Saturday, March 10, 2018

Gannon's Fatal Flaw Exposed In NCAAs

Gannon fell to PSAC champ East Stroudsburg in the first round of the Atlantic Regionals, 78-69, and how it happened was no surprise. The Knights obliterated the Warriors on the boards, 47-29, but they shot just 2-for-15 on three-pointers (13%), so they couldn't keep up with high-octane Stroud.

Prior to every Gannon game I watched this season, I'd print and review the cumulative statistics for the Knights and their opponent. One of my habits was to identify the outside shooters, underlining which players had reached double figures in three-pointers made. In January I noticed that while for most teams I highlighted several players, only two Knights -- Zay Jackson and Jair Green -- had made more than 10 threes. As games stretched through February and into March, Gannon's list stayed the same while the opponents featured between five and eight players with double-digit treys. Stroud was one of those teams, featuring eight quality outside shooters, and the other clubs in the regional tourney weren't far behind: West Liberty actually had 10 players with 10 or more made threes while Wheeling Jesuit, West Chester, Shippensburg (7 each), Virginia State, (6), and Virginia Union (5) each more than doubled Gannon's number of outside shooters.

Among 301 Division II teams this season, Gannon ranked 299th in three-pointers made per game (4.0 pg) with only mediocre University of the Sciences (16-13, 3.8 pg) and lowly Cheyney (2-24, 3.7 pg) behind them. Heck, stinky Southern Wesleyan (S.C.) finished two spots ahead of Gannon in threes made (4.8 pg) and they were 2-26, the worst win-loss record in D2 play. The devil on my shoulder is ticked Gannon didn't recruit or develop even one more long-range threat for this season, but the angel is marveling how the Knights won 22 games, finished second in the PSAC West, advanced to the conference finals, and qualified for the NCAAs despite consistently tossing rocks at the rim from 20 feet away.

Before we look ahead to next year -- regrettably we don't have another game to analyze for eight months -- we should marvel at how far this team went and how much they accomplished despite the lack of three-point threats. Saturday's loss to Stroud was the 13th consecutive game in which Gannon outrebounded its opponents, accomplishing that feat an amazing 30 times this year in 32 games. They nearly matched the resume of the outstanding 2014-15 Gannon club that won the PSAC and featured sharpshooters Adam Blazek, Girbran Smith, Jean Yves Toupane, and Matt Dogan. And when Shippensburg meets Stroudsburg in the regional final Tuesday, both will have in common losses to Gannon. This GU team wasn't that far from being among the top teams in Division II play; they would have had a real shot at the Elite 8 if they were, well, a better shot.

But if you thought the Knights lacked outside threats this year, you might want to sit down before we discuss next season. Jackson (72 threes) and Green (26) will graduate, leaving Daryl Porter (8), whose playing time decreased the second half of the season, as the top returning three-point shooter. Gannon will also have to replace PSAC West Defensive Player of the Year Damon Miraud who keyed the Knights' intensity and rebounding advantage all season. I'm excited to see inside threat Evan Phoenix, flashy Frank Webb, and steady Matt Johnson next year, and I hope they spend tons of time in the gym every day extending their range. If Green could make the leap from two made threes in 2016-17 to 26 makes this year, so can another one or two (or more) guys on the current roster. And with at least four scholarships opening up plus redshirt Daniel Sapp becoming eligible (he hit 41-of-110 threes at Cal in 2016-17), the Knights have the opportunity to add some offensive firepower.

However, don't think for even a tenth of a second that John Reilly is going to change his stripes and embrace a run-and-fun, Golden State-style philosophy. Even his 2008-09 Elite 8 team that finished 30-4 had only five players with double-figure threes: Joe Lindsey (62), George Johnson (40), Tyler Stoczynski (30), Cory Knight (30), and Pierre Howard (17). But if the Knights can add some perimeter punch and maintain their Reilly-esque defensive and rebounding attributes, the program could take a step forward next year.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

It's a Miracle: March Sadness Cured!

