Busy Weekend

BASKETBALL: After Wednesday’s win over American, Saturday’s 73-62 loss to Colgate was a real letdown. So much for first place; American beat Lafayette and claimed the regular-season Patriot League crown. Their reward is a first-round game against Holy Cross, whose loss to Lehigh on Saturday clinched the Crusaders’ descent from first to worst. Don’t think that Holy Cross is the worst team in the league, though; while I’d still rather have the Patriot League championship and automatic NIT bid under our belts, for the purposes of the league tournament it might have been better to finish second. Then again, maybe not; Army’s 54-51 win over Bucknell pushed the Bison into the 7 seed and a first-round matchup with Navy. No matter what their league records are, it just doesn’t feel like playing Holy Cross or Bucknell is much of a reward for finishing on top of the conference.

Navy’s likely 2nd round matchup, should they beat Bucknell, would be against Colgate. If Navy wins this thing, they’ll definitely have earned it. The tournament starts Wednesday at the home courts of the higher seeds. The official tournament bracket is here.

BASEBALL: Navy might have been picked to finish first in the Patriot League, but over the weekend they had their hands full with the Ivy League. The Mids dropped two out of three to Dartmouth and fell to 3-3 on the year. Be more careful on your home run trots, Mitch!

LACROSSE: Navy beat Mount St. Mary’s 12-5 on Friday night. After an initial MSM posession that took up about half of the first quarter, Navy’s attack finally came alive. Nick Mirabito had a hat trick and two assists, while Tim Paul added a two goals to go along with two assists of his own. It was a somewhat unremarkable game, although it was a bit disturbing to see the Mount win 14 of 20 faceoffs. Navy’s next five games are all against Patriot League opponents, beginning with Lafayette on Saturday.

Speaking of the Patriot League, Army dominated Air Force 12-4 on Saturday, while Bucknell scored their own 8-7 overtime win over Ohio State. Meanwhile, everyone’s favorite sleeper team, Colgate, needed overtime to get by Canisius, 12-11.

WOMEN’S LACROSSE: Navy beat Niagara 21-5. I’m not going to pretend that I know anything about women’s lacrosse, but when a team in its first varsity season wins its first two games by a combined score of 42-15, it’s noteworthy. Yes, Niagara was 1-12 last year. But it’s good to know that the Mids are at least on a different level than that.

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OH HELLS YEAH

Navy 83, American University 68   (Team Stats)
Team FG FG% 3FG 3FG% FT FT% REB DR OR AS TO BK ST PF
NAVY 25-63 39.7 15-38 39.5 18-22 81.8 30 15 15 18 8 2 10 20
AMER 24-50 48.0 6-15 40.0 14-21 66.7 39 25 14 13 21 4 3 19
StatSheet.com

In The Last Amateurs, John Feinstein made it clear that rest of the Patriot League didn’t like Navy. At the time the book was written, Navy was the powerhouse team in the conference, had the newest, flashiest arena, and generally just won a lot of basketball games. Other teams resented Navy, and that resentment manifested itself in many ways. Navy was the best team in the conference for most of the ’90s, but it has never had a conference Player of the Year. But things are different now. Now Bucknell has a new arena of their own and has set the new high water mark for accomplishment in the Patriot League. Holy Cross won the conference last year, and beat Notre Dame in the first round of the NIT in 2005. Navy, on the other hand, is just starting to emerge from what might have been the worst stretch in program history. Nobody seems to have the same disdain for Bucknell and Holy Cross that they once had towards Navy. The hard feelings towards the Mids must have thawed by now, right? Well, maybe. Greg Sprink only made second-team all-conference last year despite putting up solid numbers. As the league’s best returning scorer and all-around player, he was shunned for Preseason POY honors in favor of Holy Cross’ Tim Clifford. Now maybe Navy never had anyone that should have been named Player of the Year. Maybe Sprink didn’t deserve first-team recognition last year. And maybe league coaches and SIDs figured that Holy Cross would be the league favorite this year, so they just named the best player on the best team as their preseason POY. Maybe. But if Greg Sprink doesn’t win Patriot League Player of the Year for 2007-2008, you’ll know that it’s rigged.

