I just finished watching a replay of the Western Michigan win against Ball State. I feel like I have a pretty good grasp of what the Cardinals are at this point in the season, so this game was a good litmus test to take a deeper look at what the Broncos are doing.
First off, I want to say this was a bad game by the Cardinals, and I wasn’t particularly impressed with the job the refs did tonight. Both lackluster performances were based, at least in part, by things that the Broncos were doing. Specifically, they were attacking the rim on offense, and the going for the ball once it got into the lane on defense. That will be frustrating for the opposing team, and make the game harder to call for the refs. Generally in that situation, the refs are going to error on the side of the home team and the aggressor. In this case, the Broncos were both.
Examining the Broncos offense, two things jumped out. They were making better decisions, and being more aggressive. The root of this new found success lies in the better play from all the new faces. They are getting more effective time, which let’s the whole team play more aggressive, and allows for them to play with a sense of urgency.
Instead of standing around, waiting for someone to make a play, they are working their motion offense toward the rim. Earlier in the season, if they drove to the basket, half the time they would end up taking a wild shot from 5 feet out. Now they are either going to the rim, or kicking it out if the defense packs it in, getting good looks from the perimeter.
A big change at the start of the streak was starting Seth Dugan in place of Drake LaMont. This was a good move on several fronts. It gave Dugan more confidence, and he is a more natural fit for what the Broncos are doing on offense. As they weave their way toward the basket, a dish to Dugan cutting on the baseline is much more likely to end in good things. LaMont is still getting minutes and is playing well. He is a solid back to the basket player, but he needs to develop his right hand. Defenses are shading him so far to his left, nearly every shot he takes is completely contested. He’d find a lot easier sledding if he went to the right once or twice.
On defense, I saw more aggressive play. Some of the Broncos were winded at the first time out. Because they could go deeper into their bench, and longer, it wasn’t a bad thing. They were content to pack it in, and if they gave up a good shot, it was on the perimeter. That’s always a good strategy, especially if the other team is missing. If a team isn’t shooting well, the best thing for them to do is to get to the basket to get the ball going through the hoop. That didn’t happen much in this game.
The Broncos are basically doing what they want to do better than they did earlier in the season. No one particular player is playing out of his mind nor is there any fundamental change in their strategy. The coaches are coaching, and the young players are learning. With the turnaround this team has had, coach Hawkins is on my short list of contenders for coach of the year.
Because it isn’t some miraculous play by one guy, or the 70% shooting night they had earlier in the season, I fully expect the Broncos to keep playing well. In other words, I don’t think the streak is a result of a fluke. Western Michigan is now tied for the lead in the MAC West and I believe they are a legitimate contender for the MAC tournament.