Men’s Basketball: Analyzing the method behind Shaver’s madness

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January 18, 2011

1:19 PM

Athletic Director Terry Driscoll said something interesting last year during an interview about Head Coach Tony Shaver’s tenure at William and Mary. Driscoll said that he knew he would have to give Shaver four years or so to learn how to adjust to recruiting at the Division I level, but Driscoll figured the program could still tread water through those years because Shaver was such a good in-game coach.

The Tribe’s Jan. 15 win over Drexel provides a perfect example of Shaver at his best as an in-game coach. With one-third of the conference season now done, it is time for a coach to start recognizing what he has in certain players and finding lineups which maximize the players’ talents. Shaver did this versus Drexel, and his choice of lineups versus the Dragons suggests some interesting changes for the Tribe as the season moves forward.

First, a disclaimer. The College’s win over Drexel is, at this point, more likely a mirage than a sign that the Tribe has turned the corner. Although it is a very good team, Drexel matches up better for William and Mary than almost any team in the country. Here’s why:

The Dragons employ a simple but effective defensive strategy – let the other team shoot in the half court, then get every rebound. You can see this strategy reflected in the Dragon’s defensive numbers on kenpom.com. Drexel plays at an adjusted tempo of 65, the 284th slowest tempo in the country. But they also hold teams to an effective field goal percentage of 44.5, the 36th best mark in the country. Drexel is like the old man at the gym, slow and methodical but tall and strong enough to lock you down if you are only playing half court.

The Dragons can get away with this strategy for two reasons. One, 18-to-22 year-old basketball players are generally not good shooters and two, they rebound well. Drexel has an offensive rebound percentage of 24.5, the second best mark in the country. Once the ball goes off the rim, it will most likely end up in the hands of one of the Dragons. And that formula is good enough to beat most teams.

But the Tribe is not like most teams. What it lacks in speed or athleticism it makes up for in shooting ability. So Drexel’s defense, while effective against most teams, plays right into the College’s hands. The Tribe doesn’t care about offensive rebounds. In fact, the College has only recorded double digit offensive rebounds in only one win this season. By comparison, in its other four wins, the Tribe has averaged just over five offensive rebounds a game. The Tribe only wins when it hits its shots. When the Tribe misses, and there are offensive rebounds going off everywhere, it usually will lose.

The way teams have exploited the College this season is to force its guards to play at an accelerated pace, leading to turnovers. But Drexel does not cause many turnovers — only 15.5 per game, the 344th worst mark in the country. The only team in college basketball that causes fewer turnovers is, believe it or not, Delaware. The Dragons would rather your guards try to make shots rather than passes. The only problem is that unlike most college guards, shot making, not passing, is what the Tribe’s guards do best.

Back to Tony Shaver as an in-game coach. Everybody agrees that starting freshmen guards, while necessary, is also a dangerous proposition in CAA play. And while freshmen guards Julian Boatner and Brandon Britt logged 21 and 29 minutes versus Drexel respectively, Shaver lessened the pressure on his guards with impressive substitution patterns.

Looking at the play-by-play, you see that Britt and Boatner spent a total of 12 minutes and 33 seconds on the court together. But 8:18 minutes of that span came at the beginning of the halves, a time when a coach’s pregame and halftime instruction is fresh in a young player’s head. After the start of the half, Britt and Boatner rarely played in the same backcourt together.

In fact, Britt actually spent 13:08 minutes of his 29 total minutes on the court paired with sophomore guard Matt Rum. While Britt and Boatner may have started the game in the backcourt, it was Britt and Rum who actually shared the most time there. When Boatner came back in the game, it was usually when he was paired with junior guard Kendrix Brown. Brown and Boatner shared the back court for 8:26 minutes, while Britt and Brown shared the backcourt for a little under a minute.

Why are these numbers impressive? For one, it shows how Shaver is able to divvy up minutes for four guards. Essentially, Shaver broke the game into thirds, with each of his guards playing close to a third of the minutes. Also, Shaver created a lineup which utilizes each of his guard’s strengths. In each lineup there is one guard who creates a matchup problem for the opposition (Britt on offense, Brown on defense) while there is a second guard who spaces out a defense with his shooting. Finally, by pairing his freshmen with a more experienced guard, Shaver is able to limit the number of players on the court who are still learning the Tribe’s offense, thus limiting some of the stagnation and confusion which has hindered the College this season.

The area in which Shaver really showed some impressive in-game coaching skills was in the minute distribution of sophomore forward Kyle Gaillard. Those following the College this year know that Gaillard started the year with two double figure scoring games against Virginia and Richmond, then preceded to go into a little bit of a slump. The sophomore had an amazing 25 point performance against North Carolina, and scored 14 points against UNC Wilmington, but, for the most part, the coaching staff has been frustrated with Gaillard’s lack of aggression on the offensive end.

After starting Gaillard in the beginning of the year, Shaver moved him to the bench towards the beginning of conference play, a crucial switch because it may help limit the minutes of junior forward Quinn McDowell. McDowell is averaging 33.5 minutes per game this season, almost the exact same number of minutes he averaged last year. But McDowell has a bigger role for the Tribe this season. In addition to defending players much taller and stronger than him down low in the College’s matchup zone, McDowell is the Tribe’s primary scoring option this season.

If you look at McDowell’s game-by-game totals from last season, this is the part of the season where he started to break down a little bit. Before the Tribe’s 18th game of the season last year, McDowell scored 14-or-more points in 11 of the Tribe’s first 17 games of the season. By comparison, McDowell scored 14-or-more points in only five of the Tribe’s last 16 games last year and ended the year sitting out the North Carolina game with an injury.

The reason Kyle Gaillard is important to the College this season is that he can come off the bench to spell McDowell in order to keep the junior fresh for the stretch run. If you look at the Drexel game, McDowell only played 30 minutes due to foul trouble. But the Tribe was able to get away with resting McDowell because of Gaillard’s play.

Despite only scoring one point, Gaillard played 29 minutes versus Drexel. Of those 29 minutes, 14:45 of them came with McDowell on the floor, meaning Gaillard played almost half of his time with McDowell on the bench. Not only was the Tribe able to survive with Gaillard replacing McDowell in those other 15 minutes, but in many cases, it was able to thrive.

Looking at the different plus/minus numbers for each Tribe lineup, the starting lineup had the best plus/minus mark with plus 12 recorded in 8:18 minutes of play. The next-best lineup was a lineup of Brown, Rum, Gaillard, junior forward JohnMark Ludwick and freshman forward Tim Rusthoven, who recorded a plus eight mark in only 2:02 minutes of play. These minutes also occurred in the second half, helping the Tribe pull away from Drexel with McDowell on the bench.

It is scary playing without your best player on the floor, but Shaver seems to be slowly ingratiating Gaillard into the lineup in order to get McDowell some much needed rest. The fact that he was able to do so while also balancing the minutes of his four guards and pulling off an impressive win over a conference favorite just shows Shaver’s skills as an in-game coach.

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