After snapping their three-game losing streak last Saturday against the University of Massachusetts Lowell River Hawks, the UMBC men’s basketball team heads into their final two games of the season in position to challenge for the America East Championship. To do so, they need to continue doing what has resulted in their successful season so far.
With most of the same players from last year, head coach Ryan Odom revitalized the Retrievers (17-10, 8-6 in America East Conference) offensive attack. The Retrievers points per 100 possessions rankings skyrocketed in nearly a years time, going from 251st in 2015-16 to 28th this season. The team has used their exciting and high-powered (for college) offense to great success.
At their best, the Retrievers overwhelm teams with their pinpoint three-point shooting (seventh in the country in efficiency) and a slightly faster pace (0.6 more possessions than last year). The offense is operating like a well-oiled machine, which often translates into victories. In 14 of their 17 wins, the Retrievers have also scored at least 80 points.
However, the Retrievers losses, particularly during their three-game losing streak, reflect the strides UMBC needs to take this season and going forward. Although better than last year, the Retrievers still struggle to slow other teams down on defense. They rank just 274th in points allowed per 100 possessions and a minus 49 rebounding margin. They also failed to reach 80 points in all of their losses.
When the offense is not working, teams exploit the Retrievers lack of size for extra chances at the rim and the foul line. These teams also do a good job neutralizing junior guard Jairus Lyles (11 PPG, .324/.300/.818 shooting line in losing streak) forcing the team to look elsewhere for offense.
Take the recent three-game skid games for example. In the losses, UMBC allowed many more free throw attempts. Opponents drove to the rim with no fear and constantly drew contact. UMBC also had a minus 35 rebounding margin. The University of Vermont/Hartford University/University at Albany combo outscored the Retrievers with second chance points and off the bench as well.
The UMass Lowell game served as a nice reprieve. The final two games serve as UMBC’s final tests before the AEC tournament. UMBC hosts Stony Brook University in the former’s final home game of the year. Then, they close out the regular campaign at the University of New Hampshire on Feb 25.
Both teams have winning records and run a slightly slower pace than the Retrievers. While Stony Brook is pretty average across the board, New Hampshire sports one of the best defenses in the country (51st in pts allowed/100 poss). Beating one or both teams to maintain a top four seed in the conference will not be easy for UMBC.Doing so may require the Retrievers to simply be who they are going forward.
It might be a little late for this team to morph into the Pat Riley-era New York Knicks overnight. However, with a slightly improved defense, not impossible, combined with their usual blistering offense– UMBC has a chance against anyone in the conference. The Retrievers are at their best outscoring teams with an avalanche of threes while sharing the ball. It may not be enough to call it a sure thing, but it’s enough to give them a chance.