In the most important Navy basketball game in over half a decade, Sprink had one of his finest performances. Navy took down American last night, 83-68, to grab a share of first place in the Patriot League with one game left to play. Navy now owns the tiebreaker with AU and can clinch the regular season title with a win in the season finale or an American loss. With the regular season champion ensured a place in at least the NIT, Navy has a chance to earn its first postseason appearance in a decade. Greg Sprink led the team in scoring (34), rebounding (5), and assists (7). He hit 6 3-pointers, worked inside to get to the free throw line, and kicked the ball out to open shooters. It was a complete game.

The same can’t really be said for the Mids as a whole. Reading the wrong stats in the boxscore can give you a very different impression about how this game went. American dominated Navy on the glass early, and ended up with a 39-30 rebounding edge. The Eagles shot a whopping 48% from the field to Navy’s 39.7%, thanks in large part to several way-too-easy buckets scored by American players standing all alone underneath the basket. But Navy took much better care of the ball. American had 21 turnovers, while Navy had only 8. 10 of those turnovers were the result of Navy steals. The Mids were less efficient than AU when it came to shooting the ball, but thanks to their defense, they had more opportunities. On this night, quantity was better than quality.

This wasn’t the first time this year that turnover differential has been the deciding factor in a Navy win. In fact, it has been the norm in conference play. Why is that? I think I have an answer. Navy is a team that has rarely had an inside presence. Athletic big men are the most scarce commodity in all of basketball, and unless they are either undersized (Hassan Booker), very unpolished coming out of high school (Sitapha Savane), or prone to growth spurts (David Robinson), those types of players have much higher-profile offers than from Navy. Offensively, it’s easy to see how Coach Lange makes up for this; by running and shooting threes. On the other end of the court, it’s a little tougher. Most undersized teams try to mask their deficiency by hunkering down in a 2-3 zone to try to make it difficult for their opponents to get the ball to their big men. Lange takes the opposite approach. Rather than attempt to cover up his team’s lack of an inside presence, he concedes it. Navy doesn’t play underneath the basket. Instead, the Mids push their defense to the perimeter. This is why Navy stinks at defensive rebounding– we don’t have anybody around the basket. It’s also why the numbers aren’t nearly as bad on the other end of the court. Navy is outrebounded by an average of 2.3 boards per game on the defensive glass. But on the offensive end, that differential is only .6 rebounds/game. The Mids are in better position on offense.

There aren’t really any big men to exploit Lange’s strategy in the Patriot League other than Tim Clifford. While the Holy Cross center lights up the scoreboard whenever he plays the Mids, the rest of the league doesn’t have much more of an inside presence than Navy does. Navy’s defense gives up some easy backdoor layups sometimes–and a lot of rebounds– but it also generates 9.2 steals per game, good for 1st in the conference and 20th nationally. Rather than try to hide his team’s weaknesses, Billy Lange has chosen to take the fight to his opponents by emphasizing Navy’s strengths. And now he’s one game away from putting Navy back on top.

That loss to Howard feels like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it?

BEHOLD YOUR PATRIOT LEAGUE
PLAYER OF THE YEAR.

Loose Change 2/22/08

Odds & ends you may have missed over the past week:

  • Admit it. You go to eBay once in a while just to look at old Navy football program covers like this one:

If you do, you’ll appreciate this blog entry about Army-Navy covers of years past.

