Men's Basketball: Army-Navy Preview
OPPOSITE ENDS OF THE FLOOR:
ARMY AND NAVY MEET FROM DIFFERENT SIDES OF THE TRACKS.
As Army and Navy prepare to meet for the first time in the 2014 Patriot League season, the differences between the two teams – at least in the context of conference play – could not be more substantial.
Army has averaged 85 points in its three Patriot League wins. Navy is coming off a humbling 32-point outing against Boston University in which the Midshipmen hit just 21 percent of their field goals, only 15 percent of their threes, and only 46 percent of their foul shots.
Army is unbeaten in the Patriot League, while Navy is 1-2 and sinking toward the Patriot League's ocean floor.
Army improved as December continued, nearly pulling off a road win against Rutgers and – instructively – using that game as a springboard instead of getting depressed by the failure to beat the Scarlet Knights. Navy did not make any such improvements in December, and the suspension of leading scorer and assist man Tilman Dunbar has left the Midshipmen in dire straits.
One team (Army) is ascendant and in possession of a great deal of confidence, due to an ability to execute its intended offensive game plan. The other team (Navy) in the midst of a downward spiral, in large part because it can't execute its offense – the man who made the Midshipmen a reasonably good offensive team is not active.
Yes, as one dives deeper into this game and its tension points, it's impossible to ignore the gaping hole left in Navy's offense by the suspension to Dunbar. The 5-10 sophomore wasn't just the team's leading scorer. He handed out an average of five assists per game. No other player on the roster enters this game with an average of more than 2.1 assists per game (5-10 guard Earl McLaurin). Dunbar was (and is) such a nerve center for this offense; therefore, the meager 32-point performance against Boston on Jan. 7 – aesthetic disaster that it was – should not be viewed as a great surprise. This hamstrung and impotent Navy offense must now contend with "85-points-per-game-in-the-Patriot-League" Army.
This isn't football, folks… or at least, it doesn't figure to be.
There's one real source of hope for the Midshipmen: They're hosting this game, and they're 5-0 in Annapolis this season while being 1-8 on the road. A rivalry game, at home, in an emotionally charged environment, could bring out the best in Navy and lead to one of those "better for 40 minutes, not a season" scenarios that has been known to emerge in college basketball every now and then. It's also worth noting that while Navy's offense has been devastated by the Dunbar suspension, the Midshipmen's defense played pretty well against Boston University, giving up only 55 points on 38.5-percent shooting. The Midshipmen do have a chance to play well on defense here.
Ultimately, this game is a test for Army, a situation in which the Black Knights need to demonstrate the same offensive consistency that has surfaced at the start of the Patriot League season. Can Army do in the context of a rivalry what it has already achieved against other conference foes? Can the Black Knights sustain all the good things they've done in January, or will they lose their nerve on a day when adrenaline is likely to run a little faster?
It's time to tip things off in Annapolis and find out.
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