Griffs’ defense needs to stop playing catch-up: Defense key to returning to winning ways at MAAC tournament

By Andy Helwig

Sports Reporter

The beginning of the season looked bright for the Griffs; they took down a highly talented team in Monmouth, who wound up being the #1 seed in the MAAC tournament. The offense reached as high as eighth in the country in points per game at 86.9 per contest. The defense however has consistently managed to give up nearly 80 points per game and has been the reason for several of the Griffs’ major losses.

Senior guard Malcolm McMillan looked to be the star on offense, starting the season with back to back 30 point outings. It seemed as if the Griffs could be a dangerous team to play in the conference. To expect someone to average 30 points for the entire season is a load that is nearly impossible. Player of the year candidate Buddy Hield from Oklahoma University is averaging 25 points per game. Having played more games, it is inevitable that teams are going to scout a player out and likely find a way to contain their offensive output.

Following the Griffs’ tournament victory in Las Vegas, McMillan was averaging 11.25 shot attempts per game, and adding 4.3 assists per game to that. Now McMillan averages 9.93, and 4.1 respectively. To say that he has digressed on offense would not be entirely accurate. McMillan has consistently been a source of offense, almost always good to break double digits in points on any given night.

As a team, the Griffs’ offense has been on the top half of the MAAC for the entirety of the season. The Griffs are currently 5th in scoring in the conference, averaging 76.4 points per game. They put up the second most shots in the MAAC, which is only five total attempts behind Monmouth. The Griffs are currently 11th in the nation in 3-point FGA in the NCAA, which also puts them in top 50 in the nation in 3-pointers made. The Griffs have relied on the trey for a significant portion of their offense. Nearly everyone Coach Baron puts on the floor can shoot the three: Phil Valenti, Malcolm McMillan, Kiefer Douse, Kevin Bleerker, Jermaine Crumpton, Cassidy Ryan, and lastly Kassius Robertson. Robertson, who could be considered the Griffs’ 3-point specialist will be a major key to success in the MAAC tournament in order to spread out the offense and keep defenses on their toes. When Robertson gets hot, he becomes a dangerous threat from behind the arc, and opens up other players to facilitate baskets.  

The other facet of the Griffs’ offense will be getting those big men that can shoot from outside, and getting in the post to work inside and rebound. Junior Phil Valenti is one of the best on the team at getting quality opportunities from the low post. However, too many times those opportunities don’t get finished. In a high-intensity setting like the MAAC tournament, the Griffs are going to have to convert on every chance that they get, especially when they face off against the onslaught that is Iona.

Valenti has been one of the team’s leaders all season, and plays with an intensity that galvanized his teammates. This intensity will be critical on defense to ensure that players stick to their assignments and that communication is fluid to stop fast break plays for their upcoming opponents. Along with that, Bleeker must be a ruthless force inside and on the boards to keep the Griffs in the game with second chance points. Being a nearly seven-footer, he is going to have to increase his 4.9 rebound average in the tournament. Jamal Reynolds will too be a major factor in working on the boards. Reynolds was the nation’s leading offensive rebounder for the beginning weeks of the season, and to rebound as he did then would be a huge plus for the Griffs.

The Griffs’ scoring margin is a -1.3 right now, so they are generally very close in all of their games. To put them over the hump in some of them it would be easy to say that they just have to outscore the other team. However, if the Griffs can keep a fast paced offense on the floor, the defense needs to be able to keep up. The Griffs’ personnel can handle the task at hand in the tournament if the defense decides to show up. After allowing 97 points to the lowly Purple Eagles, the team has some pressing issues to address in the film room.

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