vs. Houston 12/17/2022

The first one of these I’m having to do after a loss. I wouldn’t call this a discouraging loss, though. Several times in recent years we have faced a top-tier opponent like the Cougars and looked uncompetitive. That was not the case on Saturday. We very much looked like we belonged despite Reece not being fully healthy, and we left some opportunity on the table. While an explosive Reece who is able to drive and hunt his shot in the lane will fix a lot of woes, we don’t know when we’ll get that again. I actually thought this one could have been there for the taking with some different decision making both at the coaching level and player level. Still, I left feeling confident that we can compete with anyone on any given night, even when we aren’t playing our best. Let’s get into it:

A Discussion Around Player Utilization and In-Game Tactics:

This game was about Reece being limited, and it was about missing open looks, sure, but I’m not going to sugar coat this one; I didn’t think CTB had a very good game. Certainly by the second half, there were very clearly some things that were working and generating good offense, and some players who were off their respective games. Specifically, BVP was 0-6 from outside and 0-7 from the floor. Clark was 1-5 from outside and 2-8 from the floor. Beekman was 1-5 from the floor. Conversely, Shedrick was 7-8 from the floor (5-6 if you remove the given buckets at the end of the game) and offense was coming much more easily for us when he was isolated in a two-man game or got the ball in the post, but we did not force the issue with him. Gardner was shooting 50% from the floor (though the mid-range wasn’t on) and was drawing double teams whenever he got the ball in the short corner, yet we did not opt to run much offense through him in that capacity. Franklin was 2-3 from outside and made a number of positive plays going to the hoop, but he only played 24 minutes despite only 1 foul.

Generally speaking, I thought we rode what had been working to this point in the season throughout the game, rather than adjusting to what was working in this specific contest. We were still playing outside-in, when we should have been playing inside-out more often, and we didn’t adjust to where the hot hands were and weren’t. I’ve discussed how the Beekman and Clark pairing IS a fit on offense this year because of both of their ability to touch the paint but, primarily, because both have been much improved as outside shooters this season. Well, Beekman’s injury has negatively impacted his outside shot, and Clark was not shooting well in this game, so this was one where we needed to be able to step outside of that pairing, but were unwilling to. Let’s start here and then branch out:

Like: Beekman’s On-Ball Defense

Kind of remarkable that a 75 or 80% Beekman (per CTB estimates) was still the only player on the roster who was consistently effective at impacting Marcus Sasser on the defensive end. Pretty much all of Sasser’s 13 points were against other players or were in transition. When Beek was on him in man-to-man, we got possessions like this:

I remember watching this and thinking to myself, “wow.” You could see he’s not close to fully healthy throughout the game, not just by his lack of explosiveness on drives, but even running in the full court sometimes he’d look like he felt it, but he’s still able to stay right in front of one of the most explosive players in the country, dislodge the ball on the way up, and collect the rebound.

This was just consistent though, throughout. A couple more looks at it here:

Where he forces a difficult runner with a strong contest and grabs the board… and here, toward the end of the game, which is a better look but he still keeps Sasser in front and forces a difficult shot/miss:

I thought Ryan Dunn, after watching him on Molson from JMU, would be a great alternative to hampering Sasser, as well as Houston’s other athletic players. Instead, Dunn only played 4 minutes and gave up quick points both times. Here:

Beekman’s getting a rest. You see Dunn on Sasser just get completely lost after his savvy off-ball motion. Sasser fakes a run through the land and pops back up top. Dunn gets caught way under the screen of the Houston big, giving Sasser plenty of time to launch a comfortable three. And Here:

CTB brings Beekman back onto the floor to take Sasser, but leaves Dunn to cover Tramon Mark on the wing. He just gets beat off of the dribble for the layup, slashing through the lane. Perhaps Dunn would have been helpful, given the time to adjust to the game, but that was a luxury CTB wasn’t comfortable affording and, at this point, Dunn was pulled from meaningful time the rest of the contest.

