An 8-1 start with good wins away from home against North Dakota State and UMass sparked optimism across Southwest Florida, but after a 1-4 stretch the past three weeks, the Eagles are now looking to regroup against local foe Ave Maria on Friday night.
The second suspension of the season for redshirt senior Jamail Jones before the contest against Furman on December 19th will last six games. Without question, this has altered the offensive game plan during this stretch. Jones’ versatility and energy have been sorely missed against higher level of competition, forcing Joe Dooley to alter his rotation game after game. The mix of players getting minutes has fluctuated with opposing matchup dictating who sees the court. The starting five of Brett Comer, Bernard Thompson, Julian DeBose, Demetrius Morant and Nate Hicks hasn’t changed since the Jones suspension. Meanwhile, Marc-Eddy Noreila, Brian Greene, and Eric Moeller have been getting the bulk of the bench minutes.
The past three games have seen a startling statistic emerge that is a major concern going forward. Forty-two turnovers have limited the ability for the offense to flow and maintain efficiency. Against Xavier and Pittsburgh, FGCU cut into leads at manageable situations in the second half but could not get out of their own way to try to further cut into the deficits. The concern with road games has been a bugaboo for the program the past five years. With the most talented roster the school has ever had, failing to capitalize on big opportunities has been disappointing - albeit being shorthanded with Jones’ suspension.
The road trip did see signs of progression from two notable players. Julian DeBose is becoming the team’s best scorer and can consistently get his own shot at any given time. Averaging over 12 points a game on 44% shooting, DeBose seems to be gaining a comfort level within the offense that can take pressure off Comer and Thompson as conference play looms. The performance of Eric Moeller against Pittsburgh showed flashes of promise in the 6’11 redshirt sophomore from St. Louis. Scoring nine points and pulling down four rebounds in 22 minutes, Moeller also seems to be gaining confidence as the season has progressed. More minutes should come his way with his ability to stretch defenses with his outside shooting.
One more road contest out of conference awaits the Eagles after Ave Maria. January 5th will be a unique opportunity to make adjustments playing a team for a second time this season. UC Santa Barbara came to Alico Arena on November 17th, and the two teams played a highly entertaining game resulting in a FGCU 81-75 overtime win. Since that result, UCSB has struggled to a 5-7 record, but the force that is Alan Williams is still one of the toughest big men to cover in all of college basketball. Averaging 18.2 points and 11.8 rebounds, Williams will be the focus of the Eagles's defense. Game adjustments will be interesting to watch for, giving the coaching staff a chance to try different things that will be necessary in conference play in a few weeks’ time.
I attended the matchup against Xavier in Cincinnati to get my first in-person look at the team this season, with mixed reviews of what I saw. Much of the offense was predicated by Comer making things happen, freewheeling and doing what he does best. This is a great luxury to have, however I would prefer to see more structured sets that I have yet to see established. The limited offensive sets can be attributed to Jamail Jones’ absence and forcing others into different roles in those sets.
The best ball movement was quick passing inside-out which led to the best looks from the outside that FGCU hit, and those looks will be out there for our guards. I believe perimeter shooting is going to be needed in conference play, and I am hopeful Christian Terrell will be utilized more in the offense in this role. With Jones’ absence, it would have made sense for Terrell to get more opportunities to play, but it hasn’t happened with a lack of trust in his defense - which isn’t surprising for a true freshman. However, I believe he has the basketball IQ that can help him adjust in-game to the flow of the contest at both ends. I really think he can be a weapon for the Eagles in conference play.