Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Postgame Thoughts: @ West Virginia

Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers.

Did I mention turnovers?

Honestly, I have not seen such a horrid ball handling performance in all my years of watching VMI basketball. Such a performance is not acceptable at any level of basketball, let alone in Division I. I had no idea that the effects of losing Glasgow would be this bad. There is not a single exceptional ball handler on this team and that's just the unfortunate reality.

Looking at the box score (and ignoring a couple stats) you might think we won the game. Incredibly, despite being far outmatched length-wise and physically, we won the rebounding battle 44-36. It's obvious that the gang-rebounding strategy is working, and the guys are giving full effort in that regard. A +8 advantage against a Big 12 team would lead you to think that we could dominate any SoCon school on the glass. Not to mention that we held WVU to 7 second-chance points, and had 12 of our own. Three-point shooting was solid at 35%, as was free-throw shooting (90%).

But never mind that, because rebounding and three-point shooting ain't the problem. Turnovers are the problem, and the turnovers are derived from a lack of a true point guard. QJ, the natural shooting guard, has been thrust into a foreign position and it's understandable that he would need time to adjust, but his performance tonight was truly unacceptable. Eleven turnovers and five assists is not what you need from a PG. And you might consider Brian to be the man for the job but his shooting is so awfully inconsistent (1 for 9, 3 pts) that you are left with no reliable options. Eleby has been seeing more action, but turned it over six times as well. I might actually prefer a guy like Tim Marshall, who unlike QJ, gives you quality defensive night in and night out, and has a better FG% as well. Who would've thought before the year that the loss of DJ would not be our Achilles' heel? Dare I say, we are doing just fine without him in this regard.

To be fair though I must concede that it is West Virginia, who has one of the most suffocating defenses in the nation with long, tall, and athletic guards who pressure the ball (in pairs) on every possession. But coming into the game, the Mountaineers were forcing "only" 22 turnovers per game. Tonight we had 36...the previous record wasn't even close (25, back in 2008 against Winthrop, the game after we lost Reggie Williams temporarily to injury. Appropriately, we scored 41 points that night).

So the truth of our passing inability cannot be masked by WVU's solid defense. Turning the ball over 36 times will not win you a single game, whether you are playing in major college basketball or for the local rec league middle school team. If I can harp on any positives, I thought that Anglade had a decent game on both sides of the ball, Trey's effort was 100% as always, and Hinton was much improved from the debacle at UNCW, with 10 points, 5 boards, and no turnovers. Christian Burton was impressive in limited action, going 2-for-2 from the field (one three) and five points. Most notably, Tim Marshall came off the bench and scored 8 points with two assists. Perhaps Tim deserves a spot in the starting lineup, because his play has been much more consistent than that of Brian, and more focused than that of QJ. He never turns it over and plays solid defense, which cannot be said of most of those on our team right now. Timmy is averaging 11.2 PPG and shooting 52% from long range (53% overall).

Cut out the turnovers, make smart passes, know your assignments, and everything after that will fall into place. It's still early and QJ is still developing as a point guard, but if progress is not made before conference play, we are in deep trouble.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Postgame Thoughts: UNC Wilmington

This may come off as a knee-jerk reaction but I think we are in for a long struggle this season. Last night's game was one of three realistic chances that VMI had to win a D-1 game and we blew it. It's pretty obvious where we went wrong. When you don't have a real big man you give up 84 points in the paint. When you don't have a real point guard you turn the ball over 23 times.

It would be easy to blame this on Duggar, and to some extent it his fault (not recruiting a big-man in the offseason), but what can he do? His point guard bailed out on him two weeks before the season, along with two other players. Nothing he can do about that. But I can personally testify to the fact that we were outmatched, out-hustled, and out-coached in yesterday's ballgame.

This has to be the first VMI team in quite some time (certainly as long as I've been a fan) that has no dominant player who at any given moment can take over a game. Last year it was Rodney. Year before that it was Stan. Year before that it was any combination of Stan, Keith, or DJ. From what I saw last night QJ is an immature player. He was tapped for a technical foul early in the first (2 pts) and turned the ball over a whopping seven times (8 pts). Not to mention the other 33 points scored by UNCW of our abysmal 23 turnovers, AND the 21 second-chance points. When you give up free shots you lose games, it's fairly simple.

If QJ is not the leader, then who is? Brian Brown is a huge asset defensively but as a scorer is frighteningly inconsistent. Last year he was a role player. So too was Phil Anglade, who, at 6-foot-5, we are now using as a post player. What we have now is a collection of misfit toys who got together and said, "Hey! Let's go play some basketball!" At least that's what it feels like....

