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Coach's Corner: The 2016-17 Basketball Season Retrospective - Part II

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What went wrong?

Coach Christian still searching for answers.
Coach Christian still searching for answers.
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

In part I of the 2016-17 Men's Basketball season retrospective, we looked at what went right for the Eagles. When 9-23 and 2-16 in the ACC is the end result of that season, there is obviously an awful lot that didn't go well either.  Today we look at some of the root causes of what went wrong.  Some of these are systemic, some of them are more specific.  You may have others, so feel free to chime in, but I found these to be the root cause issues of why this team wound up where it did.

What Went Wrong?

Lack of ACC Level Talent:

This description should also include "experienced" ACC level talent, but while the concept is pretty obvious, you simply can't ignore the talent disparity, particularly from the Eagle bigs and the depth at the guard position that BC found themselves in.

It wasn't as if Idy Diallo or Matt Milon staying around this season were going to drastically change the fortunes of this year's team,  but Jim Christian needed to rely on three graduate transfers in Jordan Chatman (BYU), Connar Tava (Western Michigan) and Mo Jeffers (Delaware) among his top six players for the vast majority of the season.

Tava, after missing the entire 2015-16 season at Western with a foot injury, did what he could, but was somewhat of a fish out of water within the Eagle system.  Not a perimeter player, the BC 4 out - 1 in offense couldn't post him against longer, more athletic ACC talent.

Jeffers would have been a solid backup, but was forced into a starters role while Chatman did show some promise as a 3 point shooter, but lacks the strength or the foot speed to defend and would have been far better as a shooter coming off the bench.

There is a reason these guys started where they did, they simply lacked the talent to play night in and night out at the ACC level.

Along side them you had players like Nik Popovic, Johncarlos Reyes and Mike Sagay who have some skill level, but are more projects than immediate impact players, which left you with Robinson, Bowman and Turner as guys who both fit the bill from an ACC talent, experience and readiness standpoint.

The Defensive End of the Floor:

Tough to sugar coat how poorly this team played at the defensive end of the floor in 2016-17.  Steve Donahue took a lot of heat for the lack of attention to defense, but this team was nearly as bad statistically as that one.

In that fateful 2013-14, the Eagles finished #345 in the nation in defensive efficiency, giving up 1.13 points per possession, this year, they were #275 at 1.06.  Outside of a very pleasant surprise with how well in general they rebounded the ball, BC finished in the mid 200s to the low 300s in virtually every defensive statistical category.  It made it extremely difficult for a team that would go through extended scoring droughts and had near no direct inside presence to score, to win games.

BC didn't have a true lock down defender, that role went to AJ Turner most nights, but one wouldn't exactly call Turner a defensive stopper.  Ky Bowman worked hard, but played major minutes with no backup and Jerome Robinson was at best an inconsistent defender.  Popovic lacked strength and like many European players come in at an understanding deficit defensively, while Connar Tava was over matched either length wise or quickness wise depending on where you put him.  Mo Jeffers was one player who was reasonably effective, but with the Eagles playing behind the offensive post player, got in a lot of foul trouble defending skilled post players.

This team did a decent to good job in passing lanes, but outside of Bowman didn't put any sort of consistent pressure on the ball and had more trouble than most, both defending the dribbler 1 on 1.  As most teams do, but BC more than most, broke down particularly against dribble penetration, late in the shot clock.

BC played a great deal of switching man to man, the concept being that 1-4 anyway, the match ups were pretty similar.  When you switch, the key principles to note are "talk it, touch it, switch it".  This communicates what you are doing, touching it eliminates gaps to slide through on the switch and then of course the actual exchange of coverage responsibilities.

What I saw a lot of was a young team  that couldn't process what was happening around them quickly enough to execute this.  Honestly, I don't think it mattered if they switched or didn't switch, most of the problems would have remained.

Watching games I would rewind plays 5-10 times to see what developed and where the break downs were and almost without fail, this wasn't a case of making an error of effort, it was about becoming frozen and not knowing what to do.

Think about old Frank Spaziani and his famous line (no not "middle schmiddle") but "if you think, you stink". The concept definitely applies in basketball where so much is happening all at the same time.  If you can't process it instinctively and get caught in between, you fail.  There were seemingly hundreds of examples where players got caught in no man's land and gave up points as a result.

If the goal was to play for future and this is the way you want to play, then fine, but switching like that adds a layer of complexity as well as a layer of built in excuse that you probably want to save for a more experienced team.

The good news here is that some of this is solvable through experience. There will be less thinking and more anticipation going forward if this group stays together.  I still don't agree with the idea of sitting behind the post (pet peeve..see pretty much every basketball post I've ever put out), but I believe this staff cares about the defensive end of the floor and provided they can keep this group together, get some level of interior defensive presence to protect the rim, will improve in 2017-18.