  • The Patriot League lacrosse coach interviews continue with Army’s Joe Alberici and Colgate’s Jim Nagle.
  • UConn football coach Randy Edsall talks about Big East expansion and his desire to play Army here. No comments about why he dropped Navy, though.
  • Wrestling recruit Bailey Whitaker was in the finals of the Tennessee state tournament, as was football recruit Jabaree Tuani-McKissack.
  • Bill Wagner wrote about 3-point rainmaker Chris Harris.
  • Navy baseball starts up this weekend with the Mids taking on Air Force in Millington, Tennessee. The preseason Patriot League favorites will unfortunately have to go a few weeks without the services of all-world pitcher Mitch Harris, who jammed his shoulder in an intra-squad scrimmage last week. If the Supe wants to can Herndon because he’s afraid of injuries, maybe he should consider banning home run trots, too.
  • The lacrosse season is underway, which means that the Sun’s Faceoff blog has finally come out of hibernation. The Sun also talks about Navy’s 2-0 start here. “Well-rounded” is a nice spin, I guess.
  • If you haven’t seen our new lacrosse uniforms yet, you can get a look here.
  • Last weekend, Delaware crunched UMBC in a lacrosse doubleheader held here in Jacksonville to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project. Next year, event organizers want to make it a “service academy challenge.”
  • The ESPN mothership is going to show a regular-season lacrosse game for the first time. AKA an ESPNU infomercial.
  • Don’t tell Chet, but Paul Johnson says that he did “all he could do” at Navy.

Loose Change 2/15/08

Odds & ends you may have missed over the past week:

  • Ron Snyder wrote a great piece on Jordan DiNola.
  • Speaking of the lacrosse team’s defense, Inside Lacrosse says that Navy has the 4th best defense in the land. Why? Because they’re always good! Expert analysis! It won’t be enough, though, according to Lacrosse Magazine; they think that Army beats Navy this year.
  • Ron Snyder was busy this week, as he also previews the first Navy women’s lax team. Those of you excited to see them in action will have to wait an extra week, as the season opener against St. Francis was postponed. The team will begin their season at home next weekend against Longwood.
  • More women’s lax: the Patriot League released its preseason poll, and surprisingly our upstart Navy team isn’t picked to finish last. That dubious distinction belongs to Lafayette. How bad do you have to be to get picked behind a team that’s in its first year of existence? Try 1-15, which was the Leopards’ record last year. Don’t be surprised if the season plays out as the SIDs and coaches predicted, too. Cindy Timchal brings instant credibility to the Navy women’s lax program, and she can find a way to coach the team out of the cellar.
  • Logan West is a lacrosse recruit.
  • Some of you may not have known this, but a professional soccer team made its home at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium last year. Crystal Palace USA, a developmental squad for Crystal Palace FC of The Championship (England’s second division for you soccer noobs), played in Annapolis. You’d never have known it with their lack of marketing. Well, now the team has decided to actually market themselves a little, but they’re moving to UMBC.
  • Press Box has an article on the state of youth football in Maryland. It probably isn’t anything you’re interested in, but it does mention Ben Gabbard.
  • Mike Wahle, formerly of the class of ’99, was cut by the Carolina Panthers in a salary cap move. It didn’t take him much time to find a new home in Seattle.
  • Bill Wagner wrote about the Touchdown Club of Annapolis awards banquet, where Reggie Campbell received the Tony Rubino Memorial Silver Helmet Award.
  • More lacrosse: An interview with Lafayette head coach Terry Mangan.
  • The Sun has a good writeup on the new faceoff rules in college lax this year, including quotes from Richie Meade. And check out the video highlights of the VMI game.
  • And finally, there’s the proposed rule changes in college football. My opinions on these changes more or less echo those of EDSBS. In case you were wondering, here’s the current definition of a chop block:

Chop Block

ARTICLE 3. A chop block is:

a. An obviously delayed block at the thigh or below against an opponent
(except the runner) who is in contact with a teammate of the blocker, is
in the act of disengaging from the first blocker or has just disengaged
from the first blocker but is still confronting him. When in question, the
contact is at the thigh or below (A.R. 2-3-3-I-V).
b. A high-low, low-high or low-low combination block by two nonadjacent
linemen with or without a delay between contacts occurring in the
neutral zone.
c. A high-low, low-high or low-low combination block by any two
offensive players with or without a delay between contacts when the
initial contact clearly occurs beyond the neutral zone (i.e., all involved
players are beyond the neutral zone) (A.R. 2-3-3-III and IV).

