This weekend starts a three game homestand for a Dragon team that is fierce need of some home cooking. The teams 1-7 record and last place mark looks, well, awful as the weekend starts, but there are some signs that they aren’t quite buried yet. They’ve only played the other lower tier teams – JMU, UD, and UNCW on the road, so they should have some very beatable teams coming to the DAC yet. With the exception of the Hofstra game, the defense seems to have improved to something moderately better than atrocious* (* see number two below). Add to that the road heavy early schedule, with 5 of 8 games on the road, and this upcoming three game home stand will give them a chance to prove that they can still improve as the season strides towards the all important March games.
There’s a heavy flip side to any optimism that is mentioned in the above paragraph. For one, the homestand features games against Elon (arguably the worst matchup in the conference for this team) and then Northeastern (currently in first place) before they get to hosting James Madison. These are home games – but not easy ones. The other seemingly important note is that the teams record is who they seem to be. Coach Spiker wants his team to be in the middle of the pack in offensive and defensive efficiency both this year, and currently they are 7th and 10th respectively. And 10th in defense by a very wide margin behind 9th place Delaware. So while they are close to grabbing some wins, there are still fundamental issues that must be resolved in February, Year 2 of the rebuild. Here’s what I will be looking for this weekend:
1) Austin Williams has to keep himself in the ballgame. The Dragons depth was badly exposed this weekend when Austin saw foul trouble, especially when Tyshawn Myles also ran into issues. Little known fact is that while the team has a point differential of -116 this season, when Austin is in the game, that number is only -18. That number is over 20 games. They have basically played even with their competition when he is in the game, and been an unmitigated disaster with him out of it. Plus minus is far from gospel and shouldn’t be considered a perfect science, but there may not be a player in the league more valuable to his team, if for no other reason than the lack of depth behind him. He has to find a way to stay on the court.
2) Alihan Demir has to rebound. The sneaky secret to the Dragons defensive improvement is that it hasn’t happened. That’s because even though opponents are hitting less of their shots, they have been getting MORE of their rebounds. It’s tough to put that on one guy, but after speaking of the importance of Williams, it’s just as important to note that part of the reason Austin has to be out there is because the Dragons haven’t gotten any rebounding out of the other frontcourt position. Alihan is playing 33 minutes a game and averaging only 5 boards, which mitigates his offensive success. His numbers make him look like a guard, when in fact he is listed 6’9″ and 223 pounds. I’d need to see more tape, but just from eyeballing, there are two things I’ll be looking closely at: Is he leaving early to try to start a run out after opponents take a shot, and b) when he has to defend a perimeter defender is he shot watching, or is he crashing the boards like a Tramaine Isabell is?
A visual representation of the Dragons rebounding woes on the defensive glass, and the CAA play decline:
3) Troy Harper has to be the Troy Harper that we saw against JMU (after his first two loony toons shots). Hard nosed defense was coupled with shots that were intended to go in, not just draw a foul. He stayed off the floor after shots, and since he was driving harder to the hoop and not overtly flopping (and the officials had a quick whistle) he got the hoops and got to the line. If he is effective, the offense has enough weapons and variation to be a top 5 offense in this league. The trio of Lee, Isabell, and Mojica can’t be out there every minute of every game, and having that fourth player who can pressure and keep the rotations fresh would be a difference maker.
So that’s what I will be looking for this weekend. One bonus item: With a three game homestand and no excuses (break, opposing football games, fraternity wheelbarrow races) and homecoming coming up, I’ll be looking at the attendance numbers. The guys on the court aren’t the only ones that need to improve. It’s time for the front office to earn its money and the DAC Pack to earn it’s funding.
This program improves when everyone improves it together.