vs. Monmouth 11/11/2022

Note: I finished writing this last night before hearing about the shooting on grounds. Not pushing it out as it’s not important right now, just keeping it here for posterity. Sickened to hear about the news and will be sending thoughts and love to the community from a couple of hours north.

Much more convincing win vs. a considerably worse opponent. There was a lot to talk about from this game – although I’ll just have access to the condensed game highlights on this one so won’t be able to go into it as deep on the video side as I’d normally like. With games like this (they beat Farleigh Dickinson by almost as much last year), there are some things that aren’t as useful in assessment, but others are. As always, won’t be editing as closely given the timeliness. Let’s get into it:

Like: The Revelation of Ryan Dunn

Impossible not to kick this review off by discussing this kid who, of this class, was the least highly regarded nationally and easily has the highest upside of the group. There had been some buzz throughout the offseason about his play turning heads, but most still expected him to be a project and to potentially even redshirt. But he checked in with around 11 minutes to go in the first half with the team only up 2 points, and ended up playing the second most minutes on the team at 27 (one behind McKneely). Obviously, the blowout factored into that, but he was a key part of stretching that lead out early and throughout.

The first thing that stood out to me is just how huge he looked on the court. Listed now at 6’8″, apparently he’s grown an inch since walking on grounds, which is some Scottie Pippen lore right there (okay, that was 6 inches, but still). I was expecting visible nerves, I was expecting flashes of potential with quite a bit of rawness, I was not expecting him to come in and just… exert his will on both ends of the court. His first shot of his career was this three pointer:

He catches it in rhythm, didn’t hesitate, and it looked pure all the way. This was his introduction and my jaw kind of dropped because everything we’d heard about him was that he was still working on consistency with that jumper. In fact, I saw some highlights from Italy where he caught the ball wide open outside of the arc and hesitated, kicked the ball back out, etc. Not here. He’d been in the game around two minutes and the team was up only four points and is confidently knocking down the long ball. Now, he was 1-1 in the game, so we’ll see over time if he can have consistency there, but it was a great sign that he was willing to launch with that confidence.

Okay, so, “that was the thing I thought he wasn’t good at and it was the first thing he did.” Sure, but all of the other things I expected him to be good at he was still better at than I expected. Of course, we have to take the competition into consideration, but you could also compare him to how other players on our team looked in certain ways to see the difference as well. He played both the 3 and the 4 throughout which, I was under the impression we’d be better off with him at the 3. While that’s still probably true, especially this season, there wasn’t a drop off with him at PF. In fact, with his considerable athletic advantage over both BVP and Gardner, our ability to clear the boards and impact passing lanes improved. Once Caffaro is back in the lineup and as the competition increases, I expect him at 3 much more often, but he definitely has shades of Hunter’s ability to play “small ball” 4 down the road… and I’m not even sure you’ll have to call it “small ball” when he does. It speaks very well of him that he was able to see the floor in both capacities, a “guard” and “forward” position in our offense and defense as a first year.

There were actually a few possessions where he was on the floor as the 4 with BVP as the 5, which allowed them to run this sweet offensive possession:

I’ll highlight this play again later because that pass from Kihei was insane, but this was a very cool Ryan Dunn wrinkle where instead of setting the on-ball screen, he just clears out to the point where they had 5 out. This allowed Clark to penetrate against a much slower defender and, when the offside defenders sag into the lane from help side, he basically can pick out the best pass among three targets (Murray, BVP, and Dunn). With any of Shedrick, Caffaro, or Gardner on the floor, that set doesn’t work in the same way and whoever is guarding them can help more effectively without giving up as much space/a three-point shot.

It was great to see both that his shooting AND his threat to shoot were things that allowed for some offensive wrinkles and defensive lineups that we haven’t otherwise been showing. But where he started immediately making a case for himself to see the floor more was through his size and athleticism.