For five hours on Sunday, I knew how a campaign staffer for a losing candidate feels on election night. By 7:30 PM, as East Stroudsburg was cruising past our Knights to the 2018 PSAC championship, 89-67, I knew this wasn't going to be Gannon's night. From the outset, the Golden Knights looked discombobulated, committing a flurry of unforced turnovers in their half court offense and missing layups when they did get the ball inside. Even Zay Jackson, Gannon's emotional leader and best player, looked tentative on offense. Meanwhile, Stroud was in rhythm for nearly the entire game, scoring on transition layups and drilling open threes when they worked the ball around. The Warriors rode the emotion of the near-sellout home crowd, making a very good Gannon team look ordinary. It was hard to watch, and it felt crummy to think the end of the road was so disappointing.

I was still sulking when I logged onto the incredibly-not-intuitive NCAA website to watch the men's Division II selection show. It was 10:35 by the time I found the right video link which started at the top of the selection show, so I tried to fast forward a couple minutes to catch up. When I clicked five minutes ahead, I immediately saw a highlight featuring Shippensburg, and my heart sank. I figured Gannon's best chance of making the NCAAs was if the Knights leapfrogged Ship because of their convincing PSAC semifinal win Saturday, 81-70. The show then went to the bottom of the Atlantic Region bracket where the next pairing was revealed. Were my eyes playing tricks on me? Seeing 7 GANNON (22-9) suddenly cured my postseason depression (and likely began psychotic episodes for several fans in Indiana, Pa., who missed out on making the field).

I'm writing this post about 12 hours after the selection show, and I'm still in shock. On paper the Knights were deserving, but Sunday they failed the eyeball test and my emotions sank to season-over mode after such a beatdown. Now we have a chance to turn those frowns upside down with a rematch against Stroud. The Knights will certainly be underdogs, but I wouldn't count them out for a few reasons. First, it's a neutral-site game at Virginia State, so Stroud's home court advantage is gone. Second, the Warriors are going to have to regroup after being on an emotional high all weekend. Remember what happened after Gannon won the 2015 PSAC title in a thriller over IUP? Less than two weeks after hammering Slippery Rock in the PSAC quarters, the seventh-seeded Rock blitzed the nervous second-seeded Knights on a neutral floor in West Virginia, 65-57. Not having a roaring crowd at this rematch is important because ESU is an emotional club. Watching them twice this weekend, they certainly spent a good chunk of their time complaining to the officials and playing to the crowd. Finally, Gannon looked unprepared against Stroud in part because they had less than 24 hours to prepare for the Warriors. For the NCAAs, the Knights will have days to game plan against ESU's up-tempo tactics.

I've seen plenty of basketball turnarounds in my life, but what I experienced Sunday was one of the best. Let's see how long this great feeling can continue.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Battle-Ready Knights March On

My biggest fear heading into Wednesday's PSAC Quarterfinal was that Slippery Rock -- the #1 rebounding team in Division II -- would push Gannon around, pound the boards, and strut out of the Hammermill with a season-snuffing victory. Instead, that's what the Knights did to The Rock, dominating the glass, the paint, and the scoreboard, 77-70, to advance to this weekend's PSAC Final Four. It's like Floyd Mayweather challenging you to a bar fight and you knock him out. It's like Conor McGregor calls you out from across the room and he's wheeled to the ambulance on a stretcher. It's like sitting across from Devon Laratt (the #1 ranked lefthanded armwrestler in the world, don't you know) and he stumbles away from the table in tears.

I've gushed all season about Gannon's extreme intensity and will, but tonight showed I've actually been underestimating them all year. Damon Miraud gave up 60 pounds to all-PSAC forward Micah Till and five inches to SRU's Brandon Simmons, but he outhustled them in a 10-point, 15-rebound performance over a gritty 39 minutes. Gannon made a concerted effort to run its offense through big man Evan Phoenix and he responded with 17 points and 7 boards in just 25 minutes. The Gannon guards each eclipsed their rebounding averages with Zay Jackson, Jair Green, and Frank Webb skying for five each. The Rock was outrebounded 42-34 (13 below their NCAA-leading average), including Gannon's 16-9 advantage on offensive rebounds (8 below The Rock's top-ranked average).

