Program Reviews: Colgate’s journey from Patriot League also-ran to 25 wins

Prior to 2018-19, the impact Colgate basketball had on a national scale was…minimal, at best. If you’re older than me, you may remember the Adonal Foyle teams that made the NCAA Tournament in 1995 and 1996. Even then, those two teams were 15 and 16 seeds, going one-and-done in the NCAA Tournament. It would be like asking someone to remember Lafayette’s back-to-back NCAA Tournament runs in 1999 and 2000. Long story short: this was a program that wasn’t doing too much, nationally or regionally. From 1996-97 to 2013-14, Colgate finished above .500 in Patriot League play just four times.

Then, in 2011, Matt Langel took over the job. Langel had spent his entire career with Fran Dunphy: first as a player at Penn, then as a Penn assistant, then following Dunphy to Temple. (Remember the guy that made this shot? Langel recruited him and developed him.) At the time of his hiring, Langel was just 33, young even for a first-time mid-major coach. At the time, Colgate had gone 27-62 in its last three seasons and hadn’t made an NCAA Tournament since Langel was 18. Developments were slow – 11-21 in Year Two counted as a four-win improvement over his predecessor – but eventually, Colgate slowly climbed up the Patriot League ladder.

Fast forward to 2018-19, and Colgate is playing Tennessee, the team I cover in-season, in the NCAA Tournament. For most of the first half, it looks like most 2 vs. 15 games look: a 15+ point win that excites no one and nobody ends up remembering. Out of nowhere, Jordan Burns begins heating up. He can’t miss, no matter where he shoots from the floor or how many defenders Rick Barnes has piled on him. Suddenly, a game Tennessee led 36-20 in the first half is now a Colgate 52-50 lead with under 12 minutes to go. The Raiders are over two-thirds of the way to their first-ever NCAA Tournament victory and the Patriot League’s first since Lehigh in 2012.

Most mid-major fans know how stories like this one ends: the high-major eventually regains power and, in a struggle, pulls away. Tennessee would win 77-70, but Colgate gained the respect of millions that day, not just those who reside in the Volunteer State. This year’s team was even better, and before an upset loss in the Patriot League conference championship to Boston University, was slated to make their second-straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

Even without an NCAA Tournament run, though, Matt Langel has turned a job no one wanted into a job with serious potential. The Raiders are 49-20 in their last two seasons, a far cry from the 17-42 of the two seasons prior to Langel’s arrival. The last three seasons are the three winningest seasons in Colgate men’s basketball history. Langel, and his staff, have worked something close to a miracle in Hamilton, New York. I wanted to find out how it all went down.

(A fun statistical note I found that no one will care about but I couldn’t fit anywhere else: the 274th and 275th ranked programs by KenPom, Colgate and Radford, both had their best-ever seasons in 2018-19, finishing four spots away from each other.)

The below interview is lightly edited to ensure a more readable experience.

Will Warren: Describe your program philosophy in a few sentences.

Matt Langel: “I think we have a mission statement about our program that has very little to do with X’s and O’s. It’s to try to compete for championships by exceeding our potential in the classroom, on the court, and in the community. As simple as it would be, that’s how we try and go about our big picture evaluation of our program.”

WW: You spent seven seasons as an assistant under Fran Dunphy at both Penn and Temple. How influential has he been on your career?

ML: “Hugely, significantly influential on my life, which in turn impacts my career. I think the best thing about college athletics is that you get to be around young people at a very formative time of their life. That’s what happened for me. In winning games, in championships, in devastating disappointments, both on the court and in the classroom, Coach was always there to support you and help you learn to figure out who you were, who you are, and who you’re going to be. Every step of my life since I was introduced to him in the recruiting process, he’s been a resource for me.”

WW: Prior to your arrival, Colgate had only cracked 15+ wins once since 1995 and had never touched the 20-win barrier as a program. Your last three seasons are the three winningest seasons in Colgate history. What, in your opinion, has changed over the last nine years to make this happen?

ML: “I sometimes wish I had a solution or a recipe because if I did, then I could retire and consult. I think that it’s a lot of things coming together. I was lucky as a young head coach to have the support of an institution. In Years One, Two, and Three, when things weren’t going great, they believed in how we were doing things. That didn’t change drastically over time; they just recognized that it might take some time. The second piece of it is that guys I’ve worked with over those nine years. We haven’t had a lot of turnover on our staff. If you look at staffs on our [mid-major] level, they’re not often able to stay and see things through. In nine years, we’ve only had two changes in assistant coaches – one was after Year One and the other after Year Seven when a coach got a D-3 head coaching job.

The third and most important thing is the student-athletes. Over these last three years, we’ve had a really special group of talented guys that are committed to one another. Everyone talks about the buzzword of “culture.” There’s been a growth of expectations when it comes to accountability and commitment. All of those things coming together have allowed for our program to reach this level.”

WW: Offensively, your teams have consistently been excellent at taking and making a lot of threes. What do you look for in terms of finding guys that fit what you run?

ML: “We try and find players that fit our institution. From there, we try and develop a basketball style that fit our players. With where we’re located and the demographic of those interested in our institution, we haven’t recruited a team that’s best-suited to press for 40 minutes and be aggressive defensively. Offensively, we have found that we’re best-suited to play a style of basketball that values ball movement, body movement, sharing of the basketball, and executing ball screens/dribble handoffs that put pressure on the defense to make decisions. It so happens that the last couple years in particular, we’ve had four and five guys on the court at times who are capable three-point shooters. If you have a lot of guys that can make that shot, it’s hard for the defense to cover them all.”

WW: As a Tennessee fan, the name Jordan Burns will pretty much always bring me nightmares. What sets him apart from other lead guards you’ve had on your previous teams?

ML: “He’s very talented, especially for our level. He’s got great body control. He came to us as a very good two-point jump shooter that could get to the basket. More so than anything else, he’s got a very strong belief in himself and a confidence level. He’s worked really hard and he feels like he’s done all this work and he doesn’t care who he’s playing against. That’s probably the biggest thing that sets him apart.”

WW: Something I’ve noticed throughout your time at Colgate is that your teams hold their own on the defensive boards against just about any opponent they draw. How much of a value do you place on winning the rebounding battle each game?

ML: ““It goes back to personnel. Clearly, to be an effective team in college, the possession battle is one that’s very important. We talk to our guys a lot about different ways to win the possession battle. It’s kinda obvious for basketball fans, but the total rebounding margin doesn’t necessarily matter. If you can get offensive rebounds, that helps you win the possession battle. If you can keep the opposition from getting offensive rebounds, that helps you win it, too. For example, last year’s team that played Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament was as big of a team as we’ve had. We went 6’9”, 6’9”, 6’8” in the frontcourt with a 6’5” guard in the backcourt. That presents at our level a good advantage, when it comes to rebounding.”

WW: I want to ask about a specific game from this past season. You played a Cincinnati team that won its conference on the road, hung around the whole way, and ended up winning on a finish unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Two questions: how big of a win was that for your program, and is that the strangest finish you’ve been involved in?

ML on the win: “It’s a huge win. I think that all young people grow up wanting to play on the biggest of stages against the best of teams. When you do end up getting to a place like Colgate, you end up circling those games. We play Syracuse every year, last year we played at Auburn and Clemson, and then Cincinnati this year. To go in there and hold your own is great, but to get over the hump, that’s something the guys wanted to do. The players wanted to prove that not only can they be in those games, like Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament, but find a way to win.”

ML on the finish: “The older I get, the less I seem to remember about games I’ve been involved in. Up until the last three seconds of that game, I’ve been involved in plenty crazier games. There’s been some KenPom games where we were 99% likely to win the game and didn’t. But the last three seconds, for a guy like Cumberland on Cincinnati to shoot when he did…I don’t know what really happened. It was certainly one of, if not the strangest endings I’ve seen.”

WW: With getting 49 wins in the last two seasons – four more than Colgate had combined in the four seasons before you arrived – you’ve obviously elevated Colgate basketball to a level it hasn’t touched maybe ever. What’s the next big step for the Raiders as a program, if there is one?

ML: “We don’t think of it like that. If we are working towards our values every single day, that’s what we want. We aren’t necessarily thinking ‘we’ve got to win in the NCAA Tournament’ or ‘we’ve got to get 26 wins,’ we’re just working to continue to improve what we do every single day. As cliche as it sounds, I think that’s where we are. We can never get comfortable and feel like we’ve arrived.”

WW: What’s your go-to entertainment during the quarantine?

ML: “I have a sixth-grade daughter, a fourth-grade son, and a kindergarten son. Once we get them to bed at night, I have to spend some time grading my son’s fourth-grade mathematics papers and getting the lesson plan together for the next day. I don’t know if I’d call it entertainment, but it does take a good deal of time. One thing we’ve been able to do is card games and board games as a family. On occasion, we’ve thrown in some family movie nights. My wife is the Netflix guru, so she’s got the run of Ozark. Last night, I watched two finales – Schitt’s Creek and Modern Family. I just follow her lead on the television front. I feel very fortunate that our family gets along as well as we do, because if we didn’t, this time would be disastrous.”