Individually, I thought Craig's effort was poor. At a luncheon earlier in the day I heard Coach Baucom say that while Craig's physical health was improving, his mental sharpness is not there. You can see why; he absolutely botched what should've been an easy board and watched the ball roll into the hands of Malik Pugh for an easy two. He finishes with 9 points and three turnovers. Eleby had four turnovers as well, and Iruafemi didn't score in limited action.

If I can grasp at any positives to take away from this game, Tim Marshall played well, scoring 17 points and hitting three treys. On that note, Trey Chapman had 5 points, 4 assists, and 3 steals. Jarid was 2 of 2 from the floor in the short time that he played, and Phil had six blocks, but only one point.

By the end of Thanksgiving we will be 2-4. We have two SoCon games at Samford and Mercer the following weekend, as well as road games against Navy, Tech, and George Washington. Even an optimist would concede that we are in a deep hole and that this team is in serious need of leadership. I can't guarantee us winning any of these games, and we will be lucky to be 5-8 by New Year's.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Matter of Ethics

I'm no opponent of playing lower-division schools. I mean, you have to do it, right? Get reps for guys that normally don't get playing time, tinker with the lineup, balance out a tough D-I schedule, and walk away with an easy win. Don't do it too much, but once or twice a year (maybe more for some schools) is fine and dandy.

But there is a point at which playing a lower-division school (or non-NCAA, for that matter) becomes unethical and frankly unhelpful for either team. I think we saw this last night. And to put into perspective how much of a bottom feeder Johnson U. athletics really are, consider this list of all organized athletic associations in the United States (in order of superiority):

NCAA – Division I (VMI)
NCAA – Division II
NCAA – Division III
NAIA – Division I
NAIA – Division II
NCCAA – Division I
NCCAA – Division II (Johnson)

These guys aren't even in Division I in their own league. So you can see that their is a massive disparity in terms of talent. How much of a disparity are we talking about? Consider a December 2013 basketball game between D-I Southern University and Champion Baptist, a member of the Association of Christian College Athletics (ACCA). Not the NCCAA, no - even lower (imagine that!). But at that level, the quality of basketball is essentially the same. Southern went on to win that game 116–12, a narrow 104 point margin. The Jaguars bursted out to a 44-0 start (NCAA record) and held Champion Baptist to six points in both halves (and remember that Southern competes in one of the worst conferences in D-1 basketball).

More recently, Duke defeated Presbyterian last Friday by 69 points. So Duke is great, and Presbyterian sucks. Sure. But is it too much to ask that these schools consider at least a slight challenge in the schools they play? Is this what college basketball is coming to? I realize that low-major teams have trouble getting other D-I schools to play in their gym, but there's no reason to schedule the absolute doormat of collegiate basketball. This is one thing that NCAA football gets right: FBS schools cannot (or at least do not) schedule lower-division opponents of any kind, and FCS schools never schedule D-III. It allows for "gimme" games yet at the same time keeps the score within reason.

With all respect to Johnson University, their players are nothing close to what the average fan would consider quality basketball talent. Their average height is 6'1. These are guys that may have barely played in high school and if they did, were probably not any good. This is the nature of athletics at non-NCAA universities: there is no such thing as recruiting, so you invite anyone who wishes to play at your institution, provided that they have some athletic ability (you know, the ability to walk, not deaf or blind).

Last year, Bridgewater (DIII) lost to VMI by a respectable 26. We defeated DII-Bluefield State by 41. Virginia-Lynchburg of the USCAA put up a good showing (110-78 win). In fairly recent memory, VMI put up a school-record 156 points in a game twice - in 2007, against Columbia Union, and in 2006, against Virginia Intermont. Both are NAIA schools. Both games were blowouts, but only because of our ridiculously fast pace, and neither to the extent of last night's game.

I love competitive college basketball. At the same time, I recognize that not every game is going to be competitive. Early in the year, teams of all sizes need to work out the kinks of their roster and schedule inferior teams. I get that. I'm just saying that athletic directors should consider ethics when filling out the calendar for their respective team. I don't like to turn on the TV and see scores of 28-0, 55-8, and 100-20. It's cute for the stats, but makes for a boring contest and disrespects the game of basketball. Sometimes you don't even try to win that big; it just happens. But make it so that it happens less.

I'm not fond of telling anyone that my team won by 82 points last night. Smarten up, AD's.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Postgame Thoughts: Johnson Univ.

Short post tonight.

Not much to say about this game, other than that we dominated. I mean really. Johnson University is a member of the National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association (which believe it or not is lower than the NAIA) so it's not like these guys bore any resemblance to the '72 Bruins coming into the game. But the final score did surprise me a bit.

