Our basketball analyst "Coach" John Fidler discusses what the Eagles can do to fix an anemic offense.
Eli Carter dropped a career high 31 points, including 22 in the first half, but it simply wasn't enough as Pittsburgh opened it up in the second half on their way to a 84-61 win at the Petersen Events Center.
Carter's first half explosion kept it close. BC trailed by just 3 at 39-36 with 49 seconds remaining in the opening frame, but Pitt finished the half with a 4-0 spurt to take a seven-point lead to the locker room.
However, as has plagued the Eagles all season, they simply can't score enough to offset a leaky defense and eventually the Panthers simply pulled away.
BC came into the game #316 in the country in points per game and #288 in overall offensive efficiency, and while how much you score as an absolute stat is not necessarily relevant and needs to be offset with pace of play, points per possession as well as your defensive stats being that low is going to be a very difficult thing for a young team that just isn't coordinated enough as a unit defensively and lacks size and strength to overcome.
In the pre-season, there was a belief among some Eagles fans that this team would be a pretty good defensive team, but I just didn't see it for all the reasons above and then some. To date, particularly against better competition, that has borne itself out.
So how, pray tell, can the Eagles improve on the offensive end of the floor outside of riding the hot hand such as Carter, which wasn't enough today as it was?
Let's take a look at what BC does currently to generate offense and other ways they can augment that effort, from what I believe are most likely to those that are least likely.
BC runs primarily a four out, one in dribble drive, high ball screen offense. It is difficult at times to determine what they view as their best option to score as there doesn't appear to be anyone in particular they look to get the ball to. If you were to be honest about it, the person who appears to get the most touches by design as opposed to just in the flow of the offense is Dennis Clifford. On the surface, this doesn't look like the best strategy. Clifford has struggled his entire career to finish around the rim, and although his shot totals per game are not high, building anything around him (and it is mostly off high ball screen/roll) does not appear to be a sound strategy.
Another piece of your halfcourt offense is getting to the free throw line. As the Eagles don't play multiple bigs at the same time and, as has been noted, take an inordinate amount of three point field goals and rarely send more than two players to the offensive glass (#333 in the country in offensive rebounding rate), they get just under 17% of their total points per game from the line, good enough for #314 in the country.
The Eagles run very few set plays. Although there are a few we have seen, most of their offense in the half court comes from their four out, one in set, which is based more on offensive principles rather than definitive design. This is very much the way of the world in college basketball these days.
Tom Izzo at Michigan State is an example of a contrarian philosophy as they run a lot of sets, but most college coaches let their players make plays as opposed to running set plays.
BC does fast break, mostly off misses and more so, as most teams do, off live ball turnovers.
BC does extend pressure occasionally, but more to disrupt rhythm and less to create turnovers and easy basket opportunities. The Eagles have pressed in late game situations when down significantly, which I have never been a big believer in if that is not the way you generally play.
So it goes without saying that this isn't really working...or is it? I'll address that at the end of the article.
What can be done to improve?
Let's look at ways in which BC could improve their scoring, not in order of what I think Coach Christian will do, but rather in terms of what I think would be most effective based on the personnel this team has at this time.
Run some set plays: It should go without saying that your best offensive players should be taking the most shots and taking them from spots on the floor where they can best make them. To me, this means running set for Eli Carter and Jerome Robinson and then tertiary for Dennis Clifford.
This has to be an improvement from what is happening now; left to their own devices, Robinson is at 41% and Carter is at just under 40% from the floor for the season.
What plays exactly? Well, ball screens are something the Eagles run all the time already, no need to add more of them. I would look to get Carter the ball via off ball screens, rather than on ball screens, using Clifford or Meznieks as screeners to force their bigger defenders to potentially switch onto Carter. Robinson (who all but vanished in the Syracuse and Pitt games—7 points total), could run some of the same sets, but has also shown flashes of brilliance when put into the post and working against smaller defenders.
For Clifford, use your guards, in particular Carter, Hicks or Milon to screen for him in the post and use the little on big philosophy once again to get a guard isolated on Clifford via a solid screen.
Philosophically you want to post up a smaller defender and drive a bigger one.
I think this is the easiest fix, but I also doubt that Christian will go this route because he wants to teach his team how to play basketball and not how to run plays, although it is likely we will see a few more set plays as the season meanders on.
Fast Break: A possibility. The Eagles run a fair amount already, but they don't have what I would call a "dealer," a pure push point guard who drives tempo that way and with the point guard position already one they are surviving rather than thriving with, I don't see any major change in strategy to become a run on makes, misses, etc.
Crash the offensive glass: As noted often, the Eagles struggle to rebound period. Pitt, a traditionally strong rebounding team, pounded the Eagles into submission on the glass with a 34-17 advantage.
Playing the small lineup is one reason (although a lot of coaching rally behind that as a point of pride for smaller units and what you emphasize in practice), the four out - one in offensive set which moves more players to the perimeter and away from the lane is another. This puts an extra emphasis on those wings to come from great distance to get involved in the rebounding action.
If you've noticed, very rarely does BC send more than two players to the offensive glass. It seems like it is by design, but I am not sure if it is or isn't. The NBA has become a league where teams have gone this route as well. So whereas teams traditionally sent three or four to the offensive glass and left the point guard back as defensive balance, they've flipped the script, choosing to minimize the rush to offensive rebound and rather protect against transition the other way.
This part of the game overall has no choice but to improve if the Eagles are ever going to be any factor in the ACC.
Change the lineup: It's an interesting thought, but to what? Assuming you could start Reyes or Diallo alongside Clifford to create more of a post presence would then mean they need to change everything they've been running offensively all year long.
I believe they've settled in with Meznieks starting at the four and Owens coming in off the bench, but any other shift at this point in time seems minor in nature.
Move Clifford away from the ball side: The Eagles 4 out - 1 in offense either leaves Dennis Clifford on the ball side block or screening high and rolling to the ball side block. This means that when Clifford catches the ball in prime areas to score, he is generally forced into making a post move with a defender on him and that just hasn't been very productive.
One of the tenets of the "traditional" dribble drive offense that Vance Walberg designed is that the post player stays opposite the ball side. This helps in making average or less than average scorers effective in that their role consists of either cleaning up offensive rebounds or catching dish passes from guards who penetrate and have those post defenders help on the drive.
One of the ancillary benefits of this as well is keeping clearer lanes for the wing players to drive as often the posts gum up the driving lines by posting on the ball side.
I do believe that this strategy, along with more bodies to the offensive glass would help BC get more points from the free throw line.
I doubt this would happen, as simple as it is, because the posts are involved in so many high balls screens, to roll them back into the post off ball from this set would be tough.
Press: BC has shown annoyance pressure designed to burn the opposition shot clock, but not much else until late game situations. Pressing is an art form all its own. Teams like West Virginia or Texas who are all out pressure teams build entire philosophies around that strategy. Although I love the concept, of all the options available to BC to get extra possessions and easy points, this is the least likely to change.
So where does this leave our Eagles? Unfortunately, I think we are in for more of the same as the season progresses. While I am fairly certain Christian will add a few set plays—all playbooks grow as the year goes on—he is really playing for the future and not the present and will want to focus on doing what he wants to do in the long run and not look for the quick fix, and that is having these guys execute better what they are already doing.