The coaches go today at 10am–we’ll back back later today with quotes of interest. Until then, enjoy 2,300 weekend words.

***

Defense is a matter of concentration and buying in to the system. What’s more, defense is also–cliche alert!–a matter of effort. As Monte Ross once said, there isn’t a player or coach in the country that can stop you from playing hard.

While defense may or may not win championships–more on that later–it keeps you in games. Because of all of those factors, freshmen make more of an impact on the defensive end. And that, of course, helps to explain why defenses are dominating The Association right now. It’s why we’re using the term rock fight quite a bit–it’s real.

Five teams are holding its opposition to less than 60 points per game, and the leader is Georgia State. Five. Ron Hunter came to Atlanta talking about running and playing fast and he is the worst offender (not that Hunter is complaining). The Panthers are third (behind UNCW and Hofstra) with 68.3 possessions per game and have allowed an incredible 0.73 points per possession. In six conference games, GSU is allowing opponents 49.2 points per game.

There’s more in the rock sack. Teams are shooting 30.9% against Georgia State. Your comparison stat: 11 of the 12 teams are shooting greater than 38% for the season and Towson is at 33.1%.

One other interesting stat before we get into the weekend. Guess who is leading the CAA in three point percentage? ODU at 35.7%. Who is second? Drexel at 35.6%.

***

Some days, a simple plan turns into a lot of words.

There was a plan as to “how” I was going to watch the Old Dominion/Hofstra game on Saturday. I feel like we pick on the Monarchs for their offensive ineptitude, and I wanted to see if we were being fair. A big part of that evaluation was looking at it from the wholly opposite angle–how many times did ODU get three or more stops in a row.

My theory was to credit ODU with being an average, or slightly-below average, offensive team, prone to ugly lulls with the basketball in their hands. I wondered if, spread over 40 minutes, those lulls balance out with burst of offensive brilliance—they will eventually hit a few shots in a row—and the goal is holding down an opponent defensively until a lull becomes a burst.

Boy, was I rewarded.

ODU started the game 1-8 from the field, committing four turnovers and a technical foul. They trailed the Pride 16-3 six minutes into the game. (Insert familiar ghastly offensive reference.) Immediately after that ugliness, a 9-0 run ensued behind Trian Illiadis. It took just two minutes for the nine points.

Then, with Hofstra up 21-15, the Pride committed nine turnovers and were 2-7 from the field over its next 14 possessions. ODU played marginal (at best) offense in that stretch, using the defensive intensity to grab a 27-26 lead. The defense allowed a sputtering offense time to right itself.

The second half provided the defensive hammer.

Old Dominion trailed 46-37 after a Nat Lester jumper with a little less that 17 minutes to play. Over the next 14 minutes, the Pride were held to one field goal (1-14 total) and committed six turnovers. ODU had scored 26 points in that stretch and led 63-55.

In hindsight, the Old Dominion offense looked better than average for two minutes in the first half. The Monarchs played a staunch defense that kept them close to Hofstra.

In the second half ODU found a rhythm by being opportunistic when Hofstra got loose with the basketball. Through the middle part of the second half ODU capitalized on its opponent’s mistakes–they didn’t have to play great offense but they–another cliche alert!–made plays. That’s how you flip a game in which you don’t really look that good.

As for the game, the Pride was not lacking effort and they didn’t back down one bit. However that was also their undoing. Too many times they tried to beat the ODU zone in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock and forced the ball into traffic. The result was innumerable turnovers where ODU simply picked a fumbled ball up off the floor.

Now, if I’m an ODU season ticket holder, I may show up late to every game in order to save some agony. The Monarchs are 4-1 since the beginning of the New Year, but have sputtered at the outset of games:

  • Trail 16-3 vs. Hofstra
  • Trail 14-5 vs. Delaware
  • Trail 4-0 and 8-7  vs. Towson
  • Trail 19-10 vs. Mason (only loss)
  • Trail 26-16 vs. JMU

***

Later in the day, VCU would reward my closer look at defense. The Rams held down Devon Saddler, forcing him into an uncomfortable 3-19 shooting day in the VCU win.

In fact, VCU held Delaware scoreless for the first nine minutes of Saturday’s game, harassing the Hens into an 0-12 start with five turnovers. The Rams only scored eight points of their own during that stretch—more proof that consistent defense allows an offense to catch up.

Side note stat: dating back to Thursday night’s game against JMU, the Rams went a span of 16:57 without allowing a field goal and a total of just two points to its opponent.

Conventional wisdom says that VCUs defense is predicated on steals and turnovers—havoc creating opportunities and extra possessions for the offense. And that is absolutely correct. The scary part for their opponents—they aren’t a one-trick pony.

VCU managed to force just 11 turnovers against YouDee, a season low. However VCU held Delaware to a season-low 31% shooting. The Hens 3-18 performance from three was the second best effort for VCU from beyond the arc (1-11 to Alabama was the best).

