Tuesday, December 17, 2013

It's a Trust Thing


Here's the thing about inbounding the ball.  There is an expectation, a trust, amongst players, administrators and fans that when attempting to inbound the ball, their team will successfully get the ball inbounds to a player on the same team.  Except at Drexel.  

At Drexel, they saw the loss to UCLA, which should have been one of the top 5 wins in program history.  Drexel fans saw the defensive blown coverage that led to a home run pass winning the game for VCU at the DAC.  Further examples against both Hofstra, ODU and rival Delaware are easily recalled when talking to fans.  In both losses this year there are examples of having troubles passing the ball from out of bounds. 

Against Davidson, Bob McKillop knew the inbounds play so well that he put his 5'11" point guard between two Drexel big men in the stack, because he knew that they were never going to catch the ball going to the basket, but Fouch was going to curl around them and then the pg could peal out, leaving Dartaye Ruffin completely unguarded and pickup Fouch.  Ruffin ended up dropping from the stack to half court and catching the inbounds pass in an area where him holding the ball didn't threaten the Wildcats at all.  What could have been Florida Gulf Coast Dunk City became running the normal offense with a shorter than normal shot clock.  It's as if Bruiser has said "I understand the fans not trusting me with inbounds plays because I don't trust me."  He's stopped trying to get victories on these plays, instead just settling for a draw, getting the ball in while still in Drexel's possession.

What about the use it or lose it timeout that he takes before halftime?  Sit in the DAC for that and fans and administrators alike don't even seem to know which team will end up with the last shot, let alone worry about Drexel scoring it.  

In the 09-10 season, I ran the numbers on Drexel's play coming out of every called timeout on offense.  All of those involved inbounds plays.  All of those involved a timeout.  So how bad was the end result?  It wasn't.  Don't get too excited, it wasn't good either, but the numbers over that season essentially showed the exact same offense in terms of points per possession coming out of a timeout then if they hadn't called one at all.  It's a draw, or at least it was that season.  Maybe you don't want to see Bru call one against Shaka Smart where the other team may get an advantage, but against Monte Ross or Pat Kennedy, call timeouts all day Bru!  They're essentially meaningless (and are best saved for when a player is trapped in a corner/on the floor or looking to inbound and needs a bailout).

So if Bru's timeouts are meaningless and the inbounds plays arent actually the worst thing ever, why do fans cringe when he calls them?  Why do his most ardent supports talk about how good a guy he is and how strongly he recruits just to go quiet once X's and O's are mentioned?  The simple answer is selection bias.  There's a perception that inbounds should always be succesful, and generally when Bru's have failed they've done so spectacularly and when everyone was watching.  It broke the trust that even his supporters had in him, and possibly his own, and now people are looking for the problem and when they see it, they remember it.  When they see a standard inbound they don't log it to remember later, but when the failures happen they do.  Call it selection bias, call it reputation, call it being Philly fans, but people are looking for the worst now and remembering it when it happens because it has happened when all the lights were on him.

The purpose of the above wasn't to destroy nor to advance that narrative.  It was to show an example where a fan or an administrator's eyes may lie to themselves a bit, akin to looking for a VW Bus still on the road.  Haven't seen one in a while have you?  Now start keeping your eyes open and see how many you find.  Heck, I even found a Prius in Nascar country this weekend.  Psych 101, right?  (You tell me, Dr. Zilmer).

The reason for this exersize, besides hopefully poking the staff into running an inbounds play that has the possibility of scoring again?  The guards don't pass to our big men in the paint.  It's just bad.  Freddie Wilson did on his first career drive as a Dragon and it created an easy basket.  Other teams are never going to front DU's guys since they don't need to.  Samme Givens, teams had to deal with.  Dartaye Ruffin and Daryl McCoy?  Not so much.  Neither guy could hit a free throw.  Daryl turned the ball over 25% of the time last year in his best season as a Dragon.  By the end of the season, the offense may as well have been three on five.  In Richmond, the McCoy/Ruffin/Abif trio combined for 12 shot attempts (24%) , the guards for 37 (76%).

This season, the big men have played well.  The turnovers are way down, they're shooting 55% as a unit, and Abif has even gotten to the line and shot free throws at a very strong rate.  Dartaye Ruffin has missed 11 shots this year, and Drexel has gotten the offensive rebound on 7 of those 11.  He has shot the ball 31 times this year and 27 of those have ended with a positive result.  That's mind boggling.  I think Rodney Williams will be special by the time his career here at Drexel is over, and Mohamed Bah is 3 of 4 both from the field and the line.  This is not last years frontcourt.

The foursome of bigs have shot the ball 95 times this year (18%).  The guards have shot the ball 437 times (82%).  Tavon Allen has taken more shots, 113,  than the entire frontcourt combined.  Somehow the frontcourt has gotten better on the offensive end, possibly much better, and yet the guards are still seeing them like they saw last years frontcourt.  They're acting like they don't trust them, ignoring the post ups and not feeding the beast.  Just as fans remember the worst of Bru's timeouts, it appears as if Bru's guards are remembering the terrible hands batting passes out of bounds from last years bigs.

Changing perception can be very hard once it's embedded in people.  Bru badly needs a couple of dunks or drawn up wide open three pointers to go in off of a quick inbounds play.  Even though that may not alter the seasonal statistics, it may just get people saying "wow, look at those changes he's making" just like throwing ten minutes of zone did earlier this season.  In that same spirit, the big men need to have a big game, put them on the map and restore the confidence in the guards eyes.  They need to see a mismatch, demand the ball and score it and be able to do so loudly.

That's why their struggling in the Davidson game hurts so badly.  They had a ton of size and athleticism on those guys, but they didn't out rebound them and they missed more shots than they have in any game all season.  It was a letdown game, and the bigs were the letdown, in a spot where they really could have done themselves a ton of good in their teammates eyes.  The frontcourt players won't get that opportunity in the upcoming St. Joe's game, but at home against Buffalo and Saint Francis thereafter it would be great news both for the forwards and the team overall if the coaches put the bigmen in a position to put on a show and really highlight to their teammates how much better they are this year.  Doing so could bring balance, and balance only makes this edition of the Dragon's that much better.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

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