You might be thinking, "Enough with the rebounding already," but that's where tonight's game was going to be won or lost. Were I back in my role as Gannon's radio color man, my three keys prior to the game would have been rebounding, rebounding, and rebounding. The Knights could have crumbled in this daunting, pressure-filled moment just five days after wrestling The Rock (and dodging a last-second bullet) in a rugged regular season finale. But instead Gannon relished the opportunity to get back in the ring, and they performed like champions.

PSAC Quarterfinal Knight Knotes:
  • Gannon pulled away when its first half-defense limited SRU to just 10 points over the period's final 15 minutes. Here are Gannon's five-minute defensive splits: 1st half -- 11, 2, 2, 6; 2nd half -- 12, 4, 8, 25. That right -- Slippery Rock scored more points in the game's final five minutes than they did the entire first half. SRU drilled seven threes over the game's final 2:17, six in a 91-second span. 
  • To expand that last point, here's when Slippery Rock hit three-pointers during that stretch: 2:17, 1:26, 1:10, 0:51, 0:43, 0:29, and 0:05. Thank goodness the Knights were 15-for-16 from the foul line during that time period, including 8 straight from Frank Webb who entered the game shooting just 50% from the line on the season. I checked the webcast replay, and the game's final five minutes took 24 minutes and 44 seconds to play. It seemed like forever because it was.
  • Reserves Webb (14 points) and Gerrell Williams (8 in just 13 minutes) provided the Knights with a much-needed jolt. Their aggressiveness led to a 26-4 Gannon bench advantage. Sometimes they play too quick for their own good, but Wednesday they were too quick for The Rock to guard.
  • Slippery Rock coach Kevin Reynolds put on another virtuoso sideline performance, harping on the officials for all 40 ear-splitting minutes. After Gannon's Jackson was fouled on a first-half three-pointer, Reynolds barked at the officials and swung his right leg at least a dozen times. For about 90 seconds it appeared the basketball game was interrupted by the Slippery Rock Rockettes.
  • Reynolds rarely gets technicals because instead of exploding he stays just below the boiling point the entire game. The guys who get Ts are sticks of dynamite; Reynolds is a burning flame on a candle that scalds your palm for 40 minutes. 
  • #2W Gannon will play #3E Shippensburg Saturday at 1:00 PM in the PSAC Final Four at host #1E East Stroudsburg (who faces red-hot #4W Edinboro who won at depleted IUP Wednesday). The Knights are seeking revenge after the Raiders drubbed them 65-48 back on Dec. 2 in Shippensburg. Jackson was held to just two points on 1-for-7 shooting that game.
  • March Madness is here! Because the Knights are on the NCAA bubble, we need to keep an eye on the Atlantic Region results going forward. Below are the final rankings of the regular season. Teams are listed with their overall D2 record followed by their in-region record (as of Feb. 28). I'll keep these results (but not the records) updated as games are played:
1. Virginia State (22-3, 21-3): 2/28 W vs. St. Augustine; 3/2 L CIAA semis vs. Virginia Union
2. West Liberty (25-2, 25-2): 3/2 W vs. West Va. State; 3/3 MEC semifinals
3. West Chester (20-5, 20-5): 2/28 L vs. #7 Ship
4. East Stroudsburg (21-5, 21-5): 2/28 W vs. #8 Kutztown; 3/3 vs. Edinboro
5. Wheeling Jesuit (22-5 22-5): 3/2 W vs. UVa-Wise; 3/3 MEC semis vs. Concord
6. Indiana Pa. (22-7, 22-6): 2/28 L vs. Edinboro
7. Shippensburg (20-6, 20-6): 2/28 W at #3 West Chester; 3/3 vs. #10 Gannon
8. Kutztown (19-6, 19-6): 2/28 L at #4 Stroud
9. Fairmont State (21-7, 20-7): 3/2 L vs. Concord 
10. Gannon (20-8, 19-8): 2/28 W vs. Slippery Rock; 3/3 vs. #7 Ship

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Jackson's Flurry And Finish Position Knights For Postseason Run

I listen to a political podcast that frequently begins with the exclamation "What a week!" before detailing the boneheaded, sophomoric, unpresidential, unethical, undemocratic things Donald Trump did, said, or Tweeted the prior seven days. (It's a long podcast.) If anybody deserves to say "What a week!" with a positive spin for Feb. 18-24, it's Gannon's Zay Jackson who led the Knights to home victories over Clarion Wednesday (84-68) and Slippery Rock Saturday (72-68).