Here’s a basic highlight package of some of the more enjoyable Colgate plays I saw from games I sampled:

Program Reviews: The relentless consistency of Vermont basketball

Welcome to Program Reviews, an earlier-than-expected offseason series where I interview coaches across all levels of college basketball about their program, the 2019-20 season, and what’s still to come. Today, Vermont and John Becker.

If you are under the age of, say, 30, it is just about impossible to remember a time where Vermont wasn’t a yearly 20+ game winner and routine postseason fixture. The Catamounts prominently feature in the greatest Gus Johnson call of all time, they’ve won 20+ games 12 seasons in a row (one of seven schools nationally to do this), they’ve finished .500 or better in conference play in 14 straight seasons, and they’ve won the America East regular season title 10 times in the last 19 seasons. It blew me away a little when I realized Vermont had never made the NCAA Tournament in school history until 2003; it simply feels as if they have always been here.

This is the life, and the consistency, of maybe the most unsung consistent program in college basketball. Everyone knows about Gonzaga by now, but there was a time where they were somewhat similarly overlooked. Same with Belmont, same with St. Mary’s, same with Gregg Marshall-era Winthrop, same with Gregg Marshall-era Wichita State. For that one special day in 2005, Vermont seemed like they could break through the barrier and become a household name.

They haven’t had the same breakthrough since, despite four additional NCAA Tournament appearances, but they’ve come pretty darn close. Vermont played 4-seed Purdue hard for a full 40 minutes in 2017 and did the same to 4-seed Florida State in 2019. Had the NCAA Tournament happened this year, they may have been able to get over the hump in Anthony Lamb’s senior year. It’s a shame we’ll never know, but we have a pretty good idea, because betting on the most consistently good mid-major program on the East Coast is a good idea in itself.

John Becker has been the architect of smooth consistency for nine seasons now. It hasn’t always been easy, even when Becker took the Catamounts to the NCAA Tournament in his first season; an 11-5 America East record feels underwhelming for this program. For a while, though, Becker’s had it rolling: a 59-5 record in America East play since 2016-17, 109 wins in the last four seasons, and four straight Top 80 KenPom finishes.

As Becker himself says, mid-major basketball is a world of ebbs and flows; for every Gonzaga, there is a Loyola Chicago or a George Mason, who pops up once and then largely disappears in terms of national recognition. The number of truly year-in, year-out consistent true mid-major programs, at this point, is maybe five or six teams long. And yet: here is Vermont, always operating at the same pace, doing the same things, and staying at the same level of success. I talked to John Becker about this remarkable consistency, how to take the next step forward, and why Anthony Lamb is a special player.

Will Warren: Describe your program philosophy in a few sentences.

John Becker: “I think we’re a defensive-first program. Defense, rebounding, and toughness are kind of year-to-year things we emphasize. From an offensive standpoint, we want to play a motion, ball-screen offense and tweak how flexible we are on that end in terms of adapting to talent. We don’t want to beat ourselves and really force others to beat us by limiting our mistakes. We also want to be a good free throw shooting team. All of those add up to winning basketball, I believe.”

WW: How did you end up going from coaching basketball and tennis at Gallaudet University to working in information systems and then back into coaching?

JB: “It was a very unconventional, serendipitous type of path to being a Division I head coach. I didn’t play at Catholic University; I was a guy that was on the fringes but was friends with guys on the basketball team who ended up getting into coaching. Jimmy Patsos (Siena, Loyola (MD)) and Mike Lonergan (Vermont, George Washington, Catholic University head coach at the time) were guys I was in with. Lonergan later brought me to Vermont after winning a championship at Catholic. I got out of college and got into the computer business, doing data entry and whatnot. After four or five years, I was feeling unfulfilled and thinking there might be something else for me that was a better fit. I had always loved basketball and was a very good high school player. With the help of Jimmy Patsos, I started working some camps and got on at Gallaudet University with his connections.

I coached basketball and tennis, and it’s a deaf/hard-of-hearing school, so I taught myself sign language. It felt like a better fit, but I was working a full-time job at Georgetown at the same time fixing computers on campus at the computer lab. I’d do that from 7 to 3 and then I’d drive across town to Gallaudet and coach from afternoon to night. I got married halfway through my time at Gallaudet and was never able to be at home or see my family. I had to make a decision, so I gave up basketball and went back into the IT field in earnest, right when the tech bubble was in full bloom. I was making a nice living, but again, after a few years, that feeling of unfulfillment and realizing life was short came back. I went back to work at Catholic University, my alma mater, and was an assistant for a couple of years. After those years, Mike called and asked if I wanted to be the operations guy at Vermont. At that point, I decided I’m not gonna have a back-up plan. I’d saved up some money and moved the family up to Burlington.

I did that for a couple years, was an assistant for three more, and then Mike left for George Washington. I was shocked and surprised and humbled to be elevated to the head coach position at Vermont nine seasons ago. I don’t know that I’d recommend it for anyone, but it was my path and it was how it needed to happen. Having a lot of experience outside of basketball and understanding the frustrations of an unfulfilled career, knowing how much that hurts…I think it’s helped me hopefully be a better mentor and leader. I want it to give people hope that there’s more than one way to accomplish things in life.”

WW: For most of my lifetime, Vermont has been one of the most consistent, reliable mid-major programs in college basketball. You’ve elevated the Catamounts beyond their normal range of outcomes to four straight Top 80 KenPom finishes and a stunning 59-5 run in America East play the last two years. What makes Vermont such a special program and enables it to stay this consistent for this long?

JB: “I think about it a lot. The success and the consistency is kind of unheard of at the mid-major level, as you usually ride the ebbs and flows of getting a transcendent player. I inherited a good situation, so to speak. I think we’ve been able, somehow, to continue to get better players that have bought in to how we do things. We have a community here that is all-in on our program. I think when kids get here, they feel like they’re really part of something that’s bigger than them. It really matters here, and Burlington is a beautiful place with a great school. It’s a college town with a unique, cool mid-major basketball program. We don’t have all the facilities and amenities that schools we’re recruiting against have, but we do win and it does matter here. It’s a little harder to get guys to come here, but the ones that do understand it’s not about the bells and whistles but for winning and for being part of something that matters. . . . We’re starting to see the brand and the name recognition with players throughout the country, which is exciting. We want to keep pushing this thing forward and get better and better.”

WW: For most of your tenure and your predecessor’s tenure, Vermont wasn’t much of a three-point-taking team – your players hit the shots, but they were more selective. In the last two seasons, though, the Catamounts broke the previous KenPom-era records for three-point attempt rate. Was this a conscious shift towards the three, and if so, why’d you make that move?

JB: “Offensively, I really believe in balance and playing inside-out and still playing a bit of back-to-the-basket basketball. I’ve really resisted getting caught up in shooting threes every time down the court or trying to get the quickest, fastest shot. I’m not naive to the analytics, though. It’s just something that’s evolved and guys are just better. We’ve had Anthony Lamb, who’s arguably the best player to play at Vermont. He’s dynamic at all three levels, but he really made his hay playing in the paint. What changed is that teams loaded up to him in the post with double and triple teams. The defense slanted to him before he got the ball. It just was the shot we were given was the three. It was hard for us to score in the paint because teams were really collapsing on Anthony. We had some great three-point shooters, so it just seemed like we had to do a lot more of shooting threes to open up Anthony and making teams have to make a decision.”

WW: Anthony Lamb is one of the most widely agreed-upon great mid-major players of the last decade. What set him apart as a player, in your eyes?

JB: “The work ethic, he’s just different. Since the minute he got to campus, he’s in the gym all the time, morning, day, and night. He has a drive to be great and a fear of not being good enough. Obviously, his body type is very interesting – he’s a naturally strong kid in his lower half that allows him to move basically anyone where he wants. He’s only 6’5”, maybe 6’6” on a good day, but he has a 6’11” standing reach, so he’s able to move guys around and able to elevate and finish over people. He also has incredible footwork in the post. He started to develop perimeter skills late in his freshman year. Anything I told him he couldn’t do, he was going to go into the gym and figure out how to do it and become good at it. That’s how he became a good three-point shooter and a great free throw shooter.”

WW: There’s two things I’ve really loved about your defense for the majority of your tenure: you make it really, really hard for opponents to get second chances and you force tough, contested shots both at and away from the rim. Why do you think your program has been consistently excellent in both areas?