Here’s what is particularly encouraging for Shaka Smart—his players get it.

“We know that no matter how we’re shooting the ball, that our defense is what is going to win games,” Brad Burgess said postgame. “If we stay focused on the defensive end for 40 minutes, we’re always going to have a chance to win.”

What’s more, the Rams are hitting the glass—a decided weakness over the past two seasons. VCU outrebounded Delaware 46-44 and have now outrebounded 10 of its last 12 opponents. The Rams trail only Old Dominion in CAA games in offensive rebounding.

Defense in the open floor; defense in half court, rebound, and hit timely shots. There you go.

***

You want to know how weird this season has been, just six games in? We’re about to recap Drexel, and we’re going to rave about outstanding offense.

The Dragons fairly pummeled UNCW, and it was a display of outstanding offense that carried the day. Before we get carried away today, let’s note Drexel also played superior defense. They were bigger, longer, and more aggressive than UNCW. The D consistently pushed UNCW out of its spots.

However we’ve come to expect that from Drexel. As Anthony Grant used to say, they played to their identity. The aggressive play heated up Buzz Peterson to the point that he was double t’d and tossed with about 13 minutes to play. (By rule, Peterson must sit out this week’s game against JMU.)

It’s the offense we want to call out. Again. While UNCW is playing the league’s worst defense, this has been brewing for Drexel.

You saw what Damion Lee did to Mason and Frantz Massenat did to VCU. This team can do all the big guy stuff it used to do, but in addition to Chris Fouch, the Dragons have Lee’s pure shooting and Massenat’s driving to provide those multiple weapons. And there’s that jersey-thread-counting defense.

Those conspired to create a 19-3 first half run that essentially put away UNCW. If there was any doubt, Drexel hit 5-7 from the field to open the second half. It’s offense in Philly! In years past, if Drexel’s top two offensive options were shut down or having off nights, the Dragons were toast. That isn’t the case this year. Before this game, Drexel beat VCU and Mason with Fouch and Samme Givens scoring a grand total of 26 points.

Two Dragons (Massenat and Lee) are in the top 10 in the CAA in three point field goal percentage. Massenat leads the conference at 12-22, 54.5%. Notable there: the name Chris Fouch is nowhere to be found. Yet.

Want more? The Dragons lead the CAA in free throw shooting at 75%. Lee and  Givens are tied for second overall—both are 15-17 for 88.2%. So that we’re clear about this, you must note that Givens’s high water mark for free throw shooting was his freshman season—59%. He hit 52.9% last season.

A couple weeks back we were chastised for believing that Drexel’s ultimate success will reside with great guard play—that we know they play defense and we know they force feed the post. However the belief is that multiple weapons on the perimeter is what will make this team great.

That’s what we’re seeing now.

As for Peterson’s ejection, both coaches are displaeased. According to Brian Mull:

“I’m not making any comment, because when I do my report, I never get a response back from our league office, or from our commissioner,” Peterson said. “I was not trying to do anything to get the attention of our players. Did I deserve the first one? Yes. Did I deserve the second one? No.”

And Bruiser supported Buzz:

“I don’t know what he said, or anything like that,” Flint said. “But the referees have got to know that the two technicals mean you don’t coach the next night. I’ve been saying that for years. I don’t even know why we’ve got the rule. There’s nothing he could’ve said – unless he put his hands on the guy – to get two quick techs and get thrown out of the game. I don’t understand it.” 

***

The officials were throwing the rocks in the Mason/James Madison game, won by Mason 88-83. Here’s what you need to know, courtesy of JMU SID Kevin Warner:

In a slow-paced game that took two hours and 27 minutes, the teams combined for 63 personal fouls and 89 free throw attempts.  Mason went 33-for-48 at the foul line while Madison was 27-for-41.  The 60 combined made free throws were the most in a JMU game since the Dukes and Patriots combined to go 60-for-88 on Jan. 30, 1999 in Fairfax.  The 89 combined attempts were the most dating back to at least the 1985 season.

As for the action, Mason led JMU by 24 with about eight minutes to play, but saw the padding shrink to five after an Arman Marks three with 59 seconds to play. However the Patriots dug in and held on for the win.

The Patriots shot 58 percent from the field and attempted more free throws (48) than field goals (45). We were particularly impressed with Mason’s Vaughan Gray. The freshman hit a couple shots and was solid in Mason’s loss to Drexel, but really looked smooth Saturday. Gray had 19 points in 21 minutes but looked like he belonged on the court.

Stat note: Mike Morrison hit all four field goal attempts and is now a CAA-leading 32-44 from the field, 72%, through six CAA games.

Stat note, part 2: JMU has lost five straight in the CAA and not topped 40 percent shooting from the field during its skid, hitting a combined 105-of-282 (37 percent).