Against Clarion, the soon-to-be first-team all-PSAC guard turned a game to forget into an unforgettable one with a scoring burst for the ages. Jackson racked up 22 points in a stretch of 5:06 -- including 15 in the first three minutes of that flurry -- to put the Golden Eagles away. Against The Rock, Jackson hit one of the most clutch shots in recent Gannon history, burying a 19-foot straightaway jumper to give the Knights a one-point lead with 11 seconds to play. Jackson's shot was pressure-filled from a variety of angles:
  • The winner of Saturday's contest earned second place in the PSAC West and a first-round bye in the conference tournament. 
  • The winner earned the right to host a PSAC Quarterfinal game, likely a rematch of these two teams (unless my main man Gary can work some Manchel Magic Monday night when SRU hosts Mercyhurst).
  • The winner keeps alive their hopes for an at-large NCAA bid.
  • Jackson had scored 23 points prior to that possession, so he knew The Rock would be keying on him.
  • Jackson was playing his first game in at least two years, maybe longer, in front of his family on Senior Day. 
With all that on the line, the kid steps up and drains the shot without hesitation. I don't know what the next seven days of basketball will bring for Gannon -- Season ends in the quarterfinals? A run to the championship? An NCAA bid? -- but Jackson put the Knights on his back and in position to achieve something special.

More Knight Knotes from this past week:

  • Click here to watch Jackson's game-winner vs. The Rock. The shot is great, but the behind-the-back dribble to free him up is super sweet as well. The video has over 450 views as of this writing. I think half are from me and the other half are from Jackson's enthusiastic family. They sat on the edge of their plush seats all Saturday afternoon -- except when they stood to applaud a standout Zay play.
  • Speaking of Jackson's family, I see he has a younger brother named Jameer. Can we offer that kid a scholarship right now? Zay has impressed me with his shooting ability and defensive prowess, but the kid's heart is something to behold. You can see when he gets banged up or tired, he chooses to grimace and dig deeper instead of asking to rest. I'll take as many people from that family on my team as I can.
  • I'm already nervous for Wednesday's quarterfinal no matter who the Knights play (The Rock and the 'Hurst both scare me), but IUP fans have to be sick to their stomachs. According to this article from the Indiana (Pa.) Gazette, starting guards Dante Lombardi and Anthony Glover will miss their quarterfinal Wednesday against the winner of UPJ at Edinboro. Glover, the Crimson Hawks leading scorer, will be suspended after being ejected from IUP's season finale vs. Seton Hill, while Lombardi broke his wrist in that game. 
  • As always, let's look at Gannon's five-minute defensive splits from the week. The game against Clarion was well below John Reilly's standard: 1st half -- 8, 12, 2, 13; 2nd half -- 6, 5, 10, 12. The difference was Jackson's second half points pileup which is noted in Gannon's offensive splits over the final 20 minutes: 10, 12, 21, 9. The first half of the Slippery Rock game was slow-going for both teams, but then nobody could get stops consistently in the second half: 1st half -- 6, 6, 9, 8; 2nd half -- 6, 11, 11, 11. 
  • When The Rock beat Gannon earlier this season, I was critical of GU big man Evan Phoenix allowing an offensive rebound on the game's first possession because I thought it set the wrong tone. I'd rather have my guy pick up a foul for being too aggressive than letting the opponent feel they can push you around. Phoenix started the first possession of Saturday's game grabbing an offensive rebound which led to a Gannon basket. I'm not saying that's the only reason Gannon held the #1 rebounding team in Division II six offensive boards under their average of 17.4 per game, but it helped. If the Knights want to play beyond Wednesday, Phoenix will need to keep that "every rebound is mine" mindset.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Relishing Relevance

When the first Atlantic Region rankings were announced on Wednesday, I was neither surprised nor disappointed that Gannon wasn't listed in the top 10. Eight losses -- two of them vs. also-rans Seton Hill (9-17) and Bowie State (12-13) -- in a highly competitive region will do that to you. I was actually excited that it's mid-February and the Knights, who started the season 4-5 and 1-3 in the PSAC, are still relevant to the playoff picture.