JB: “We practice defense probably 60-70% of practice time. We’ve done a great job of holding guys accountable – it doesn’t matter how good you are offensively, you won’t play if you don’t execute our defensive gameplan and our defensive system. Guys have understood the deal, and recruits have it emphasized to them. There’s not much pushback about how you’re gonna get on the court. From a defensive perspective, not only do we practice and drill the fundamentals of it, it’s philosophical. We want to force contested mid-range jump shots. When we coach our guys on what we want to give up, that’s what’s emphasized. That evolves every year a little bit, but for the most part, if a guy from my first year came in and watched a practice today, he’d see a lot of similarities from then to now.”

WW: What’s your favorite win you’ve had as a coach?

JB: “I know by far my favorite loss of all time was the Duke game back in 2014. I don’t have a great memory, so I can’t remember the early ones, but the St. Bonaventure double overtime win was incredible. Senior night with Josh Speidel was incredible. I always remember the championship wins in 2017 and 2019. My very first year, we went to the Tournament and played Lamar in the First Four, who was being coached by Pat Knight at the time. It was a really difficult year for a number of reasons. There was a fire at my house in the middle of the season and I had to move into a condo. We lost five straight early in the year. We went on to win the championship at Stony Brook and I just remember having some incredible wins against Maine and Hartford. Anyway, we played Lamar in Dayton and it might have been as good a game from start to finish as we’d ever played.”

WW: You’ve got a new arena coming in soon, you’ve posted 12 straight 20-win seasons as a program, and you have more wins than all but nine programs over the last four years. What’s the next big step, if any, for Vermont as a program?

JB: “As a coach, we won a First Four game, we’ve been to three NCAA Tournaments in my tenure, and won Coach of the Year four years in a row. All that stuff is incredible and I’m proud of it, but I want to get to the Sweet Sixteen. I think because of the amount we’ve been to the Tournament and because we’ve had good games against teams like St. John’s, Virginia, Kentucky, Purdue, and Florida State, we want more national recognition. If we make the Sweet Sixteen, that would likely happen. In talking to recruits, parents, and transfers, you start to see the power of television and the power of sustained success. We’re able to get better players with those things. I don’t think I’ve made any secret of the fact that I want to see us continue to find the resources and see if we can make this into as big a basketball program as we can make it.”

WW: Last question: what’s your go-to entertainment during the quarantine?

JB: “Ozark and Better Call Saul, I’ve been into quite a bit. My kids watch Mad Men and the Office, so I end up catching an episode or two of those.”

Here’s a highlight package of 15 of my favorite Vermont plays from this past season, both offense and defense.

Program Reviews: North Florida and the Birds of Trey

Program Reviews is an offseason series where the writer and owner of this website interviews college basketball coaches across all levels about their previous season, their program as a whole, and other things. Today’s subject is Matthew Driscoll, head coach of the North Florida Ospreys men’s basketball team, which won a share of the Atlantic Sun regular season title, their third in six seasons.

Generally, any sort of open-ended experimentation in basketball is at least interesting to watch. Whether it works or ends up being efficient is often just icing on the cake. As described to me by Pat McKenzie of St. John’s (MN), many coaches are copycats, which means you don’t often see a ton of originality in college hoops. When something original and unusual does occur, it’s not often that it ends up being as successful as we’d like, which reinforces simply choosing to do the thing that is more likely to work.

I’ve had an appreciation for North Florida for a while simply because they take the three-pointer more seriously on both ends of the court than any other program in Division I. This year, the Ospreys took 52.2% of their shots from downtown – #1 in the nation – and limited opponents to taking just 24.5% of their shots from three, #2 behind Northern Colorado. From 2014-15 onward, every North Florida team has taken at least 41.7% of their shots from three and has allowed opponents to get more than 29% of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc just once. Many programs are able to combine one or the other, but no other Division I program has pushed the extremities of what the three-pointer means on both sides of the ball.

Obviously, as a statistics nerd, this is beyond fascinating to me. It seems like the offensive and defensive endpoints of Moreyball, going as far as UNF forcing opponents to take 38.1% of their shots as non-rim two-pointers, the least-efficient shot in basketball. That’s nice and all, of course. But in a year where teams retreated back inside the arc somewhat thanks to the three-point-line extension, North Florida embraced the three more than ever.

Again, it’s one thing for a team to embrace this strategy. It’s another thing entirely for it to work repeatedly. As their coaches call them, the Birds of Trey made 37.8% of their threes (12th-best), the second-best mark in school history. Only 12 teams posted a better eFG%, and this particular offense finished 31st, UNF’s best offensive mark in their time in D-1. (Getting into unadjusted efficiency can get a little fishy, simply because schedules do matter, but UNF did finish eighth nationally in raw offensive efficiency.) This offense is and has been wildly successful, as North Florida now owns the Atlantic Sun’s two best offenses (2015-16, when they finished 36th) since Belmont’s departure after the 2011-12 season.

Given all of these statistics, I figured you might want to hear from the architect behind it all. Matthew Driscoll is a great resource of offensive concepts and career stories, and we got to discuss both in our Zoom call last week.

The below interview is lightly edited and shortened. At the end of the interview, you can find highlights of some of North Florida’s best plays this season.

WW: Describe your offensive philosophy in a few sentences. (Editor’s note: this ended up being more than a few sentences, but it was a pitch-perfect response about program history and philosophy.)

Matthew Driscoll: “We say all the time in our program that we want makers, not takers. Let me show you something.

Driscoll shows me the game ball from his first career victory. It reads North Florida, 57-46.

MD: “When recruits or current players come in the office and talk to me, they’ll be like, ‘Coach, that’s what we get in a half now.’ When we got into the league, we still had success, but the way in which we went about things, we weren’t like we were now. Belmont, East Tennessee State, and Mercer were all in the league, all really, really good coaches and systems. As I was watching them, I thought Belmont’s different, East Tennessee State’s different, Mercer’s different. All three would recruit to their systems. I thought, man, we gotta do something.

We always had a good three-point shooter – Parker Smith and Beau Beech both were great – and I thought to myself about how I loved the way Belmont and Davidson played. I loved how they spread it and shared it. Then I had to think: who wants to come here, and how can we get those guys, and can we be better going in that direction? When we signed Beau Beech in 2012, he was 6’6”, but he was a guard that could play the stretch forward. He played in what we call our Hybrid position, which is essentially a fourth guard. We knew that getting him would take us in a different direction. At that time, we had to commit to going super, super heavy on three-point shooting. We had forwards that could make a stationary three just good enough – 35-37% – but could also deck it and finish at the rim. Having these hybrids that are 6’7”, 6’8”, 6’9” has helped us find our niche.

The next year, we got Dallas Moore, a scorer that was the first lead guard we ever had who could make threes. Next thing you know, the spacing on the floor was going through the roof. It’s all layups and dunks, wide-open threes. If you ask our guys, they’ll tell you that that’s all we talk about, all the time. . . . We’ve really, really started to recruit specifically [to our system]. Let’s just look for round pegs and keep putting them in round holes.”

WW: Who are your main influences as a coach?

MD: “Coach Rick Barnes, I came in as a JV high school coach from Pennsylvania driving 13 hours with our varsity coach to Providence’s team camp. Subsequently, that helped me meet Coach Larry Shyatt, who is my mentor and took me to his coaching jobs at Wyoming and Clemson. He’s still one of my best friends to this day. Scott Drew is a master at envisioning the future, too.”

WW: You spent 12 years as a Division I assistant before getting your first D-1 head coaching job at UNF. What excited you about coming to North Florida in the first place?

MD: “After we had started to win at Baylor, people are probably thinking ‘Coach D should be able to get a Division I head coaching job.’ 2007, the year before we made the NCAA Tournament, the Robert Morris job opened and I interviewed for it, the one Mike Rice eventually got. The next year, the St. Francis (PA) job opens, and I’m going after this thing hard. This is near Pittsburgh, where I’m from. In my mind, I’m getting this job. I don’t get the job. I’m freaking crushed. I go home, and my wife says, ‘God ain’t ready for you to be a head coach.’

I go back to Baylor, we end up going to the NIT. There was a woman that used to jog with us, and her boyfriend was a volleyball coach at the University of North Florida. I say ‘what’s that?’ She tells me it’s in Jacksonville and it’s beautiful. I went back to the office to look it up and it looked nice. I started looking into the basketball side of it, saw they were in the Division I transition process.

The athletic director at Wyoming the only year I was there became the AD at North Florida. Larry Shyatt, the associate head coach at Florida, decided not to take the UNF job because he wanted to go back to Wyoming. I never even saw the campus. [Athletic director] Coach Moon offered me the job as I’m walking into the pregame meal before we’re playing Penn State for the NIT championship. I took this job, sight unseen, and Coach Shyatt told me ‘don’t worry, you don’t even need to see it.’ I got on the plane and never went home.”

