Saturday, January 24, 2015

Postgame Thoughts: The Citadel

Well for the second consecutive Saturday, the Keydets get a full-fledged team effort, force the tempo, create turnovers, rush shuts, and win the inside to defeat El Cid for the second time this year. The platoon system was in full effect and it seemed to me like the Eleby/Brown/Chap/Tim/Weethee squad was the most effective. That group combined for 58 points, and we had a fatigued 11-player Bulldog team on the run the entire game.

Julian Eleby was arguably the man of the match with 15 points, ten coming off free throws late when it mattered most in a game plagued by a Cameron Hall-record sixty foul calls.. Again we get completely balanced scoring so there really wasn't a guy that stood out. Phil returned to his shooting ways, going 3 of 4 from the field for 8 points, 5 rejections (passing Tim Allmond for fourth all-time in school history), and 6 boards. BB had 12 points and three steals, though he did turn the ball over four times, forgivable for our makeshift-makeshift-point guard.

Jordan returned from a couple of abysmal performances but still needs some fine-tuning. He had 10 on 3 of 6 shooting (2 of 3 from three), but missed a couple of makeable layups which further decreased the spread. His post play still isn't where we need it to be. Trey, who had a terrible game against Chattanooga (0 points and six turnovers) rebounded for an 11-point performance and played some good defense. Marshall came back and had 15 on 4 of 8 shooting. Solid performances all around and great shooting too: 43% from the field, our best since the Furman game. Free throw shooting still sub-par, but much of that comes from the hapless Phil who still cannot get in the right mental state to hit freebies. He was 2 of 7 today and now under 39% on the year. But excluding him we shot 69% on FTs. Below average, yes, but there's still room for improvement. Need to devote more time for those in practice.

Key stat of the game: actually, there were two. First, we forced El Cid into 21 turnovers which resulted in 25 points. You could tell they didn't have the athletes to keep up with our traps and double-teams in the corner. Second, we shot 36% from behind the arc, our best percentage since, once again, the Furman game. Citadel, by comparison, hit only 6 of 20 shots from distance. That's twelve points right there they don't get.

The one disappointing stat was the rebounding. We were outrebounded 42-32, and gave up 16 on the offensive glass which gave the Dawgs 16 second-chance points. And their FT shooting kept them in the game, too: 27 of 35. And only nine assists is a bit depressing. But, we forced 15 steals and swatted six shots which is what we needed.

One down, four to go. A date with Western Carolina, who lost by six to a 2-8 Samford team, looms on Thursday. I like our chances but looking at the big picture we really need to sweep this homestand if the Keydets want to secure a tournament bye. Despite being 4-6 in the league we stand firmly in sixth place, right at the cutoff. Can we beat WCU? Sure. Can we beat Furman? Sure. Can we beat Wofford, or UNCG? Sure. Can we beat all four of these teams? I don't know. Even so, there are still two road games after that and a rematch against Chattanooga. 7-1 over the last eight seems necessary. 5-3 seems realistic. 4-4 is not acceptable. But it's one game at a time. For now, we celebrate.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Postgame Thoughts: @ Chattanooga

Well a disappointing loss to say the least. I can't say the effort wasn't there but the focus certainly wasn't and neither was the shooting. As expected, Chattanooga was more athletic than us, more aggressive, and faster to the ball. Nothing you could do about it, unless you expect to make 50% of your three-point attempts, which, in all reality....will never happen.

This game marked the return of Tyrell Mason to the lineup, and unfortunately his presence did not spark a rally[/sarcasm]. Anglade, who came into the game third in the nation in FG percentage at .684, shot just 6 of 14 from the field, but he did get 16 points which led all scorers, plus 7 boards. And he even shot "better" from the FT line, going 4 for 8. Marshall once again a now-show: 2 of 10 overall, 1 of 7 from three, 6 points. This team is going nowhere if he can't contribute. He did six rebounds and two steals but his main asset is offense and right now it's nonexistent.

In an expected downturn Fred Iruafemi had only 4 points and made one FG. Despite getting called for his fourth foul early in the second half Fred continued to play and couldn't find a way to contribute, at least offensively. Craig had 7, and Eleby had 9 but didn't hit a three. Trey had an awful game; zero points with six turnovers, two of which were offensive fouls; a rebound and assist is all for Trey.