After Gannon's two games this week -- Monday's 75-66 handling of Atlantic Region #5 Indiana (Pa.) and Saturday's 58-50 stomach-churner at Mercyhurst -- I drove home in freezing weather without ever having to turn on my truck's heater. Close games that determine a first-round PSAC bye and possible NCAA berth have a way of raising your body temperature far beyond normal. Even when the Knights took a 20-point lead against the first-place Crimson Hawks, my heart was still racing. You can imagine my stress level when IUP cut that lead to three with 44 seconds left.

So now Gannon (18-8/14-6 PSAC) heads into the final week of the regular season two home wins away from earning a bye, and they're riding an 11-game win streak in the Hammermill Center. On paper, Wednesday against 3-23/0-20 PSAC West cellar dweller Clarion should be a walkover and Saturday vs. Atlantic Region #10 Slippery Rock (20-7/14-7) should be a war. If the Knights lose that one, they'll slip to third place for a first-round slog vs. sixth-place Mercyhurst, which would be both disappointing and and dangerous. But if Gannon pulls off another perfect week, it's back to scoreboard watching for all of us.

Other Knight Knotes from this week:
  • We've been tracking Gannon's defense in five-minute increments all season long, so why stop now? Here are the numbers against IUP: 1st half -- 6, 8, 6, 6; 2nd half -- 6, 16, 8, 10. Except for the obvious blemish that allowed the Hawks to cut Gannon's second half lead from 49-32 to 54-48, that's insanely consistent defensive production. The splits from Saturday were the typical Mercyhurst/Gannon run through the mud, except for the frenetic final five minutes: 1st half -- 2, 9, 4, 11; 2nd half -- 7, 2, 0, 15. 
  • While Monday's contest against IUP had playoff intensity from the opening possession, Saturday's game at the Mercyhurst Athletic Center was oddly subdued. When Zay Jackson stepped to the foul line for two crucial shots in the final minute of play, the building was completely silent. I've heard louder pre-game moments of silence. 
  • Evan Phoenix brought his A-game out against Indiana, finishing with 17 points and 7 rebounds on 6-of-7 shooting from the field and a 5-of-6 chart at the line. He's usually not the most aggressive player, but several times he got into physical tangles with Indiana players after the whistle blew. In short, he played like someone out there was talking junk about his mother.
  • John Reilly's defense isn't a surprise -- he might actually have a tattoo saying "Half Court Man or Bust" -- but he did make a key adjustment against IUP. Instead of hedging on all ball screens like normal, the Knights often switched on screens which seemed to frustrate their opponents. The Knights went back to their normal game plan vs. Mercyhurst and held the Lakers without a field goal for a 14:43 stretch in the second half.
  • The Lakers led Gannon 26-22 at the half despite shooting just 30% from the field and being outrebounded 25-10. Gannon committed 12 turnovers to the Lakers' 2. I asked about a refund at halftime, but the administrator I talked with called security instead.
  • Two things you can count on every year at the MAC: a two-way defensive struggle and malfunctioning light bulbs in the scoreboard. Ironically, one of the few corporate sponsors with signage in the gymnasium is an electrician ... with a banner hanging next to one of the scoreboards. If I hired them to work on my house, I'd have to assume the bathroom lights working would be a 50/50 proposition. Isn't there some rich Mercyhurst benefactor who could introduce the campus to the world of LED?
  • It seemed like the Mercyhurst public address announcer was caught off guard when Gannon freshman Cyril Ogbuagu checked into the game. The announcer said (and what I think was going through his mind is noted in italics) something like: "Cyril O my gosh I've never seen a name like this before gobu rob you."
  • Gannon SSID (Super Sports Information Director) Dan Teliski did confirm with me that Ogbuagu is the first player in GU program history to have his name end in "gu." Teliski added that only one player in school history had his name begin with "gu," Brian Guest in 1960 when GU was GC.
  • Kofi Mills has been snakebitten this season coming off the bench. Oftentimes he quickly commits a foul or makes a miscue before he breaks a sweat. Against the Lakers he immediately grabbed a rebound and then took a charge ... and then a teammate's airball hit him square on the top of his head. Mills struggled from the line all game (0-for-6) but his defense both on the block and on the perimeter against the Laker bigs keyed Gannon's second half stinginess.
  • I hope Zay Jackson will be okay for Clarion after turning an ankle late against the Lakers. If he doesn't play, it won't be for lack of guts. Jackson got hurt colliding with the Hurst's Derrick Ellis (seconds before the Lakers missed a wide-open dunk that would have cut the deficit to one) and limped noticeably the remainder of the contest. Despite the obvious pain, Jackson defended on the final possessions and swished four straight free throws.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Gannon's Perfect Week E-Zay As 1-2-3