WW: Earlier, I talked about how clearly important the three is to your offense. Your Ospreys took more threes per-possession than any other team in the country this year. However, on the defensive side, only Northern Colorado held a lower rate of opponent three-point attempts. What led you to place this amount of value on the three-pointer on both sides of the ball?

MD: “Because threes beat you. Layups and dunks, protecting the rim, that’s critical. In the last six years, we’ve had three Defensive Players of the Year, all rim protectors. The three is just so significant as a shot – you can be up by eight points and two shots later it’s a two-point game. I thought Gary Williams and Juan Dixon were so, so good at running guys off the perimeter. I’ve always had that in the back of my brain, and we’ve always run people off the line. This year, we averaged 11.8 made threes and 4.8 allowed, that’s +7. That means we’re +21 points to start the game statistically from three.”

WW: I want to ask you about a very specific play in the Liberty game earlier this year.

UNF wins the tip-off directly to a frontcourt player, who swings it to a shooter that immediately drains a three. It takes maybe three seconds and you’re already up 3-0. Where did this come from?

MD: “We lost to Louisville by I don’t know how many a few years back. We did the same thing, won the tip-off, threw it right in front of Pitino’s bench and Trent Mackey buried a three.

Pitino’s postgame press conference was so humbling, because he said so many nice things about us and our system and how much time they had to spend preparing for it. Later that summer, we asked one of his assistants what happened after that play. He turned around and was “mothereffin'” them dudes, cussing at them! We call these plays the game within the game. The opening tip, the first play of the second half, after every timeout, every out-of-bounds play, every special situation, every missed free throw. That’s all the game within the game. It adds up to 20-30 possessions. I got that from Jerry Wainwright in the late 1990s when I was at Clemson.”

WW: Per, this was the highest-rated offense in school history (31st). Why was this particular group so successful offensively, and what set them apart from previous teams?

MD: “This group was able to develop faster because of the groups before making our scheme more simple and less experimental. We have this thing really oiled well with continued talent. We should be tops year in and year out! Don’t forget we played the 22nd-hardest schedule, including three top 10 NET teams that won their respective leagues.”

WW: You’re coming off of what was probably the second-best season in school history and you run one of the most fun, enjoyable offenses in basketball. What’s the next big step for the North Florida program?

MD: “Getting back to the NCAA Tournament and winning a Tournament game. We’ve never done that, and I think that would be huge for us. Winning an Atlantic Sun championship is by far at the top of the list, simply because of what we have to do in non-conference. We’ve got to bring in so much money [for the program] that we have six or seven built-in losses before we even play. We’ve beat Purdue once, we beat Illinois once, but those are few and far between.”

WW: What’s something people don’t know about North Florida as a university?

MD: “What people don’t realize is we’re eight miles from the Atlantic Ocean. We’re eight miles from downtown Jacksonville, which has an NFL team. We’ve got a $5M mall outside our front door. Our school is sitting on 1,300 acres. Plus, we have a lazy river. It’s about as well-kept a secret as you could possibly imagine. Once you get kids here, it’s simple. It’s more about getting them here in the first place. We’re six hours from Atlanta, six hours from Miami, six hours from Charlotte. It’s a unique, unique place.”

WW: Last question: what’s your go-to entertainment, if anything, during the quarantine?

MD: “My wife and son and I watched Knives Out. We also watched the whole Tiger King…scenario. I was disappointed in the exploitation and how they didn’t pay the workers. I told my wife and our staff I didn’t watch it anymore, but my wife got me to watch one more episode and the next one was “did she kill her husband or not.” That was deep! They got me back in. Anyway, I wouldn’t say it was my choice – General Hospital is more important to me than that. My wife and I watch it every night. I just got done watching McMillions and turned my whole staff onto it.”

Here’s 15 of my favorite UNF plays from the games I watched:

The best offenses in women’s college basketball, 2019-20

This is the same basic idea as my post on the 25 best offenses in men’s college basketball, but just using the Synergy Sports numbers. I didn’t have as much time as I’d like to knock this one out, and I’d like to move on to profiling defenses later this week before spending another two days on offensive success.

Below is each team’s shot chart, their best play types, shooting splits, and tempo, which is calculated via Ken Pomeroy’s equation listed here.

25. Hawaii Pacific Sharks (Honolulu, HI): 0.936 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Off-Screen (99th-percentile); Transition (94th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 36.6% Rim, 23.2% Non-Rim Twos, 40.2% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 55.4% Rim, 35.7% Non-Rim Twos, 36% 3PT
  • Tempo: 75.34 possessions (would rank #7 of 353 among D-1 men’s offenses, per KenPom)

24. Drake Bulldogs (Des Moines, IA): 0.936 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Cuts (99th), Post-Up (97th), Off-Screen (97th), Spot-Up (91st)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 42.7% Rim, 17.5% Non-Rim Twos, 39.8% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 64.4% Rim, 38.6% Non-Rim Twos, 33.4% 3PT
  • Tempo: 76.57 possessions (#3 of 353)

23. Our Lady of the Lake Saints (San Antonio, TX): 0.938 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Transition (97th), Spot-Up (90th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 42.4% Rim, 27.7% Non-Rim Twos, 29.9% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 57.5% Rim, 37.8% Non-Rim, 33.8% 3PT
  • Tempo: 88.79 possessions (#1 of 353)

22. Drury Panthers (Springfield, MO): 0.938 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): P&R Ball Handler (96th), Transition (93rd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 42.6% Rim, 25.9% Non-Rim Twos, 31.5% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 60.1% Rim, 38.8% Non-Rim Twos, 36.7% 3PT
  • Tempo: 80.46 possessions (#1 of 353)

21. UAB Blazers (Birmingham, AL): 0.939 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (100th), Cuts (98th), P&R Ball Handler (97th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 34.9% Rim, 24.4% Non-Rim Twos, 40.7% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.7% Rim, 32.9% Non-Rim Twos, 37.7% 3PT
  • Tempo: 69.97 possessions (#121 of 353)

20. Union Bulldogs (Jackson, TN): 0.94 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (99th), P&R Ball Handler (99th), Transition (98th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 41.5% Rim, 28% Non-Rim Twos, 30.5% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 56.4% Rim, 43.6% Non-Rim Twos, 40.3% 3PT
  • Tempo: 74.01 possessions (#19 of 353)

19. Marist Red Foxes (Poughkeepsie, NY): 0.941 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Cuts (99th), Spot-Up (94th), Transition (90th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 34.8% Rim, 28.1% Non-Rim Twos, 37.1% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 63.3% Rim, 44% Non-Rim Twos, 35.9% 3PT
  • Tempo: 68.46 possessions (#217 of 353)

18. Nebraska-Kearney Lopers (Kearney, NE): 0.942 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Cuts (98th), Spot-Up (97th), Post-Up (90th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 45% Rim, 16.6% Non-Rim Twos, 38.4% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 59.2% Rim, 38% Non-Rim Twos, 34.5% 3PT
  • Tempo: 70.76 possessions (#84 of 353)

17. Southeastern Fire (Lakeland, FL): 0.945 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Post-Up (99th), Spot-Up (97th), Cuts (96th), Transition (90th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 53.9% Rim, 14.3% Non-Rim Twos, 31.8% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 60.9% Rim, 40.5% Non-Rim Twos, 34.7% 3PT
  • Tempo: 77.34 possessions (#3 of 353)

16. Connecticut Huskies (Mansfield, CT): 0.946 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Transition (99th), Spot-Up (96th), Post-Up (93rd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 38.4% Rim, 26.5% Non-Rim Twos, 35.1% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.5% Rim, 38.5% Non-Rim Twos, 39.4% 3PT
  • Tempo: 70.7 possessions (#86 of 353)

15. Baylor Lady Bears (Waco, TX): 0.947 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (99th), Post-Up (98th), Transition (97th), Cuts (96th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 47.3% Rim, 34.8% Non-Rim Twos, 17.9% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 59.8% Rim, 42.1% Non-Rim Twos, 37.9% 3PT
  • Tempo: 73.57 possessions (#25 of 353)

14. Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (Fort Myers, FL): 0.948 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (97th), Transition (96th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 36.9% Rim, 9% Non-Rim Twos, 54.1% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 56.1% Rim, 35.4% Non-Rim Twos, 33.7% 3PT
  • Tempo: 73.32 possessions (#27 of 353)

13. Westmont Warriors (Santa Barbara, CA): 0.954 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Transition (100th), P&R Ball Handler (99th), Spot-Up (98th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 30.6% Rim, 18.1% Non-Rim Twos, 51.3% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 51.4% Rim, 39.3% Non-Rim Twos, 37% 3PT
  • Tempo: 65.5 possessions (#329 of 353)

12. Iowa Hawkeyes (Iowa City, IA): 0.954 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Post-Up (100th), Spot-Up (95th), Transition (95th), Cuts (91st)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 40.5% Rim, 22.5% Non-Rim Twos, 37% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 63.3% Rim, 40.1% Non-Rim Twos, 36.5% 3PT
  • Tempo: 74.27 possessions (#13 of 353)

