Legendary National Football League head coach Bill Parcells once made a statement that has stood the test of time.
“You are what your record says you are,” Parcells famously proclaimed.
Head coach Ed DeChellis referenced that line when asked to assess the Navy men’s basketball team as it prepares to enter Patriot League play. DeChellis, in his eighth season at the helm, took that line of thinking one step further and said “you are what the statistics say you are.”
“You look at the numbers and we just haven’t played well enough in the key areas to win games,” DeChellis admitted.
Navy completed the non-conference portion of the schedule with a disappointing 3-8 record, getting outscored by an average of 11 points along the way. The Midshipmen blew out Coppin State (77-58) and edged Bryant (83-79) in back-to-back home games during the month of November then defeated Delaware (80-65) on the road in what was easily the most impressive victory of the season to date.
All eight losses were by double digits with some of the games being non-competitive. It should be noted that Navy’s non-conference strength of schedule ranked second behind Holy Cross among Patriot League programs.
“I wish we had won more games. Our record isn’t what we would want, but we played a very, very challenging schedule,” DeChellis said. “Where are we at this point of the season? We haven’t played as well as we would have liked. We still have a lot of growth to make.”
Navy’s staples for success during the DeChellis era have been defense, rebounding and ball-handling. None have been strengths this season as the Mids are averaging almost 14 turnovers and allowing opponents to score 74 points per game while breaking even on the boards.
“We haven’t been playing great defense, we’re not rebounding as well as we need to either offensively or defensively and our assist-to-turnover ratio is a negative,” DeChellis said.
Sophomore guard Cam Davis leads Navy in scoring with 11.5 points while shooting 42 percent from both the field and 3-point range. After being limited to just two points in the opener against Old Dominion, the 6-foot-1 Missouri native has reached double figures in 10 straight contests.
Senior forward George Kiernan is averaging 11.4 points, but shooting just 37 percent (36-for-97) from the field. The 6-foot-7, 225-pounder is normally a reliable 3-point shooter, but has made just 14 of 46 attempts (30 percent) from beyond the arc.
Senior point guard Hasan Abdullah is only providing 8.3 points per game while shooting 30 percent from the field. Most distressing to DeChellis is the fact Abdullah has almost as many turnovers (33) as assists (37).
“Our upperclassmen, Hasan Abdullah and George Kiernan, need to be playing better for us. They’re both good basketball players, but if you look at their numbers they’re not where we need them to be,” DeChellis said. “George and Hasan have not played up to their capabilities and that’s my fault. I haven’t gotten them there. Those are two guys that we’re really counting on, and I think they would both admit they need to do more.”
Navy has incorporated several youngsters into the rotation with freshman John Carter Jr. starting at one of the wing guard spots. Sophomores Danny Ogele and Luke Loehr are the top frontcourt reserves while sophomore Isaiah Burnett and freshman Josiah Strong are the primary backcourt substitutes.
“Defensively, we guard the first action and not the second. We’re not making that second rotation,” DeChellis said. “Some of that is we have sophomores and freshmen that don’t get it yet. They’re still learning about team defense.”
As a team, Navy is shooting just 37 percent from the field and a dismal 30 percent from 3-point range. The Midshipmen have committed 150 turnovers through 11 games with seven different players in double digits for that category.
“I’m trying to improve our shot selection. We take some really hard shots. That’s why our percentages are down – because we’re taking low-percentage shots,” DeChellis said. “We don’t make the extra pass. Offensively, it’s shot selection and execution of plays. Lately, I’ve been harping on taking care of the ball and making easy basketball plays.”
DeChellis pointed out that more than half of Navy’s 694 points have come from sophomores and freshmen. The Midshipmen need more production from the likes of starting power forward Evan Wieck (5.1 points per game) and senior swingman Ryan Pearson (1.6).
A total of 14 players have appeared in six games or more for Navy, which is still trying to figure out its rotation. Ten of those players are averaging almost 10 minutes or more.
“I’ve got guys who practice well for two days then get into the game and are not so good,” DeChellis said. “Other guys play well in one game then not the next one. That’s been a frustration as well.”
DeChellis said he has spent much of this week going back to the basics in terms of defense and rebounding while trying to simplify some of the schemes on both ends of the court. Navy will need one of its best efforts of the season in order to beat Colgate in the Patriot League opener for both schools on Thursday night at Alumni Hall.
Colgate went 8-5 against non-conference competition, giving a good account off itself in losses to Pittsburgh and Syracuse of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Midshipmen and Red Raiders played one common opponent and the results do not bode well for Thursday night’s matchup. Colgate routed Cornell (73-57) while Navy just lost to that Ivy League school (61-50).
“We’re going to face a team tomorrow that is very talented and played well during the non-conference schedule. It’s a very big, physical team that can score the ball,” DeChellis said.
Colgate has been led by sophomore point guard Jordan Burns, a Patriot League All-Rookie selection who is averaging 16.2 points and 4.1 assists. The Red Raiders picked up an impact player in Northwestern transfer Rapolas Ivanauskas, a 6-foot-10, 225-pound power forward who is putting up 13.9 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. Junior forward Will Rayman, a second team All-Patriot League pick a year ago, is contributing 12.8 points and 6.5 rebounds.
“The good thing about conference play is that everybody starts off 0-0. Mentally, we have to reset and attack these Patriot League games. We have to treat this like a fresh start and not play like a 3-8 team,” Abdullah said.
Abdullah said much of the non-conference season was spent building chemistry and cohesion. The Mids have a lot of new faces seeing significant action and it’s taken time to get everyone on the same page.
“It was a great growth period for our team. We have a lot of young guys that did not play last season and some others whose roles have changed this season,” Abdullah said. “I definitely feel like we’re growing mentally from top to bottom.”
DeChellis said the seniors on the squad have implored the younger players to not worry about having only won three games to date.
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“I would say the chatter in the locker room is to be confident and don’t play to our record. In my opinion, we’re a much better team than our record shows,” he said.