***

Northeastern finds itself at the one-third pole at 4-2 after its homer over William & Mary. The bottom dropped out for Tony Shaver, as a nine-point late first half lead dissipated on a 28-9 NU run that bridged the half.

Qunicy Ford again posted a double-double—the freshman’s 13/10 was a significant contribution. The Huskies are vastly more difficult to defend when players other than Jon Lee and Joel Smith are in the act of shooting.

We’re putting that crinkle-face neck turn method of evaluating NU now, like a dog that hears a high-pitched noise. Bill Coen was clearly experimenting early in the season with things like “running.” But he’s reverted to what works—defense, ball control, and limit your turnovers.

It’s working, too. He has players buying into their roles—Alwayne Bigby as a defender, and Kauri Black and freshman Reggie Spencer pounding the glass. Pulling the Whoa Nellie on Lee and Smith gives them an opportunity to score before firing the ball into the seats. In their three game winning streak, NU has had more assists than turnovers in every game.

Stat note: Marcus Thronton played 30 minutes for William & Mary but took just three shots. I don’t know if it’s credit to NU, but that’s not nearly enough shots.

***

Doug Roberson is the Georgia State beat writer for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and he is today’s example of the emergence of this program. The Panthers beat Towson on Saturday to remain tied atop the league at 5-1.

We know Ron Hunter and love the exploits of Nick Bray, but Roberson is delivering the goods for the team. It’s possible that Roberson has been their beat writer in past season, but we didn’t really notice. However we’ve noticed this year, and like the team Roberson is doing an great job.

This article does an outstanding job painting what you need to know occurred, and what is important—Hunter is unhappy with the “fortunate” win:

“First time in 20 years I had to coach effort,” he said. “It’s no fun when you have to coach effort. It’s like I told the guys, if you are going to be a championship team, you can’t coach effort. We’ve been a hungry basketball team all year. First time all year we’ve played a team that played hungrier than we did.”

Hunter didn’t make any players available to talk after the game. He said their lethargy and satisfaction was evident Thursday night, continued on Friday’s and affected Saturday’s game. The Panthers committed a season-high 18 turnovers, six more than their season average. The Tigers had 10 steals and blocked 10 shots. Many times Georgia State’s defenders would either pull up in the lane, giving the Tigers space to jump, or crash in head-first and get called for charges.

Hunter said afterward his team may have played differently had it been any other opponent, but pointed out that teams with championship aspirations don’t dial-down effort.

“We aren’t going to settle,” he said. “This is what happens with winning. There’s a price with winning. I just want to make sure that we understand that.”

By the way, the Panthers were led by a career-high 18 points from James Vincent. What I love about Vincent: he’s 6-10, 260 pounds, and an art major.

And Hunter put everyone on warning, tweeting that today’s practice is going to be epic and for his players to brings their hard hats. All we can think of is Nick Bray’s quote saying the Panthers ran more in one day than he’d run in his lifetime.

Strap ‘em up.

8 Responses to “Monday Sankapla: There’s Beauty In Everything. Even Rock Fights.”

  1. Shawn Says:

    Thanks for mentioning Gray and Morrison. Gray looks soooo confident on the court. I love having him as a scoring option off the bench (similar to Vaughans’ role last season). Morrison: Could he be added to the all-CAA first team discussion? I wouldn’t have made that statement prior to the season, but he’s been coming up big for Mason in our conference games. I love his consistency, which is unlike his previous three seasons in Fairfax.

  2. Jeremy Says:

    One reason (to me) ODU begins games so poorly is they don’t start their best players. ODU continues with the strategy of bringing Chris Cooper (Double-Double machine) off the bench to avoid picking up an early “ref’s setting the tone foul”. Coaches are noticing and attacking right away. This was no more evident than the GMU game where Mike Morrison made 3 buckets in first 2 minutes and only 2 more the entire rest of the game. ODU starts 2 players with inferior offensive ability (Nick Wright and Marquel Delancey) as opposed to Cooper and Illiadis. Additionally, it means many times not playing with Bazemore until even later in the game as he often gets a breather when Cooper and Illiadis are subbed in. Again, using the GMU game as an example Bazemore, Illiadis and Cooper weren’t on the floor together until the first media timeout and it was already 17-10. For an “average to slightly-below average offensive team” to begin the game without their 3 best offensive players on the court is asking for a deficit.

  3. GMUSSTN Says:

    Litos the refs from the JMU game just called, they’re giving you a foul. Not sure for what, we’ll find out after I get to the line.

  4. mlitos Says:

    The worst part is that it’s my 40th foul and you are now in the quadruple bonus.

  5. GMUSSTN Says:

    Does that mean I get 4 shots? And will only make one of them?

  6. Ralph Says:

    Another great article. Keep up the good work Mike.

  7. BC Says:

    Feel the Fire

  8. metsox Says:

    Wait a second, BC is a Drexel fan????

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