11. Indiana Tech Warriors (Fort Wayne, IN): 0.963 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Cuts (99th), Spot-Up (98th), Transition (98th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 46.2% Rim, 17% Non-Rim Twos, 36.8% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.4% Rim, 33.2% Non-Rim Twos, 36.5% 3PT
  • Tempo: 73.35 possessions (#25 of 353)

10. Bryan College Lions (Dayton, TN): 0.965 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (100th), Cuts (100th), P&R Ball Handler (93rd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 45.2% Rim, 11.2% Non-Rim Twos, 43.6% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 55.3% Rim, 37.8% Non-Rim Twos, 37.1% 3PT
  • Tempo: 78.29 possessions (#2 of 353)

9. Abilene Christian Wildcats (Abilene, TX): 0.969 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Cuts (100th), Spot-Up (99th), P&R Ball Handler (99th), Post-Up (99th), Transition (96th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 47% Rim, 6.8% Non-Rim Twos, 46.2% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 59.3% Rim, 37.5% Non-Rim Twos, 38% 3PT
  • Tempo: 71.59 possessions (#58 of 353)

8. Arkansas Razorbacks (Fayetteville, AR): 0.976 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Transition (100th), P&R Ball Handler (95th), Spot-Up (94th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 37.2% Rim, 23.5% Non-Rim Twos, 39.3% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 54.8% Rim, 37.5% Non-Rim Twos, 38% 3PT
  • Tempo: 76.08 possessions (#4 of 353)

7. Wartburg Knights (Waverly, IA): 0.978 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (100th), Transition (100th), Cuts (100th), Post-Up (96th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 45.3% Rim, 7.3% Non-Rim Twos, 47.4% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 62.4% Rim, 40% Non-Rim Twos, 35.8% 3PT
  • Tempo: 73.61 possessions (#24 of 353)

6. South Dakota Coyotes (Vermillion, SD): 0.98 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (99th), Cuts (98th), Transition (97th), Post-Up (97th), P&R Ball Handler (97th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 40.3% Rim, 25.7% Non-Rim Twos, 34% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.1% Rim, 38.8% Non-Rim Twos, 37.7% 3PT
  • Tempo: 71.3 possessions (#65 possessions)

5. Glenville State Pioneers (Glenville, WV): 0.982 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): P&R Ball Handler (100th), Spot-Up (99th), Transition (92nd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 37.9% Rim, 21.3% Non-Rim Twos, 40.8% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 62.7% Rim, 39.2% Non-Rim Twos, 35.2% 3PT
  • Tempo: 89.41 possessions (#1 of 353)

4. Taylor University Trojans (Upland, IN): 0.983 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (100th), Transition (100th), Cuts (93rd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 36% Rim, 13.3% Non-Rim Twos, 50.7% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 55% Rim, 36.8% Non-Rim Twos, 40.7% 3PT
  • Tempo: 69.04 possessions (#177 of 353)

3. Walsh Cavaliers (North Canton, OH): 0.984 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Spot-Up (98th), Transition (98th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 46.4% Rim, 24.9% Non-Rim Twos, 28.5% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 60.7% Rim, 40.9% Non-Rim Twos, 38% 3PT
  • Tempo: 76.25 possessions (#3 of 353)

2. Ashland Eagles (Ashland, OH): 1.045 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Everything but Post-Up (89th) and P&R Roll Man (70th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 46.2% Rim, 21.8% Non-Rim Twos, 32% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.8% Rim, 44.5% Non-Rim Twos, 46.2% 3PT
  • Tempo: 75.37 possessions (#7 of 353)

1. Oregon Ducks (Eugene, OR): 1.054 PPP

  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): Every single play type not named Hand-Off (61st). Of the 11 play types offered, Oregon ranked in the 98th-percentile or higher in ten.
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 37% Rim, 25.1% Non-Rim Twos, 37.9% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 66.1% Rim, 45.7% Non-Rim Twos, 38.7% 3PT
  • Tempo: 69.52 possessions (#145 of 353)

If you’d like to see more of this, tag me on Twitter @statsbywill or email me

The best offenses in men’s college basketball, 2019-20

Last year, a couple of weeks after the college basketball season, I made my deep exploration into the best men’s college basketball offenses in 2018-19. It led to a full summer of exploring these offenses in greater detail, complete with interviews with coaches and a whole lot of GIFs and game-watching. I loved doing it; it only makes sense that I would do it again.

This year, I decided to expand the, uh, “search” to the top 25 across all levels. Why? Well, why not. SO: here are the very best college basketball offenses of the last five months. I’m doing this in a few different ways than usual. This particular ranking is from Synergy Sports. However, for last year’s KenPom-style ratings, I’ll include that top 25 on the next page, along with the top 25 half-court offenses. It just felt fair to pay tribute to the service that works for all levels of college basketball.

Per Synergy Sports, here were the 25 best offenses of the 2019-20 men’s college basketball season. Below is each team’s shot chart, their best play types, shooting splits, and tempo, which is calculated via Ken Pomeroy’s equation on the next page.

25. Briar Cliff Chargers (Sioux City, IA)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.036
  • Best Play Types (90th-percentile or higher): P&R Ball Handler (99th-percentile); Spot-Up (97th-percentile); P&R Roll Man (96th-percentile); ranked in 100th-percentile on P&R as a whole
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 39% Rim (any attempt within 4 feet of the rim), 12% Non-Rim Twos, 49% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.6% Rim, 38.5% Non-Rim Twos, 39.2% 3PT
  • Tempo: 70.22 possessions (would have ranked 114th of 353 in D-1)

24. Yeshiva Maccabees (New York, NY)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.037
  • Best Play Types: Spot-Up (99th), Transition (98th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 45.9% Rim, 16% Non-Rim Twos, 38.1% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 65.1% Rim, 46% Non-Rim Twos, 39.6% 3PT
  • Tempo: 78.07 possessions (2nd of 353)

23. Brigham Young Cougars (Provo, UT)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.039
  • Best Play Types: Spot-Up (99th), P&R Roll Man (99th), P&R Ball Handler (97th), Post-Up (92nd), 99th-percentile on P&R as a whole
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 26% Rim, 32.5% Non-Rim Twos, 41.5% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 69.4% Rim, 44.4% Non-Rim Twos, 42.2% 3PT
  • Tempo: 69.7 possessions (133rd of 353)

22. Western Oregon Wolves (Monmouth, OR)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.04
  • Best Play Types: Spot-Up (99th), Post-Up (93rd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 39.5% Rim, 17.9% Non-Rim Twos, 42.7% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 62.2% Rim, 39.5% Non-Rim Twos, 40.5% 3PT
  • Tempo: 75.33 possessions (7th of 353)

21. Walsh Cavaliers (North Canton, OH)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.041
  • Best Play Types: Transition (97th), P&R Ball Handler (97th), Spot-Up (96th), Isolation (93rd), 95th-percentile P&Rs
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 36.8% Rim, 19% Non-Rim Twos, 44.2% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.3% Rim, 41.9% Non-Rim Twos, 41.3% 3PT
  • Tempo: 70.35 possessions (111th of 353)

20. Gonzaga Bulldogs (Spokane, WA)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.041
  • Best Play Types: Post-Up (98th), P&R Ball Handler (97th), P&R Roll Man (97th), Spot-Up (93rd), 100th-percentile P&Rs, 96th-percentile post-ups
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 46.1% Rim, 22.6% Non-Rim Twos, 31.3% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 65.2% Rim, 41.3% Non-Rim Twos, 38.6% 3PT
  • Tempo: 72.6 possessions (36th of 353)

19. Dayton Flyers (Dayton, OH)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.041
  • Best Play Types: Cuts (99th), Spot-Up (97th), Transition (97th), 98th-percentile P&R
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 40.5% Rim, 20.5% Non-Rim, 39% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 71.5% Rim, 44.1% Non-Rim, 37.1% Threes
  • Tempo: 68.0 possessions (233rd of 353)

18. St. John’s Johnnies (St. Joseph, MN)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.042
  • Best Play Types: Spot-Up (98th), Hand-Off (94th), Post-Up (92nd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 43.6% Rim, 21.2% Non-Rim Twos, 35.2% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 63.6% Rim, 44.8% Non-Rim Twos, 38.8% 3PT
  • Tempo: 63.08 possessions (351st of 353)

17. Linfield College Wildcats (McMinnville, OR)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.042
  • Best Play Types: Spot-Up (100th), Transition (95th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 41.6% Rim, 15.9% Non-Rim Twos, 42.5% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 64.9% Rim, 41.7% Non-Rim Twos, 39.1% 3PT
  • Tempo: 76.84 possessions (3rd of 353)