This is in the second half now and they’re back to that lineup with Dunn at the 4 and BVP at the 5. I really wish we could have see what would have happened if the Monmouth defender hadn’t disrupted his jump, but the thing that stood out for me about this was how awkwardly he was disrupted while trying to elevate for the dunk and was still able to convert the shot. I also love how QUICKLY he recognizes to make that dive down the lane. It’s such a split second after Clark gets the ball on the baseline and Dunn’s man starts to drift away in support defense. The reaction is almost instantaneous.

This one got me pretty excited as he’s now paired with Gardner as our 4-5 combo in sort of an ultimate small ball combo:

Gardner goes for the steal and loses out on the deflection, leaving his man with what should have been a wide-open layup but Dunn alertly was sagged off of his man and made a super athletic block from behind. I’ve been writing for a while now how, outside of Shedrick, we’re thin on rim protectors on the roster… really since Diakite left. This had that feeling of that secondary shot blocker who can come from nowhere to get a hand on the ball. And then later in the game, he did it again!

Tell me that play doesn’t remind you of a Diakite, or a Mitchell, or an Atkins, or a Hunter. McKneely straight up slips and falls on the backdoor cut and Dunn rotates over, erases the shot, and also grabs possession and starts a break the other way. A subtle thing about this block that’s so encouraging is that he actually jumps a little early but is able to just hang there for a bit and still easily grab the ball.

Earlier in the game there was a cross-court pass that he was able to get his hand on and deflect out of bounds that I couldn’t believe:

And then he followed it up with just this suffocating contest on a jump shot off the inbound play at the end of the shot clock.

It really just stood out, throughout the game, how whoever he was guarding, especially when at the wing, just didn’t feel like much of a threat to score. He enveloped them:

This was in blowout time, so not the best representation of the athletes he’ll defend down the road, but it was comical to me how little that Monmouth player wanted anything to do with driving on Ryan Dunn. He took a couple of half-hearted jab steps and moved on with his life. But, even still, that Monmouth player is 6’4″ Jayden Doyle. He’s a good sized guard but just looks dwarfed here.

Freeze frame right at the beginning here at the 8 minute mark exactly:

Look at the positioning. He’s on the opposite elbow and would have the ability to collapse to contest a shot in the paint from #35 if he got the pass, but then had the anticipation, length, and reaction time to cut the pass back out to his man at the top of the three point line. He basically was in position to be able to recover to contest a shot at the rim AND instead intercepted a pass from the baseline out to the three-point line. That’s a lot of ground, IS very much in the mold of a stretch 4 – only is one who can also guard the wing and take it coast-to-coast.

He even got just a straight up block while contesting a jump shot.

The straight up block when contesting the three is impressive, but so is that entire possession. He’s doubling the post at the beginning, rotating to the opposite corner, and then the block comes helping when Taine jumped on the pump fake. He was just flying around and it seemed like he was everywhere.

While all of that is exciting enough because I just realized that we have the very defensive player that I thought we were missing already on the roster and looking poised to contribute, he was also doing stuff like this on offense:

Which, again, this was blow out time – but there aren’t going to be many guards out there capable of contesting a turn-around, fadeaway jumper in the lane from a 6’8″ player. That was smooth.

He was grabbing offensive and defensive boards. He was fluid in transition and ran the floor with control and effortless finishing:

It was hard to find enough superlatives for his debut. It certainly made it crystal clear why HE was one of the two freshmen not redshirting. I know detractors will point to the level of competition and that’s certainly fair, but I think what he displayed more than anything were traits and skills and confidence and with all of those things, he will certainly carve a much larger role out for himself on the team moving forward. What a debut!

