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UMBC basketball comes a long way, still room for improvement

The 2016-17 season brought a couple of firsts for the Retrievers men’s basketball team. It was their first winning season since 2007-08. It was also their first season with double digit wins since 2008-09. Head coach Ryan Odom deserves a bevy of credit for turning this program around. However, their quarterfinal loss in the America East Conference Playoffs shows there is still work to be done.

The Retrievers surprised a lot of people this season. Using the same players the team had a year ago, Odom guided the team to 18 wins and their highest seeding in the AEC playoffs since 2009. The teams plus-4.3 average point differential also suggests the turnaround was not fluke. The team’s performance was especially impressive considering the roster was mostly the same as last year’s 7-25 team.

Odom helped mold this program into one of the best offenses in the country. The team ranked 39th in the country in points scored per 100 possessions. The Retrievers often used the three point shot to overwhelm their opponents. The numbers bare this out, they ranked 35th in threes made, 79th in threes taken and 20th in three point percentage.

UMBC basketball fans also saw marked improvements in several players. Sophomore forward Joe Sherburne morphed into one of the best three point shooters in the country this year, making a blistering 47 percent. Sherburne also improved his overall and free throw efficiency (50 and 87 percent respectively). With presumably two seasons left at the school, Sherburne should remain a viable stretch option for the Retrievers.

As the old Vanessa Williams song goes, senior forward Will Darley saved the best for last. The Timonium native showed flashes of brilliance last season. This year, he blossomed into one of the best stretch fours in the AEC. Darley upped his scoring average from 11.9 to 15.7. He also increased his usage (from 19.8 last year to 23.2) and shot attempts (8.7 to 10.7) without sacrificing his efficiency (.484/.447/.887 shooting line).

A preseason All-Conference selection, junior guard Jairus Lyles remained the focal point of the offense. Lyles led the team in usage rate this year (29 percent) and showed why he got most of the touches. He led the team in scoring (19 PPG) and rebounding (6.4 RPG). Lyles also had the highest player efficiency rating on the team (21.4).

All that said, there is still room for improvement for the Retrievers. As good they were on offense, they were just as bad on defense. While the Retrievers defense did improve under coach Odom, they still finished an alarming 255th in the country in points allowed per 100 possessions.

In games against some of the better teams in the AEC, the Retrievers were often overwhelmed by the superior depth those programs had. One glaring weak spot was the front court depth. The Retrievers had only three forwards/centers on the roster coming into the season. While they got away with it early on, it later led to games where they got out-rebounded by their opponents.

On the whole, there is a lot for the Retrievers to build on. The team will lose just two players to graduation, though the loss of Darley will be big. However, another season with Lyles and fellow transfer guard K.J. Maura, the continued development of Sherburne, a full season of junior guard Rodney Elliott and some added depth should position the Retrievers as one of the favorites to win the AEC next year.

The Retrievers season is not over yet though, as they will now go on to compete against Fairfield University in the College Insider Postseason Tournament on March 15 at 7 p.m. in the RAC.