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Holiday Hoops Update

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After an ugly 2-4 start, a sorely needed ten day break beckons. What’s the path forward?

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Since you’ve last heard from us, the Aggies put the finishing touches on an 0-2 Vancouver Showcase with a 71-67 loss to Washington before killing the four game skid with a 74-62 victory over South Alabama.

Now that we’re effectively 20% of the way through the season... what have we learned? And more importantly... can we fix it?

We Can’t Shoot

We’re working with a legitimate sample size, y’all... and we can’t shoot. At all.

After six games, the Aggies are 31-128 (24.2%) from beyond the arc, which places us at a healthy 342nd out of 353 eligible D1 basketball programs. And if that wasn’t bad enough, shooting was (allegedly) supposed to be the lynchpin for this season’s offensive attack. Speed, it was said, would be the theme of the day. Space the floor, push the pace, and take the first decent shot you see. We’ve tried, and it’s starting to look like we flat don’t have the horses for this approach.

If it makes y’all feel any better, we’re nearly as bad at stopping threes (35.5% against, good for 233rd in the nation) as we are at making them.

Our Half Court Sets…

Short version: When we slow down, we don’t get a good shot.

Longer version: Our shooting doesn’t scare anyone, which allows the defense to collapse. This prevents Mekowulu, our only true post option, from operating down low. Now, we’ve basically got one option, which is Starks creating for himself or someone else, and that hasn’t been going very well. Truth be told, it’s only our offensive rebounding rate (a stellar 16th in the nation) that keeps us alive when we slow down.

But on the flip side… we’re starting to thrive in chaos. When we push the pace off of a miss, guys are finding seams and attacking the basket (instead of settling for threes), and it’s starting to catch teams off guard. If we can lean into this philosophy and crank up the tempo, we might continue to find success.

We Found Our Rotation

With the return of Wendell Mitchell, our rotation has crystallized over the past three games. We shortened the bench, we (mostly) locked in our crunch time five, and we found free money in the form of contributions from John Walker and Isiah Jasey.

As a result, we typically come down the stretch with something like this:

  • TJ Starks (love or hate him, he’s gotta be in there)
  • Savion Flagg
  • Christian Mekowulu
  • Jay Jay Chandler or Wendell Mitchell (whoever has the hot hand)
  • Brandon Mahon or Josh Nebo (depending on the situation)

With those seven guys and the aforementioned contributions from Walker and Jasey, we’ve been markedly better in the last three games. We beat South Alabama, we used our best stretch of basketball all year to almost steal a game against Minnesota, and we (gasp!) built a lead against a quality team in Washington before succumbing late.

Now that Gonzaga’s victory over Duke launched them to #1 in the nation, the sting from that beating has gone away as well. It’s still tough to see a sustained path to success, but it’s not quite as tough as it was ten days ago.

#SECBasketballFever Has Returned

My initial trepidation was based on the notion that the SEC was going to be absolutely loaded… and the opening three weeks haven’t exactly confirmed that notion. Seven SEC teams have already grabbed multiple losses, and all fourteen have already taken their first loss of the year.

Here’s a quick look at some ugly losses that the conference has already absorbed

  • UC Irvine over Texas A&M (74-73)
  • Northeastern over Alabama (68-52)
  • Georgia State over Georgia (91-67)
  • Stony Brook over South Carolina (83-81)
  • Wofford over South Carolina (81-61)
  • Kent State over Vanderbilt (77-75)

In addition, we have a handful of teams (Florida, LSU, and Mississippi State) that have held their own in the cupcake games, but have failed at every other time of asking.

We still have a month to change the narrative, but the SEC is near the bottom end of the power conferences as things currently stand.

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That’s all, gang. We won’t force you to read any more basketball in the aftermath of the greatest college football game we’ve ever seen.

Next up is Northwestern State on Monday the 3rd, and that should be our easiest cupcake game remaining. If we struggle with that one, it could be a rough sign that even our new lineup adjustments won’t be able to hang.

BTHO Northwestern State