Game #9-482: Virginia Military Institute Keydets at Charleston Southern BuccaneersFebruary 21, 2013 7:30 pm
The VMI Keydets are always among the bigger attractions in the Big South. Not necessarily because they are good (although VMI is usually better than they are given credit for), but how they play Our Game. Keydet coach Duggar Baucom tends to emphasize a game focused on offense and often a high tempo game. The Keydets' system under Baucom is not as gimmicky as that of Division III Grinnell, a system where one takes a shot as quickly as possible for the sake of doing so. But like Grinnell, VMI emphasizes the superhoop and using its defense to create points off turnovers. This has the benefit of making the most out of VMI's players, which like their counterparts at The Citadel have a hard time bringing Division I talent to a military college. In 2007, VMI outscored their opponents 101 to 98 on average. And Baucom's system helped develop leading scorer Reggie Williams into a NBA player, an extreme rarity from the Big South. Williams at 6-5 had learned to shoot well from outside under Baucom's system and run the floor, something few 6-5 Big South players are ever used for. VMI's system has been toned down a bit this year, but the emphasis on offense remains the same as the Keydets are very efficient with leading scorer Stan Okoye. Sometimes it works well, like when Okoye scored 38 points at Presbyterian. And other times their game falls flat, as it did in a loss at Coastal where the Keydets finished with only 49 points. But VMI's offense will always be what one looks forward to when going to a game.
But the question is of course is whether or not this is good basketball? This Michael Weinreb article for Grantland
makes an argument that high scoring basketball is winning basketball. Weinreb's article focuses on the system of Jim Crutchfield at West Liberty, a West Virginia school ranked 1 in Division II, as well as that of Baucom at VMI. The article points out that Weinreb and Baucom both are capable of winning with marginal talent by playing high scoring basketball. The article also talks with Jim Molinari of Western Illinois, who has achieved success by playing defensive and slow tempo basketball to have a successful Summit League season. But Baucom is very dismissive of slow-tempo basketball, feeling that it is too orchestrated and restricts players of what they can accomplish. Baucom is quoted as saying, "There's teams in our league that run 20 seconds of false motion to get the shot clock down, and then run a set. I watch some teams play and it looks like the kids are in jail." I would be interested in who Baucom was thinking about when he said that, with my best guess being the system of Gregg Nibert at Presbyterian. Crutchfield has said that his teams play fast as a way of calculating towards the reward that overcomes the risk of playing that way.
But on whether that works, it must be noted that this article comes from Grantland, which I do not believe is a good source for college basketball analysis. Most of Grantland's writers such as editor Bill Simmons follow the NBA more, and somehow think that college basketball would be more fun if it were more like what Kyle once called the "National Basketball-Themed Entertainment Association". The article is more concerned about how casual fans perceive college basketball than with what works. A casual fan might be more interested in a 90-80 game over a 60-50 game, and that is what VMI delivers. But Princeton has achieved winning basketball in the past with a tempo that is often below 60 possessions a game. And as the article points out, systems like Molinari keep the game close and help weaker teams stay in games longer. From watching Winthrop games before, I have seen Winthrop both win games they should not have and lose games they should not have because of the slow tempo strategy. Weinreb also talks to statistician Ken Pomeroy, who thinks that the decrease in scoring has come from increased physical play (also true in the NBA) and that reducing the shot clock would lower offensive efficiency.
And that is how I often define how entertaining a game is. I like offense, and high-tempo games can be fun when executed well. But when they aren't, they are incredibly poor to watch as well. Such games often have a lot of fouls from increased speed that combines with the physical play, and the flow that you want from a high tempo game is not there. And I have noted that the highest tempo games are from levels of basketball generally not defined as good. In the database of games I have attended and tracked, the highest tempo game was a high school girls' game between two rural high schools. Both teams playing each had about 98 possessions (and that is in a 32 minute game, which translates to 122.5 possessions over 40 minutes) with a final score of 60-46. There were also a combined total of 94 free throws attempted over the 32 minute game, with the teams combining for 34 made free throws and 60 missed free throws. Does that sound like good basketball? Of course not! And that game took a very long time to end as well. So much for the game being "fast". By contrast, the slowest tempo game I have been to was a 51 possession game in the NCAA Women's Sweet 16 where Rutgers beat George Washington 53-42 five years ago. Better players always seem to play slower, because the point guards are more developed at being able to hold the ball and run a play. I like offense, in that I like high shooting percentages and low turnover rates. The score does not really matter to me in how good the game was.
