Category: Basketball NB

2014 Nationals: Bronze Medal Game

Throughout our training sessions leading up to Nationals we were very confident that this year’s New Brunswick U17 men’s team was a medal contender. With a win in our final game over our Atlantic Canada rival we would achieve that goal and improve on last year’s fourth place finish.

Unfortunately the bronze medal was not in the cards for us this year as we dropped our final game 83-67 to Nova Scotia.

For the third time in four games we started very poorly on offense shooting only 27% (6 for 22) in the first quarter. This game was even more frustrating than our semi-final game against Ontario because not only were we missing wide open scoring opportunities but many of the missed shots were layups. The saving grace for the first half, however, was our defense which held Nova Scotia to just 17% (3 or 17) in the 2nd quarter.

Nova Scotia led 30-27 at the half but like in the semi-final we headed to the locker room very positive because we knew we were getting good shots. The message at half time was to continue to grind out possessions by getting stops which could lead to transition baskets and eventually the shots will start to fall.

The third quarter was much more like the game everyone expected. Mainly because we started to make some shots and we were able to minimize our turnovers which had plagued us in the 1st quarter. We ended up playing the 3rd quarter even and considering the slow start, everything felt pretty good at this point.

The 4th quarter started much like the 3rd ended with us playing them evenly through the first 5 minutes. Then the wheels came off. Over the final 5 minutes Nova Scotia out scored us by 12 points and many of them came off wide open looks for Nova Scotia big man Alex Carson who finished with 26 points and 13 rebounds.

For the second year in a row we finish 4th in the country. If five years ago you were to tell that I’d be part of a provincial team that finished top 4 two years in the row I would have been pretty excited. I guess I need to keep reminding myself of that. The reality is, however, I’m disappointed that we were not able to win one of those last two games. I felt we were the better team in both games but obviously our opponents earned the right to say otherwise.

To be “disappointed” with a 4th place finish does speak well of where we are as a province. We are producing very talented players who have proven they can compete on the National level. I realize some of the large provinces are unable to field teams that include many of their top players because of popularity of club teams playing on the AAU circuit. But this doesn’t diminish the accomplishments of our teams. Those provinces have populations with millions of more people than we do here in New Brunswick. Heck, they even have cities with a higher population than all on New Brunswick.

This just proves that unless those provinces big their best they can not beat our best.

2014 Nationals: The Rematch

There was a lot of build up to yesterday’s rematch with Team Ontario. Since our first meeting on Friday they have been playing very well with convincing victories over Quebec (90-67) and Newfoundland (85-70) and looked to be hitting their stride. For us we were coming off an exciting victory over a very strong British Columbia (84-72) squad, and as most people know, had won our first round match-up with Ontario on Friday in convincing fashion.

The biggest challenge for us was finding a way to recover from Monday’s exhausting battle against BC. Tournaments like this are essentially a war of attrition. Not only are you playing day after day for an entire week, but with each step towards a medal game the opponent gets stronger. This means more minutes for your best players and those minutes need to be played at a higher level both physically and mentally.

Yesterday we lost that battle. We hit the wall.

Not to take anything away from a talented Ontario team but we just didn’t have it yesterday. This is very disappointing because we have taken pride in being one of the better teams at Nationals at taking care of the “controllables”. Players have done a great job all week of managing their rest, food intake and hydration in an living environment (university dorm rooms) that makes that a very challenging task.

As the game started yesterday it was obvious it was not going to be a pretty game. In the first quarter we had players missing wide open 15 foot jumpers, traveling on break away layups, and looking very sluggish on defensive. Meanwhile Ontario looked sharp, hitting jumpers from deep and getting easy run outs for layups. The 2nd quarter saw a few god runs but each time we started to look like ourselves Ontario would make another run. We ended the half down 16 points which, considering the way we played, wasn’t that bad.

The 3rd quarter was a little better especially when Ontario’s starting point guard had to leave the game with a sore ankle. With him out along with their starting center on the bench in foul trouble, we were able to go with a small line up who could pressure the Ontario ball handlers full court. This strategy was working perfectly on the defensive end but we still struggled to reward ourselves on the offensive end. As the quarter came to a close we had the led down to 10 points but Ontario ended the quarter with a 9-0 run and we ended up losing the quarter by 3 points. Huge blow!

