Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Appalachian State

Offense

Heavily influenced by Wofford and Santa Clara, though not quite at either’s level yet

As remarkable as Dustin Kerns’ twin turnarounds have been at Presbyterian and Appalachian State, perhaps his most pronounced improvement through roughly 3.2 seasons of being a head coach was his Presbyterian offense from Year 1 to Year 2. In his first year, Kerns was learning on the job and overseeing an offense coming off of four straight sub-300 KenPom finishes. Unsurprisingly, a team full of misfit parts finished 303rd offensively. In Year 2, though, two very important improvements happened: Kerns found some very reliable outside shooters and they cut down heavily on turnovers. This took the Blue Hose (!) from 303rd to 78th, one of the largest jumps I’ve ever seen in the KenPom database.

For this to happen at App State, Kerns is probably going to have to wait another year, barring some unforeseen jumps. The Mountaineers’ returning shooters hit threes at about a 31.7% rate for their respective careers, and the two freshmen in Kerns’ rotation are 0-for-9 from three on the season against Division I competition. They’re struggling with turnovers thus far, but I’m willing to give that some slack due to the COVID stops-and-starts. It may be a while before Kerns’ offenses look like those of the two coaches he learned the most under: Mike Young (Virginia Tech, formerly Wofford) and Kerry Keating (formerly Santa Clara).

Both coaches have similarities that Kerns has carried into his own offensive system. Young and Keating both run slower, more half-court-oriented motion offenses; both have teams that take and make a lot of threes; both keep turnovers low; both feature four players unafraid to take threes on the court at all times. Here’s how this looked at Santa Clara in 2013:

Here’s what it looked like in Kerns’ final year at Wofford in 2017:

Kerns has followed this plan step-by-step thus far at both of his stops, though some of the successes are still to come. Notably, he’s done a good job of keeping App State’s shot quality/shot selection pretty high, even if the shots themselves haven’t fallen as much as he’d like.

Three main guys

The Mountaineers’ offense primarily runs through three starters: Kendall Lewis (stretch 4), Adrian Delph (ball-handler-ish guard), and Donovan Bradley (wing). Lewis is the highest-usage player, primarily because he’s the most athletic and he’s happy to take it to the rim whenever possible:

Lewis also is the beneficiary of a few different dribble hand-off sets that App runs. Because the Mountaineers don’t really have a true point guard in their democratic motion system, pretty much everyone but the center gets some time with the ball in their hands outside the perimeter. Lewis is only 3-for-18 from three and 19-for-70 on any shot that isn’t a layup or dunk in his career, so I’m fine with Tennessee leaving these shots open. He’s a lot more effective when he pushes these hand-offs inside.

Delph, as mentioned, is the closest thing App’s starting lineup has to a point guard, but his assist rate is pretty low for a main ball-handler. The Mountaineers haven’t run many traditional ball-screen sets this year, but Delph has been pretty happy to pull up from downtown whenever he does get a screen:

Lastly, Donovan Bradley is pretty good at creating his own stuff inside the paint. Like Lewis, Bradley will drive to the rim frequently if you leave a lane open, and he’s shown particular skill in drawing contact:

Also, while App doesn’t run plays through the post as often as Mike Young did at Wofford, they do still use some of those sets occasionally, and it’s been Bradley who’s gotten some run in these sets as the post man:

May be nothing in this one, given Tennessee’s strength in frontcourt defense, but it’s something to watch for.

So many threes they’re being advised by Skylar McBee

Probably. Maybe.

App is going to take a ton of threes in this game. Tennessee’s shown pretty consistently that they care more about rim defense than anything else, though Barnes obviously wants aggressive, hard closeouts on three-point attempts. The Mountaineers are taking 44.5% of their shots from downtown thus far despite a below-average hit rate:

Some opponents have had better success at slowing them down than others, but it was a 13-for-29 day from the three-point line that got App to overtime against Bowling Green in a fixture where they shot 33.3% from two. If nothing else, this game should serve as good practice for a much more aggressive Tennessee perimeter defense to close out hard and often in preparation for when they play Auburn, LSU, and Alabama.

A quick scout of everyone in the main App State rotation, as promised (need at least 10 minutes per game to qualify):

  • Adrian Delph (PG). Not really a PG, but he starts there. Career 31.4% from three but 9-for-21 this season. App’s primary shot-taker and scoring option on the court right now. Never, ever, ever fouls.
  • Michael Almonacy (SG). 8-for-16 from three this year, 16-for-57 in the two seasons before. Primarily Just a Shooter right now though has flashed some ability inside the perimeter. Lots of turnovers.
  • Donovan Gregory (SF). Draws fouls regularly, generally prefers to get to the rim as opposed to lurking on the perimeter.
  • Kendall Lewis (PF). Primary user of possessions when on the court, though this is due to an absurdly high turnover rate of 31.6%. Drawing 6.1 fouls per 40 minutes. Most athletic player in the main five. Still learning how to shoot threes, it appears.
  • James Lewis (center). The “in” in 4-out, 1-in motion offense, though he’ll come out to set screens sometimes. Leans towards being kind of invisible offensively at times, but knows his role (draw fouls, make layups) and does it fairly well.
  • Justin Forrest. Started at point guard for most of the last three seasons, but suddenly became the sixth man in Sun Belt tournament last year and now has that role locked down. Has taken as many threes (590) as twos (also 590!) in his career. Awful shooting numbers this year, but battling an injury.
  • C.J. Huntley. Primary minutes-getter at center, though he’s yet to start against D-1 competition. He’s been a beast on the boards and is blocking a ton of shots but seems like an offensive liability.
  • R.J. Wilson. Generally gets 10-15 minutes a game. Has scored 4 points on 6 shots against D-1 teams. Primarily leans towards threes, I guess.

NEXT PAGE: Moderately feisty defense!

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