For the first 11 years of his coaching career, Horace Broadnax ran a tight ship. Savannah State was a reliably slower-than-average team that deployed all of its resources on the defensive end. They were basically the San Diego State of the MEAC. So when they played really good teams early in the season, the results on offense were sometimes disastrous. You may remember the time Savannah State scored an NCAA-record four points in a half. Or the time they didn’t score until there was 4:02 left in the first half. Or the games where they allowed 39 points or 41 points, and still lost.
I could go on. Point being you knew what you were getting from Savannah State over the past decade. Low-possession, defensive minded games that were difficult to watch in non-conference play but worked well enough when the Tigers played teams on their own level. The 2012 and 2013 seasons were the glory years of SSU basketball. That 2013 season, in particular, was a doozy: The Tigers ranked 293rd in tempo, 337th offensively and 22nd defensively on their way to an overall ranking of 208th.
For my own personal taste, this is not the most interesting basketball to watch. I am kind of a simpleton in that respect. Give me pace and points. But Broadnax inherited a team that didn’t win a single basketball game the season before he took over nor was a member of a conference. So, whatever works.
But somewhere over the summer, Horace Broadnax decided to become a hoops anarchist. And I say bravo. You may have noticed the scores early in the season. The Tigers lost to Iowa State in the opener 113-71, then to Iowa, 116-84, and in their next D-I game to Memphis 99-86. The days of scoring four points in a half are over even if it means giving up 100.
After consistently ranking in the below #250 in adjusted tempo, Savannah State currently ranks tenth. However, there are still some lingering effects of the preseason ratings in that number1. Close followers of tempo-free stats should be able to guess without looking that Duggar Baucom’s The Citadel team leads the country in adjusted tempo – by a full five possessions over the next fastest team.
But despite averaging 88 possessions in its three games against D-I opponents, The Citadel is not leading the nation in raw tempo. Savannah State has played games with 97, 90, and 88 possessions so far. Mind you, two of those games were against Iowa and Iowa State, who like to play fast themselves, and the third was against Memphis, who may be willing to run more than the typical typical Tubby Smith team. The speedy competition is another reason SSU’s adjusted tempo is lagging behind the raw number. But an 80+ plus possession game against their former Mountain West doppelgänger, San Diego State, next Monday would eliminate most of the computer’s skepticism about whether the Tigers are on The Citadel’s level. I will be watching closely.
Another thing going on with Savannah State is that they are taking a lot of 3’s. So far, they have taken 57.9 of their shots from beyond the arc. That leads the nation and if it held up would lead every other team that has ever competed at the D-I level. Of course, one could find many cases in recent seasons of teams taking that many 3’s over a three-game span and history says it’s very unlikely this team keeps up that pace. But sometimes you just want to tell history to shut up. The conventions and norms of college basketball are being broken before our eyes, so how about you sit this one out, history.
Don’t believe me? Well, the figure cited above does not include Savannah State’s one game against non-D-I competition to this point, when they took 52 of their 67 shots from long range. There have been games where a team has taken a higher fraction of 3’s since 2002, but only nine. And there have been games where a team has taken more total 3’s, but only 12, and 11 of those were by Duggar Baucom’s VMI teams. So there’s hope that Horace Broadnax is truly committed to blowing up the game of basketball when the schedule gets easier.
That’s not the end of the story, though. That defense is completely different as well. There’s a lot less of the usual discipline. This is a program that has finished in the top 25 of turnover percentage the past five seasons and so far this season, they rank 252nd. Savannah State use to run people off the three-point line, but now they’re letting opponents take them.
Unfortunately, Savannah State will conduct this experiment in obscurity. In the blink of an eye, the Tigers will be playing MEAC games and then their season will end on March 2nd, before just about everybody else. The Tigers are ineligible for the postseason due to APR penalties, which perhaps also gives the coach some freedom to experiment. While there will be no MEAC title this season, I’m hoping Horace Broadnax is truly committed to making history this season. A little basketball anarchy never hurt anybody.
|^1||Although the influence of the preseason tempo estimate fades much more quickly than the influence of the preseason efficiency estimates.|