Army’s Surprising Start

That's the West Point prep team. I don't care, it's hard to find a picture.

Army basketball doesn’t exactly have an illustrious history. Here are their records and conference finishes in the past 5 years:

11-19 (6-8) 4th

14-16 (6-8) T-5th

15-16 (4-10) T-6th

5-22 (1-13) 8th

3-24 (1-13) 8th

Two things to mention: 1, the Patriot League is an 8 team league. 2nd, it is apparent that things are headed in the right direction in West Point. Still, no one could have seen Army’s 7-2 start. They also have the highest rating in the Patriot League, at 136.

How have they done so? By playing slow, playing good defense, and relying on their best player. At 65.8 possessions, Army is the 270th fastest team in Division 1 basketball. Two of the three times they deviated from that plan, they lost. Getting suckered into a high tempo game with VMI (90 possessions!) is understandable, but for the most part, they have grinded out victories.

One thing Army’s games feature is tons of turnovers. They are 33rd out of 347 as far as keeping the ball. They turn it over on over a fourth of their possessions. But, they also force more turnovers than any other team, turning it over on over 30% of their defensive possessions.

Clearly Army has improved with as their players have gotten older. Clearly the veteran leadership has shown up for Army (they are the 11th most experienced team in the country. Although you gotta wonder about all the turnovers.)

But perhaps the most interesting thing about Army is the play of Sophomore Julian Simmons. Simmons plays less than half of Army’s minutes, but when he’s in there he makes DaMarcus Cousins look like a deferential player. Simmons takes 44.1% of the Black Knight’s shots when he’s in there. That is the highest rate in the entire country. Somehow, he has the 2nd highest TS% among players who actually play.

Whether Army can survive on their approach of having absolutely no one who is good at offense but a lot of people who are good at defense remains to be seen. The skeptic in me doubts that they can continue to force turnovers at the current rate, but with our preseason Patriot favorites Holy Cross and Lehigh off to rough starts, Army could be looking at its first postseason bid in a long time.

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