We did it! The quality isn’t ideal yet because of my capture method (trying to see if we can fix that starting next game). I got a TON of help from Seattle Hoo (@seattlehoo), a new friend of the site, to help make this process work (and put a solution in place that should work moving forward). I can’t be effusive enough about him, actually. He reached out and volunteered a healthy chunk of his time and years of expertise to create a far less rag-tag operation for me. Which, by the way, have you ever checked out his old data base of clips here? Legit crazy amount of work must have gone into this. You can sort and pull old clips by individual players and key words. Phenomenal stuff. I really appreciate the welcoming community building!
So let’s do it! A sloppy game that I wouldn’t call our worst, but only because of losing Reece so early and it being apparent that many other players were also banged up. It looks like the exam week rest couldn’t have come at a better time prior to our matchup with Houston in a game where we may be ranked as the top team in the country, and one in which they will be looking to bounce back. We don’t look like the #1 team in the country at the moment, but we also HAVE very much looked like that team at times this season. At lot of it is going to come back to the health of Reece, but also some of the other guys as well. A full season is a slog and inevitably there are times when you aren’t at the height of your powers. This past run of two games has been one of those times. Hopefully, it won’t be on the 17th.
A Discussion About Mitigating Reece’s Injury
The short of it is that this just isn’t the same team without Reece so hopefully he will return fully healthy for the Houston game. I want to talk a little bit about the concept of building incremental advantage throughout a possession. You might think of these types of possessions where one player creates a little bit of an advantage that the defense has to react to. This creates a slightly larger advantage somewhere else on the floor; where the ball is passed to, then that player creates a slightly larger advantage, etc., until a quality shot is created. Swinging the ball around the outside or the “extra pass” are good examples of this but this possession below is another.
At first it’s just probing but then Kihei gets his man off-balance off of the dribble (actually almost making him fall down). This forces Molson (#15), guarding Reece, to react into the paint so when Kihei passes it out to Beekman, now Molson is recovering. Beekman uses this to create more advantage by driving past him and drawing Franklin’s man, Freidel (#1) away to stop Beekman’s drive, creating enough space for Franklin to fire away on the kick out from Reece. It’s a possession built on good chemistry between Beekman and Franklin as Beek does a great job pulling defenders off of Armaan and looking for him to take that shot, but it’s also one that you could see as a snowball effect over the entire second half of the possession.
With Reece out, this well runs much drier and Kihei is forced to carry the lion’s share of the burden re: shot creation. Without a complimentary playmaker of Reece’s quality, often with Clark starts to build incremental advantage, it just fizzles and then results in a play like the below where he’s forced into taking a low-quality shot:
This is McKneely and Dunn as the wings with Gardner playing on the perimeter and Kadin down on the block. Notice how when the ball leaves Clark, there really isn’t much of a threat from anyone else to make a play on their own. Freidel, in this case, even overplays the pass to Dunn but he doesn’t take the opportunity to drive, instead, waiting until Freidel resets to start his move. The result is a ball that just kind of sticks and then Clark is forced to try to create something out of nothing nearing the end of the shot clock.
This was especially pronounced when Armaan Franklin was also off of the court which brings me to…
Dislike: McKneely Pulling Time From Franklin
I know that he was somewhat in foul trouble throughout the game, especially in the second half and, eventually, got pulled with 4 fouls. But that was with 4:53 minutes to go and he did not return to the game after that. For different reasons, it was great to see CTB lean on two freshman players to close out a close game like that and I hope that it will give both confidence. But while it was absolutely crucial to have Dunn in there for his defense, I did not see the benefit in keeping IMK in there over Franklin. In general, both IMK and Franklin have very similar games. Both are 6’4″ and athletic but not over-poweringly so. Their offense some first through their outside shot and running off of screens, and secondarily off of the bounce… but Franklin has a good 20 lbs on McKneely, is a more physical and solid defender, is more confident and experienced in his scoring, and is better equipped to play with the ball in his hands at this point in his career. I think the world of McKneely, think he’s going to be a great player for us, and want to continue to see him get time and to improve – but there isn’t anything obvious right now that he does better than Franklin. Perhaps if he was just really shooting it well, then that switch becomes more clear but he was 1-6 from the field in this one. So, foul trouble or not, to see both he and Franklin get 26 minutes each and for him to close the game, was a bit perplexing – especially when it’s not like Franklin was shooting it poorly from outside at 2-5.
