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....