The final quarter was much the same. We were able to pressure them into turnovers and tough shots late in the clock but each time we failed to get the defensive rebound or convert free throws on the other end. At around the 5:00 minute mark however we seemed to get a little more urgent with our defense which lead to a quick 10-0 run cutting the lead to 70-60 with 2:25 to play.

At this point we have all the momentum. We need one more stop and a quick score to make this realistic. As the Ontario player crosses over center he is trapped along the sideline near the Ontario bench. As he stops and attempts to pivot away from the the double team he clearly steps ACROSS (not on) the sideline. No call.

The Ontario player is able to swing the ball over to a teammate who misses the shot but because we are still scrambling back from the sideline trap they are able secure the offensive rebound. We end up committing a defense foul and they make both foul shots to put the lead back to 12 after taking 25 seconds off the clock. Game over!

Over the last two minutes we continue to fight but can’t make a dent in the led and Ontario wins 74-64.

Today will be a tough day. Last night we got hit with every possible challenge a team can face. We lost of game that required us to grind to 40 minutes. When we return to res the cafeteria is closed and the dorm rooms at 32 degrees with most rooms not having fans. The icing on the cake however is one of our players has food poisoning from eating the bagged lunches that have been a huge issue all week.

But this isn’t the time for excuses. All teams are dealing with the same issues. Bringing home a medal will definitely make it seem much better.

2014 Nationals: Day #5 British Columbia

I’m skipping the day #4 update. It was an off day with a players banquet during the evening. Nobody wants to here about that.

Monday was the day we’ve been waiting for since we lost to Manitoba on Saturday. There is no shame in loosing but it was disappointing to following up our opening night victory with a poor performance. With our 84-72 victory over British Columbia yesterday we were able to reestablish who we are as a team.

BC is a big team that is built around a strong low post game. Like most teams here they look to push the ball hard in transition but they primarily run half court sets to isolate their best players on the right-hand low block. Unlike other teams, however, they don’t use pick and roll to accomplish this. Instead they run a number of weak side screens and high-low passes for their paint touches.

This was a major concern for us heading into the game. Most of our guys are not are not great one-on-one low post defenders especially our wings who give up several inches in height to the BC forwards. With that said, our team does have two guys that are excellent paint protectors.

Ethan O’Neil and Gbemi Oguntona, who are only 6’4″, provide us with two low post defenders that are not only agile enough to defend pick and roll, but typically require very little help defending one-on-one in the low block.

Ethan approaches this by giving up his body. He protects the rim by taking charges anytime an opposing perimeter players attempts to drive to the basket and he defends the block by taking away the offensive player’s space. Gbemi is more of a traditional rim protector who plays much taller because of his ability to play above the rim.

Once we were able to establish that we could defend BC’s low post game one-on-one without helping this allowed the rest our team to stay are home on the perimeter keeping everyone in excellent rebounding position.

On the offensive end we were pretty confident heading into the game because of how BC defends ball screens. Watching them on tape we felt there was going to be lots of opportunity for our shooters to get free. We also thought that our smaller 6’2″ wing players would have an huge advantage over the bigger BC wings in transition.

As the 1st quarter began our assumptions proved correct but we didn’t convert. It was much like the Manitoba game as we were getting good looks but the ball wasn’t falling. We ended the quarter shooting only 30% (6-20). Fortunately our defense held BC to about the same percentage (28% on 5 for 18) allowing us to take a 17-13 at the quarter break.

In the 2nd quarter the shots began to fall (9-15 for 60%) including a couple of key threes. As our shooting percentage climbed it opened driving lanes which allowed us to get into the paint and to pick up some fouls on key players for BC. Despite the much improved offense in the 2nd quarter we were not unable to get much separation from BC as they too started to get easier looks. The 1st half end with us holding a 39-31 led.

By half time heat was also becoming a big factor. The temperature on the court was well over 30 and very humid. The physical nature of defending the bigger BC players was definitely starting to have a toll on our team. To compound the problem the venue ran out of ice so there was no ice packs available to help the players reduce their body temperatures as we tried to re-hydrate during the break.

The 3rd quarter was much the same as the second quarter. We were able to get open looks off our ball screens while BC was able to get into the paint for easy baskets. It was a true battle of style and neither team was backing up. BC won the quarter but we still had a 7 point led heading into the final 10 minutes.

As the 4th quarter progressed BC’s shooting percentage had fallen off but they were getting more shots than us either by crashing the offensive glass. BC also started making some defensive adjustments to take the ball out of Jack Tilley’s hands and to take away his open looks off our high ball screen action. But in true team fashion we took what the defensive gave us which was pick and pop for our screener. Ethan O’Neil and Zac Foster both seized the opportunity to knock down a couple of huge three pointers to kill any BC momentum.

