Western Michigan's (6-10) loss to Ball State at home on Tuesday means the Broncos are 0-3 to start MAC play, and with red-hot Northern Illinois next up for the Broncos it doesn't appear to be getting any easier.
By now you know the story of star forward Connar Tava, red shirting with an injury he suffered pre season. Of course, that's great news for the 2016-2017 edition of Bronco basketball, but, well, pretty awful news in the interim. The Broncos had a rather rocky go of it in the non conference and looked to have a pretty high upside headed into MAC play, but nothing seems to be going right for the brown and gold.
A big culprit for the team's struggles is the lack of a reliable third scoring option. Tava wasn't exactly lighting up the scoreboard at just over 12 points per game, but his absence calls for one or more players to pick up the slack, and that just hasn't happened. Thomas Wilder and Tucker Haymond have been nothing short of magnificent for WMU, but haven't been able to carry the load on their own, even though they rank in the top five in scoring in the conference. Through three games Wilder and Haymond average 25 and 13.3 points per game respectively, but they are the only Bronco players in double figures, perhaps explaining WMU's league worst 67 points per game.
Anthony Avery and Kellen McCormick have seen increased minutes, but have averaged just 8.3 and 7.3 points respectively, hardly enough production to fill the void. Perhaps the most glaring production gap lies in the play of Taylor Perry and Drake Lamont, who despite each averaging around 28 minutes per game average just 6.6 points collectively.
Another reason the Broncos struggle scoring the basketball is they simply give possessions away. WMU has turned the ball over 14 times per game since MAC play tipped off last week, and it hasn't done them any favors in close games. Chronic turnovers are especially detrimental to a team like Western Michigan that finds most of its offensive production via efficient half court sets as opposed to transition, and nothing is less efficient than a turnover. Making matters worse is that WMU has failed to create many turnovers of its own in MAC pay, stealing a possession from the opposition just under 10 times per game.
Die by the three
Not helping the cause is the disappearing act from behind the arc. The Broncos are a somehow-not-league-worst (but second worst) 24.2 percent shooting from three, and it feels even worse considering the team has attempted the sixth most three pointers in the conference. It doesn't take an expert to know that shooting more threes than half the conference only to watch three quarters of them find something other than the bottom of the net isn't very good. Over half of the team's attempts from behind the arc come from two players, Wilder and Haymond, and shockingly enough it's the latter that is struggling the most. Haymond is shooting just 23.5 percent over the last three games. If you can live and die by the three, the Broncos have been doing a ton of dying.
Enough salt in the wound, where's the optimism?
It all sounds really grim, but the Broncos truthfully haven't been that bad.
Sure, the team is a mess on offense outside of its dynamic duo in the back court and can't seem to hang onto the ball, but a few bounces and some warmer shooting could have this team sitting at 1-2 at least. The good news is that the staples of a Steve Hawkins team, hard work, defense and rebounding, are still there. The team doesn't show signs of quitting.
The Broncos performance defensively and on the glass are a testament to the hard work trademarked by the Hawkins program. WMU is out rebounding the conference through three games despite lacking a single individual player in the top 10 conference wide in that category. The team even leads the MAC in offensive rebounds astonishingly - perhaps due to the poor three point shooting - and has been helped by Haymond throwing in 10 of his own.
The team is still in the top half of the league defensively, and that should keep it in some close games, but eventually it will have to figure it out on the offensive end to salvage what's left of a season that seemed so promising many months ago.