A quiet 19 for QJ tonight in as many minutes. Jordan (17/7) hit 3 of 5 three-pointers and Chap had 14 in limited action. Christian Burton impressed me the most, with 9 points, all off three-pointers. Branch had 12 points and six boards, although his shooting wasn't great. Marshall was money from distance, as was Hinton.

Just about the only disappointing performance was that of Phil, who didn't score in seven minutes of playing time. He did haul in 7 rebounds, though the height of Johnson U tells us that isn't much of an accomplishment. It'll be interesting to see what these guys can do against Charleston Southern later this year.

Overall it was truly a balanced scoring effort. Everyone except Anglade scored, and everyone except Anglade and Eleby had at least six points (Julian made up for it with six assists and four steals). And for much of the game we shot 50%+ from three-point land...ended up at ~46%. That statistic feels even better when looking at the opponent, who shot 14 of 63 overall (22%).

So the warm-up is over, and as I type this, UNC Wilmington is in the process of defeating in-state rival UNCG. Don't want to take them lightly. Hopefully the guys keep their focus the rest of the week and a big crowd in Cameron on Saturday gets them going.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Postgame Thoughts: @ Army

In order to win in the sport of basketball, you must do the little things. This includes making free throws when it counts. And keeping a precious handle of the ball. And not committing five-second violations or lazily jogging back on defense.

Tonight we did not do the little things and you can see why we lost. I know we're a young team but many of these careless errors were the fault of upperclassmen and a general lack of leadership. I can't say that guys like Jordan Weethee and Brian Brown aren't good players, because they are. But they simply aren't leaders. Not everyone is supposed to be a leader but someone has to do it. We're only two games in but what I've seen so far from the guys is not encouraging.

The game ball tonight has to go to Julian Eleby. Twenty points, the leading scorer, and an obvious career high for him. Only 6 of 16 shooting but 3 of 6 from long-range to go along with four rebounds, three assists, and a steal. Phil had a great game as well with 13 points, incredibly on 6 of 7 shooting. Perhaps he read my last blog post and set out to prove me wrong.

Jordan had a solid 8/4/2 line. Marshall chipped in 9, all from distance. Fred got his first two collegiate points. And QJ was QJ (though his shooting touch was a bit off).

I was disappointed with the performance of Brian. I noted before the season began that BB's biggest problem last season and throughout his career was inconsistency. Tonight he was 3 of 9 from the field and laid an egg in the three-point shooting department. A grand total of six points and zero assists is well short of what we need out of him. Same goes to Watson who contributed nearly nothing in 25 minutes.

As a team we shot 44% overall and 38% from behind the arc. Not shabby, but the defensive end is where our struggles lie. It's no wonder why Army (and The Citadel) shot 55% in these two games. We have no legitimate rim protector and essentially any opponent attack at the basket will result in either a foul or a made shot. You can catch a team when they are cold from deep (and we did tonight; Army connected on only 26% of their threes) but you can't fail to execute down low because teams, especially tall teams, will exploit that weakness 100% of the time. Duggar can teach players all about the art of rim protection but he can't teach them how to be tall. Expect this problem to continue throughout the season.

The opening weekend of college basketball is just about over and we sit here at 1-1. We could be 2-0. We should be 0-2. In any case, our guys have some work to do. Secure rebounds, take care of the ball, and make smart shots. We have a game on Tuesday against Johnson Univ. and an opportunity to get some reps and see some young players get playing time. On Saturday we have a tough UNC Wilmington team coming to Cameron, and if the last two games are any indication, we need to get our act together.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Postgame Thoughts: The Citadel

I hate jumping to conclusions one game into the season, so I'll try to keep it low-key....but how about Trey Chapman? The most unlikely of suspects nails a three-pointer to send the Keydets to their third championship appearance in four All-Military Classics.

I'll start with the positives. Or negatives? Nah, positives it is. Our rebounding tonight was superb; 31-22 advantage will win you a lot of games (and we beat them 12-4 on the offensive side, another plus). That's especially impressive considering the fact that Horgan, White, and Koopman are taller than everyone on our team. Clearly the five-man gang-up rebounding strategy is working.

We made 45% of our shots, bested by The Citadel's crisp 55% shooting. The difference? We attempted sixteen more shots, facilitated by our sizable rebounding advantage. Making nine more three-pointers helped too. Not sure why The Citadel didn't try more.

Individually, QJ scored a calm 25. Overall his shooting wasn't bad but from long range it was terrible - 3 of 11 is not what Coach Baucom or anyone on the staff expects out of him. The five assists are encouraging, but 4 PF's is a no-no. And it seemed like he fatigued late in the game. B+ for QJ tonight.