But I will say that while at times I think Baucom's VMI teams often do not play smart, they always do so at the end. Good teams know how to adjust, and VMI always adjusts to find ways to win. VMI in the offense back in 2007 seemed to rely a bit on gimmicks in the regular season. But they changed their offense in the tournament, and that allowed VMI to upset 3 seed Liberty in the quarterfinals and then 2 seed High Point in the semifinals in what may have been the most frustrating performance I have seen watching HPU men's basketball. Going into this year, Baucom had reached three of the last six conference finals. And this year's VMI team plays barely over 70 possessions per game, but still finds ways to score most of the time. And that is good basketball. It would be interesting to see which VMI team showed up here at CSU Field House this evening.
But here at Charleston Southern we first had to wait before even buying tickets. I did not realize until the afternoon that there was a women's game at 5 PM against Coastal Carolina. I decided to try and make it for the second half to make sure I would get in for the men's game. Charleston Southern in the past has allowed people to attend both the women's and men's games on one ticket before. But when I got there, not only had they changed that they would not even sell me a ticket for the men's game until the women's game had ended. I could have paid five dollars and seen the end of the women's game, but then I would not have my place in line for the men's game. So I pulled up the live stats on CSU's website on my phone. Coastal had started out with a solid lead, but the Buc women were coming back. I then asked what the box office would do about an overtime game, and they said the same thing. So of course I knew what to expect next: CSU took a one point lead and had the ball with eight seconds left and got fouled. I thought, "CSU will make both free throws, and then Coastal will hit a three and force overtime". The Bucs did make both free throws, and then Coastal called timeout. I waited around before hearing cheering inside. Did Coastal make a three, or did Charleston Southern win? Finally I got the update on my phone, and then showed it to the box office. "Overtime", I said, and the ticket seller appeared to be completely shocked by what happened. CSU did not prepare for a long line to develop behind me waiting less than 30 minutes before the scheduled game time to buy a ticket. But that is what happened, and eventually Coastal won the women's game and we could buy a ticket and go inside. Once inside, I was hungry from having waited outside so I went to the concessions stand, which somehow was not ready. I asked the concessions worker why after a women's game they were not ready, and the reply was that different CSU athletic teams were working the two games (volleyball for the women's game, baseball for the men's game). This was the scenario that USC Upstate was very close to reaching with two separate tickets for a women's/men's doubleheader before. I have praised Charleston Southern before for its great atmosphere and intimacy to the court, but I have to be fair and admit they did not seem to handle this situation real well with a doubleheader starting at 5. Each Division I arena has its own strengths and weaknesses.
So now we could finally get to see the high flying Keydets against league leader Charleston Southern. And most importantly we would get that great Charleston Southern experience again, such as a student holding a whiteboard at the VMI players that said "Garbage". He was told to erase it and eventually put up a sign asking for ideas to be sent to his Twitter that the mascot carried around.
The Bucs came out firing right away against the weak VMI defense, scoring 17 points on their first seven possessions to take an early 17-7 lead five minutes in. It is one thing to allow Mathiang Muo to catch fire from outside, but another to allow a usually weak CSU frontcourt to get to the basket easily. And the Bucs did that, and continued to hold around a ten point lead most of the first half. And the Bucs' of course were getting great offense from both Muo and Arlon Harper to offset a decent showing by the usually great VMI offense. VMI's tempo was not very fast, but they were giving up points at a fast rate as CSU scored from all over the court. AT halftime, Charleston Southern led by ten due to scoring an incredible 50 points on 34 possessions. While Baucom has perfected a great offense, his defense still could improve. The first half was basically what happens when a good Charleston Southern offense meets a team like VMI that does not focus on the defensive side of the game.