Up next for us in Tuesday’s semi-final is Ontario. Game time is 6:00 pm (9:00 pm Atlantic). This is a rematch of last year’s semi-final at Canada Games which we lost by 12. The big challenge for us is recovery. Ontario will be well rested as Monday was their off day. How we mange the 20 hours between these two games will be the difference of playing for gold or bronze.

2014 Nationals: Day #3 Manitoba

The high and lows of Nationals. All teams experience them and we’re no different.

Following our Friday night victory over Ontario there was a huge out pouring of positive energy from NB’ers here in attendance and back home following us online and through social media. Given Ontario’s success over the years at Nationals this is understandable but unfortunately led to a little over confidence for us heading into a match-up with Manitoba who were last year’s silver medalist from Canada Games.

Manitoba looks to be a medal contender again this year. They have great guard play and bigs that control the boards and finish extremely well. If we consider ourselves a medal contender this was the game to prove that. Unfortunately that was not the case.

The game started as most do with each team trying to dictate their style of play. For us the focus was on defending the pick and roll that Manitoba uses to get their big men touches deep in the paint. For the most part we accomplished this but on the offensive end we couldn’t knock down some great open looks. The 1st quarter end in a 13-13 tie.

In the 2nd quarter our shooting struggles continued especially since Manitoba was playing exclusively in a 1-2-2 zone. With the guys feeling reluctant to shoot they started to over pass and over dribble the ball which led to live ball turnovers and easy baskets for Manitoba in transition. On the defensive end Manitoba was slowly adjusting to our pick and roll defense which resulted in their bigs getting high percentage shots. As the half came to a close we found ourselves down 13 points and more than a little deflated.

In the second half we were able to find our defensive intensity which led to easier baskets. We also benefited from being in the bonus less than 2 minutes into the third quarter which resulted in the Manitoba big men spending more time on the bench than on the floor. At the end of three quarters Manitoba still had a 51-46 led but we definitely we were back in the game and it was anyone’s to win.

The 4th quarter started much like the 3rd ended with us getting stops and being able to run out for easier scores. In the first few minutes of the final quarter we were able to get their lead cut to a single point but  could never get that key stop or basket to go ahead. As the 4th progressed and Manitoba started to bring back their bigs who had been out with foul trouble, the game slowly got away from us.

In the end Manitoba wins the game by 16 points. We walk away felling like we can play with them, especially when we can get them into their smaller lineup but the challenge is doing a better job at getting their big men to to catch the ball in places they are less effective.

Tomorrow (Sunday) will be an off day for us with the tournament banquet later in the evening. The plan is to support the other NB teams playing important play-in games, scout our next opponent (BC or PEI) and rest our bodies prior to Monday night’s quarter finals.

2014 Nationals Day #2 – Ontario

We’re finally here. It’s game day. Up first…Ontario.

Friday (yesterday) was all about a single purpose. Win our game against Ontario. Considering the Ontario U17 men’s team has not lost a game at Nationals in three years and NB has never beaten Ontario, this could easily be dismissed as wishful thinking on our part. But we had a huge advantage that most NB teams haven’t had in the past….we truly believed we were going to win.

This year’s BNB U17 team has five players from last year’s team that finished fourth. Those five guys want to show that last year was not a fluke and are 100% committed to being the best defensive team again this year.

Once the game started it didn’t take long us to validate our confident mindset. We were able to hold Ontario to 29% shooting for the first quarter plus we won the rebound and turnover battles. And we were just getting started. In the second quarter we shot 69% (11 for 16), were able to turn over Ontario over nine times while holding them to 39% shooting and extended our lead to 51-29 at half time.

As expected our hot shooting cooled off in the second half but we continued to play at a high level defensively to build our lead to as much as 32 points. Unfortunately with about five minutes left to play in the game and up 29 points we uncharacteristically lost our mental focus when Ontario applied a full court trapping zone defensive. The result was several costly turnovers leading to quick uncontested layouts. Fortunately we had built a big enough lead in the first 35 minutes that we were able to limp to the the finish line with a very rewarding 10 point win.

Stanley Mayambo (17 pts), Keegan Gray (15 pts) and Ethan O’Neil (11pts) led us in scoring but we got great contributions several players including Gbemi Oguntona coming off the bench to add 9 pts, 7 rebs and 5 blocks.