Like: BVP’s Passing

There’s actually so much to like about what BVP brings to this team and the lineup with he, Shedrick, Franklin, Beekman, and Clark has been BY FAR the most efficient for us over the first two games. He’s in each of our top three two-man pairings, and in 4 of our top 5, as well. I think it’s a little too early to harp much on those numbers, but what is clear is how well his skillset translates to this team. I’ve talked about his shooting previously and that’s showing up. I’ll probably talk about his defense some down the line; but it’s his vision and passing that’s stood out to me and that’s greasing the wheels so far, especially when he forces help on his drive:

That’s great vision and execution. Gets the ball in the post, feels the double coming (actually drew three players), and throws a fadeaway two-handed dime across the court, over post players, to IMK for the open three. When I was watching a lot of Ohio film after the transfer announcement, I saw him make passes like this all of the time. It’s very much a part of his game just like this:

Very similar play only rather than mostly playing with his back to his man, he takes him off the bounce, still draws three men, and still finds IMK. This time he does it with a one-handed laser from behind the backboard. The vision on these is impressive but also so is the accuracy of the pass from difficult positions. The first one was right on his body on his shooting side and the second was a little higher but IMK didn’t have to adjust left or right to catch it.

When CTB talks about BVP in the post-game pressers, he mentions “all of the things” he brings to the table and also how smart of a player he is and these are some examples of that. He’s pressuring the D to react and knows exactly where to go with the ball. Later in the half, Monmouth adjusted so they didn’t bring as much help on his drive and he landed this crafty finish:

Very pretty, but also just that smart push/pull of good offense where he’s asking a question of the defense and then just reacting to what they’re doing with savvy.

Dislike: Gardner’s Start

I’m going to stress this caveat, because I know this is a sensitive topic. The sample size is small. Jayden Gardner likely will not see the offensive issues he’s having at the moment sustain themselves longer term. There’s a big role for him to play on the team and, hopefully, there will be times where he takes over the game on offense this year just like last year, especially in the situations where we aren’t shooting it as well from outside as we have been. He’s been hitting the offensive glass well and has gotten good at tipping balls out to his back court. In this game, he got in some foul trouble and the game got out of hand, which likely led to fewer minutes than he might normally expect to see, at 17. And, collectively, sure to be stables like Franklin played 18 minutes, Clark played 20, Beekman and Shedrick only 21, respectively.

That being said, in the NCCU game, he was the only player on the team with a negative plus/minus and in the Monmouth game, his +7 plus/minus was last of everyone on the team except Tristan How – behind Chase Coleman’s +8 and next closest Taine Murray’s +15. Meanwhile, BVP was tied for the team lead at +36 with Ryan Dunn. The five man lineup of Clark, Beekman, Franklin, Vander Plas, and Shedrick has been BY FAR the most efficient on the team per Evanmiya.com with a +144.4 efficiency margin – more than 50 points higher than the next closest squad – where that same exact lineup but with Gardner instead of Vander Plas has been the VERY worst of our lineups, at a -4.4 efficiency margin! Again, incredibly small sample-size here and these will regress toward the mean as the number of reps for each increase – but it’s a big and noticeable gap.

The eyeball test certainly supports it. When BVP is in the lineup, the ball is moving, he’s stretching the defense himself with his range, there’s a ton of space to operate in the lane, and his defense has provided more length. Likely an enhanced spotlight comparing the defense of both next time I get a full game to break down. Anecdotally, there are also other signs. At the end of this game with the score well in hand, Gardner was out there in prime Chase Coleman time. During his post-game interview, CTB was asked about his comments from the game prior about Jayden being out of synch and if it was due to adjusting to this “new” offense. It was a good opportunity for CTB to acknowledge learning the rhythms of playing with new guys in the rotation or to basically just deflect any concern. Instead, CTB was quick to clarify that this was the same offense they ran last year. He mentioned that sometimes Jayden moves “needs to slow down” and that he “rushes a little bit” that he’ll need to stay out of foul trouble. He also closed with the following,

“But we’re doing the same stuff and so, um, again, it gives us the depth and last year, you know, we didn’t have… a guy gets in foul trouble and we’re playing it and it was just, it was tough. So, at times I played him and Ben together and obviously with Kadin and first game you saw Francisco out there so…”

I’ve found over the years that there’s a lot to be learned from the pregnant pauses in CTB pressers. He also positively affirms situations that he doesn’t view as variable. For example, after the 2020-2021 year, he talked about how well they felt Beekman and Clark fit together in a press conference discussing the 2021-2022 team. He knew those guys were going to be logging a TON of minutes together last year. This past offseason, though, he was forthcoming that you might not need to play them together as often because of the depth in the roster. These comments above came right in the wake of how effusive he was for Ben’s game, his vision, his passing, and how that opens up everyone else on the team. It certainly sounded, to me, like CTB speak setting expectations for what the depth on this team offers. Namely, expect CTB to have no hesitancy to give BVP big minutes if Gardner isn’t playing well or gets some fouls.

