Three Thoughts: Lafayette 92, Army 78

Game 45: Lafayette at Army – Conference play! #TMMlegacy

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The tough, really unfair to be honest, thing about being in a one NCAA bid conference like the Patriot League is that the non-conference season is pretty much meaningless. Zach Spiker went 9-2 with Army the last two months, including wins over Air Force and USC, which are not Kentucky and Duke (although one the losses was at Cameron Indoor Stadium and the Black Knights were respectable in it), but Spiker is running a program that has a single winning season (barely) in three decades, and he was the one that got it two seasons ago, so that’s a fairly remarkable achievement. Alas, when it came time for conference play to open Wednesday, it couldn’t start too much worse for Spiker and the Black Knights as they were beaten and beaten soundly in their own gym by Lafayette, 92-78. The Leopards, who had their own demons they would like to eradicate, built upon a 10-point halftime lead by shooting 18-of-25 from the field in the second half, as they announced their candidacy for the Patriot crown in an emphatic way There are 17 more Patriot League games to go, so nothing is lost yet, but it probably felt that way to Army immediately afterward when they were staring at the shiny All-Military Classic trophy it captured to open the season last month. Of course, once we get to March, a lot of this also becomes meaningless, but we’ll keep that to ourselves for now, won’t we? “We need to do a better job of moving our feet and getting our hands up, first of all,” Spiker said. “We didn’t pressure the basketball very well today. That’s a good team. He’s got six guys that have been playing together for three years, and I think it shows. They were a very cohesive unit and looked good, but we made them look good, too.” Here are my thoughts from the beautiful campus at West Point and Christl Arena: 1. Is Lafayette sustainable as a Patriot candidate? – I picked them third, primarily because their defensive numbers are, frankly pretty poor, and they haven’t been good for a long time. Even after Wednesday, the Leopards are still 320th in adjusted defensive efficiency, and 345th in defensive rebounding (Army rebounded 13 of its 36 misses, which was actually well below Lafayette’s average). Lafayette was 335th in defense last season, which started 0-9 in the Patriot League and ended 11-20. But maybe it doesn’t matter? Joey Ptasinski is listed at 6’3”, and he’s as pure a shooter as they come, now a fairly unbelievable 39-for-70 from behind the arc (55.7%), and at least three of the four he hit Wednesday were contested (he also hit back-to-back two-pointers at one point, joking “that’s probably the first time all year, right?”). Dan Trist, Seth Hinrichs, Nick Lindner (who injured his shoulder at the end of the contest), and Bryce Scott are all offensive threats and it’s nearly impossible to deal with all of them. There’s probably not a lockdown defender among them, but if you lead the nation in three-point shooting (10-for-17 Wednesday pushing them to 43.7%), are sixth in eFG% (58.3) and 19th in overall offensive efficiency, what the heck? It makes for a much more entertaining spectacle anyway, no? “I thought we rebounded the ball well today, and we knew we had to do that,“ Lafayette coach Fran O’Hanlon said. “I thought defensively we did a pretty good job on Kyle Wilson. He’s coming off an injury, so I don’t know if that was the real Kyle Wilson, but overall we did a pretty good job defensively of guarding their stuff and not letting them get out in transition as much.” Perhaps the 2012-13 season is a good model, as a late-season charge pushed Lafayette to second in the Patriot and they made it to the conference final before losing a close game to Bucknell at Sojka Pavilion. That squad (in which Trist, Hinrichs, Ptasinski, and Scott all played a significant role) still wasn’t great at the defensive end, but led by point guard Tony Johnson at least got up to 249th nationally by creating some turnovers (141st) and rebounding a little (200th defensive). Or they could just go for 1.49 points per possession like they did in the second half against Army and it really won’t matter how they defend. “The simple answer is that we made shots,” Lafayette coach Fran O’Hanlon said. “But we also played really well together as a team to get some good shots.” 2. Army does have some offensive troubles to go with the defense – In the Patriot League preview, I mentioned that – although Spiker plays lots of people – they depend plenty on their best player Wilson (27th nationally in % of shots taken), and it certainly looked that way Wednesday. Wilson, who hadn’t played since leaving the game against Maine on Dec. 21 with a head injury, made no excuses (“I was able to prepare for this game and be ready to play. I don’t think that was an issue,” he said). But even with an embellished 11-for-24 performance from outside (four of them were late after the game had been decided), Army is still shooting only 32.8% (204th nationally). They are very good at attacking the rim (and are also playing without Maxwell Lenox and Tanner Omlid, both injured), but it will be much easier to do so if they could start knocking down shots. “You can’t let teams shoot 72% for a half and expect to have any kind of success,” Spiker said. “We’ll focus on our defensive concepts and the other stuff will hopefully take care of itself.” 3. Joey Ptasinski has some outrageous offensive numbers – Ptasinski shot 45.7% and 44.9% in his sophomore and junior seasons, respectively, so we know he can shoot. But as I said, 56.9% with as many attempts as he’s had this season is insane. He leads the nation in eFG% (84.4) by seven full points. In fact, if you take Army’s Kevin Ferguson (who is shooting 68.9% from the field) out of the equation, Ptasinski leads the Patriot League in that category by 25 full percentage points. He also leads the nation in true shooting %. Ptasinski’s offensive rating of 151.3 is pretty much off the charts, but his usage of 12.5% doesn’t qualify him for national rank. The only bad news is they can’t stay that way, can they? Can they? “I knew they were going to sprint at me and try to take me away,” Ptasinski said. “I’ve been working with some coaches on trying to go to the basket and finish for myself or dish from there. It worked out today nicely, and I have to do it more often now, I guess.”

You are looking live at West Point and an almost frozen Hudson. View never gets old. #TMMlegacy

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