Game ball goes to Brian Brown - 6 of 9 shooting, 4/7 from three, 16 points in all in only twenty-four minutes. And not a single foul. Yeah yeah, Trey made the game-winning three, but Brian made four of them. He is the glue of this team. And speaking of Trey, what are the odds that a guy who shot 21% from deep his freshman year would knock down his only three-point attempt of the game in a do-or-die situation? Statistically speaking, it was a so-so game from Chap. Five points, three boards (all offensive), an assist and steal. A solid effort, but I'd hope for more the rest of the way.

Great game by Weethee. Only 9 points but the eight rebounds were huge. Phil also led in that category with nine of his own, and three blocks too. Defensively Phil's a monster but he needs to work on finishing at the rim. He missed a layup and two short jumpers which could've cost us the game were it not for Trey's heroics. I thought that was a consistent problem throughout the team but it's hard to tell with no video.

Only team negative I can see is in the free throws. Not the percentage, like we're used to seeing, but rather the attempts - only four trips to the line. I can't quite tell if that's a testament to the Bulldogs' defense or an obvious hint at our lack of physical aggressiveness. El Cid went to the line twenty-two times and you can see why the game was this close.

I would also have liked to have seen a better performance from Jarid. Two points + one block in sixteen minutes is poor, but what you'd expect from a guy with minimal game experience. As the season progresses, Jarid should see continued playing time and improve, but with such a lean build and unimposing stature it's hard to see him being reckoned with as a dominant post presence. Armani got a couple of minutes and hit on his only shot, and Eleby hit a three. Nothing from Tim Marshall, which was disappointing. As expected, Tyrell Mason, Fred Iruafemi, and Christian Burton did not see any action. Not sure where Craig was.

So we are now 1-0. Can't say too much about this game other than that fact. And that we have a chance to claim a second AMC title with a win tomorrow. Can we survive without a true point guard? Can we survive without a true post player? Is our bench deep enough to help us win games? At this point I don't know. I do know, however, that Army is currently taking Air Force to the woodshed and if the score holds up, we have some work cut out for us in the title game tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Guard Troubles

Whether we like it or not, Jon Elmore (and brother Ot) will not be playing Keydet basketball in 2014-15. Not this year, and maybe not ever. An optimist will always hold out hope that they'll return, and it even makes since given the circumstances. But in the meantime, there are thirteen men who committed to playing basketball for VMI and there is no need to dwell on those who chose a different path.

But if we must, I might start by saying that losing Ot is hardly a big deal. He was redshirted for a reason, and would've had to compete with QJ, Brown, Marshall, and Eleby to get any playing time. He is a third-string bench player and that's that. It's Jon that we should be worried about.

Not often does an athlete who was ranked as the eighth-best player in his state, and received twenty-two scholarships offers, some from the A-10 and ACC, choose VMI over anywhere that might get him fame and publicity. Jon was a unique talent, possibly even better than QJ at his position. And the son of a VMI Hall of Famer? This is a devastating blow for the team.

Herein lies the obvious dilemma for Coach Baucom this season: who starts at the point? It's a bigger deal than you'd think. The point guard has to run the offense. He has to set up his teammates. He must recognize the weaknesses of the defense and utilize the strengths of the offense. He knows when to pass and when to take it himself.

Is QJ the man for the job? Based on last season, I'd say no. Four times last season he scored fewer then ten points, and two of those came in the CIT. His performances against Ohio and Yale were horrid, and he often went for erratic and untimely shots. His assist totals were nothing to gawk at, though admittedly his role did not demand that he be the play-maker.

Eleby? Too tall, speed and dribble-drive skills aren't there. Marshall? Not the guy. His persona doesn't scream "playmaker" and he's chiefly a two guard, nothing more. Burton? Not a chance. Virtually no game experience, and the stats (though of a small sample size) don't indicate that he has the potential to lead this team.

Thus, we are left with Brian Brown. I like his demeanor and it seems like he really wants to win. Obviously, we have no one close to capable of replicating what Glasgow did last year. This would be true even if Elmore stayed. But someone has to step up, and all signs point toward Brian being the guy. His scoring and shooting percentage dipped from last season, but mostly because of Peterson's presence. What didn't drop, however, were the assists: 23 up from his sophomore year in only two more games played. If you're searching for a point guard, that's what you like to see.

There are still underlying problems in this scenario. Last season, Brian was a guy who might drain a couple threes and kick an opponent when they aren't looking, but for much of the year, his game was off. BB scored 10+ points in only ten games, and sometimes it seemed as though he was nonexistent. And if there's one thing a coach needs out of a PG, it's consistency, first and foremost.

In any case, Coach Baucom and staff are going to have a whale of a time figuring out our lineup in the little time they have to prepare for the All-Military Classic. The bottom line is that someone needs to step up and lead the team. I think it'll happen, but as for who I can't say. Nevertheless, a decision must be made and we will see that decision on Friday.