Additionally, when Franklin was on the floor the ball stuck a little less and he had both the ability to run the point some, when needed, even with Clark on the floor:
Here they swap Franklin and Clark, allowing Franklin to handle the ball up top and Clark to get a look running off of a screen. Clark misses the shot, but this play worked and it was an open look. Not something they would have gone to with IMK instead of Franklin there.
Franklin is also much more comfortable at this point in his career taking his man off of the bounce and looking to create for himself in the midrange.
That’s a great catch (and kind of awesome that Dunn threw that pass cross-court – think about the dynamics of the defense reacting to Clark’s baseline pass to Dunn only to have him throw it all the way back across the court) and then he just won’t be denied on his drive. There’s a confidence in that play that IMK just isn’t playing with yet, nor should he be expected to be – and so his presence mitigates some of that pressure that was falling on Kihei in Reece’s absence.
McKneely has the same ability and, I’d wager, we’ll see many plays like that from him in years to come. In this game, he had this nifty drive, draw and dish to Gardner for an easy layup after:
He curled off of that ball screen with intention and drove the lane looking to make a play, which is something that will come more with time. But more often than not when he’d get the ball on the wing within the flow of the offense, he’d just look to kick it back out. He also had a few occasions where he passed up the clean outside looks that he’s in there to take:
In the first of these two he was able to draw the foul, which in a vacuum was a good play. But he was about as wide open as he’ll get from outside when he caught that pass from Kihei. You’d love to see him fire away.
On the second he has another good look but instead passes it up to dribble just inside of the three-point line and then shoot a long two. You’d much rather he just shoot for the extra point right away. Contrastingly, Franklin is ready to catch and shoot with much less space like we saw in the first clip on the pass from Beekman, but also from wild ones like this:
And I share this one not only to take a moment for that crazy acrobatic play Kadin was able to make not only getting to that ball but then saving it right to Armaan, but because, rather than fake and drive, Armaan was immediately ready and willing to fire off of the broken play.
Additionally, there were several times during the game where IMK was beaten badly enough off of the dribble that his man was completely by him, either resulting in points or requiring enough aggressive help that the points came elsewhere.
And Look, I do not want this to come across as though I’m doubting or low on McKneely. I want to repeat again that I think he’s an incredibly talented player who has a high ceiling for us down the road. I also want him to continue to get playing time this year and fully admit that in a game where Franklin is in foul trouble and Beekman is out, his minutes are naturally going to spike. But, due to how similar his game is to Franklin’s and how much farther along Armaan’s still is, there aren’t many times where I’d want to see IMK on the floor closing out a game with an available Armaan sitting on the bench, nor are there many times where I’d want to see IMK’s time start to feel like it’s pulling from Armaan’s availability, both of which were true on Tuesday. It worked out and maybe that will have some positive impact in the long run, but the game felt dangerously close and Franklin’s experience, defense, and playmaking could have all been valuable. Furthermore, as such a key part of our team when we’re firing on all cylinders, I’d really like to see him continue to be put into these moments rather than sitting them out.
Like: Kihei Taking Over A Game – The Sequel
Coming off of his 18 point game against FSU with Beekman playing at less than full strength, Clark dropped another 18 against JMU with Beekman out altogether. It felt similar, but it also felt different in the sense that an even greater portion of the offense fell to him to create. I showed a possession earlier where it didn’t work out so well to highlight the need for Beekman and how often the ball stuck, but he still did a remarkable job of putting the team on his shoulders for most of the contest and he did so in a bunch of different ways while mostly creating the opportunity/space himself; hitting a couple of clutch outside shots like this one:
There was this clutch and difficult finish in traffic where he also drew the foul:
But the thing that got me most excited was just the veteran savvy that he displayed throughout. He controlled the game throughout and you saw that in his scoring and in how he got his teammates involved, but there was stuff like this where he just flat out forced the ref to call the foul that got me most excited.