So, with Dunn not an option, Beekman was virtually a must play at this point for is ability to defend Sasser. Franklin could hold his own a little, but that was still a minus matchup having him take the assignment.

Dislike: Clark’s On-Ball Defense

Despite the opening three-pointer, hitting his free throws, the sweet pick-pocket, and some nice passes, Clark had his worst game of the season. I mentioned the shooting and we’ll get into that, he also did not do well holding up against Shead’s size and physicality. When Beekman was on Sasser (and even when he wasn’t) Houston’s primary offensive flow came in two main ways: Walker hitting mostly contested/difficult jumpers or creating off of a ball screen (will discuss this later), and Shead creating easy buckets for himself or opportunities for others off of this mismatch. Some examples here, noting both how little the contest bothers him but also how easy some of these buckets are:

Houston took a punch early and are trying to get back into the game. Notice how it’s just basically a post move at this point as he’s able to drop-step his way into the land and just overpower Clark. An easy bucket when they needed some life.

Here’s a similar concept later in the game:

He’s shooting that shot pretty much like it’s uncontested, with that level of comfort, working to his jump stop and just shooting up and over.

Those were plays to exploit the size advantage, these next two show the ease of the blowby off of screen action:

Kadin almost gets this cleanly but is called for the goaltend, but notice how the on-ball screen didn’t really hang Clark up that much, but it was just a little space that was needed for Shead to be able to use his athleticism/size to go straight downhill and be able to get a layup. Another look here, very late in the game when we needed a stop:

This is just WAY too easy in a big moment like this, cutting the lead to 6 with about three minutes to play. Gardner also should have helped more here, but this goes back to that Gardner/Clark defensive pairing that I highlighted toward the beginning of the season when facing size/athleticism. But, Clark just is in no position to bother any of this. A lot of loose balls deflected around him found their way to Houston players (you might remember the rebound where both he and IMK were in position and lost out), but also like this:

It’s just a big issue sometimes. Shead is able to gain advantage on the drive but Beekman has quick hands and creates a deflection. Shead is able to keep the play alive just by juggling the ball above Kihei prior to saving it to a teammate, who is able to just easily throw a dart over Kihei to a cutter, who elevates to dunk over Kihei like he’s not there. He just offers very little resistance anywhere under the hoop, which can be a huge disadvantage when the man he’s guarding is adept at playing there.

Now, I feel like I need to say again because of the dynamics around this, I am SO happy that Clark is back for this season and he’s willed us to some wins already that we wouldn’t have otherwise gotten. But these are the trade-offs and when he’s not shooting well (and when others he’s creating for aren’t either), and when the defensive matchup isn’t favorable, we need to be able to sit him down. This has been CTB’s Achilles’ heel for the past 4.5 seasons – the reluctance (in 2019) to flat out unwillingness (ever since) to sit Clark when the matchup/situation isn’t favorable. He’s willing to make those decisions with pretty much any other player, but not this one. It’s a head-scratcher that, hopefully, won’t become an issue because Clark will just continue to play well as he has in games prior to this, but it is still a concern when you see how this one played out.

In this game, neither Beekman nor Clark were able to create for themselves consistently, and neither were shooting well from the field, but both did well to create opportunities for others by driving and passing the ball. With Beekman defending as he was and the rest of the team playing as they were, I believe we should have run a Beekman, McKneely, Franklin, Gardner, Shedrick lineup for significant minutes, but Clark sat only 5 minutes the entire game. More on this to come as I now want to talk about offensive utilization.

