Games against Mark White's Adrian squads are never fun or pretty. They're going to play physical in-your-grill defense, and the only thing you can do is weather the storm.
Adrian's an interesting team because they're probably not as bad as their (now) 4-10 record looks. I Tweeted as much before the game. They're not a great team like maybe the Adrian teams from four years ago were, but they've played a difficult schedule making the record deceptive. Their defense rates, according to my efficiency rankings, as a little bit better than average, and they play at a pace that's a little bit slower than average. Combine those two factors and you get games that are going to end up with tighter scoring margins than you might expect.
Still, it's a game Calvin should win, and they ended up taking care of business last night.
It was clear from the get-go that Adrian's entire game plan revolved around denying Jordan Brink open looks. Or even any open space to speak of. They hedged hard on the high ball screens and were quick to double when Brink tried to dribble around the perimeter. This isn't the first -- nor, I'd venture, the last -- time we've seen this strategy this year. Wheaton employed a similar strategy to some effect, but I don't think any opponent has been as committed as Adrian was last night.
With as much doubling as Adrian did last night you'd think Calvin would have been able to find an open man either rolling in the paint or on a wing. That did happen on several occasions -- Daley, Denney, Parks and Dykstra all knocked down threes without defenders in their face -- but it felt like there should have been more opportunities to take advantage of. Part of the explanation is that Adrian's simply good at cutting off passing lanes, but too often the Calvin guards tried to dribble around or through pressure instead of anticipating it and looking to dish the ball.
I think you can see that in the turnover numbers for the guard and wing players: 10 combined between Parks, Daley, Brink, and Canonie.
Still, Calvin ended the day right about where they wanted to be because the offense ended up doing enough, and the defense took care of business against a weaker offense. Something that hasn't really been done this year.
Adrian kept it close early by hitting some threes -- they were 5-9 at the half -- but they weren't getting anything else going. The Knights held the Bulldogs to just 40% shooting on their two-point attempts for the game and grabbed 88% of the available rebounds on defense. The lack of second-chance opportunities and a cold second-half from the arc (1-8) made it impossible for the Bulldogs to get a bucket when they needed it down the stretch.
A layup by Hope transfer Jordan Denham tied the game at 45-45 with 7:30 to play in the game, but Adrian would collect just two more field goals (four points total) the rest of the way. Calvin, on the other hand, went 4-6 from the field and 7-9 from the line to finish the game with a tidy 16-4 run.
Calvin ended the game with a raw defensive efficiency rating of 82. That makes only three above-average defensive performances on the season for the Knights (vs. Manchester, at Hope, at Adrian). The good news is that makes two in-a-row.
I have the Calvin offense rated #16 in all of Division III, but the below average defense has turned what could be a sure-fire Top 25 team into a fringe tournament team. But the NCAA Tournament can't be on the mind right now. Non-conference losses makes a Pool C bid look like a reach, so the Knights have to take things one game at a time in MIAA play. Winning the league is a must, and there are plenty of trap games left.
Next up: Kalamazoo