It could just be a small two game funk. It could be a sign of nothing. I also think it’s very possible that this style of offense is much less complimentary to his game. Last year, Gardner was a ball-dominant 4 who scored on volume attempts (25% of the team’s total shots). He was, quite literally, the ONLY player on the entire roster who could be counted on for consistent offense throughout last season. The ball flowed through him on most possessions and was regularly designed to feature his post up (or mid-range face up) game. This allowed him to get into a rhythm within the flow of the game as he touched and shot the ball a ton. Heck, he’s scored 2,000 points for his career and over his four years (three at ECU) he never averaged fewer than 14 FG attempts per game, and was over 15 per game his past three seasons. Through two games so far this year, he’s had 11 attempts in total – about a third of his normal average. So, while it’s been visible that he hasn’t been shooting at a good percentage with the opportunities he’s taken so far, some of that might come from the fact that he’s taken far fewer opportunities.

This team, at least so far, appears to prefer other ways to generate offense. They’re playing to create space and get a look from one of their many three-point shooters, or using that space to create an opportunity around the rim. The Gardneresque-type mid-range shots that were our most effective and reliable source of offense last year aren’t as efficient as the shots we’re getting this year. In that sense, CTB is correct in saying that it’s the “same” offense, but how the team is running it and what constitutes a good look seem to be dramatically different. Could this impact his touch, confidence, or patience as the year progresses? It’s definitely something I’ve been thinking about.

It’s hard to tell how this will progress or if these issues will sustain. I feel like a broken-record but I can hear invested fans who loved his game last year screaming, “sample size” while reading this. I tend to think that this is an early season lull and it’s also been easier to create open outside shots within the flow of the offense against lesser competition. There are going to be times when he’s on a heater. There are going to be times when our outside shots aren’t falling and we need someone to get a bucket in a different way. There are going to be times when he has a matchup that’s exploitable. The fact that Traudt redshirted cements that he will still be a heavily utilized player…. But I do also think we’re getting some early signs that Gardner and BVP will be mostly subbed directly for each other and that how BVP plays might function better within the framework of this iteration of the team. If my hunch is true here, it’s going to be interesting seeing how Jayden responds to a different role than one he’s played to this point in his career and if he can be as engaged and effective in shorter bursts as opposed to large quantities. More to suss out as the difficulty of the schedule increases.

Like: Kihei’s Fit

I mentioned last game how NCCU was targeting Kihei on defense and were effectively exploiting their matchup with him. It’s a very real and prominent concern this year, and they were doing it primarily when Gardner, BVP, and Caffaro were behind him. In this year’s preview article I highlighted how teams also did this last year and how, oddly, our best lineups last season included Kody Stattmann almost exclusively because of the length he brought to the team. We ran into similar issues with Hauser at the four the year prior to that.

But I’ve also written about how good of a fit he was on that Championship roster with his ability to create off the dribble with a plethora of shooters around him and with players like Hunter and Diakite on the back end to allow him to be overly aggressive on the ball handler. Similarly, in the following year he played very good complimentary defense with Key, Diakite, and Huff as his frontcourt in what ended up being one of our best defensive teams.

This year, a lot of those boxes are starting to be checked again. He’s got shooters all over the court and, finally, Beekman doesn’t appear to be unwilling in that area.