16. Nebraska Wesleyan Prairie Wolves (Lincoln, NE)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.044
  • Best Play Types: Isolation (100th), Cuts (99th), Transition (97th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 39.8% Rim, 16.8% Non-Rim Twos, 43.4% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 67.4% Rim, 45.8% Non-Rim Twos, 35.8% 3PT
  • Tempo: 70.76 possessions (84th of 353)

15. Michigan Tech Huskies (Houghton, MI)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.045
  • Best Play Types: Spot-Up (100th), Cuts (99th), Transition (98th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 32.9% Rim, 26.5% Non-Rim Twos, 40.6% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.1% Rim, 40.8% Non-Rim Twos, 43.4% 3PT
  • Tempo: 67.8 possessions (242nd of 353)

14. Bellarmine Knights (Louisville, KY)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.046
  • Best Play Types: Transition (99th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 42.1% Rim, 23.3% Non-Rim Twos, 34.6% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 66.5% Rim, 40.4% Non-Rim Twos, 39.5% Threes
  • Tempo: 66.67 possessions (287th of 353)

13. Lewis-Clark State Warriors (Lewiston, ID)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.048
  • Best Play Types: Spot-Up (99th), Post-Up (97th), 94th-percentile P&R
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 37.5% Rim, 17.9% Non-Rim Twos, 44.6% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.5% Rim, 43.7% Non-Rim Twos, 42% 3PT
  • Tempo: 71.25 possessions (65th of 353)

12. Mount Union Raiders (Alliance, OH)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.049
  • Best Play Types: Spot-Up (99th), Transition (98th), Cut (97th), P&R Ball Handler (94th), 99th-percentile P&R
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 40.6% Rim, 18.7% Non-Rim Twos, 40.7% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 65.3% Rim, 38.8% Non-Rim Twos, 38.7% 3PT
  • Tempo: 71.66 possessions (56th of 353)

11. Jefferson University Rams (Philadelphia, PA)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.05
  • Best Play Types: P&R Ball Handler (94th), Cuts (94th), Transition (92nd)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 37.8% Rim, 26.1% Non-Rim Twos, 36.1% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 65.3% Rim, 39.6% Non-Rim Twos, 41.4% 3PT
  • Tempo: 68.51 possessions (210th of 353)

10. St. Thomas Tommies (St. Paul, MN)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.055
  • Best Play Types: P&R Ball Handler (98th), Spot-Up (96th), Post-Up (96th), 99th-percentile P&R
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 38.8% Rim, 13.5% Non-Rim Twos, 47.7% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.1% Rim, 41.8% Non-Rim Twos, 38% 3PT
  • Tempo: 69.39 possessions (152nd of 353)

9. Morningside College Mustangs (Sioux City, IA)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.057
  • Best Play Types: Cuts (99th), Spot-Up (98th), Post-Up (96th), P&R Ball Handler (92nd), 99th-percentile all post-ups
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 48.9% Rim, 15% Non-Rim Twos, 36.1% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 64.7% Rim, 43.8% Non-Rim Twos, 39.6% 3PT
  • Tempo: 71.37 possessions (63rd of 353)

8. West Liberty Hilltoppers (West Liberty, WV)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.061
  • Best Play Types: Spot-Up (98th), Hand-Off (94th), Transition (89th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 45.5% Rim, 16.3% Non-Rim Twos, 38.2% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.6% Rim, 39.2% Non-Rim Twos, 40.7% 3PT
  • Tempo: 81.03 possessions (1st of 353)

7. Olivet Nazarene Tigers (Bourbonnais, IL)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.063
  • Best Play Types: Post-Up (100th), Spot-Up (99th), Cuts (93rd), Transition (92nd), 97th-percentile P&Rs
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 45.7% Rim, 17% Non-Rim Twos, 37.3% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 62.8% Rim, 38.6% Non-Rim Twos, 40.2% 3PT
  • Tempo: 75.51 possessions (7th of 353)

6. Marian Knights (Indianapolis, IN)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.065
  • Best Play Types: Transition (96th), Spot-Up (94th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 43.9% Rim, 21.7% Non-Rim Twos, 34.4% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 61.9% Rim, 40.5% Non-Rim Twos, 43.5% 3PT
  • Tempo: 72.53 possessions (37th of 353)

5. Indiana Wesleyan Wildcats (Marion, IN)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.068
  • Best Play Types: Post-Up (100th), P&R Ball Handler (98th), Transition (96th), Cuts (96th), Spot-Up (94th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 48.7% Rim, 15.1% Non-Rim Twos, 36.2% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 65.4% Rim, 46% Non-Rim Twos, 39.3% 3PT
  • Tempo: 75.1 possessions (8th of 353)

4. Nova Southeastern Sharks (Ft. Lauderdale, FL)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.078
  • Best Play Types: Cuts (96th), P&R Ball Handler (93rd), Spot-Up (90th)
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 44% Rim, 22.9% Non-Rim Twos, 33.1% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 65% Rim, 45.7% Non-Rim Twos, 41.9% 3PT
  • Tempo: 81.51 possessions (1st of 353)

3. Lincoln Memorial Railsplitters (Harrogate, TN)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.081
  • Best Play Types: Spot-Up (99th), Cuts (99th), P&R Ball Handler (99th), 97th-percentile P&Rs
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 45.9% Rim, 9.8% Non-Rim Twos, 45.3% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 65% Rim, 44.1% Non-Rim Twos, 40.6% 3PT
  • Tempo: 78.32 possessions (2nd of 353)

2. UC San Diego Tritons (San Diego, CA)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.095
  • Best Play Types: Cuts (100th), Spot-Up (99th), Transition (98th), 96th-percentile P&Rs
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 33.9% Rim, 13% Non-Rim Twos, 53.1% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 68% Rim, 43.5% Non-Rim Twos, 40.1% 3PT
  • Tempo: 69.39 possessions (152nd of 353)

1. Northwest Missouri State Bearcats (Maryville, MO)

  • Points Per Possession: 1.146
  • Best Play Types: Every single play type but P&R Roll Man (82nd) and Hand-Offs (74th). Literally every one.
  • Percentage of Shots Attempted: 42% Rim, 12.9% Non-Rim Twos, 45.1% Threes
  • Shots Made by Category: 62.5% Rim, 46.3% Non-Rim Twos, 45% 3PT
  • Tempo: 64.85 possessions (337th of 353)

NEXT PAGE: Top 25 via traditional possession calculations; top 25 half-court offenses

How the stats would’ve picked this year’s (theoretical) 2020 NCAA Tournament

BIG OL’ EDITOR’S NOTEEverything you are reading, as follows, is a hypothetical simulation. The 2020 NCAA Tournament obviously did not happen, but I’ve pieced together a field that A. seems realistic and B. helps me waste more time by thinking about it.

So, here we are. I don’t know how much everyone reading this has changed their lives to reflect our global issues, but I do think we all should. The NCAA certainly did, and it’s tough to be rational about it, but we have to. That said, this is our time.

Something I’ve done just about every year since I knew what statistics were was create a mock NCAA Tournament bracket before the real one. This bracket would reflect how I would pick every game when the time came simply because I like being prepared. For the 2019 Tournament, I created a Google Doc that had stats for every seed line. All of this, objectively, would sound purely ridiculous to someone who spends less than ~2 months of the year thinking about college basketball. And yet: I got three of the four Final Four teams right and you didn’t. I’m sorry, that’s a ridiculous brag, but I had to fit it in somewhere.

Anyway, that’s a long way of saying that in the midst of the NCAA Tournament uncertainty on Thursday, I decided to create a fake bracket on my lunch break at my day job. The Google Doc for this one is titled “Let’s have some fun,” because it should be. Here’s how I made my field of 68:

  • For the most part, I just took the highest-rated conference champion for the Big Six and assumed no bid thieves. Cincinnati technically won the AAC due to the cancellations, so I let them in without a further simulation.
  • For the other 26 conferences, I ran RAND() functions in Excel based on the likelihood that the best team in each conference would win it. This was to reflect that upsets frequently happen in conference tournaments. As such, we ended up with 11 non-first-place conference tournament winners, which is actually a little lower than you’d expect, but makes sense given our restrictions. To save time, every conference that had a team at >50% to win the conference tournament was given a pass into the field. Seemed fair and seemed realistic; I am not God.
  • At-larges made the field on a combination of their Bracket Matrix average seed and Bart Torvik’s projected average seed. This shifted the field a small amount, but 66 of the 68 teams that would’ve made the Matrix’s field of 68 as an at-large made mine. (Xavier and NC State are in my field, while UCLA and Stanford are not. Sorry to all Pac-12 fans; I can create a contingency bracket if you want.)
  • Lastly, the field was seeded 1-68 on said seeding combination. It feels right, and I like how it turned out.

