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'.

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