Dislike: Offensive Utilization

Simply put, we settled for too many shots from the wrong players and didn’t force it enough to what was working/who was playing with confidence. Don’t get me wrong, all of BVP, Clark, and Beekman have been among our best offensive weapons throughout the season and we’re going to need all of them to step up throughout the remainder of it; but none of them had it this game. We’re probably going to have to accept that Beekman’s scoring is going to suffer until he’s healthy, and he was 1-5 from the field. Clark was 2-8 from the field and, after his first three pointer to start the game, his shot was way off for the rest of it, sometimes narrowly grazing the rim. BVP just doesn’t look right at all. He was 0-7 from the field and 0-6 from outside, airballing multiple open looks and hesitating to shoot at other times. That’s a combined 3-20 from the floor – a very low percentage at a very high volume (considering the pace of play). The thing is, many of these were good looks in a vacuum (some weren’t), but I want this next bit to be a though exercise re: evolving opinion on what a “good” shot is within the context of how a player is playing.

Clark has just hit his first three and gone to the foul line for 5 points early in the game and is feeling it here, so I don’t mind this shot, although it’s not a quality look:

A bunch of things to note here. Firstly, this was a fairly-well contested shot off of a screen and it wasn’t a close one, glancing off the side of the rim. As I mentioned, I don’t mind the heat check. We’re in the 5/4 out offense that we’ve been running this year where either all of our guys venture out to the perimeter and work off of ball screens to hope for driving lanes, or 4 do and Shedrick plays by the rim. This had mixed results as, it often created outside looks or good opportunities for two-man basketball without much help around the hoop, but it also often led to a lot of standing around and a lack of ball movement. Notice Franklin just stagnant on the wing here without getting a touch.

But, this was also because of who wasn’t shooting well. Sometimes the offense did work well but we just missed the look:

This is, theoretically, the exact kind of offense we’d want to run against Houston. Notice my call for Franklin and McKneely on the floor at the same time is in play; only with Clark at point and BVP at the 4. Franklin and McKneely are able to create great spacing due to their shooting threat, flattening out into the corners at the start of the play. This is an NBA-style look on offense. Really, the play works to perfection. Kadin sets and on-ball screen and rolls to the hoop with no one on the back end to defend him (Sasser wouldn’t offer any resistance there and isn’t even in great position). He’s wide open but Clark doesn’t see him and passes it over to BVP, who passes it to Franklin, fakes a screen and slips to the corner where Franklin finds him for the wide-open three. Multiple great chances and a great look for a good three-point shooter… who airballs. This is still VERY early in the game, so let’s see how this continues to play out:

We’re starting to see some themes emerge as the game develops. We’ve got Reece back, Clark, McKneely, BVP, and Kadin and now we’re in sides. Clark gains an advantage off of curling around the Shedrick screen off of the dribble. Unfortunately, McKneely chooses that time to drift toward the hoop on the baseline, both bringing his man into the play and taking himself out of it (he could finish on a kick out, he wouldn’t have been able to finish on a pass under the rim in that kind of traffic). Still, Clark uses fantastic vision and is able to find an open BVP once again spotting up from three. Instead of shooting, BVP passes up the shot, pump fakes, takes a dribble, and kills the advantage by passing it back to Beekman. From there, the offense isn’t able to regain any momentum, you see where Beekman’s lack of explosion is at play, and they devolve into an incredibly low-quality look (a Kadin fade away jumper) at the end of the shot clock. Perhaps rattled by his first airball, but clearly not feeling right, if BVP didn’t feel confident enough to take these looks (and kept missing when he started to) at some point we needed to adjust where these looks were coming from.

Reports were that after these kinds of plays, CTB got on Ben on the bench to shoot his open looks, so he started to:

Another good look, this time created by getting the ball to Gardner in the short corner (out of 5 out still), Houston doubled, and the rotations were such that BVP was again open from outside, to no avail despite no longer hesitating.

Here’s another flare from a screen that created a good look from outside.

He continually missed open looks like these so, then, attempting to create off the bounce as an alternative:

Not having the confidence in his shot, he passes up the open look in an attempt to drive and get something going, but is blocked (this one, especialy, made me think something isn’t right with him).