At halftime, Charleston Southern was able to produce their own Harlem Shake video as has nearly every other college. It is a bit of a catchy meme, although I prefer the Gangnam Style videos over the Harlem Shake videos mainly because the Harlem Shake videos are usually too short and not as well orchestrated as other internet memes. But this was definitely something the CSU students were looking forward to that I did not see coming.
The Buc offense did not slow down, and continued to blast through VMI. And on one occasion, a Buccaneer did literally blast through for a dunk. As Malcolm Bernard was pulling away for a dunk, I thought as I saw Keydet D.J. Covington move under the basket, "It would be a good dunk, but he's going to get fouled". Well, Bernard did get fouled by the eventual Big South Defensive Player of the Year, but he still dunked. When I saw it, I thought it was even better than the famous Shay Shine dunk at High Point against UNC Asheville's D.J. Cunnngham. Upon seeing the replay shown here, it probably was not but the camera angle could have been better here (it is still probably better than John Brown's dunks that made SportsCenter). But in any case, the crowd went wild and spilled onto the court as they were setting up the free throw. Bernard did miss the free throw, but CSU got the rebound from which Jeremy Sexton hit a superhoop, which is even better.
And with that, VMI never recovered. Charleston Southern continued to build an insurmountable lead. You would think that the higher tempo game would give VMI a chance at a comeback, but the Keydets never came close to mounting one. Okoye could not match the momentum built by Bernard, and Charleston Southern won 92-69. It was not very high tempo at 65 possessions, but both teams managed over a point per possession with CSU scoring 1.415 points per possession. That is pretty impressive, no matter whom you play.
So this game turned out to not be about slow vs. fast, but offense overpowering defense. And that is the basketball I like to watch. Unfortunately for Duggar Baucom, he has to work more on getting his team to play the fundamentals of creating defensive stops, as boring as that might be. But they were not beating CSU in the Buc Dome this night regardless. Sometimes your game works, and sometimes it does not. That is true for Charleston Southern as well, which under Barclay Radebaugh runs an offense largely dependent on the superhoop that has shown to be more resilient at home than on the road. But when it does work, it is good basketball to watch that can also produce wins. That is why we love Our Game.
at CHARLESTON SOUTHERN 92, VIRGINIA MILITARY INSTITUTE 69
VIRGINIA MILITARY INSTITUTE 11-15 (6-8) -- B. Brown 6-14 0-0 15; S. Okoye 5-15 1-2 14; D. Covington 7-13 2-3 16; J. Carr 1-3 2-2 4; N. Gore 0-3 0-0 0; T. Marshall 5-10 1-1 15; G. Stephenson 0-1 0-0 0; D. Albritton 1-4 0-0 3; J. Watson 1-2 0-0 2; P. Anglade 0-1 0-0 0; D. Absher 0-0 0-0 0; C. Burton 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-66 6-8 69.
CHARLESTON SOUTHERN 16-9 (11-3) -- M. Muo 8-10 0-0 23; J. Sexton 7-11 4-6 19; S. Strickland 4-12 2-4 11; A. Harper 8-10 2-2 21; C. Bowen 2-5 0-0 4; P. Gombwer 2-4 0-0 5; A. Fullah 2-2 0-0 4; M. Bernard 2-2 0-1 5; M. Kennedy 0-1 0-2 0; M. Deter 0-2 0-0 0; G. Dorleus 0-0 0-0 0; T. Odom 0-0 0-0 0; J. Williams 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 35-59 8-15 92.
Three-point goals: VMI 11-35 (S. Okoye 3-9; J. Carr 0-2; N. Gore 0-2; B. Brown 3-9; D. Albritton 1-4; T. Marshall 4-8; G. Stephenson 0-1), CHSO 14-25 (J. Sexton 1-2; M. Muo 7-8; M. Deter 0-2; M. Kennedy 0-1; S. Strickland 1-7; A. Harper 3-3; P. Gombwer 1-1; M. Bernard 1-1); Rebounds: VMI 23 (S. Okoye 6), CHSO 38 (S. Strickland 6); Assists: VMI 15 (S. Okoye 3), CHSO 16 (J. Sexton 7); Total Fouls -- VMI 12, CHSO 11; Fouled Out: VMI-None; CHSO-None.
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