He’s punishing the press here by picking up a cheap foul on their end; forcing the contact to be called and giving himself what should have been easy points. In fact, he’d have finished with 24 in total if he’d have hit all of his free throws! But this is the kind of stuff that’s just really smart basketball and another way to generate easy offense that you want your leaders to be able to turn to down the stretch of closely contested games. Floor general. Tactician. He was all of these things on Tuesday.
Dislike: Free Throws
Not going to belabor this point but would be remiss to ignore it. We generated a quality 24 free throws but only made 50% of those. If we shoot even our season average AFTER that game then we’re talking about a double-digit victory. We obviously have to do better here but we had been and I don’t think this is something to spend much time discussing at this point.
Dislike: Big Man Ball Security
We were just a little too casual with the ball, especially in our frontcourt. Here was one of Gardner being a little too casual with what should have been an easy open court finish after bringing the ball too low:
Here he brings it low and isn’t aware of the help side/isn’t strong with it:
Here BVP just takes a little too long to decide what to do, is too late going up with it and loses it:
And here Kadin brings the ball too low and isn’t strong with it going up – losing the ball to turnover from what should have been a relatively easy two points getting the ball that deep:
There were some others, but you get the point. JMU has active hands and is good at creating turnovers, but this is something that’s primarily associated with Kadin but was a problem across the board on Tuesday. The biggest concern with it is that JMU didn’t have anyone playing with regularity over 6’8″ but we weren’t able to take as much advantage of our mismatches down low as we’d have hoped because whenever we forced the issue, it seemed like a potential turnover waiting to happen. In fact, because they were so adept at getting under us in this game, we actually went small again (with Dunn) with Gardner and BVP at 4-5 down the stretch of the game rather than being able to press a size advantage… and we didn’t even try playing Papi. Which leads into my two other dislikes from the game:
Dislike: Kadin Positioning/Gambling
This was Shedrick’s worst game of the season so far. Despite having a significant size advantage, he often gave it up by trying too hard to make the big defensive play, and there were several times it cost us points. Here, the 6’7″ Justin Amadi just works him under the hoop:
Because he so aggressively goes for the first shot block (even getting his back completely turned to Amadi at one point), he’s out of position on the rebound, gets too far under the basket, and ends up conceding the bucket. Now, I have been and continue to be a huge advocate for Kadin’s shot blocking as an asset to this team. He needs to learn when to leverage it, though, and when it’s not the best strategy to sell out for it. That came up several times in this game. If he just goes straight up and uses his length on Amadi here, holds his ground and boxes out/focuses on pushing him back away from the basket, it likely would have been a more effective approach.
He conceded some boards that he was in position to get, which I’ll talk about momentarily, but the other visible leak was his over-aggressiveness from help side, also in an attempt to block shots. I don’t mind this one as much below because there was a crowd around the basket, Taine’s man (Murray sighting) did have an advantage, and Shedrick didn’t have to go that far to try to impact the shot. The result was still poor in that JMU grabbed the board on the miss, highlighting the cost of the gamble when it doesn’t pay off:
With this kind of play you need to be able to get there/disrupt the shot more often than not to make it worth it. It also has to be a play where the driver of the basketball has a clear advantage and is likely to score AND there has to be a good risk/reward analysis with that vs. how far you have to travel to get there and how wide open your man is if you don’t. This play below just before the end of the half was an example of bad analysis of ALL of these factors:
This was a momentum killer taking a 9-point lead down to 7 right before the half. Kadin’s ability to help Clark on the back end has been well-established and is very important. Earlier in the game he had a very strong block at the rim which he secured after IMK’s man beat him baseline. But here he leaves far too late, Clark has forced a difficult shot anyway, and he leaves his man wide-open to get the rebound with no one else able to get to him in the time left. This was a situation where the juice just wasn’t even close to being worth the squeeze but his thirst for that big block clouded his judgment.
It’s a tough balance because there is a big benefit when it works, but this shows how there are many times where just being more fundamentally sound on the defensive end would be a big benefit for us from Kadin. It’s that knowing when to turn the aggression off and on and also evaluating the game situation. That’s something he’ll need to continue working to improve.
