Evaluating the Offensive Struggles of Mount St. Mary’s

Another year, another opportunity for us to semi-panic about Mount St. Mary’s! See, even I’ve done it in past seasons here and here. Why are they losing so much? Where has the offense gone? Does Jamion Christian truly have enough depth to install his Mount Mayhem model? These are questions that are seemingly asked every single season because, well, the Mount always plays a ridiculous out-of-conference schedule loaded with five or more guarantee games.

The 2016-17 season may be the toughest non-conference schedule Christian has ever constructed and that’s saying a lot. Six of the Mount’s first eight opponents landed in KenPom’s top 60, while the other two, George Mason and Southern Illinois, are respectable mid-major programs. This murderous start of the schedule shouldn’t have concerned us much; after all, the Mountaineers were favored to lose every road game.

Mount St. Mary’s actually exceeded my low expectations by upsetting George Mason in a thriller of a contest, but since then the team hasn’t performed well versus “like” competition. It’s the most recent three game stretch that concerns me a little and Mount St. Mary’s fans a lot.

In those setbacks to Loyola (MD), UMBC and Lehigh, the Mount notably sputtered after halftime, scoring on average just 12 points over the first 10 minutes of the second half. So what has led to the poor start against mid-major competition? I offer some thoughts as to why much of it, I believe, lies on the offensive side of the ball:

1) The Offense is Still Looking For Its Rhythm

In their last three games, the Mount has mustered just 0.92 points per possession. Many of the offensive statistics aren’t inspiring, but just a simple eye test will tell you that the chemistry of this generally inexperienced team is off. There’s way too much dribbling, not enough penetration, and surely not enough sharing of the basketball.

One of the things Christian focused on this offseason was making sure his team made the right pass to get teammates in advantageous positions to score. Despite the focus, the Mount is 324th nationally in assists to field goals made (43.5%) and it hasn’t really gotten much better over the last three games (46.1%). Residing in 9th place among their NEC counterparts in assists per game isn’t where Christian wants the team to be.

It would also help if the Mount made their open looks, which they haven’t for the most part. Will Miller has converted just 26.7% of his 3-point attempts, easily a career low. Junior Robinson has a pedestrian effective field goal percentage of 45.8%. The team as a whole is setting a career low, under Christian, in two-point field goal percentage at 43.0%. It would probably suit the Mount well to increase their three-point takes – remember the Mount Mayhem model prefers a copious amount of threes, usually an average of 25 attempts per game!

2) The Frontcourt Has Trouble Generating Their Own Offense

When Gregory Graves and Taylor Danaher were part of the Mount’s frontcourt, they provided Christian with excellent balance one through five. Although they weren’t offensive stalwarts, the big men were solid at generating offense on their own. For starters, they could pull post defenders away from the rim – as the seniors combined to shoot 36.0% on their shots away from the rim. That’s not great, but it’s far better than what the current frontcourt of Chris Wray and Mawdo Sallah has produced. Both have combined to shoot a paltry 12.8% on their 39 away-from-the-rim attempts with Sallah going 0 for 14 on his jump shots. If you’re a defender, there isn’t a good reason not to dare Wray and Sallah to beat you away from the basket.

In addition, neither player provides much of a post presence, whereas the 7-foot-0 Danaher could get a bucket in the post with his back to the basket. Granted, Christian wasn’t calling plays for Danaher like he was Julian Boyd, yet one to three of those baskets per game took some pressure off this teammates who made their living from the perimeter. This season, that post presence is lacking and it’s placed more of the shot making burden on the guards and wings of Christian’s offense.

Wray and Sallah are terrific athletes, no one would ever dispute that, but they don’t seem to be far enough in their offensive development to consistently create for themselves and score all over the floor. It’s part of the reason for the Mount’s low 2-point field goal percentage.

3) The Defense Hasn’t Bailed the Offense Out As Much

When Mount Mayhem is clicking on all cylinders, the team is usually able to extract lots of turnovers and turn them into easy buckets in transition. So far this season, the Mount’s defensive turnover rate is middling at 19.8%, and it hasn’t improved much against mid-major competition.

Will it get better? There’s reason to believe this will improve, especially as Christian begins to expand his rotation back to 9, 10 players. In the early going, it made sense to play a condensed roster, especially when you’re competitive with the likes of George Mason, Southern Illinois, Arkansas and Michigan in the second half. Why play your back-of-the-rotation guys and risk the higher ranked opponents going on a run?

If Christian begins to trust players like Khalid Nwandu, Ryan Gomes and Randy Miller more, then the turnover rate could begin to tick upward, and coincidentally easy buckets in transition will follow. All it takes is a few buckets a night off turnovers to lift a heavy load from the team’s half-court offense.

Push comes to shove, do I believe Mount St. Mary’s will reside in the bottom 30 of KenPom in offensive efficiency? No I don’t, but it has to be a little concerning that after 11 games, the offense still is struggling to mold into a cohesive unit. If Christian can get his players to improve on the three points I shared, then they’ll compete for the NEC title. It’s now up to the players to improve on the statistics I outlined.