As a team we shot less than 32% overall and 7 of 25 from three (28%). Quite honestly this doesn't surprise me. The harsh reality is that we are not at all a good shooting team, and that's putting it softly. Even free throw shooting was again poor - 62% - although I suppose if you subtract Phil that number goes up to 69%. It's unfortunate that the players who have the ball in their hand most often are most often the poorest free throw shooters. Only positive stat is that we outrebound UTC 47-38, including 20-8 on the offensive glass. But, we counter that with 20 turnovers. We once again fail to play a complete game and it costs us. These are things that happen on the road, especially to a young team.

The Mocs shot 48% from the floor (despite shooting horribly from three - 4 of 17), which tells you where the problem lies: in the paint. Stronger, and more physical always beats weaker and unaggressive. Plus some silly fouls in the backcourt spell our doom. We don't have nearly enough talent to overcome these things; last year's team did. And such torrid shooting is not a fluctuation but a trend. We lack the height and quality rim-protectors to hold teams under 80 points, which is what we need to have a chance (although with this offense nothing is guaranteed).

At long last the five-game homestand is upon us. El Cid lost to ETSU tonight which is hopeful, but where will the offense come from? I have no idea. Brian has picked it up as of late but that's all. No one else has been consistent enough to give me confidence. We can only cross our fingers that Marshall will get on a hot streak right about now. But the good news is that the most disadvantageous portion of a schedule in all the time I've watched VMI basketball is over and for that we are thankful.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Postgame Thoughts: ETSU

This game was without a doubt the most impressive win of the season to date. In some of the darkest moments our players shine bright and play a tough game, full of hustle and heart, and come together to beat a team that was taller, stronger, and had more starpower. This may be the win we needed to kickstart a big run in the SoCon. There is still a ways to go, but the team keeps getting better.

Of course when I say darkest moments I reference the fact that QJ earlier this week decided to leave the school indefinitely on a "medical furlough", as reported by Initially I heard through word of mouth that he had simply thrown in the towel and left the Corps for good, but there's more to it than that. QJ is dealing with some personal problems and we can only hope he uses this time off to get his mind right. Although I thought the flow of the game was better without him, I feel bad for QJ and would like to see him return to the school, if only to finish his education. He desperately wants to win, but simply hasn't thrived in this offense.

But as for the cadets who did play, it was an outstanding effort. Leading the way was Fred Iruafemi, who had the best game of his college career: 16 points on 8 of 12 shooting, 9 rebounds, 3 assist, 3 steals, and 2 blocks. The guy was just everywhere. He also made three consecutive shots, two beautiful jumpshots from fifteen feet, and another layup which gave us the lead for good at 70-68. Game ball goes to the freshman.

Trey also had a quiet 16, hitting two three's and eight FTs. He also had six boards and five steals, a common trend against an ETSU team that turned the ball over 25 times thanks to relentless backcourt trapping and pressure defense. The other double-figure scorers were Brian (15 points and 4 of 9 from distance), and Phil, who netted 10 plus 7 rebounds and four blocks. He could've had more if he were worth anything at the free throw line, which seems to be his only Achilles' heel this season. There are other things he needs to work on but his defensive and rebounding prowess were crucial.

Tim Marshall once again struggled from the field, going 0 of 8 from three-point range and 0 of 9 overall. It should be noted that he finished with 6 points, going 6 of 7 from the line...clearly most of his teammates need work in this area. As a team we shot 22-37 (<60%) from the charity stripe which was the only thing preventing us from running the Bucs out of the gym.

Speaking of the Bucs, notice what happened to Jalen Riley? Last time against us he went off for 32 points on 11 of 17 shooting. This time? Try 13 points on 3 of 8 shooting, and he fouled out late in the second half. We completely took him out of the game and in doing so neutralized Wilson and Harris. Rembert scored 19 but needed as many shots to do it.

There are still things that must be fixed. Eleby was an 0-fer from the floor but did haul in five boards and made FTs when he had to. Weethee was a disappointment and has been much of the season, playing only 7 minutes today and shooting 0-1, blowing a layup midway in the second half. Craig shot poorly from the field but managed to hit a pair of treys. Burton had five and brought hustle as always but needs to stop taking stupid personal fouls. Jarid had 4 plus two blocks and a steal. Still there is room for improvement but overall I like where we are headed. We outrebounded the Bucs 55-48 despite being much smaller and had 4 more points in the paint, the first time we have outdone a DI team in that category all season.