When I coached in the Parochial League and AAU basketball, I'd frequently tell my players after games that "winning doesn't mean you did everything right, and losing doesn't mean you did everything wrong." Gannon was far from flawless between the lines this week, but they amassed a perfect-on-paper 2-0 mark with sorely needed victories Wednesday against California (Pa.), 74-63, and Saturday at Edinboro, 72-71. After the win at the Boro, Gannon fans were as giddy as I've seen them since Girbran Smith broke IUP's heart in the 2015 PSAC Championship.

But if the official doesn't blow the whistle on Gannon's final shot attempt or if Zay Jackson doesn't make all three clutch free throws with 0.4 on the clock, right now we'd be talking about fourth place in the West after blowing a 15-point lead with 15 minutes to play and losing four of the last six games. The Knights raced out to an 11-0 lead and held the Scots to just 27 points in the first half, but then allowed 44 over the final 20 minutes. It was imperfect performance that produced dream results.

This week was so entertaining, it deserves two headlines.

Second Team + Second Option = Second Wind?

Gannon's reserves don't exactly strike fear in the hearts of opponents -- the first five off the bench average a combined 17 ppg -- but they were key this week on both ends. After a nothingburger at IUP, Frank Webb hit for 14 points on 7-for-7 shooting Wednesday vs. Cal. Saturday was Gerrell Williams' turn as he scored 14 including two threes in the first half (he entered the game 2-for-17 behind the arc) and consecutive game-tying buckets late to keep Gannon in the game. Bigs Cyril Ogbuagu (6 points, 7 rebounds in 14 minutes) and Kofi Mills (4 points, 3 rebounds in 10 minutes) were active against the Scots, the former replacing Damon Miraud in the game's final minutes after he fouled out.

I thought all the Knights -- and the coaching staff -- did a good job this week forcing both Cal and Edinboro away from their primary game plans at times. One of the lessons I learned my freshman year at Gannon playing for Tom Chapman is that late in the season teams will stymie your first option and force you into your secondary game plan. In the first GU/EU matchup, Scot Anthony Coleman exploded for 32 points on 7-of-12 three-point shooting. Saturday, Coleman scored only 10 and attempted just 7 total field goals. Gannon guarded him tight with a hand up whenever he was within 35 feet of the basket. And the Knights harassed Jaymon Mason into a 6-of-16 shooting chart, making him just 10-for-29 from the field against Gannon this year.

My basketball week started with a Gannon fan still rueing the Knights' losses at Slippery Rock and IUP, expressing his disappointment an NCAA bid was out of reach. My week ended with Jackson shushing the Edinboro fans and making the Golden Knight faithful hopeful for a PSAC postseason bye and maybe March Madness after that.

