Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Delaware - Learning from our Mistakes

Final:  Delaware 90, Drexel 77 at The DAC
Player of the Game:  Frantz Massenat
Key to the game:  Bruiser Flint
Next Game:  Sat Jan 25 vs William and Mary @ The DAC

If you're reading this, you're likely a Drexel Dragon basketball fan.  And if you're a fan of Drexel basketball, you should be a fan of Bruiser Flint.  And if you're a fan of Bruiser Flint, you should know the one thing about him that he wants everyone to know.  His teams play defense.  It is right then, to be a Drexel fan and be confused and shocked when watching Drexel's defense get absolutely shredded throughout this conference season.  Conference opponents have averaged 1.192 points per possession against the Dragons in the five games they have played.  To put that in perspective, a team averaging 1.192 ppp would be the 5th best offensive team in the country right now, slotting in between Michigan and Wisconsin.

Again, Drexel has just made the cumulative offensive efforts of William and Mary, Northeastern, Towson, UNCW and Delaware resemble what Michigan and Wisconsin is doing this year.  The Syracuse offense is not as effective as what those five teams have combined for against Drexel.  It's a five game sample, a sixth of the season.  This is no longer small sample overreaction, it's not a few teams getting lucky, it's simply the look of one of the 10 worst defenses in all of college basketball right now.  Saint Francis is looking at the Dragons defense to learn what not to do.  Delaware is laughing all the way to ninety points.  This from a team whose coach prides himself on defense first.

A wise acquaintance from an opposing CAA member school asked me an interesting question about this after the game last night.  That question can be summed up as "Whats wrong?"

Earlier in the year, against Saint Joe's, Buffalo and Southern Miss, we talked about the players and why we weren't seeing their best effort.  Here on the blog we pretty well gave the staff a pass on the poor performances.  That seemed on the money when Drexel came out of the new year and the offense was back in order, the rebounding percentage went right to where was expected and the turnover rate went back down into "extremely good" territory.  What is interesting now is that the players not only seem to be giving full effort, they also seem to be executing at a high level.  They only turned the ball over four times against Delaware, they shot well enough to win from the field and a solid 77% from the charity stripe.  This leads me to believe that unlike the games against Southern Miss and Saint Joe's, this is more a coaching issue than a player effort and execution issue.  So what then is wrong with the coaching?

On a micro level we look at the Delaware game and its a bit of a head scratcher.  There's two hypothesis' that have been discussed for this team going into this game.  Investigating them both:

Hypothesis A:  The chance for a bye has already been sunk.  With injuries mounting and the odds of a first place finish all but nil, it's time to experiment with game plans, find strategies and personnel groupings that work, and get the team ready for the stretch run.  The problem with this is that Bru is playing guys who may have been cleared to play, but that the naked eye can easily tell are not fully healed.  Beyond that, both Allen and Ruffin are coming off of injuries where there is a significant re-injury risk.  Playing these two seems to indicate beyond reasonable doubt that Bru is playing to win now, which vacates Hypothesis A.

Hypothesis B:  The coaching staff is playing for today.  Whether it be for pride, for March seeding or something that the layman fan can't see, the staff sees these as important games in achieving their overall season goal.  Because of that, every warm body that can contribute should be expected to regardless of condition, and the coaching staff will do whatever they can to put the team in a position to win.  The problem with this hypothesis is that Bruiser Flint has stated with his actions for over a decade now that a man to man defense with three guards and two forwards is the most effective way to play defense.  He had no intention of playing that defense against Delaware, and for the conference season has either been in a zone or four guard set for a significant and possibly majority chunk of the five games.

If the coaching staff is pushing for today, where's the hard-nosed man to man?  If the coaching staff is looking forward to March, why are injured guys gutting it out on the floor until they have to go to the staff and ask to be taken out?  And for this game in particular, if the staff is going four guard run and gun, why is your injured, slowest, least athletic forward on the court 15 minutes longer than the reigning freshman of the week who seems to have springs in his feet?

Those questions and the rest of the Delaware game analysis leads us up to assist in the macro analysis.  We turn to Aaron Sorkin's The West Wing to take us home:

" He’ll check his gauges and look at the artificial horizon, which shows that the plane is level, but he won’t trust this information. So, he’ll make an adjustment, then another and another. The result? The number of pilots who fly out of those clouds completely upside down would knock you out."

In the beginning of the season there were stories all over the place, including here, about the effects of the new NCAA rules.  Bruiser publicly answered that on ESPN, going to halftime at Madison Square Garden saying that he was worried about foul trouble so he was going zone.  So Drexel played zone.  Then multiple forwards went down, and suddenly the staff decided the way to combat that was with a four guard look.  Suddenly, the Drexel defense was making their opponents look final four bound, every night.  The Delaware Blue Hens are a three point shooting, run and gun team.  The Hens only shot ten three point attempts in the evening, their lowest total of the season, and was a smart move.  Why take threes when the Dragons are offering you layups?  Bruiser's adjustment after adjustment have made this team upside down, they've lost their identity as THE defensive team in the CAA.  

The players are playing their hearts out.  The word that comes to my mind when looking at them defensively is confused, but tentative, unsettled or indecisive also works.  This from the same players that are operating with clockwork precision on the offensive end, maybe the best five game offensive stretch of any Flint team.  It seems like the players are executing exactly what they're being told by their coaches right now.  A disciplined, solid offense and a confused, not sure which way to turn defense.

Lets all hope that the problem is that easy.  We've seen the three guard man to man defense for the better part of thirteen years here at Drexel, so maybe it's as simple as Bruiser turning on the autopilot, getting right side up and remembering how this team got up into the air in the first place.  And if it's that easy and the defense comes around, then with guys healing, an offense that might just keep clicking, and a steady diet of DAC Pack home cooking maybe this team can get back to where it needs to be come March.  

Hit the autopilot Bru.  Find your bearings.  It's about time to get out of the clouds.

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