We'll see what happens with QJ. Hopefully he comes together and can make some contributions later on. For now a five-day break looms before a road date with Chattanooga, who by the way beat Samford by just six. They do have a top-105 RPI so it will be no piece of cake, but certainly a chance to prove our worth in the Southern Conference. Until then, we can bask in the glory of victory.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Postgame Thoughts: @ UNC Greensboro

Different venue, different game. Same story for the Keydets tonight.

Easy to tell where things went wrong. As a team we shot 31% overall, connecting on only 23 of 74 shots. Nine of those 23 makes were from three, and we hit a dismal 23% from distance. Even the free throw shooting (50%) was horrible, the worst percentage of the year. We were about as cold as the weather outside.

Many of these shots were rushed or simply ill-advised. QJ continues to take wild shots from well beyond the arc. Look, by contrast, at the other side and you will see a UNCG team that hit 45% of their takes and outrebounded the opposition 52-40. There was one sequence late in the second half where UNCG missed two three-pointers, got offensive rebounds, missed another layup, got another rebound, and put it in on the fourth try. Next possession, Eleby airballs a three and later gets called for a player-control foul. Trey travels twice and has 4 TOs total. These are the things that separate winning teams from losing teams. And no, UNCG is not on paper a winning team, but they played like it tonight. And that was even WITH 17 turnovers. I can't see they wanted it more but they simply did the things it takes to win.

QJ once again shoots horribly from the field, going 2 for 11 and 1 of 6 from range. This is a trend that his been occurring for QJ since early December, shooting above 40% only at Navy and Mercer. He finishes with 8 points and 4 assists. Brian is 2 of 7 from long range. Tim is 2 of 11. Hinton, 0 of 5. Chapman, 1 of 4. Notice a trend? Our offense is predicated on hitting shots. We all know that our defense cannot cope with 31% shooting. And why were they all short? We can't be that tired having played twice in the past six days. Maybe the focus isn't there. I don't know.

Everyone shot pretty bad except for Anglade. Phil was 5 of 9 for 11 points and 10 rebounds in only 19 minutes. He had 4 fouls but didn't foul it so I guess it's an improvement. Still, we need Phil to be more disciplined under the net. This is a problem we didn't have to deal with having DJ down low. Iruafemi continued to see action and had 4 points as well as 4 boards and two blocks. Burton hit a three-pointer, sunk two FTs, and had three steals. That's about it.

There was very balanced scoring tonight but only one player (Phil) in double-figures. That cannot happen. Last season we had at least three guys every night who scored double-figures, and then some. This season, there is no go-to guy, no consistent shooter. QJ is possibly distracted with point guard duties. Marshall has been up and down all year. We simply don't have any great shooters.

ETSU comes to Lexington Saturday. I suspect a sparse crowd. This one is quite literally a must win if we are to have any shot at a top-four seed. After that we head to Chattanooga and I cannot fathom that we come out of a win there after a six-hour drive against an 11-7 team. After that the five-game homestand mercifully begins. But will it matter at that point?

I fear not...

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Postgame Thoughts: @ Wofford

Well a disappointing loss tonight especially considering we had a chance to win the game late on the road against the SoCon preseason favorite. It was an up-and-down contest but nonetheless the team played well enough to win, but not well enough to not lose.

We certainly had our chances. After falling behind 68-64 with just over three minutes to go, a QJ jumper, steal, two offensive rebounds, and another floater in the lane tie the score with two minutes left. Then, a rebound and foul on Lee Skinner gives QJ two FT's which he sinks. Karl Kochran of Wofford responded with a trey, but Skinner fouled Anglade again, who, as we've seen all season, missed the free throw on the front end of the 1-and-1.

Then even after that we still had a chance to tie the game, as QJ had the ball in hand for the last possession. What does he do? Lean in to the Terrier defender in an inexplicable attempt to draw a foul. Of course the shot is an airball, CJ Neumann sinks two freebies, and that's your ball game.

First it's surprising that Wofford didn't foul. Most other teams don't do this either and it surprises me because you'd think the chances of a player making two FTs, get the ball back, and hit another shot are better than simply sinking a three. Guess not. But QJ decides to draw contact and the shot goes horrible awry. He should've known that the refs were going to let all contact go, especially on the road. But it didn't happen and we can only hope QJ will learn.