Up next is Manitoba who defeated Quebec 70-68 on a last second basket. They are a well coached team and have a couple of big men that control the boards and are effective scorers in the paint. Given our struggles with Ontario’s zone defense and full court pressure in the fourth quarter we suspect we may see a full diet of that on Saturday. Needless to say, that will definitely be “discussed” at practice tomorrow morning!

2014 Nationals Day #1

Today was our first full day here in Edmonton. The day was all about getting the players adjusted to the new time zone and settled into our daily routine.

The number one thing we have asked the boys to focus on leading up to Friday’s game is to properly manage their bodies. Given the warm weather, even warmer dorm rooms and less than ideal meal choices, this has been an extremely challenging task, Luckily there are several quality alternatives nearby where the boys can buy meals plus there is a grocery store only a few blocks away.

Today we had our first film session. Now that we are here at Nationals the focus of these sessions switches from reviewing ourselves to breaking down what the opponent does. All players are required to take notes during these session which they can review as part of their pregame prep.Finding film on the first opponent at Nationals is always a challenge but we managed to find a few clips.

20140724_133334We also had our first on court practice this afternoon. This was the first time the players have had any significant exercise since we arrived. It was good to get back on the court and to get lots of game-type shots up.

Given our busy schedule on Friday this might be the only time we get on the court before our first game so it was important to make the most of this time. It was only a short 45 minute session but the boys looked sharp.

The day wrapped up with a coaches meeting to review tournament rules and procedure while the players attended a NCAA Education session.

Overall it was a good day for our team. All the travel and time zone adjustments are behind us. We’re now in full competition mode.

2014 Nationals Set to Begin

With the 2014 National Championships about to kick-off tomorrow, I decided it was time to dust off the old Hardfouls blog. Hopefully this will provide those who are following our men’s U17 team a little more info that what we normally try to cram into our 140 character tweets.

This year the talk has been how the tournament is wide open and that several teams look like they have a legitimate chance to advance deep into the medal round. From what we can tell our NB U17 men’s team is one of those teams. We’ve defeated Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Quebec during exhibition play and Newfoundland has defeated Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island. Some of those games were played earlier this summer or without key players, but for the most part all games were close and everyone came away thinking they could win on any given day.

Based on last year’s strong showing at Summer Games we enter this year’s tournament as the four seed. This places us in the “power pool” with Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec. Four strong opponents for sure but we would not have it any other way. Our first two games will have us battled test heading into the medal round and should give us a good indication of where we stand in this year’s field.

Our first game is Friday night at 6:00 pm (9:00 pm Atlantic) against defending champs Ontario. We are definitely not looking past this game. The winner of this game is guaranteed to be one of the top two seeds which normally is a huge advantage in the quarter finals.

Today will be all about preparing physically and mentially for that game. The players will be settling into their normal daily routine and the coaching staff will be reviewing film in preparation for our practice today and tomorrow morning.

Thank you to everyone who have sent so many messages of support over the last 24 hours. We know you’re in our corner. Hopefully this time next week we’ll be heading home with a medal. Go NB!

Nationals: Summary

Sorry for neglecting to post about our final couple days at Nationals, but like the athletes, I too was mentally drained at the end of the event. Now that I’m laid up with my foot in a cast (long story…but nothing too serious) I have more than enough time on my hands.

As most everyone knows by now the BNB U17 men’s team failed to win their last two games at National which placed us eighth. Not exactly the finish we were looking for but at least it’s a small improvement from last year’s ninth place finish. The silver lining is 8th should place us in a pool at the 2013 Summer Games that gives us a legit chance at avoiding the #1 seed in the quarter finals.

To summarizes the last two defeats at Nationals (89-66 to Alberta and 74-60 to Saskatchewan) in a single phrase….poor mental approach to adversity.

Following the Ontario quarter-final game we appeared to be in good shape. Despite the lopsided score we felt we battled hard and competed to the end. We also took pride in the fact we made it difficult for a very athletic Ontario team to score in their half-court sets. Following our team meeting to debrief the Ontario game and to go over the scouting report for the Alberta team, we felt the team was in good shape and focused on winning the consolation bracket (5th place).