And then this was a choice:

Within 8 after clawing to get back in the game/stay within striking distance, with him having been on the bench for a while, we put him in the game for this possession to take that shot. Now, I completely get the philosophy behind trusting your experienced players to make big plays, but when someone is 0-5 from outside and has been playing with the level of hesitancy above throughout the game, I really don’t understand having him in here. There’s enough talent on the roster to not have to do that. For example, Franklin is sitting on the bench for this play and he’s our best three-point shooter (aside from Reece, actually, but not when he’s hurt)! We’re fouling anyway, we don’t need a 4 for defense.

There needed to be a point somewhere in this game, likely early in the second half, where the philosophy changed from trying to let BVP shoot his way out of his slump to sitting him for this game and trying to fix it in practice/in future games. We never reached that point, even up until the very end.

Meanwhile, it was going similarly for Clark from the floor:

That’s a wide-open look once again generated from Gardner playing out of the short corner and drawing a double. You can often tell how good a shooter is feeling by the quality of the miss on an open look. This one was way off and glanced off of the side of the rim.

This is a shot he can absolutely hit, but isn’t a good quality look in general (fading sideways mid-range shot with 9 seconds left on the shot clock) and especially isn’t a good look when he hasn’t been shooting well.

Okay, so once it became clear that we couldn’t/shouldn’t rely on those shots after about a half of basketball or so, what were our alternatives?

Dislike: Armaan Franklin – Forgotten Man?

I’ve been more gently pulling at this thread as I’ve noticed the trend over the last few, but Armaan Franklin only playing 24 minutes in this game makes zero sense to me. He wasn’t even in during most of the waning minutes as we needed shots to get back into the game – not until well under a minute. Instead, CTB opted to play McKneely with Clark and Beekman. Here’s the thing, McKneely was having his best game, which I’ll talk about momentarily, and I can see wanting him to be on the court, but he still wasn’t offering as much as Armaan.

Armaan was rebounding incredibly well, tied for the team lead with 6 in 24 minutes, and was playing good team defense. Here’s a great look of what he was bringing to the table on that end of the floor:

Another example of Shead beating Clark off of the dribble, Franklin comes down and helps from his man being in the opposite corner, forces the kick out, and then, after rotations, boxes out the 6’8″ Ja’Vier Francis and draws the foul on the rebound. He was able to match Houston’s physicality, which is what you need. There were times where he was slightly behind his man off the bounce and the team had to rotate to help but no more so than anyone but Beekman and much less than others. So, he was solid defensively and a distinct plus on the boards.

Offensively, he felt criminally under-utilized for what he was offering us in the game. He was 2-3 from outside, by far our best shooting average, but one of those came in garbage time. That being said, he only took TWO threes for the entire game before the final 30 seconds. He’s our best three point shooter! One look was a quality in-and-out, and the second was this dagger off of the elevator-screen play!

How is this the last three he takes in the entire game until there was under a minute to go, especially when Clark, BVP, and Beekman were a combined 2-14 from out there? They literally ran this exact same play again in crunch time and it created an open look again… but for IMK (who missed), Franklin wasn’t even on the court! What’s going on here? How do you not try to get this guy more looks from deep when the rest of your team (aside from McKneely who was 2-5) is ice cold?

He was also able to create momentum toward the hoop leading to positive plays:

There he is curling around a screen in sides and just finishing downhill in traffic. IMK had one play like this later in the game that I’ll show later that I wish he’d do more of, but this was the kind of downhill finishing that we were finding hard to come by on the perimeter. Here, again:

Look how decisive he is here. The ball is just kind of stagnating on the outside until it gets to him and, boom, quick rip and drive baseline past his man. Also, the much bigger 6’8″ Reggie Chaney is there but Franklin is athletic enough to take it up anyway and draw the foul (twice, really).

It was just a lack of volume/opportunity for Armaan. Firstly, he played barely over half the game and when he was on the floor, they didn’t make nearly enough of a concerted effort to get him involved. Some of that was that IMK was having his best game for us and also played 24 minutes – but that’s where we go back to: it doesn’t have to always be Franklin who IMK or Dunn take minutes from if they’re on. Saturday, it should have been Clark.