Consider that late in the first half, after an Anglade layup the Wofford lead is cut to one before the final possession. We play great defense for 27 seconds or so, and Jarid gets his hands on the ball after a missed three by Jaylen Allen. But Justin Gordon takes the ball out of his hands, and dishes to Eric Garcia who makes a three pointer as time expires. Those three points turned out to be the difference. Wofford simply makes winning plays and knows what to do in the clutch. Even when the shots aren't falling, they stick to the fundamentals. That is why they are 12-4 and VMI sits at 5-11 and 1-4 in the league.

Julian, who was coming off the flu and back for his first game in a week, clearly made a difference. Although he didn't shoot well (5 pts on 1 of 9 shooting), he had two assists, three rebounds, and sparked the team on offense. But give the game ball to Phil Anglade, who was a monster down low with 22 points, 8 boards, and 7 blocks on 11 of 13 shooting. Incredibly it's Anglade who sorta-kinda costs us the game down the stretch, missing a FT in the final minute and shooting 0-3 from the charity stripe in all. This is the only flaw in his game, but it's a critically important one.

QJ shot 6 of 19 from the field (2-8 from three) for 22 points and 6 rebounds. Marshall shoots 4 of 11 for 13 points. As far as scoring goes that's about it. Only 13 bench points, but we did outrebound a much taller Wofford team, 40-31. On the flip side we commit 14 turnovers, at least two of which were from QJ slipping and falling on the floor unprovoked...some things you just can't explain.

Incredibly disappointing night. We can take some positives from it, mainly that the energy was 100% there and we hung wire-to-wire with the SoCon favorite. It sucks to be 5-11 but at this point the brunt of our schedule is behind us. The next two games are on the road against SoCon bottomdwellers (UNCG and Furman), and the following Saturday is a home matchup with ETSU. One more road game at Chattanooga and from there seven of the final nine are at Cameron. A performance like the one tonight is encouraging, and we can only hope that it persists throughout the season, because we cannot afford to lose more than one game.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Postgame Thoughts: Mercer

Well this was just an awful game from top to bottom. I suppose the last two minutes we got it together, but by then it was far too late. The offense was out of sync, the bench was non-existent (as were some starters), and defensively Mercer attacked the paint at will, not even needing to go for the long-ball. Phil Anglade fouls out midway in the second half and there goes our rebounding.

It's apparent that we simply don't have the height nor the athleticism to compete with teams like Mercer, ETSU, and presumably Chattanooga and Wofford. Brian Brown was back tonight (sick with the flu last game), and had a meager 6 pts and two dimes on 2 of 6 shooting. Eleby was also sick with the flu for the second straight game. Would his presence have made a difference? Possibly, but one so-so contributor should not throw an entire team off course. QJ had a much better shooting night, going 9 of 21 overall (4 of 9 on 3PA) for 27 points. So his shot and scoring touch are back, and we still lay an egg at home to a beatable team. What gives?

Well the 3P shooting was where it usually is (12 of 35, 34%) but the overall shooting was bad yet again: 22 of 60, 37%. Marshall was 3 of 13 from distance, for 13 points. But that was just about it scoring-wise. Anglade did contribute 7 points and 5 boards but, as mentioned earlier, fouled it midway through the second half. No one else scores more than six.

Mercer as a team shot 71% from the line but hit nearly all of their FTs late when it counted most. But notice: Mercer gets to the line 17 more times than we do. And that gives them twelve more points. Our lack of aggressiveness is showing, and on defense our forwards and centers don't know how to take charges. And the Bears outrebound us 40-32. Stat of the night: 14 turnovers is a killer. Incredibly Mercer committed one more but if you want to win games that can't happen.

This was probably the most critical game to win to date. Coming home after a long road trip, your one home game before another 3-game road swing...and we blow it. Now we will most likely be 5-11 and 1-4 in the SoCon after Thursday's matinee at Wofford, but then the schedule gets a bit easier. Two games at Furman and UNCG, Saturday home game with ETSU, and after one more road contest (UTC), seven of the final nine games are at Cameron Hall. Even with that I don't know if there is a team in the league we are guaranteed to beat.

How long until baseball season starts?