Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Reflecting on Calvin's 108-98 Victory Over Anderson

A few quick reflections on last Saturday's season-opening win over the Anderson Ravens.

Calvin's offense is, and will continue to be, very good.

I don't see any way around this.

And we mostly knew this would be the case going into the season. Jordan Brink is one of the best scorers we've seen in Maroon and Gold in (at least) the last dozen years or so. Tyler Dykstra and Jordan Daley have proven to be efficient scorers. And we saw Austin Parks shoot the three-ball with effectiveness last season.

What we didn't know is how Calvin would replace Tyler Kruis at the center position. Dan Stout, while not an offensive force, has been able to take advantage of the opportunities given to him in producing an above-average scoring efficicney for his career. He's also an adept rebounder -- particularly on the offensive end -- and has shown a remarkable ability to draw fouls and get to the line (where he shoots 70%). But depth was going to be a concern, especially with Stout on the shelf to start the year with a knee injury.

But Calvin found a weapon in 6-7 Freshman Connor VanderBrug. While probably more of a forward than a center, VanderBrug instantly showed the ability to score inside and outside, as well as rebound and handle the ball competently. He made some mistakes -- particularly on the defensive end -- and didn't end up as a terribly efficient scorer for the game, but 13 (points) and 13 (rebounds) as a starter in your first game on campus is terrific.

The lineup of Parks-Brink-Daley-Dykstra-VanderBrug is going to give teams fits with it's combination of size, speed, and shooting ability. Every one of those player can step out and drain a three, and every one of those players can get up the court on a fast break. Going 6-3, 6-7, 6-8 in the frontcourt is what we call "going small" at Calvin, but that's not a small lineup when compared to most every Division III team.

We saw a lot of these matchup problems on Saturday. Calvin's offensive efficiency rating (points per 100 possessions) was a robust 126. They found open three-point looks for the right people, they worked the ball up the court to score quickly in transition, they were effective at finding an open man cutting to the basket, and they really didn't have to force a shot all afternoon. Quality of opponent caveat applies: Anderson wasn't very good last year and probably won't be terrific this year, but offensively the Knights did exactly what they had to do.

Calvin's defense wasn't strong.

98 points is a lot to give up to a team like Anderson. Tip your cap because they made 51% of their threes, but very few of them were of the forced type. The Ravens routinely got open looks for their most deadly shooters and Calvin paid for that. Anderson finished the game with a 114 offensive efficiency rating, which isn't anywhere close to what Calvin wanted to allow.

Some of the younger players (in particular) got lost in the defensive scheme and were too slow to recognize when they needed to get back out and close out the shooter. Anderson shot 51% on 35 three-point attempts which is just not good at all. Some of that was luck, but clearly some portion was the inability to get a hand in the face of the shooter. The 51% is less concerning to me than the 35 attempts, because I think there's a lot of luck/noise in that percentage, but if you give up that many looks -- and most of them were quality looks -- you're not going to be successful very often.

The good news is that Calvin remained effective at protecting the basket. The Ravens shot under 38% on their two-point attempts, and many of the defensive mistakes (seemed to me) to stem from players concentrating too much on protecting the paint and not paying enough attention to their assignment on the wing. I think this type of error can be rectified relatively quickly. I think quite often we see the opposite in the early going of the season: players are too quick to abandon the middle and allow easy baskets inside. My eyes didn't catch that happening too often on Saturday.

Get that three point percentage down from 51% to 37%, and we'd have said the defense was just fine. If Calvin can tune-up that defense in the coming weeks (and I didn't see anything that looked like a long-term problem), it could be a very fun year.

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