When looking for the root cause of a problem it is often helpful to try and establish a pattern. Patterns often point towards what the underlying cause might actually be. Following the Part 1 post about how the 2015-2016 Dragons have performed in close and late situations, I decided that it might be telling to see what the team has done in past seasons in similar situations with different personnel. I wanted to go back farther than the 2013-2014 season, but the presence of play-by-play breakdowns became a bit sporadic.
In the look back, all inclusion criteria was kept the same with one exception. In this exercise games that went longer than one overtime were excluded. While these games are exciting, the volume of numbers that an additional 10-15 minutes of game time pours into an analysis like this could also skew some measurements. Since no game has gone longer than one overtime this season, we erred for consistency and not look at games from prior seasons that went past this.
First, I will share the accumulated and analyzed data in a more abbreviated version than I did with this year’s statistics and then I am going to share my thoughts about what it tells us. Players will be ordered by guards first, and then forwards due to a significantly higher percentage of shots taken by guards in both seasons.
2013-2014 TEAM STATISTICS:
Close and Late Record: 5-8.
Average Point Differential: + < 1 point.
Total Points Drexel: 152 Opponents: 148
TEAM SHOOTING STATISTICS:
2 pointers: 59.3% (32 for 54)
3 pointers: 31.8% (7 for 22)
FT’s: 71.6% (58 for 81)
I was admittedly surprised to find Tavon Allen at the top of the list both for shots taken and field goal percentage. It says a lot about his role as the focal point of an offense as he is this year as opposed to being a supportive player like he was for Fouch, Massenat, and Lee in years past. Also, it is important to point out how often this team got to the line. Both the 2013-14 and 2015-16 teams have had 13 close and late games with the 2013-14 teams shooting twice as many free throws than this year’s team (81 to 39).
2014-2015 TEAM STATISTICS:
Close and Late Record: 6-5
Average Point Differential: +1 point
Total Points Drexel: 108 Opponents: 103
TEAM SHOOTING STATISTICS:
2 pointers: 48.6% (18 for 37)
3 pointers: 18.2% (4 for 22)
FT’s 81.3% (61 for 75)
Again, this stat line was surprising. While the team was injured, it was interesting to find that only four players made shots over the course of 11 close and late games. Their contributions were good enough for a winning record in these situations. After pouring over the stat lines, the big difference between this season and the other two are the turnover number which, at 7, was half of 2013-14’s 16, and less than a third of this season’s 24. Also, thanks to Damion Lee’s 34 for 35 performance, the 2014-15 team was a fantastic free-throw shooting team, but still not as good as this season’s team FT% of 84.6%.
Now that we have looked the big picture from the last three seasons, what can we conclude from it all?
Turnovers! With only about eight to ten possessions in late game situations, a team must maintain possession of the ball. They also need to take advantage of the free points that another team has given them. This year’s team has done an admirable job of that but they have failed to maintain possession to a level anywhere close to the previous two seasons.
What about a late game plan? The eyeball test will tell us that this team’s offense has not changed much over the past three seasons. I’d argue that it has not changed much in the last fifteen seasons. After seeing a majority of the games in the last three seasons either live or on TV, I can say that the offensive sets are similar if not identical. This becomes important when you look at this team’s overall record when leading and trailing.
Over the last three seasons, when hitting the 4 minute mark in the second half with a lead, Drexel’s record is 11-2. Coincidentally, both losses were in the team’s CAA tournament games. So, in the regular season, Drexel is a perfect 11-0 in close and late situations when leading. Their defense allows them to lock down the opposing team, and their free throw shooting has added the necessary points to keep them ahead. All good news.
When looking at the other side of the coin at how this team performs when trailing, the numbers are unsurprisingly not as pretty. When trailing or tied with 4 minutes to go, Drexel is 2-21. Playing from behind late comes down to game plan and clutch play. Leading, you can hold a team with strong defense, clock management, and free throw shooting. When trailing a team needs to be able to convert on the offensive side of the court. In order to do that, late game situations must be rehearsed and plays need to be drawn up. While those plays need to be executed by the guys on the court, the game plan needs to be there in order to be executed.
It is much easier to play with a lead, and this team has done well at that. The panic on the offensive side of the floor, however, needs to stop. Sideline time needs to be productive. The right players need to be on the floor, and finally, those players need to stay calm, and execute.
Going Around The Association
We have already taken a look at how Drexel has performed over the past three seasons. As of January 31st of this year, Drexel has put up a 2-11 record in close and late games. Their 13 close games are the highest in the conference. Hofstra and Northeastern are the next highest with 11.
When looking at records when teams are leading, Drexel is one of four undefeated teams in the conference. Elon and William and Mary are both 3-0, and UNCW is 4-0. The lowest winning percentage when leading belongs to Northeastern who are 2-3 when leading by 7 or less at the 4 minute mark. They were also the only team with a losing record when leading which is especially stunning coming from a team that leads the conference in free throw shooting.
Drexel’s perfect winning percentage when leading at the U4 is encouraging, especially when looking at their complete body of work over the past three seasons which has accumulated a perfect 11-0 record in close games in regular season play. As a team that puts defense first, their ability to hold a lead is admirable.
When looking at overall records in close and late situations, Hofstra leads the way at 8-3 followed by Elon at 7-3, James Madison at 6-3, and UNCW and Towson at 5-3. As expected, Drexel’s winning percentage of .154 brings up the rear. The CAA close and late records for the most part mirror the current conference standings. Elon is the sole outlier falling second in close and late situations, while being tied for 7th overall in the conference.
So what do all of these records tell us? It appears that while Drexel might be proficient in holding a lead when compared to the majority of the conference they have not capitalized on keeping games close. They appear to lack the ability to turn that final corner which, judging by the team’s 2-19 record in the last three seasons when trailing close and late, is not a new problem.
Drexel is doing a great job of keeping games close, or at least battling back to the point where they can make it a contest down the stretch. This is where their preparation needs to be focused, and it needs to start with scrapping the current game plan and developing a new one. One player has taken more than a third of the team’s shots while hitting at a 25% clip, and that same player has committed a third of their late game turnovers. He is not the guy to have the ball in his hands in these clutch situations, regardless of how he performed for the other 36 minutes of the game. Overall performances and clutch performances are not always the same thing, and this is what we are seeing here.
With the pending return of Ahmad Fields, one has to hope that he can be the late game shooter that this team needs. Success in the conference this season is probably out of reach this season but if there's one thing all DU fans know it's that the season is nothing other than three days in March. These guys may seem to be playing for pride down the stretch, but they are still preparing and holding out hope for some Baltimore magic. Let’s see what they can do.