Okay…. The sky might be falling

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by: Kyle Craven, Norse Report

Last week, Kyle Craven submitted an article titled ‘Norse fans, the sky is not falling’. This article is a direct response to that.

Optimism bites back

Well. Maybe I was wrong? Or maybe this was a clickbait title just to have you open, read and be told from start-to-finish that all is well and to hold your horses. Maybe it’s a little of both? Maybe I don’t even know?

Actually, that’s precisely the case. I have no idea what to make of this team, this year. Did you catch that little bit at the end? This year. That part is important. See, I am not concerned at all for next year or the year after that or the year after that. It’s this year that has me a little concerned, frustrated really. Please, allow me to explain.

Northern Kentucky guard Bryson Langdon (11) drives on Purdue-Fort Wayne guard Jarred Godfrey (1) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Jan. 1, 2021, in Highland Heights, Ky. (Albert Cesare/The Cincinnati Enquirer via AP)

Spoiled rotten

A big part of it is that I, along with other NKU fans, have simply forgotten what it feels like to lose. I know, it sounds pompous – but it’s very true. NKU has been at or near the top of the league each of the last 4 seasons, winning the conference tournament in 3 of them and winning either the entire or a share of the conference regular season title in 2 of those.

So when you look at the standings, eight games into our conference season and see NKU near the bottom third of the standings, something doesn’t seem right. In fact, in their last 4 seasons, the Norse have not exceeded 6 conference losses. They currently sit at 3-5, following a 2-game skid against IUPUI.

I think if I am being honest, that’s what really has me down – the fact that we dropped not one, but two home games to IUPUI on our home court. Those two losses really have me baffled beyond words. Is the season lost? Certainly not. Is it time to sell my NKU gear and give up my tickets? Don’t be absurd. But something about it just isn’t sitting right.

The strangest part about the whole thing is that I cannot figure out who or what to be mad at. I want to lash out. I want someone to be on the receiving end of all of my @tweets, but I cannot figure out where to direct my frustration.

So…. Who’s to Blame?

I cannot lash out at the players. Aside from the fact that it’s not my style at all to consistently criticize amateur athletes, at whom do I get mad? Do I get mad at Bryson Langdon? Why? He’s averaging 8 points per game and 3 and a half assists a game. His assist-to-turnover ratio is a little worse than last year (it was about 2:1 last year, this year it’s about 3:2) but aside from that – he’s playing well. He’s a 5’9″ point guard; he’s giving us what we need.

Adrian Nelson? The only thing he’s doing is leading the team in FG% and one of the top rebounders in the country. Why would I be mad at him? Trevon Faulkner definitely could clean some things up, but all of his major stats are up this year, including his advanced metrics, and he’s stepping into a #1 role, the focal point of the opponents game planning. Adham Eleeda has been hurt, Darius Harding is still on-boarding into a difficult system for upperclassmen to learn, John Harge is still gaining his strength back from a torn ACL, and David Böhm, Trey Robinson and Marques Warrick are Freshmen. We are a team that is almost punished by an excess of “wings” but not nearly enough “bigs” or point guards. That’s it. I think that is the problem I have with the team right now.

It’s not so much an “X’s and O’s problem”. I mean, it kind of is, but for the most part, it’s just an issue we have with luck. It’s not like Darrin Horn didn’t try to get big men to anchor the defense/offense. The head coach and his team of assistants hit the streets HARD in 2020 to try and land some bigs for the 2020-21 season, but just could not land a true Center. People do not realize just how critical a rim-protecting center is to the defense that Coach Horn tries to run. Horn likes to teach his guards to pressure the ball, get into passing lanes, and force opposing guards to make bad decisions.

But this task is made even more difficult by a center who can block shots and “hold down” the lane. By having a center who is great inside, defensively, you allow your guards to play much more aggressively, play the passing lanes hard, and try to go for steals/deflections. If those guards miss, you have a center behind them who can redirect the opposing offense simply by being there or making them pay for challenging them by sending their shot into the fourth row of section 110. That was a role intended to be filled by Chris Vogt, but he understandably saw an opportunity to be a starting Center in a top 5 conference in America. This role is currently being filled by Adrian Nelson, and the 6’7″ Forward is doing the best he can – he’s a BEAST on the boards, but he’s not a shot blocking rim protector, striking fear into opponents when they enter the lane. This Norse team doesn’t have that. And it’s not anyone’s fault, it just…… is. It is…. what it is.

So What Now?

This is the part that makes me hate writing about NKU basketball. When times get tough, especially in the Darrin Horn era, people look to me and others for answers – or at least a discussion on what needs to be done to “fix things around here”. And people get PISSED when I tell them exactly what it is that they don’t want to hear. Two simple, but true words: BE. PATIENT.

That’s really it. There’s no real simple formula. We don’t have one of the five or six big guys that we went for last year in recruiting. They all chose different paths. From Louisville, to Central Michigan, to even JUCO – they just did not want to come here – and that happens. But the good news is, we’re out there, active.

This coaching staff is hitting the recruiting trail hard, constantly trying to build up their “inside” game to allow for the “Horn” zone to really take shape. In the meantime, let’s recognize how tough this season is, in general. Be patient, enjoy watching this team grow, and hope this staff makes some adjustments this year and runs some full-court press and dribble-drive to try and get our playmakers running downhill towards the basket with the ball in their hands.

Be on the lookout for more @NorseReport content in the coming weeks. This week, the team over there will be discussing in greater detail what they believe some of the issues are with the Norse and what needs to be done for NKU to salvage its season. In the very near future, Kyle will be writing an article showcasing the “bigs” that Darrin Horn and his coaching staff recruited in 2019-20 and missed. We are curious how they are doing, and want to report our findings back to fans who may also be interested.

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