Enough wailing. Here’s your field. Where necessary, I’ve included an asterisk* where the conference champion was someone other than the 1 seed.

The 2020 Will Warren Invitational Field of 68

  • 1 seeds: Kansas, Gonzaga, Baylor, Dayton
  • 2 seeds: San Diego State, Florida State, Villanova, Michigan State
  • 3 seeds: Creighton, Duke, Maryland, Seton Hall
  • 4 seeds: Oregon, Kentucky, Louisville, Ohio State
  • 5 seeds: Wisconsin, Butler, BYU, West Virginia
  • 6 seeds: Michigan, Auburn, Penn State, Iowa
  • 7 seeds: Virginia, Illinois, Arizona, Houston
  • 8 seeds: Colorado, St. Mary’s (CA), Providence, Marquette
  • 9 seeds: Rutgers, LSU, Florida, Oklahoma
  • 10 seeds: USC, Texas Tech, Indiana, Arizona State
  • 11 seeds: Utah State, Wichita State/Xavier, Cincinnati, East Tennessee State
  • 12 seeds: Richmond/NC State, Yale, Stephen F. Austin, Liberty
  • 13 seeds: Vermont, New Mexico State, Belmont, Western Kentucky*
  • 14 seeds: Bradley*, Hofstra, Northern Colorado*, North Dakota State*
  • 15 seeds: Texas State*, Winthrop*, Northern Kentucky*, Ohio*
  • 16 seeds: UC Santa Barbara*, Boston University*, Siena/North Carolina Central, Robert Morris/Jackson State*

First four out: Stanford, Texas, UCLA, Mississippi State
Next four out: Northern Iowa, Purdue, Arkansas, Oklahoma State

A quick Q&A session, based on questions I would imagine people asking:

  • Why is Baylor the third overall seed? By Kansas winning the Big 12 Tournament here, we’re assuming Baylor now has four losses on the season, which, in my mind, would elevate Gonzaga to the second overall seed. I don’t know, dude, I just did it because I felt like it.
  • Explain Creighton and Duke as 3 seeds. Creighton was white hot down the stretch of the season; Duke was not, but they are named Duke, so we all rightfully expect them to win the ACC. Again, in our simulation, Florida State won it, so a 3 seed feels accurate. Meanwhile, Creighton did win the Big East in this simulation, but Villanova ranked ahead of them. Why? 1. Ask someone who does this for a living I really don’t know. 2. It actually isn’t that absurd; by Wins Above Bubble, Villanova ranks 7th and Creighton 9th.
  • Kentucky as a 4??? Hater! Correct! I do not like Kentucky. Anyway, this is a team that didn’t crack the KenPom top 20 after January and closed the season 12th in WAB. I’m gonna guess that the teams in actual good conferences would’ve gotten the nod ahead of them. Everyone really undersold how awful it was to watch SEC basketball this season.
  • Explain the Last Four In. Again, not God, but a very white guy who’s drinking coffee out of a Charleston Rainbow Row cup as I type. Anyway:
    • Wichita State ranked 31st in WAB, had good metrics across Torvik and KenPom, and, in our simulation, wins at least one AAC Tournament game.
    • Xavier only ranked 46th, but they had no true bad losses (16-2 against Qs 2-4) and had a true marquee win: their 74-62 road victory over Seton Hall in early February.
    • Richmond: 38th in WAB, made the A10 championship game in our simulation. Xavier got the 11 seed nod only because they were in a significantly stronger conference.
    • NC State: On first run, this was Stanford, but then Stanford totally blew it to Cal in their lone Pac-12 Tournament game…which pushed NCSU just over the edge. They ranked almost exactly the same in metrics averages, but NCSU had a slightly better WAB with one additional Q1&Q2 win. I don’t like either team, to be honest.
  • Explain those who got left out. Just discussed Stanford. UCLA had a worse WAB than any of the four who got in and farted around for half the season. Texas did have a good-enough WAB at 39th but left an awful impression on the committee with a Big 12 quarterfinals loss to Texas Tech, another bubble team. Mississippi State lost to Florida in the SEC quarterfinals and had a worse WAB than the four who got in. The only team in Next Four Out that had a realistic case to me was Northern Iowa, who ranked 41st in WAB, but I simply couldn’t imagine a committee rewarding a blowout MVC quarters loss to Drake with even a First Four Out nod, sadly.

Okay! That’s a lot of words! You came here for a bracket.

The Will Warren 2020 Invitational Bracket

right-click and hit Open in New Tab to see this image made in Microsoft Paint

if you’d like to jump somewhere specific, click below please:

NEXT PAGE: Bracket breakdowns

Show Me My Opponent: Alabama (#2)

Written Tuesday evening:

SEC Tournament season, baby! Are you feeling the fire? Are you feeling the excitement? Do you know that It Just Means More™? With zero teams in KenPom’s top 25 and about four teams you can confidently say are making the NCAA Tournament, I can’t imagine not being full-throated ecstatic over the re-arrival of this thing. SEC basketball is here! 4.5 whole days of it! Man, I’m almost tearing up at the thought of the classics to come. Get ready, y’all.

In all seriousness, I’ve talked about this for a while, but this is the worst SEC in at least seven years and possibly further back. The best team in the pack is pretty clearly Kentucky, a team almost perfectly suited for the 1994 NCAA Tournament, and the teams behind it are all varying shades of gray. 2 seed Auburn spent the first three months of the season exhausting its entire supply of luck before crash-landing over the final three weeks. (Still beat Tennessee twice, of course.) 3 seed LSU had the best offense in conference play and paired it with the 12th-best defense. Mississippi State, South Carolina, Florida, Texas A&M…other than Florida, who amazingly will be in the Field of 68, will you remember anything these teams did in a week?

Anyway, that leads us to our 8 and 9 seeds: Tennessee and Alabama. They’ve already played once, with Tennessee completing a wild and objectively very funny double-digit road comeback to beat the Tide. This Tennessee team is young and hyper-flawed, and yet they’re capable of that. Alabama, likewise, is a very young team that can be as fun as anyone in America some nights, yet simply opted to not participate in the NCAA Tournament after it arrived on the horizon as a serious possibility in late January.

One season is going to end earlier than the fanbase involved would have hoped or really imagined two months back. The other season will be extended until at least Friday, where the most likely outcome is a defeat at the hands of a team that hasn’t cracked the KenPom top 20 in nearly two months. Next year will be quite a bit better for both schools.

Written Thursday morning:

Are we sure we should be playing this game?

NEXT PAGE: Wash your hands

This one stat will, in fact, not change your life

Chances are, during Championship Week, you’ll be hearing the following statistic left and right:

“Every champion other than 2014 Connecticut in the KenPom era has ranked in the top 20 of offensive and defensive efficiency.”

On its face, this is a correct stat. If you were to click on right now, you would see that 17 of the last 18 champions, minus 2014 UConn, did indeed rank in the top 20 of both categories. I’ll even ignore Dan Dakich saying during the Green Bay/Northern Kentucky game that every champion has ranked in the top 20 of both; he is 94.4% accurate, at least, under this definition.

However: we have a clear issue that seemingly no one at ESPN, CBS, or the variety of networks that broadcast college basketball seem to be discussing. The KenPom rankings referenced are end-of-season rankings, not pre-tournament rankings. So, yeah, no wonder every champion ended up in the top 20! Here’s the actual pre-tournament rankings for every champion in the KenPom era.

  • 2002: Maryland – 5th AdjO, 11th AdjD, 3rd overall
  • 2003: Syracuse – 16th AdjO, 33rd AdjD, 20th overall
  • 2004: Connecticut – 14th AdjO, 7th AdjD, 5th overall
  • 2005: North Carolina – 4th AdjO, 6th AdjD, 2nd overall
  • 2006: Florida – 14th AdjO, 18th AdjD, 6th overall
  • 2007: Florida – 1st AdjO, 14th AdjD, 2nd overall
  • 2008: Kansas – 1st AdjO, 3rd AdjD, 1st overall
  • 2009: North Carolina – 1st AdjO, 39th AdjD, 3rd overall
  • 2010: Duke – 4th AdjO, 5th AdjD, 2nd overall
  • 2011: Connecticut – 22nd AdjO, 25th AdjD, 16th overall
  • 2012: Kentucky – 2nd AdjO, 6th AdjD, 1st overall
  • 2013: Louisville – 17th AdjO, 1st AdjD, 2nd overall
  • 2014: Connecticut – 58th AdjO, 12th AdjD, 25th overall
  • 2015: Duke – 3rd AdjO, 37th AdjD, 6th overall
  • 2016: Villanova – 15th AdjO, 7th AdjD, 5th overall
  • 2017: North Carolina – 4th AdjO, 25th AdjD, 3rd overall
  • 2018: Villanova – 1st AdjO, 23rd AdjD, 2nd overall
  • 2019: Virginia – 2nd AdjO, 5th AdjD, 1st overall

So, in fact, only 11 of the 18 champions in the KenPom era – barely over half – offered both a top 20 offense and top 20 defense. Generally, the side of the ball that’s been lacking is defense; other than 2003 Syracuse and the two Connecticuts, the other four teams with sub-20 defenses all entered with offenses ranked 4th or higher. Even 2014 Connecticut and 2003 Syracuse did at least have one side of the ball in the top 20, with UConn having one of the strongest defenses in the field.

