Thursday, January 17, 2013

How Much More Do You WANT?

Calvin 75, Hope 49 (box score)

The thing about “The Rivalry” is that games don’t go like this. Calvin and Hope are – with a few exceptions – both very good teams every single year. They know each other; they see each other in the GRSHOF Classic and MIAA-CCIW Classic; they rarely surprise each other.

But then this game happened and the Calvin Knights surprised the pants off the Flying Dutchmen who were apparently not prepared to play a basketball game. Calvin was a heavyweight boxer who nearly knocked out the opponent in the first round, sending them to the corner on wobbly legs. When the second round began, they (the metaphorical Calvin boxer) stood in the middle of the ring with gloves at the side, accepted a small flurry of uncontested body blows, laughed, and then delivered the right-hook that would end the fight.

Fun Fact: Hope finally tied Calvin’s halftime score with 1:43 left to play in the game.

And I guess that’s where the ill-conceived boxing metaphor fails. Calvin didn’t win this game so much with an offensive barrage – though they put up a quite good 113.0 offensive efficiency rating – it was more the fact that their defense suffocated the Dutchmen from the get-go. From a raw defensive efficiency standpoint, it was their third best game of the season:

Grace Bible
at Kalamazoo
North Park
at Albion

Note the surrounding teams being Grace, Anderson, Kalamazoo, and North Park. This was easily the best defensive game if we account for the relative quality of Hope’s offense. It didn’t look like it last night, but Hope’s one of the best offensive teams in Division III. According to the Massey Ratings’ breakdown, they’ve performed as the 29th best offense in the country. Calvin did that – 49 points in a game played at a reasonable pace – against what is possibly one of the Top-30 offenses in the entirety of NCAA Division III. I also want to note that Massey’s data set – the data set that rates Hope’s offense at #29 – already includes last night’s futility.

I don’t think Calvin’s defense can get enough credit for what they’ve done as a team this season. Massey rates them as the 15th best defense in the country and according to my raw efficiency numbers (raw meaning not adjusted for strength of opponent), Calvin rates as the MIAA’s best defense since at least 2002 (as far back as I can easily get league data).

There’s still a lot of basketball to be played – including a tough one at Trine this Saturday – and I don’t want to make any claims that I’ll later regret, but this Calvin team has the makings of a very special team. Their scoring efficiency margin of roughly 25 points per 100 possessions (110 on offense, 85 on defense) is the best the league has seen since 2002. Here are some teams of note that are included in that list of teams since 2002:

2005 Calvin – they made it to the Final Four
2008 Hope – they made it to the Final Four
2005 Albion – they made it to the Elite Eight
2007 Hope – they made it to the Elite Eight
2006 Hope – they made it to the Sweet Sixteen

Again, a lot of basketball left including three very losable road games (at Trine, at Adrian, and at Hope) – so there’s room for the numbers to get worse – but Calvin has thus far shown the ability to be as good as they want to be.

I would never say that Calvin is as good as any of the above teams, but I’m not going to say they’re not as good as any of those teams.

What happened in Wheaton against the Thunder and Red Men is still frightening, that’s all too true, but that’s now eight games in the past. Calvin still is going to have to prove that they can win on the road in a hostile environment, but I they’ve solidified themselves as the best team in the league.

It’s about #WANT now. I’m typically too much into the numbers to talk about hunger, or hustle, or desire, but that’s exactly where the Knights are right currently. Does every member of this team have enough WANT to not allow a wasted possession or missed assignment?

There are good days and bad days. There are games where shots don’t fall. There are games where the ball seems to take weird bounces. This happens – and will happen again at some point down the stretch – but this isn’t what WANT is about. It’s a decision – a repeated decision that’s made every moment – to stay calm, stay focused, stay controlled, stay team-oriented, and stay dominant.

We don’t want to make too much of one game because that’s all this was: one win. You’re always concerned about the very next game after an emotional high such as this one. Calvin now hits the road for three very losable games: they’re at Trine, at Olivet, then at Adrian. These three games will potentially tell us an awful lot about how the rest of the season goes and how much WANT this team truly has.

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