You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride

24 thoughts on “Evaluating the Offensive Struggles of Mount St. Mary’s

  1. You made some very good points. As you know you can’t make shots without ball movement and guys catching it in rhythm. Guys are going to struggle if they are cutting and moving without the ball and they never get it. They start to loose confidence. You can’t have a guy dribble for over 20 sec and expect the offense to be fluid. You can’t have one guy take six shots in a row. Everyone will start to just stand around. We have a good team. But you have to have a distributor running the team not a scorer.


  2. Excellent points have been made with your observation.

    It’s surprising to me that the returning core players from last year’s team haven’t shown a lot of improvement from the previous year, with the exception of Long with his scoring. Miller, Wray, and Nwandu still appear to be one-dimensional in their skillset. Really haven’t seen Glover play much this year so not sure if he’s improved or not. Robinson and Long appear to be the only players from last year’s core that use their entire skillset.

    Alexander and Wilson have had their moments and seem to be nice additions. In casually observing, Wilson is another player that uses his entire skillset. It’s good to see Sallah back on the court with his rim protection defense and rebounding.

    Agree with Steve about way too much dribbling from the guards trying to create their own shot and guys standing around watching. Move and sharing the ball is the way to get everyone involved. Klay Thompson scored 60 points the other night and he only had the ball in his hands less than 3 minutes the entire game.

    Still a work in progress and hopefully the ship will turn around sooner rather than later.


  3. No offensive flow, very poor passing, no one sets any screens to free up shooters. These contribute to not being able to shoot the basketball very well. Not 100% sure on the ability to make adjustments, either. For both UMBC and Lehigh, the games were essentially lost during the first 5 minutes of the second half. The team battled back against UMBC to a certain degree, but I think overall, the team is too passive and needs to be the aggressor (especially at home).


  4. I’ve been a fan of The Mount for several years now but, as I watch the games, I just scratch my head as to what’s going on. Every team I’ve been associated with, the natural progression is that the seniors are the guys who keep everyone together. This year that falls on the shoulders of Nwandu, Glover, and Miller. All 3 averaged playing at least or close to half the game last year and I’m shocked that they aren’t playing at least that and more this year. Of the 3 this year, only Miller appears to have any opportunity to make a difference on the court, but he is struggling shooting.

    This article speaks of Mayhem and I’m a firm believer that defense generates offense. Two guards, Mayhem only works when you have fresh bodies to rotate to keep up the pressure. Nwandu and Glover are the epitome of defense and yet, they are spectators on the bench, for the most part. Nwandu lately looks to be getting an opportunity but Glover, unless he’s hurt, looks to be in the proverbial dog house once occupied by Josh Costellanos, Chris Martin, and occasionally BK Ashe from prior teams. I absolutely love the effort Sallah brings to the defensive side of the ball. Wray has shown flashes but is inconsistent so far. Gomes will be a serviceable big once he gets more experience. Miles is going to be a good one. As expected, his play is not consistent.

    Offensively, I agree with previous responses. Too much dribbling, bad shot selection, standing around on offense, and selfish play.

    Still time to get it together but they have to collectively come together and correct their mistakes.


      1. Then Glover should be on the floor. Looking at his shooting percentages from last year, he’s definitely not worse than what’s going on now. Plus he has experience and good defense which is sorely missing from this years team.


      2. Yeah, I don’t have a good explanation for why Glover isn’t on the floor, at least for 15 minutes per night. This coaching staff has always raved about his defense, so maybe their train of thought is that Glover is too much of an offensive liability to give him minutes. But like you said playing Junior and Eli 30+ minutes per night doesn’t seem to be doing the trick either.


      3. I went back into last years stats to see how Glover shot. He shot 24-57 3pt for 42%. That’s a whole lot better than what I’m seeing from the guards currently. Plus he had games of 22 vs Lehigh, 17 vs James Madison, and 11 vs Ohio State.

        Now for whatever reason, he didn’t shoot as well during conference play but
        something doesn’t add up as to why he’s not playing more.

        This team needs a spark from somewhere.


  5. I find it odd this article does not bring up the leading scorer BK Ashe not being there anymore. BK Ashe bailed this team out the last couple years with his offensive play, and was the only player who could get his own shot for the last couple years.


    1. You are correct, Jason, Ashe did bail the team out quite a bit. But he also lost some close games for the Mount with his at times terrible shot selection. Christian encourages lots of threes and an aggressive style, so sometimes you live by the sword and die by the sword.

      If I had more time, I absolutely could’ve added the loss of Ashe into this piece. The reason I didn’t is people inside the Mount program were confident they could make up for his loss offensively with the insertion of Long at the 1 and Junior at the 2. So far, that hasn’t quite worked out, obviously.


      1. Long and Junior are good layers but Ashe’s ability to attack the rim is what separated him from them. Players like Miller, Graves, Robinson all got open looks because Ashe was such a rim attacker at times. Take the playoff game they won for example. Robinson got injured so the Mount literally ran pick and roll/pick and pop with Ashe every play and won. With no rim attackers this year the mount are in big trouble. It looks like the Mount underestimated how important Ashe was


      2. Excellent point Jason about Ashe.

        Very strange that he would leave going into his senior year, especially since he was the leading scorer. That’s unheard of in college unless you are a graduate transfer.