This particular talking point has irked me for some time. In an era where four of the last six champions didn’t have top 20 units on both sides of the ball, it seems extremely silly to keep promoting this to viewers and giving them the wrong idea. Is it better for a team to be well-rounded on both sides of the ball? Obviously, yes. But it’s not the thing that decides a champion.

Here are several other statistics, all of which are actually true and are more accurate than the one ESPN is using, that I would suggest broadcasters and college basketball tastemakers use.

  • In the KenPom era, 15 of 18 champions ranked in the top six nationally prior to the Tournament beginning.
  • Seven of the last eight champions have had at least one side of the ball rank in the top seven nationally.
  • 17 of the 18 champions in the KenPom era, other than 2014 Connecticut, had both a top 40 offensive and defensive efficiency.
  • The #1 overall KenPom team has won the Tournament only three times in 18 years.

Are we good? We’re good. Let’s keep this from happening all March long.

Show Me My Opponent: Auburn (#2)

Here we are: after four-plus months of hot basketball action, we have finally arrived at the very end. Here is how I thought it would go:

And here is how all of those ended up going:

  • Record prediction: most likely 18-13, 10-8 SEC play
  • Team MVP: All-SEC John Fulkerson
  • NCAAT? check back next Sunday
  • Record vs. Florida/Kentucky: 2-1!
  • Pick 2 Click: I think we have to go Fulk here, yeah? Maybe Yves Pons?
  • Most Important Non-SEC Game: It actually ended up being the home Memphis game, but not for the reasons anyone expected. This is now a Quadrant 2 loss because Memphis has politely decided to suck in the 2020 half of 2019-20. The most important win is…probably still Washington? Somehow? Either that or VCU.

So those projections ended up going about 2.5 for 6, I’ll say. We’ll monitor the ones still in play. It’s quite amazing that we’re here even wanting to look at preseason projections, honestly. Seven days ago, when I posted the preview of the Florida game, I included the Press F to Pay Respects meme as the featured image on the article. (I legitimately cannot thank the boomer that asked me “what exactly am I looking at? Do I have to press F to access the article?” You brought so much joy to my Friday.) I, along with most others, figured the season was basically over. This team might beat Florida, it might beat a rapidly declining star in Auburn, but it wasn’t going to win at Rupp.

Until it did.

Now, here we are, entertain us, these Tennessee Volunteers can get themselves back onto the NCAA bubble – not even the NIT one, y’all – with a win over an Auburn team that was 22-2 three weeks ago. What a world.

NEXT PAGE: I can’t link it because my grandparents read these but I very nearly made the @dril “Holy Mackerel” tweet the featured image.

Josh Merkel and Randolph-Macon have built a monstrous defense

If I told you that the best defense in American college basketball resides in the state of Virginia, probably very few of you would enact real surprise. Everyone already knows that Virginia and Tony Bennett have been a purely dominant defensive program for the last decade, and it’s what got them their first national championship in nearly four decades. However, I do have a surprise for you: this article is not about the University of Virginia. Rather, it’s about a different, even better defense in Division III just 75 minutes to the east that allowed 0.842 points per possession this year:

Randolph-Macon College, located in Ashland, enters tomorrow’s Division III NCAA Tournament with a 26-2 record. Outside of a pair of slip-ups, both by single digits, they’ve been just about unbeatable this season. All but one opponent of their 29 this season, including an exhibition against D-1 Richmond, has been held to 70 points or less, with 10 showings of 50 points or fewer. It made it that much more surprising that head coach Josh Merkel’s initial reaction when I asked about his defense was the following: “I think our defense stinks right now!”

When I reached Merkel in January after a 28-point road win, he elaborated a little more. “Usually, I like being under the radar. I don’t even think that highly of our defense, but I know the numbers are good and we’ll take it.” Scoring against Randolph-Macon this season has become more stressful than watching Uncut Gems. The Yellow Jackets enter the Tournament forcing opponents to shoot 37.4% from the field and 29.2% from three. That eFG% of 43.1% would rank third-best in D-1 – one spot behind UVA, I might add – but shot defense isn’t all that Randolph-Macon does. The Yellow Jackets forced turnovers on 23.8% of opponent possessions this year, blocked 12.2% of two-point attempts, and rebounded 73.6% of opponent misses. If your shot even made it to the basket, much less went in, it was a mild success.

It’s no shock that Merkel finds inspiration in what happened last season in Charlottesville. “We model some of what we do on Virginia,” he notes, though he’s also quick to say it’s not a true pack-line defense. “We want to force shots over a contest, limit everyone to one shot, and do it as a team. I say ‘guard your yard, but cover for each other.’” It’s a brutalizing, tough defense that has made life miserable for nearly every visitor. Even Richmond, in their November exhibition, got out-rebounded by Randolph-Macon and barely topped a point per possession.

The Yellow Jackets can run out different defensive looks based on the opponent. Per Synergy, they ran a press on 217 possessions and a zone defense on 283 more. Continually pushing the opponent to find new, inventive ways to not turn the ball over is Merkel’s specialty. “We pressure the ball and shrink the floor. We try to keep the ball outside of the paint,” he says. In particular, his strong, rooted guards are a bother to get around. “We’ve seen how effective it can be when you have strong players defensively,” says Merkel. For a team with zero players taller than 6’7″ and no players heavier than Noah Lindsay’s 216 pounds, Randolph-Macon is reliant on a quality strength + conditioning program to get them over the top. It works, I’ve gotta say:

We get really good guard play because our guards are committed to staying down and keeping the ball in front of them,” says Merkel. “They are not going to let that ball get to the second level of the defense as much. We don’t put a skinny guard out there, as we don’t want them to get bumped off their spots.” It’s a big part of why Randolph-Macon succeeds each night. Not only do the Yellow Jackets win the turnover battle most nights (by the old standard of turnover margin, Randolph-Macon averages a +6.3), they also don’t allow many, if any, open threes. This is just quality, tough perimeter defense:

It’s all about closing out hard and making an opponent know you’re there. Merkel tells me that on-ball pressure is what sets players apart. “A lot of it is air time, moving as the ball moves, and being there with a hot hand on the catch so no one feels comfortable shooting a rhythm three,” Merkel notes. “It needs to be a heavy contest with a hand and being there when he lands.”

This strategy has been wildly successful. As I’ve noted in the past, Ken Pomeroy studied three-point percentage and found that defenses have very little control over it for the most part. And yet: I think Randolph-Macon is really onto something. Over the last three years, the Yellow Jackets have held opponents to 31.9%, 30.1%, and now 29.2% from downtown. Considering that Divisions II and III haven’t moved the three-point line back yet like Division I has, this makes it even more impressive in an era of maximum three-point shooting.

In a true victory for a blog that has “stats” in its title, Merkel also let me know that he and the Randolph-Macon coaching staff are big on making sure they win three of KenPom’s Four Factors every night on the court. “We have three big stats – differential in field goal percentage, rebounding margin, and turnover margin,” says Merkel. For each of those, he wants to be +10%, +5, and +5 on any given night. On the season, they’ve actually come pretty darn close to hitting all three. Randolph Macon is shooting 8.7% better than opponents, out-rebounding opponents by +2.2 per game, and winning the turnover battle by +6.3.

Last year, we were 2-4 when we lost two of those three stats. We were 25-0 when winning at least two of three,” says Merkel. “There’s hundreds of things that go into every game, but analytics and numbers are easy for our guys to see and understand at halftime so they know what needs to improve.” (A quick side note: Merkel and staff do not use Free Throw Rate as one of their main factors, because, in Merkel’s words, “we might be the worst in the country at it.” True to his remark, Randolph-Macon actually would rank dead last in Division I in offensive Free Throw Rate. You can get away with this when you are 26-2.)

As the Division III Tournament begins, Randolph-Macon is staring down what might be its best-ever shot at a national championship. The Yellow Jackets rank #3 in the poll, are a host team for the first two rounds, and are ranked higher than every opponent in their bracket but one (Wittenberg). When I asked Merkel what had to happen for his team to win a title, he said he wanted the offense to be much more loose and free, though not at the cost of sacrificing their defensive principles. “I think that’s what we’re striving for is getting to a point where everyone we put into the game is playing with utmost confidence,” says Merkel. It’s a noble goal to strive for. When your defense is putting every opponent in a figure-four leg-lock:

I’d say you’re pretty darn close.