I’m not sure Dunn is always going to be the outside shooter that I’m talking about here, but he was in this case. This is the set-up of a 5th year point guard with all of the experience in the offense. He pressures Monmouth, using Shedrick’s pick to get into the lane and the moment he sees that Dunn’s man has sagged off to help on the roll threat, he turns and delivers a ball in perfect shooting location to Dunn who has floated up to replace the drive. Dunn was wide open, but the timing and the set up allowed him to take this with complete minimal disruption.

Showed this one earlier too, to also talk about Dunn’s spacing, but buried the lead a little bit on that one. This pass was sooooo (and I could run out of o’s here so I’ll stop now) good. The ability to read that defender was dropping down to take Murray in the corner with large help defenders in his face, adjust, and get it over to BVP was really impressive.

He had some slick passes of the baseline as well, and there was a neat possession where he shaded his man to keep him from taking the ball back out top to reset the offense and force him to drive into the length of Shedrick which led to chaos at the end of the shot clock for Monmouth. But it’s how comfortable he is as a shot creator and maker when the moment presents itself that is different now than it was on those teams. Yes, we all remember him hitting the big shots against Oregon in the NCAA Tournament, but those came from being wide open after their intentional strategy was to try to take everyone else away. We can also remember him having to force his offense a lot during his Sophomore year as there were no other experienced guards on the roster and no one else who could create off the dribble. His Junior season he went back to deferring to the all-NBA frontcourt and his shooting percentage dropped, and finally, last year he was forced to carry too much weight once again. This is the first year it seems like we have that balance of him both being a fully confident offensive player but also not HAVING to force anything. The result is that we’re seeing stuff like this:

He’s wide open when he catches this tip-out from Gardner, but he’s also several feet behind the three-point line, and has an entirely new shot clock to work with. Most years prior, I think we’d have seen him either hesitate here or just intentionally hold the ball and set the offense up again. Instead, he just steps right into it and launches a pure one.

This gave me Duke game last year vibes when I saw it live but when I was thinking about it after reviewing the clips, the thing I like about this so much more is that he wasn’t on some huge heater that gave him the confidence to take this and it wasn’t the end of the shot clock or game where he felt like he had to. This play just made full sense for someone who trusted his shot and was pressuring the opposition. Initially, he created advantage by pressing the ball ahead to Reece, filled behind, and then utilized the shot fake with the intention of creating his own shot once the defender flew by. He didn’t give the shot fake and then drive into a bunch of trees, neutralizing himself as he might have seasons ago when he was less confident in this shooting ability or when he had better scoring options around him. He saw that the advantage to be created was for his own three-point attempt and confidently took the opportunity.

I still think we’re going to have to be very mindful who we play him with defensively and against which opponents we set which pairings, but the emergence of Ryan Dunn, his attention grabbing size, and HOW he plays, could be a great compliment to Kihei’s defensive game, especially when paired with Shedrick. Regardless, though, this kind of balance on offense – confidence shooting and creating but with control and without pressing seems new from him, or at least more fully fleshed out. Paired with Reece’s newly found willingness to shoot and BVP’s facilitation/spacing, there’s a lot to like about what’s developing on the offensive side of the ball here. Many of the past three season’s pitfalls seem less relevant now.

Like: Armaan’s Underrated Athleticism

!!!!

I didn’t know that was in his repertoire and I love it.

Like: McKneely’s Shooting

Pretty straight forward but it was great to see him go 4-6 from downtown in this one after going 1-4 against NCCU. Not that 1-4 is especially bad for a game, just that shooting is so often a confidence thing so it’s great for a freshman to see some go through the hoop in a game early in the season even when it’s against a lesser opponent. All of them were created elsewhere, but all four makes were pure – and that’s likely really all this team needs from him right now – play some quality defense and fire away when you have a clean look like these:

Of note, he played the most minutes in this one at 28 and appears firmly in the “has already earned a spot in the rotation” camp.

Well, that’s it for this one. Not much to dislike when you win by 47 but, similarly, it also means you can’t trust everything that you see. That being said, I think we’re starting to see some themes emerge that we can keep an eye on starting tonight, but especially headed into Vegas over the weekend.

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