Like: McKneely’s Improving Confidence and Surprise Defense

Inconsistency comes with being a young player (hence Dunn having an off night defensively after being so oppressive against JMU), but I really thought this would be a game where IMK wouldn’t thrive due to Houston’s athleticism and the way he’d been playing of late. On the flip side, he put together what I thought was his best game on both sides of the ball.

He came out of the gates ready to fire without hesitancy (which probably is what made a first impression on CTB in this one):

This is a shooter’s shot, didn’t have a ton of space, and just came in rhythm after running his man around the court for a while. Sweet to see.

He knocked down a quality 40% of his threes, 2-5, including this confident pump fake, side-step. Remembering a few games ago when he did this on an open shot and stepped inside the arc, this time he did this to elude a strong contest and stayed outside the arc, in an important time helping to reign in a growing Houston lead!

Most encouragingly, he had this finish in traffic, off of the bounce, while getting fouled:

Prior to this game, 11 of his 12 made baskets were three-pointers and he was notably over-thinking his drives, not trusting his finishing, and shying away from shot blockers. The game wasn’t over here, and Houston was still playing full-throttle defense. This play showed off what he’s capable off as a playmaker against some of the most athletic competition and, hopefully, will give him some confidence moving forward to be aggressive.

It was also his defense, though. Just against JMU he was regularly getting beaten such that his man was completely by him. On Saturday, he was on it, beating his man to the spot and denying easy drives.

More good defense from Beekman on Sasser in this one but, at the end, great lateral movement and physicality from McKneely on Mark, cutting off his driving angle and making his pivoting uncomfortable, eventually forcing the travel. By contrast, this is the same player who blew by Dunn earlier. A complete flip-flop from the JMU game.

Here’s another quicker example of something that was fairly commonplace this game:

McKneeling doing a much better job than in other recent games of keeping his man in front of him despite being challenged.

All of the above is certainly why he was on the floor toward the end of the game and why he played over half of the game. He was playing well! But, again, I go back to – where is that opportunity coming from? Franklin should have been on the floor taking that second elevator-screen shot, should have been helping with his physical presence, potentially guarding Shead while IMK stayed on Mark.

The last place we should have turned for more reliable offense?

Like: Easy Buckets Through Shedrick

Kadin, on the other hand, was the most efficient offensive player on the team. He was 7-8 from the floor and 2-2 from the free throw line. Even if you take out his two late buckets, he was 5-6 from the floor. He was feasting with easy buckets around the rim off of the pick and roll, but also on the rare occasions he got the ball on the block as a passer. Let’s look:

This is just a cleared out side of the court and Clark and Shedrick working a two man game off of a pick and roll. Shedrick rolls and is wide open for an easy dunk, no contest.

Here’s another one where he dives off of continuation and the backside is still cleared out for the collect and dunk:

Worth noting how Shedrick has to bring this down and gather himself after catching it on the back side, but still how easy it is for him to just go right up and dunk the ball.

Here’s a similar two-man concept with Beekman much later in the game:

That’s a great find from Beekman but, again, it’s just clearing out that side of the floor and forcing Houston to react/switch appropriately. The big gets caught riding Beekman too far and they don’t switch, and Kadin has another easy conversion around the rim.

They ran an effective set play for him, again utilizing his size to finish around the rim on this back screen:

Shead figures out the play there and hangs back but has no chance to do anything about it.

But, also, watch him as a passer in the post on these next two clips:

The second he just flashes open, draws the double-team, and finds Gardner for a wide open jumper on the elbow, which he misses but is his shot. The first is a designed play where they screened away to give him space to post up and that’s a fantastic pass to a cutting Gardner for the layup when the double team came.

There was also a time later where he got the ball in the post, the double didn’t come, and he made a strong move and got fouled/hit both free throws. But, again, despite how effective these plays were, they were on pretty small volume. So many of the offensive possessions he was an afterthought in the offense.

