First off y'all, my apologies for not getting up a recap of the Seton Hall game. Holiday madness and all that. But let's not dwell! I thought it might be fun and hopefully generate some good discussion to do a Three (Thumbs) Up, Three (Thumbs) Down piece for the season so far.
I feel like this is a good way to encourage reader participation a little more effectively than just a straight-up recap. Also keep in mind (even though it should be obvious), these ups and downs are my opinion and mine alone. I don't mean to state them as unequivocal fact (though there are statistical pieces to them).
Read my personal Three Up, Three Down after the jump...Up: Ball Handling/Ball Movement
Assists are up, turnovers are down. Statistically, it's true. Also as I've said, it at least seems to me like there are far fewer turnovers in the open floor (or at least ones that lead to easy baskets). Last year, I can't even begin to tell you how many times guys turned it over in the open floor for easy lay-ins on the other end. That seems to be a significantly smaller issue this year.
Down: Assertiveness On The Offensive End
I realize passing and easy cuts and the like are central to Coach Bzdelik's offense, and that's all well and good. But sometimes it gets infuriating to see *pass* *pass* *pass* *pass* *decide not to take open three or drive, pass instead* "Oh no, shot clock is almost out, now we HAVE to do something!" Admittedly, as I noted above, there are times that the motion offense is quite effective and fun to watch. Also admittedly, there have been flashes of increased aggressiveness lately from Travis McKie (good) and Nikita Mescheriakov (not so good, sorry Nikita) but it's still not enough of a balance for me personally. Perimeter passing is all well and good, but I feel like we don't see enough driving to the basket, especially considering our next up.
Up: Free Throw Shooting
69.4% as a team on the year (with Carson Desrosiers dragging down the average at an even 50% and there being games where even C.J. Harris couldn't hit) is good, real good. Especially considering the fact that many different guys on the team can hit consistently, one thing you can't fault the Deacs on this year is their work at the charity stripe. It seems like a tiny, insignficant aspect of the game, but it's not at all. Good free throw shooting facilitates winning in close games, comebacks, padding leads, and even reducing opponents' aggressiveness on defense.
If a team is capable of getting to the line and hitting there (both things that the Deacs are good at; they've converted 172 of 248 attempts on the year for an average of 17.2 hits on 24.8 attempts/game on the young season) it means not only are you getting opponents into foul trouble and presenting depth and matchup issues, you're scoring easy points with no time running off the clock. I'd like the percentage to be even better, but to be honest I think it will be considering CJ started ice cold to start the year and is moving towards his typical consistency as the year goes on. I really wish we'd drive more for this reason as well. It's a lot easier to draw contact and get to the line while driving to the basket.
Just for comparison here are some other ACC teams:
-Duke: 66.4% from the line
We're not the top of the league, but we're up there, and the point is that this year's Deacs convert at a good clip at the line, which is an aspect of the game that I feel is sometimes under-appreciated. It won't make an awful team great, but it will make a good team better and will help you win (or lose) close games.
Down: Perimeter Defense
Now, I will say this. I don't think it's so much that our guys have trouble defending their men straight up. The problem with our perimeter defense, and boy is it ever a problem, is that we get absolutely torched on screens and have major issues with rotation on defense (or lack thereof). I think part of it is immaturity, maybe even a large part. Depth might also be an issue to a degree; I'm sure some of our players probably get extremely tired, and conditioning is gonna be an issue all year. Basketball is a lightning-fast game, and even the slightest hesitation in rotating on D can lead to an open three. Some of it might be coaching as well, I'm honestly not sure at this juncture, and we probably won't know for sure in earnest until next year when we get more experience and depth but whatever the cause, our guys absolutely NEED to improve defensively on the perimeter if they want to surprise some people in the ACC this year.
Up: Hustle and Competitiveness
There's not much of a way to quantify this last up, to be honest, and it's just kind of a "from what I notice" positive, but compared to last year, holy cow are these guys more competitive than last year's team. Last year, it seemed like almost every game, our opponents would get out to some double digit lead and it would absolutely balloon. That really doesn't happen this year. We seem to trade blows every game (with the exception of ASU) and even in our other losses this year, the opponents' lead wasn't insurmountable until late. Having said that, we need to learn to go for the throat better when we have a lead, but there are far worse problems to have. Like, for example:
God, our rebounding is absolutely horrendous right now, there's no two ways about it. There have been games where it was better (actually at one point late, I believe we were out-rebounding Seton Hall, and that was with the horrible matchup nightmare Herb Pope) but man oh man is that ever a point that needs work for the Deacs. One thing that baffles me: where has Travis McKie's presence on the glass gone? I realize part of it is probably the fact that he plays more on the wing so far this year which is his more natural position, but Travis was a double-double machine last year and he has yet to get one in the first ten games. I'm not about to call out Travis though, because it's a team-wide issue. Bottom line: this team needs to rebound better. Period.
Anyway, there's my personal Three Up, Three Down for the season so far. Feel free to leave comments/questions/feedback/suggestions in the comments below, or yes, even your own Three Up, Three Down! I figured this would be a good way to generate some balanced discussion and get different viewpoints. Thanks for reading, and as always, Go Deacs.