Loose Change 2/1/08

Odds & ends you may have missed over the past week:

American Postgame

Navy 77, American University 66   (Team Stats)
Team FG FG% 3FG 3FG% FT FT% REB DR OR AS TO BK ST PF
AMER 24-63 38.1 8-24 33.3 10-15 66.7 47 26 21 12 17 2 4 23
NAVY 22-57 38.6 9-26 34.6 24-27 88.9 31 21 10 10 8 5 9 19
Boxscore |  StatSheet.com

Navy bounced back after a very disappointing loss to Army, beating American at Bender Arena for the first time since the Eagles joined the Patriot League, 77-66.

It was an ugly game, with both teams shooting less than 40% from the floor. Navy was horribly, horribly outrebounded in the game; combine that with a 9-26 night from beyond the arc, and you have a game that not too long ago would have resulted in a Navy blowout loss. Not last night, though. Navy finally had an answer for a cold shooting night: team defense, taking care of the ball, and getting Greg Sprink to the free throw line. Sprink scored 36 points, including 17-18 from the line. Chris Harris pitched in 15. The two of them also combined for 6 steals. Navy had only 8 turnovers compared to American’s 17, helping to offset the extra posessions that AU got from their dominance on the glass.

Navy’s rebounding has cost them in the past, and will cost them again in the future. But taking care of the ball and finding a way to score when the 3-pointers aren’t falling makes this a much better basketball team.

Navy 77, American University 66   (Navy Player Stats)
 
C. Harris (G) 38 15 5-11 45.5 3-9 33.3 2-2 100 3 2 1 3 2 0 2 3
G. Sprink (G) 36 36 8-18 44.4 3-7 42.9 17-18 94.4 3 3 0 2 2 0 4 4
A. Teague 26 5 1-6 16.7 1-6 16.7 2-4 50 5 5 0 0 0 0 1 2
R. Garcia (G) 25 7 2-4 50 1-1 100 2-2 100 4 2 2 1 1 2 1 0
K. Kina (G) 25 7 3-8 37.5 0-2 0 1-1 100 5 5 0 4 1 1 0 3
M. Veazey (C) 22 4 2-4 50 0-0 0 0-0 0 4 2 2 0 0 2 0 3
T. Topercer 12 3 1-2 50 1-1 100 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1
B. Richards 6 0 0-2 0 0-0 0 0-0 0 2 1 1 0 1 0 0 1
C. Colbert 4 0 0-2 0 0-0 0 0-0 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 1
B. Brigham 4 0 0-0 0 0-0 0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
D. Young 2 0 0-0 0 0-0 0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
TEAM:   200 77 22-57 38.6 9-26 34.6 24-27 88.9 31 21 10 10 8 5 9 19

Army Postgame

Army 69, Navy 67   (Team Stats)
Team FG FG% 3FG 3FG% FT FT% REB DR OR AS TO BK ST PF
NAVY 21-61 34.4 11-33 33.3 14-22 63.6 39 21 18 15 18 5 9 16
ARMY 26-57 45.6 5-13 38.5 12-15 80.0 38 25 13 15 20 7 9 20
Boxscore |  StatSheet.com

Army’s defensive plan was simple: stop Greg Sprink at all costs. Whenever Navy’s best player touched the ball, he was met with a double-team. Navy probably would have done a lot better if they employed a similar strategy with Jarell Brown. Brown, Army’s only real scoring threat, scored 35 points, including the game-winning basket, to lead Army to a 69-67 win over the Mids at Alumni Hall. The loss dropped Navy to 2-3 in the Patriot League and kept them from pulling within a game of conference leader Lafayette, who lost to Lehigh on Saturday night. The Leopards are now tied with Bucknell for the top spot in the league.