I submit to you that, especially in the second half after we saw how the game was developing, if we had pressed the issue with both Franklin and Shedrick, and been intentional about calling more plays designed to give them the ball in position to shoot or make a play, like those I outlined above, the outcome would likely have been different. Even playing through Gardner in the short corner – you may have seen me call out in a few clips above where he was being double-teamed whenever he got the ball in the short corner. This resulted in him making some good passes out of it and creating some open opportunities, but all-in-all, we didn’t really get him the ball there that often.

Instead, we failed to adjust on the fly, and didn’t isolate our advantages/what was working well.

In Conclusion:

Believe it or not, I had a good deal more about interior defense in this one, but I’m going to stop it here because it’s already long and I’m going to try to focus more (while still highlighting some cool stuff) on a few key things I’d like to have as take-aways from a game. There were some defensive breakdowns on the interior in this one, primarily as a result of Gardner/BVP rotations and a couple of mental lapses from Kadin, but they were not more common or impactful than some of the perimeter mistakes we made (less so, probably), losing track of players on the perimeter when someone drove the lane. This game was not lost in the trenches. In fact, we finished the game with the same number of points in the paint, three more second chance points, three more points off of turnovers, and only four fewer rebounds despite missing a higher percentage of our shots (and turning the ball over two more times). There are absolutely things that we can/should clean up in that area, but no different than anywhere else in that regard. In fact, our interior was an advantage that we should have pressed more on the offensive end.

No, the game was lost because we didn’t hit a bunch of open looks and they did but; more specifically, because we didn’t adjust our game plan to account for what was and wasn’t working on either side of the ball. We didn’t force the ball to the right guys in THIS game. We didn’t play the best defenders for the situation THIS game.

The biggest challenge for CTB this year, who loves to rely on experience, going to be having the confidence to truly rely on the “hot hand” on any given game across his top 8 guys (and by “hot hand” I mean both who is shooting well but also who is playing well/defending well), including playing Dunn and/or McKneely in big moments, which he’s shown a willingness to do, BUT ALSO including reducing Clark’s minutes, where appropriate. He hadn’t had a need to do the latter this season until Saturday, but he was unwilling to.

6 responses to “vs. Houston 12/17/2022”

  1. Really appreciate your insight and all of the work you put into these posts. I absolutely agree that this wasn’t a particularly discouraging loss. I didn’t think Franklin was very sound defensively at all, though. He seemed to get lost on a bunch of rotations, which is why I suspect he spent so much time on the bench. Without rewatching the game, it’s possible he was trying to cover up for his teammates’ missed assignments but it didn’t look great live. Would be interested in your thoughts.

    Like

    • He did, but not more so than the others 1-3. Heck, Reece even lost Sasser on the wing entirely once over-helping in the middle. He definitely would have offered more resistance on Shead and was playing really physically all game, especially on the glass.

      Like

      • I do think Franklin’s athleticism gets overlooked at times, primarily because TB’s played him almost exclusively at the 3. To me, McKneely’s performance, particularly his ability to hold his own on the ball, was the most encouraging takeway from Saturday.

        Lack of shooting remains a concern for me. Franklin and Beekman have improved and are signficantly better than last year. But BVP is at 33% from 3 for his career–he’s going to have more games like the one he had against Houston. Overall, I think we are average at best from the perimeter, which poses a bit of a problem given some of our other limitations offensively. Obviously, Reece playing at full speed papers over a lot of those holes.

        Like

      • I agree. I wrote a whole piece about wishing we’d play Franklin at the 2. He’s shooting 42.5% from deep for the season and is a strong/athletic player who can defend above his size. He can go hot and cold but I wish we’d force offense through him and find out which he is on any given game. IMK improving is big (especially for next season any beyond) but if it has to come at the expense of Franklin’s playing time then I have reservations.

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