Post Play:

Nowhere did the personnel issues surface more than inside.  The Eagles essentially started from scratch, with all but one of their legit 4 or 5 men departed, that being Johncarlos Reyes, who saw almost no action until the very end of the season.

BC struggled to defend in the post.  Connar Tava gave up too much length, Nik Popovic too much experience and strength and that left Mo Jeffers who tried, but like Popovic often found himself in foul trouble.  I actually think this could have been worse than it was, but outside of North Carolina, Wake Forest and FSU, much of the ACC didn't try to pound the ball inside against the Eagles.

Offensively the Eagles rarely posted anyone but Popovic or Jeffers, although they did have the high post cut for Jerome Robinson once or twice a game. Jeffers struggled even to catch the ball and didn't appear to have any go to, polished post move. Popovic on the other hand showed promise with his footwork and use of both hands around the basket, but lacked the strength to finish consistently.

You know I favored moving the posts opposite the ball side to open up driving lines, but also to improve post scoring because guys who had issues finishing would just have to lay the ball in, but that only happened by accident, not by design.

Competitiveness:

No topic can be more controversial than this one, because it is so easy to take the argument that if you say a team  isn't competitive, that they didn't care and didn't try.  No one should say that is the case.  There were many nights when this team fought tooth and nail and gave what they had, the issue was consistency in that approach. With this one, it's not anything I had to make up, Coach Christian called them out on it as well.

Part of it is inexperience.  Part of it is mental.  Part of it is indeed the competitive nature of some of these players.

Inexperience:  there is a big difference in taking one additional step to close down a driving lane or to find a man to box out. Players who haven't been asked to do that before or as yet don't quite get that have those things happen to them.

Mental: Tough to go through  loss after loss and continue to do the little things, particularly when  the one run comes at you that you can't stop.

Nature of some players:  Yes, I do believe there are some players on this team  who are not as consistently competitive as they need to be.  You can preach that fight, reward that fight, but some times, nature wins in the "nature vs nuture" battle and players don't sell out at the level we might desire.

For a comparative, just look at what you saw out of Wichita State in the NCAA tournament and ask if this team competes at that level.

Ball Handling:

Live ball turnovers were a crushing factor in BC losses this season.  Unfortunately it was seemingly rare that the Eagles threw the ball out of bounds or were called for a traveling violation, rather there were numerous lazy pass and dribbling mistakes made in the midcourt area that were turned into easy and immediate opposition baskets.

BC finished the season #301 in the nation in turnovers per possession, which I believe is a far more relative stat than just looking at flat turnover numbers because it accounts more for pace of play where the Eagles did play at tempo.

The other killer here was the lack of a backup point guard.  When Ty Graves left, it meant that it was either Ky Bowman or Jerome Robinson and to be fair, neither of them (Robinson in particular) are currently meant to play that role for major minutes every night.  There was not another player on the roster with the real ability to handle the ball over space and that showed itself with those turnovers.

I would look for this stat to change significantly next season.  So many of these were simply a product of sloppiness on the part of Bowman and Robinson who between them accounted for 42% of the total, at least some of that due to fatigue or trying to do too much. Gains made during the off-season in getting physically stronger will definitely help too.

Scoring Droughts:

It's difficult not to tie the struggles BC had defensively,  handling the ball and post presence to why they would go through prolonged scoring droughts.  12-0, 16-2 type runs plagued the Eagles all season and in some cases, wound up being the margin of defeat in games they otherwise were competitive in.

When BC played their best, they generated some baskets off steals for numerical advantage shots, fast break baskets or shot well from the three point line (see Syracuse), but when they didn't, there were scoring droughts.

Easy points were at a premium and it should go without saying that easy points come in the paint and from the free throw line.  BC was #328 in the country in points from the free throw line, this gets to a few critical areas:

  • free throw attempts
    • The Eagles were #301 in the country in attempts.  Rare to get fouled shooting jump shots, so BC had to gain common fouls that turned into double bonus situations or drive to the rim to create two shot foul opportunities and they did neither.   Only Robinson and Bowman were players capable of creating pressure on  the defense at the rim. I had hoped there would be a third in AJ Turner, but does not appear to be his game.
  • free throw percentage
    • BC was #260 in the country in FT shooting percentage.  Don't take many and don't make the ones you take is a tough combination.
  • post presence
    • We've touched on this more than once, but the only other way to get shot opportunities at the rim and break droughts are through post scoring.  BC was #271 in the country in offensive rebounds at 7.7 per game.  All of the Eagle bigs combined averaged approximately 14 shots total per game, so there were simply very few chances around the rim to draw fouls.

In the next section, we will touch on - What Still Puzzles Us?  Things that at this point, I am not 100% sure I understand.

Still looking for Jerome Robinson - you'll find him soon!