Unfortunately we came out very flat emotionally against Alberta and were never able to “flip the switch” once the game started. I’m not sure if the players assumed they would roll pass Alberta or if they felt they didn’t need the same energy they displayed against Ontario, but regardless the result was we never came together as a team. The term I used to describe our play was “lack of trust” as it appeared the perimeter players didn’t trust dumping the ball inside for post touches and that our bigs didn’t trust the ball was coming back if they pass out when the defence collapsed. This resulted in too much one-on-one play and many challenged shots.

Against Saskatchewan we had a great start to the game both physically and emotionally, but once we hit a little adversity at the end of the 1st quarter the “trust” issues reappeared, causing us to struggle on offence which lead to Saskatchewan going on a 26-4 run. In the second half we did a much better job of playing together but we were never able to get closer than 10 points.

From my perspective there was little difference between our team and the teams that finished 2nd through 7th. These differences are well within our control to overcome and are not related to lack of athleticism or size.  For example Manitoba (2nd) and Nova Scotia (5th) depended on full court pressure and athletic perimeter players. They were two of the smaller teams to make the quarter finals.

Experience tells me that most people feel BNB should be developing players to play in the same style as Manitoba and Nova Scotia because we can not consistently field teams with enough skilled bigs to win the half-court, ground-and-pound games. Ironically, perimeter oriented teams that force an up tempo , full-court game are exactly the type of teams that give BNB squads the most problems.

As I said above, the differences between us and the other teams 2nd through 7th are manageable. Regardless if we decide to play up tempo or slow it down, we need to develop athletes that believe they belong at that level and have the confidence they are going to win regardless of the opponent. To me these are qualities Manitoba and Nova Scotia demonstrated often in the games I watched and were not always present for us. This will definitely be a big focus area for us as a coaching staff as we prepare for the 2013 Canada Summer Games.

Nationals: Day #6

As I said in yesterday’s post, there are lots of clichés available for underdog teams to sling around heading into tough games. There are just as many clichés for players and coaches following a lopsided defeat but we’ll try to avoid using any of them. We approached last night’s game with an attitude of that we belonged, so today we’ll assess what worked, what didn’t and then move on like we would any other defeat.

The up side of last night’s game was how our team defended the Ontario side pick-and-roll which is the primary action they use to start their offense. We decided to force them to reject the screen by pushing them down the sideline. At first this worked as planned plus we were able to score some early buckets. With the game tied at 11 five minutes into the first quarter we were feeling pretty good. Unfortunately at that point Ontario drilled four consecutive 3 pointers and never looked back.

Hopefully our top players come away from that game with some confidence that they can complete with the elite players in the country. At the same time they also need to realize they need to make a bigger commitment to their physical conditioning as on too many occasions the Ontario players simply overpowered our guys. Improving their strength and stamina should also help improve our shooting percentage which was extremely poor against Ontario (14 for 60 for 23% last night) especially after the 1st quarter as NB players got tired.

Today (Saturday Aug 4) we take on Alberta in a consolation semi-final. A win today will put us into the 5th place game on Sunday. Not only would this be a great accomplishment considering how we started the week, but would be a huge advantage for next year’s Summer Game team.

 

Nationals: Day #5

Incredible team effort! That’s a phrase I’ve utter numerous times in the last 12 hours following our 85-53 victory over Newfoundland U17. I’m sure anyone that was able to watch our game would assume I’m referring to the team defense we played or the ball movement on offense, but we actually won that game because of the prep our coaching staff did two days prior to tip-off.

This year we are fortunate to have four coaches on staff. Not only does this help with all the tedious game day tasks, but more importantly, it gives us a much greater ability to scout opponents and start preparing game plans long before we need them. In the case of Thursday’s game against Newfoundland, our prep started with assistant coaches Ryan Chase and Peter Hickey scouting their game against Quebec on Tuesday.

The notes from their scouting report were discussed and debate over and over during our coaches meeting. After discussing numerous options regarding tactical adjustments and player match-ups, a practice plan was developed. After seeing our adjustments in action on the practice court  the coaching  staff once again challenged each other on possible problems and counters. This lead to us tweaking our original plans but by the end of the 60 minutes all the players and coaches were very comfortable with the game plan and feeling confident that we were ready to show what were capable of.

So the prize for all this hard work and dedication is a quarter-final match-up with team Ontario. To say we are the underdog would be more than an understatement and there are endless sport clichés for underdogs in our position, but we’re ignoring all that. Instead we’ll take comfort in our preparation. That preparation began on Wednesday when our assistant coaches were in the stands watching Ontario play Alberta three days ago.