakes up the depth chart quite a bit. We should see much more of freshman D'Andre Mahaffey at SF, as well as junior Trey Chapman and sophomore Armani Branch. Mahaffey is probably the most athletic of the three, but Trey by far the most experienced, having logged significant minutes his first two seasons as well as 19 starts. Branch played little his freshman year and was suspended the remainder of the year following the home loss to UNC Greensboro on February 3rd. If Coach Earl chooses not to employ three guards as Baucom often did, those three players should receive significant playing time this season. We are also now down to 11 scholarships, two under the NCAA maximum.