Army started the game with an 11-0 run as Navy came out and looked lost. Once the Mids settled down, though, they started to play some good basketball. If there is anything positive to take from this game, it’s that other players stepped up when Army went after Sprink. In the first half, Adam Teague’s 3-pointers and steals helped the Mids to dig out of their early deficit and actually take a lead into the half. In the second half, Mark Veazey came out on fire, scoring points underneath the basket, blocking shots, and making some tough rebounds. Chris Harris added 20 points and 5 assists, although he was only 5-18 from the field. And despite Army’s efforts, Sprink actually had a decent game statistically, scoring 20 himself while pulling down 6 rebounds. While Army’s defense couldn’t stop Greg Sprink from scoring, they did force him into 7 turnovers. Greg tried to fight through double-teams to force fouls and get to the free throw line, but too often he came in out of control and gave up the ball. Army’s defense, though, wasn’t the cause of his biggest gaffe of the night. Sprink took a pass after a steal at half-court and missed what appeared to be some kind of hot-dogging, rim-rocking, wide-open dunk attempt. Navy actually got the offensive rebound, but the Black Knights got a steal and wound up with a 3-point play on the other end. The resulting 5-point swing may have been the difference in the game.

I can sympathize with Greg Sprink. I can imagine what he was thinking. This was Navy’s biggest rival in an important Patriot League game, but you’d never have known that by listening to the crowd– especially the Brigade. They were dead. But if Greg could pull off that dunk, maybe he could have shot some excitement into the Mids. Maybe he could have brought the crowd into the game. And a play like that can be demoralizing for the other team; maybe it would have broken Army’s back. At the very least, maybe whipping the crowd into a frenzy would have forced Jim Crews to call a timeout or something. Unfortunately, none of those “maybes” were more important than the actual 2 points.

Even with that 5-point swing, it was still a tie game inside of a minute to play. Army had the ball, and everyone in the building– well, those who were paying attention to the game, anyway– knew who was going to get the ball. Why, then, did Billy Lange put Greg Sprink, with his four fouls, on Jarell Brown? Greg couldn’t contest Brown’s shot because if he fouled out, Navy would be without their best player in a potential game-winning or tying situation. And as Brown drove down the right side, nobody slid off of their man to help out. Brown’s game-winning shot was a way-too-easy layup.

Navy has had significant second-half leads in each of its three Patriot League losses. With Billy Lange’s 3-point-happy offense, Navy can race out ahead of anyone. Unfortunately, it also means that anyone can come back to beat Navy as soon as the shots stop falling. Playing up-tempo and shooting 3s might not be the best way to handle situations where you want to limit the other team’s posessions. I’m on board with the basics of Lange’s offense. I wasn’t at the beginning of the year, but Chris Harris has stepped up as a scoring threat to take pressure off of Greg Sprink. Now Lange has to draw something up to help his team hold on to the leads they build.

Shooting
Rebounds
K. Kina (G) 22 1 0-6 0 1-2 50 0-4 0 1 1 2 1 0 0 6 4
C. Harris (G) 40 20 5-18 27.8 5-6 83.3 5-14 35.7 2 2 4 5 2 0 2 1
G. Sprink (G) 38 20 6-18 33.3 6-7 85.7 2-8 25 2 4 6 3 2 0 7 4
R. Garcia (G) 25 3 1-3 33.3 0-0 0 1-2 50 0 6 6 0 0 0 2 1
M. Veazey (C) 21 9 4-7 57.1 1-3 33.3 0-0 0 4 3 7 2 0 3 1 2
A. Teague 28 13 5-7 71.4 0-0 0 3-5 60 2 4 6 1 4 2 0 2
B. Richards 19 1 0-2 0 1-2 50 0-0 0 5 1 6 2 0 0 0 1
C. Colbert 7 0 0-0 0 0-2 0 0-0 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 1