Dislike: Defensive Rebounding
JMU killed us on the offensive glass in this one, which was both surprising and concerning considering we’d held our own fairly well with our bigger lineups this season, and because the Dukes are not one of the more physically imposing teams we’ve played in the frontcourt. Still, they grabbed 13 offensive rebounds in this one to our 3. In a 55-50 game where points are at a premium, allowing them 10 more second chance opportunities had the potential to be the difference maker. Some of it was rotational, like the clip with Kadin’s help above. A lot of this was turning and just getting caught flat-footed like here:
Kadin has boxed his man, both Armaan and Jayden are there, but they’re all slow to react to the quick rebound and #25 Alonzo Sule, who is also only 6’7″ is able to deflect the ball, despite being surrounded by four of our guys, back out to Vado Morse (#4) for the open three.
Here’s another one where Kadin is in good rebounding position and has all of the size, but just doesn’t get up for the board again and his much smaller man goes right over him for the board.
I already mentioned that Kadin just did not have a good game in this one, but it wasn’t all him. Here’s an example of Gardner just losing track of his man entirely on the glass:
Jayden gets caught ball watching without putting a body on his guy, who cuts baseline and tips the rebound to disrupt the ball and, eventually, allow JMU to secure it.
We know that the team as a whole was banged up/under the weather in this one and perhaps these types of plays are where it showed up most, but it almost seemed like we, especially Kadin, underestimated their size and ability to be impactful down low. This caught up to us in this one, and is certainly why Shedrick was on the bench down the stretch (contrasted with Franklin, I fully agreed with this PT decision).
Like: Gardner’s Perimeter Defense
Finishing on the first of two very positive notes, Gardner (who also stepped up down the stretch of this one to compliment Kihei offensively) has really improved as a defender this season. I’ve called out previously his quickness and how valuable it is to be able to use him on the perimeter, which was on full display in this one with JMU often spreading the floor. He both made some big stops, but also it was his defensive effort that created our best run-out offense on the night like here:
You undoubtedly remember this Beekman solo-break (on which he got hurt) but did you remember the great defense by Gardner, sticking with his man as he cut baseline and deflecting the pass, that led to it? Same thing as with the Dunn dunk, here:
First, isolated on the wing, Gardner just completely shuts down the attempted drive, and then sags off enough to pick the pocket of Franklin’s man on his drive. He then starts the run out, gives it to Clark, and fills, presenting another option on the break. This was Dunn’s highlight (and boy was it) but everything about this play was caused by Jayden playing great defense.
Watch this when the 6’8″ Julien Wooden attempts to back him into the lane from outside and use his size advantage:
Firstly, nice sag from Jayden on the perimeter again to help on the drive. Then, when Wooden attempts a power drive into the lane a la BVP style, Gardner is in perfect position throughout and is able to use his strength to over-power Wooden on his way up and block the shot. This is something we didn’t see much from him last year, certainly on the outside, but even in the post. He was not able to bother these kinds of isolation plays nearly as much.
Lastly, and this was really sweet, here he is taking Takal Molson from the outside. I haven’t focused much on Molson yet (more on that in the following section), but he was by far and away JMU’s biggest offensive threat in this game. He finished with 20 points, both off of the drive and from the outside, many of which coming in the second half where he found good success against both IMK and Franklin. Eventually, Dunn would come in and help change that, but Gardner also took him on occasion like here, even with Dunn in the game:
I just loved to see this, and it’s probably the clip of the season I’d use so far to highlight Gardner’s defensive progression. He was not the most effective defender on Molson (Dunn was), but this wasn’t a switch. He was the primary defender here. At first, he defends an attempt at an isolation drive and makes Molson think better of it, then he gets over the top of a pick and stays with Molson on the drive, and then he recovers into excellent defensive position after McKneely loses his man on the kick out, and forces the turnover by causing the dribble to go out-of-bounds. Fantastic stuff from our starting Power Forward demonstrating his much improved quicks and technique, and then how comfortably he identified threats and knew where to be to help in this defense. Huge play, too, with just over 2 minutes left in the game.
There are going to be plenty of times, especially in ACC play, when an opponent’s 4 is going to give us size issues (UNC, Duke, etc.) and when that’s going to trickle down to their Small Forward position as well. This development of Jayden effectively guarding opposing 3s is going to give us better options to defend those teams this year, and I’m excited about it.