Knight Knotes:
  • Gannon's first possession of the Cal game set the tone for that one. GU grabbed three offensive rebounds which was an immediate body blow to what appeared to be in pregame a very loose Vulcan team.
  • Just when I think I've seen it all at the Hammermill Center I see Cal coach Kent McBride stop focusing on his game to look at Sean Amicucci's iPad for the score of the Slippery Rock/Mercyhurst game. And then he did it again in the game's final minute. 
  • The five-minute defensive points-allowed splits we've been tracking for Gannon all season were interesting again this week. Cal averages 81 ppg which means they average 10 points every five minutes. Against Gannon their splits were -- 1st half: 7, 5, 8, 13; 2nd half: 5, 6, 8, 11. Getting held to single digits in six of the first seven segments is super frustrating to a high-scoring, fast-paced team. The Edinboro splits were wild -- 1st half: 0, 8, 17, 2; 2nd half: 9, 17, 8, 10. If you needed evidence the Scots are streaky, there you go.
  • Even though I'm a diehard Gannon fan, part of me was wishing during Jackson's game-winning free throws that he'd have only made 2-of-3. Michael Sims Jr. was the Scot who fouled Jackson, and I'm sure he feels sick to his stomach for doing that. Prior to that moment, Sims keyed Edinboro's comeback, running the point for the final 15 minutes and setting up Keshawn Liggins (29 points) and other Edinboro shooters with his dribble penetration. Entering the game Sims had played just 44 minutes over 8 games and scored just 2 points this season. A win against Gannon would have been sweet since his season ended last year with a knee injury vs. the Knights. 
  • It's always unsettling for me to watch Gannon play at Edinboro, but that's only partly because the Scots seem to have a high-octane team every year. The real reason is that I worry from start to finish that I'm going to drop something -- my phone, my wallet, my jacket, my gloves, my pom-poms -- through the McComb Fieldhouse bleachers. But I had to laugh during an early timeout when the Edinboro mascot used a T-shirt gun to fire merchandise into the crowd. The first shirt went through a female fan's arms and then disappeared underneath the seats. The mascot's second attempt met the same fate when he fired a shirt that ricocheted off the ceiling before falling through the seats. I think EUP sells those giant M&M cookies every game to fatten fans up so they don't fall through.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

We're Uncomfortable. They're Not.

After losses this week at Seton Hill (74-70) on Wednesday and at Indiana Pa. (74-66) Saturday night, Gannon fans are in a real funk. Two weeks ago we were riding the Knights' 9-game win streak and hoping to win the PSAC West. Now we're just hoping to stay a step ahead of inconsistent Edinboro in the league standings.

Many college basketball teams hit February swoons -- top-10 Kansas fell at home today to unranked Oklahoma State while "disgusting" Duke was shocked at sub-.500 St. John's -- but it's how Gannon's losing that's bothering me. In the past, we've seen the Golden Ones fail to execute on offense, but the defense was always there. That wasn't the case this past week. During Gannon's first matchup with Seton Hill, a 75-60 Gannon runaway, the Knights held Griffin leading scorer Trevor Blondin to a frustrating 12 points on just 9 field goal attempts in 31 minutes. On Wednesday, Blondin looked comfortable, pouring in a team-high 23 points on 7-for-13 shooting, including a 4-for-7 three-point chart.

At IUP, Gannon allowed 39 first half points on 16-for-28 shooting (57%) including 6-of-12 on threes (if I have to convert 6-for-12 into a percentage for you, feel free to sue wherever you went to high school). Things didn't get much better in the second half as the Crimson Hawks finished the game shooting 54% from the field and 12-for-25 on treys (48%). I missed the start of the second half, but when I walked into the room and turned the game on PCN, I saw IUP drain three consecutive wide open three-pointers. My brother even texted me this message: "If this were NBA Jam, the announcer would say WIDE OPEN before all of IUPs threes."

Frequent readers of this blog know that I'm a fan of John Reilly's defense-first approach to building his program. Just look what the University of Virginia and their similar pack-line defense is doing this season. They're #2 in the country and on Saturday afternoon suffocated Syracuse in the Carrier Dome, 57-44. Defense travels well; clogging the lanes and contesting jumpers works no matter what the gymnasium or arena. But what happens when a defensive-minded team can't get stops consistently and then misses open opportunities (I counted at least seven missed layups at Seton Hill) in the dog days of February? You slide down the standings and make your fan base very uncomfortable.