Young Mids Need to Find Their Game

Throw the records out the window when rivals meet? Hardly. Saturday's 75-62 loss to Army confirmed everything we knew about the first part of the 2011-2012 basketball season for the Mids. Hitting perhaps a low point in a ten game skid, Navy's young players would now do well to apply a lesson from their English class and adopt a new mantra for the year; "to thy own self be true."

I can distinctly remember the last Navy basketball game I watched from start to finish before sitting down to watch Saturday's Army-Navy game. It had been December 10th, and the still-infant season saw coach Ed DeChellis' young team taken out of rhythm in a 69-67 loss to a previously unbeaten Monmoth team. After the game, Annapolis Capital beat writer Bill Wagner and I sat listening to a frustrated DeChellis talk about how an inability to rebound and poor shot selection ultimately cost his team. Even then, in December, DeChellis could see that the up-tempo, running pace previously employed by Navy basketball teams wouldn't cut it. For his team to have success, DeChellis' players would need to buckle down and make the most of every possession, not only cutting down on the amount of 3-point attempts, but also contesting the opponent's perimeter shooting. Unfortunately for Navy fans, that script played out like a Shakespearean tragedy exactly one month later.

I guess we should have seen it coming when sophomore forward J.J. Avila christened the Navy scoring attack with a picture-perfect 3-pointer just 40 seconds into the game. To the casual Navy basketball fan, perhaps tuning into a Midshipmen game for the first time all season, it must have been a fun experience to watch. For the first six minutes of the game both Army and Navy engaged in a tactical war of 3-point shooting with military grade precession. Army hit their first six 3s, while Navy started 3-of-5. But for anyone who has followed Navy basketball over the last month, I'm guessing you got the same ominous feeling that I had. Shooting just under 30% on the year from beyond the arc coming into the game, there was no way Avila and the Mids would be able to keep pace with Army should the 3-point bonanza continue.

Case in point, exactly what happened after the emotional boost of the first five minutes of the game started to wear down. While they started 3-for-5 from 3-point land, Navy finished the first half 4-for-16. As if coaxed into trying to keep up with Army's 7-of-10 shooting from downtown, Navy's players were taking just too many shot, in the process only fueling the fast-paced action and playing a style of game that DeChellis has said time and time again is not their own. The reminder of that point was apparent enough, and down 11 at the half, chipping away at the lead via the paint and strong defense was going to script to follow.

To DeChellis' credit, he got his team moving in that direction after the break even in spite of the score. That Navy cut back to seven 3-point attempts says a lot given the rate at which Army was scoring and looking to knock down 3-pointers (pulling up for 13 attempts in the latter 20 minutes) but the damage had still been done. It's hard, then, to identify if Navy's 16 points in the paint during the second half were really part of a concerted effort to slow the game's pace down, or if they own equally to Army allowing a trailing Navy team to take its time in trying to chip away.

In either case, the Mids couldn't find their game when it counted on Saturday, and couldn't weather the emotion swings of trying to chip back at a double-digit lead while watching the opponent continually respond. For that, you have to give Army credit. Third year headman Zach Spiker not only came in Alumni Hall with a resilient and aggressive team on Saturday, but he also came in with a team that knew what it wanted to do from a tempo standpoint, and was not going to let Navy force them out of their game.

And as if reading from a script, the game played out exactly as Army wrote it up.

A Great Broadcast

I can't say enough of the job CBS College Sports did on their broadcast of Saturday's game. For those who didn't see it or attended the game, you missed out on a real treat with having former NBA great Reggie Miller join Bob Socci and Vince Curran. Miller, who provided color commentary, was both insightful and well-spoken, bringing a particularly appropriate perspective on 3-point shooting to a game which saw plenty of beyond-the-arc shots. But what I really liked about having Miller in the booth was getting the chance to listen to him interact with Socci and Curran, both college basketball experts. What transpired was something of a running back-and-forth between the commentators that addressed some of the themes we're seeing in college basketball these days, and how the game has evolved. Both in-depth enough for hardcore hard-court followers and easy to understand for those more used to tuning into football action on Saturday's, it was a broadcast that didn't give away the often one-sided nature of the action. Here's to hoping we see Reggie in Annapolis again real soon.

Speaking of the broadcast, I'll be the first to admit I'm not the world's foremost basketball strategy authority, but one of the interesting points I took away was something Curran and Miller talked about at the end of the first-half. It was a point about how you can look at a college game as having 10 four-minute stretches, and how the most important of these "mini games" are the one right before halftime and the one right after. Usually, they said, these two stretches provide the opportunities to see whether or not one team is going to "run away" with a lead in the second half, or if the trailing team can put itself in position to strike and keep pace. How did Navy do in this regard? Well, Army took a 31-17 into that final four minute stretch of the first half, but Navy cut the lead to 11 points by finishing out the half down 35-24. Good, but considering the score and several missed shots and free throws, it could have been better. The same could be said for the first four minutes of the second half. Despite a 3-pointer by Jordan Brickman to cut the Army lead to 10 with just over 17 minutes to play, the Mids couldn't cut the lead to single digits by the 16 minute mark. What does this tell me? Well, it tells me that in two pivotal stretches in which Navy had the chance to change the direction of the game they couldn't break serve, and couldn't force Army out of a rhythm. If DeChellis and his team are to find any way to get back into the win column anytime soon, they'll need to maximize the most of these crucial eight minutes.

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