The Dalhousie Tigers men’s basketball team has a lot to think about. An abysmal start to the season, although still early, has the Tigers tied for last place in the AUS. Not only has the lack of chemistry led to a 0-3 start, there hasn’t been much promise of good things to come. That is, at least, if things stay the same.
After having last won the AUS championship in 2011, this squad has a very different feel to it this time around. Let’s face it: the time has passed when we can expect the Tigers to perennially challenge for the AUS title. Head coach John Campbell has a team of young guns: seven of the 16 players on the roster are in their first year of CIS eligibility. Talk about some serious potential to work with. I’ve seen them practice, and I can definitely say the skill is there, but something is lacking. Something that is essential to every team, in every sport, at any level: chemistry.
Although the team is built around a veteran core of third-year guard Jumol Mullings and fourth-year forwards William Yengue and Simon Marr, the youngins haven’t found their comfort zone within the rotation. And with a sense of discomfort comes the inevitable lack of chemistry. How can any team find their groove if the first-year players, who in this case make up almost half of the team, are still adjusting to the high intensity of AUS ball?
Coming off two back-to-back road losses at UPEI last week, the Tigers tried to reverse their luck in their home opener against UNB Nov. 17 but lost 65-52. Although it didn’t look like the Tigers even had a chance against the Varsity Reds, the potential to compete at the top of the AUS is definitely there. Dal has spot-up shooters, terrific ball handlers, a strong low-post presence and a head coach with 11 years of experience under his belt. Here are four key ways the Tigers can turn their season around.
1. Communication: The most important thing on the court is knowing where your teammates are. In pre-season and regular season games there has been a lack of talking on the hardwood. Once the team gets more comfortable with each other, communication will become a natural part of their game. No one expects that a team with so many new faces will mesh immediately, but watch out AUS, because once they do, it’s game time.
2. Ball Movement: Let the ball do the work. No matter how aggressive you are, or how fast your team runs the fast break, no one can move as fast as swinging the ball around the ark to create an open look. Once the team starts jelling nicely and communication becomes second nature to them, improved ball movement will surely follow suit. The players are good, don’t get me wrong—but having said that, there is no one on the roster who can consistently create their own looks and score off them. That is where ball movement comes into the equation. Moving the ball forces your opponent to scramble, double-team, or create mismatches that will allow you to score a lot more efficiently. It is essential that everyone gets to touch the leather, but it is even more important for the rookies coming off the bench. You’d be surprised the boost of confidence it gives you when you’re holding that orange sphere.
3. No more turnovers: Turning over the ball is a double-edged sword. Not only do you give up your own opportunity to put some digits on the scoreboard, you give your opponent the chance to score. The Tigers have to take care of the rock and stop forcing bad passes. If Campbell can find a way to calm the nerves of his ball-handlers and reduce the amount of turnovers per game, Dal’s chances of winning those nail-biters increases almost exponentially.
4. Chemistry: This is a tough one. Some say you have to add some sugar, spice and everything nice, while others have said it just happens when it happens. Regardless of how it works, the Tigers need some of it as soon as possible. Once a team has chemistry and the players truly trust one another, they become a force to be reckoned with, regardless of how much talent is on the roster. And unfortunately for other AUS teams, Dal has a lot of talent.
The Tigers have a very bright future ahead of them. Although things are off to a rough start, the sheer amount of young firepower can surely lead to a few championship runs. First-year starters Devon Stedman and Kashrell Lawrence have a ton of potential. Stedman showed exactly what he is capable of, scoring 12 points against UNB and tying the team lead with six boards. Now that everyone is healthy and the rotation is settling down, let’s hope the Tigers turn things around and go back to their winning ways of the past.
Follow @SamVlessing on Twitter for live home game coverage of Dal men’s basketball this season.