Like: Ryann Dunn’s Mentality
Speaking of someone who gives us increased defensive options…
Hoo, boy! Ryann Dunn is that. This is the role that I speculated he could play very effectively for us this season, but he’s better and more oppressive than I thought. Smothering is the word that came to mind when watching him. As I mentioned previously, Molson was finding great success against us in all facets of the game. Here’s one example of him working on IMK earlier:
That’s pretty decent defense from IMK there. He gets on the back foot a little but is able to stay right in Molson’s hip pocket. The problem is, he just isn’t able to bother his shot that much and Molson is a quality finisher. This wasn’t just an IMK problem. He hit similar shots over Franklin and, after that clip I showed above, a tough one against Gardner as well.
Enter Dunn, who then took on the primary assignment of bothering and slowing down Molson. And, while Molson still made (I believe) two difficult shots against Dunn, the difference was night and day. Suddenly, Molson was having to work much harder, was having trouble even getting his shot off, and was being far less efficient, turning the ball over as well. Here’s a look:
Gardner gives good help here too, but Molson even gets a good first step on his drive but Dunn is able to react in kind and smothers him as the shot goes up – really not allowing it any room. This one counted as just a missed FG attempt – but given the quality of the chance, it basically functioned as a turnover.
Here he is still being able to help off of Molson, getting a block from behind and securing the ball. A luxury to be able to leave their hottest player. Also note how JMU is trying something else here to see if they can get reliable offense elsewhere with Dunn on Molson:
This one isn’t against Molson specifically but it’s another great look at how he renders this fast break opportunity null and void. Smothering is a good description, it’s also like he’s just swallowing up these opportunities. The shot, despite coming in transition, is a really bad one and misses the rim entirely:
Another great example here. The shot clock is waning so JMU has to turn to Molson to create again. He makes a good move on Dunn and creates some space, but notice how quickly that contest from Dunn erases that space and still bothers Molson so much that he misses the rim entirely and hits the backboard on the opposite side:
And that was the result of an offensive move that, ostensibly, worked! Lastly but certainly the one that shone brightest:
So good. JMU has to get quick points here and Molson can’t even get off a shot because Dunn is so sticky and his contest is right on the ball, so he has to try to force a pass to a player who was already trying to crash the glass. Turnover. Ball game.
It’s not like Dunn was entirely perfect in this one. Molson still got him twice, once from outside and once on a drive toward the end of the game, but it can’t be overstated how much more effective he was than anyone else on the team at taking this assignment. You hope a player like Dunn can slow a hot player down and make them uncomfortable but, for the most part, he dominated the assignment, forced terrible shots that didn’t have a chance, and created blocks/turnovers. It was huge.
I mentioned at the top his mentality, not just his defense, though. Dunn played with supreme confidence throughout this one. He was flexing and talking back to Molson in that clip above but in a good natured and competitive way, clearly earning Molson’s respect. I love how much he seemingly embraced the challenge of coming in and playing the stopper role in addition to how ridiculously effective he was at it. But I also loved that he rose to the occasion on this play:
Up 2 with under a minute left and needing a score to keep it a two possession game, this was arguable the biggest play of the contest and he took it so confidently without any hesitation. There’s just something about him – other freshmen, even ultra-talented ones, often need time to adjust to this level of play. They naturally defer to their more experienced teammates, not wanting to step on toes or to make a costly mistake, and that mentality limits them because they pass up some opportunities that are there and they’re over-thinking some that they take. I believe we’re seeing this with IMK at the moment, just how you see it across pretty much every team in the country. But Dunn seems oddly immune, like he already knows his value and impact and isn’t having that, natural, inner monologue to convince himself. It’s that clutch, “killer” mentality that some players grow into with confidence, but that he already came to the table with. I’m really looking forward to seeing how that progresses as we break into broader ACC play and, hopefully, for years to come.
Alright. Thanks again for everyone’s patience. Still one more development that could help – but I’m confident now that there’s a permanent solution in place to help improve this experience and make it easier to do. Thanks again to Seattle Hoo for the help!
We wait now to see what the rankings will be for our matchup against Houston, hoping that this wait (that’s driving me crazy as a fan) will help our guys get healthy and ready!