  6. The Mount is in for a long season after watching them last night against Bucknell. The individual parts of this team do not play well together.


  7. Unfortunately there are a few bad takeaways from the game last night.

    The overall basketball IQ of The Mount is low.
    * Careless mistakes/turnovers

    Guards out of control.
    * Trying to drive when there is no lane
    * Too many attempts at spinning in the lane (turnovers)
    * Not kicking ball out when double/tripled teamed in lane
    * Trying to do too much by forcing shots

    * Can folks please stop calling him a 3pt specialist (17-67 25.4%)
    * Too many forced/quick shots that result in shot not close to going in or air balls

    * Young and inconsistent

    There is a lot more, especially on the defensive side, but being optimistic for a change to correct all the deficiencies.


    1. We have to call Miller a 3PT specialist, that’s the only type of shot he attempts! I think Miller’s #s will improve once NEC play commences since most of the 3s and 4s guarding Miller will be smaller and he can shoot over the top of them.

      Does he hit more than 35% of his 3s in league play though? I’m taking the under, because coaches know he can’t be left alone under any circumstances. When you had Norfleet, Prescott and Whack on the floor with Miller, the defense had to focus on those guys beating you – now they can hone in on Miller more so than before.


    2. @MSM FAN – spot on with your assessment of the guard play. Bucknell isn’t that much better than us, but their basketball IQ is representative of their discipline on the court. Something this team DESPERATELY lacks.


      1. A team is reflective of it’s coaching. Apparently they are allowed to play like that with no repercussions. Long and Robinson appear to have that “let me try this and see if it works” mentality, while the other players play somewhat restricted.

        Since Long/Robinson appear to have leading roles on the floor, I don’t see them encouraging their teammates to play harder or get their teammates in the right spots on the floor to be successful. If they did that, maybe their assists will be higher than their turnovers. Hero ball does not work.


  8. 1st off Robinson is not a 2 guard. He is a point guard who has run the team the 1st 2 years with success. Now he is being asked to play the 2. To stand in the corner and when Long gets in trouble to bail him out with a jump shot. It’s not his job this year to get others involved it’s Lind job. But he is a scorer being converted into a point guard. If you look at the games you can see that. The points you made about Glover is true. But go back and look at who got all these players the ball. Last year when the Mount went on their run losing to FDU by 5 who won the conference tournament Jr was running the team cause Long was out hurt. You should know that a point guard runs the team gets others involved controls the tempo and makes smart reads. Think of all the allies Chris Wray got last year moving and cutting without the ball. Now he looks average cause the pass isn’t there. This is what your going to see until Long develops court vision and sets his players up instead of himself. And stop with all the dribbling in one place and move the ball for the cutters. But until now this is what your going to get and its causing other players to force up shots cause they never know when they will get the ball. If you say you are Mount fans go back and look at the last 2 years. You will see that we don’t play like that anymore. And the point on BK. He was in and out of the dog house so he wasn’t always bailing out the team when he was in and out the game. Yes he made big shots and missed big shouts. But they played more team ball back then.


  9. Another thing to consider – other than Jamion Christian, this is an entirely new coaching staff. The top two assistants from last year (Donny Lind @ Radford and Ben Wilkins @ Army West Point) are gone – not sure if they were let go or left on their own volition. I don’t know the new coaches at all, and am by no means discrediting them, but perhaps their coaching style/philosophy has yet to resonate.


    1. That’s an excellent point and something that hadn’t crossed my mind. That could possibly play a factor in offensive scheme, tempo, etc.

      To my knowledge the assistants left on their own to pursue better opportunities, so it was just a coincidence that it all happened at once. We saw the same thing happen to Howie Dickenman a couple years back.


      1. Yes, I agree about the coaching playing a part. But the question I have is why replace veteran coaches with basically 3 rookie coaches, unless Christian doesn’t want a dissenting voice on his staff. If that’s the case, then this falls on him.

        One thing I’ve noticed is the amount of half court sets Christian calls during a game. In my humble opinion, play calling from the bench should be minimized at this level, Of the many college games I’ve watched and been a part of, the coaches let the guys play and teach them to recognize certain defenses and make adjustments accordingly.


      2. I agree this isn’t high school or AAU. The work you put in in the summer should show. Unless your a coach who wants to control every play. But like someone said earlier. Its not enough discipline out there. You have to wonder if he doesn’t call the plays would the ball get passed around. And when the guys force or go one on one. Did he call a play for them to do that. When a player comes down 5 straight times and tries to score and never pass the ball. Did the coach call that play each time. There is a lot of frustrated players,fans and parents. Everyone is confused at this point.


  10. Ryan – You need to start a Mount forum so we can always talk about the good, bad, and the ugly of Mount basketball.

    Very good constructive comments on here.


    1. Been wanting to set up a Message Board for a few years now – just don’t have the time to administer it. Looks like there would definitely be some interest, though, which is good!


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