In the past few years, Wildcat fans have been spoiled with men’s basketball teams that were successful in the regular season.
So seeing the team lose five straight games in conference play, one of the longest stretches without a win in years, was surely alarming to some fans. A lot of people have started wondering what went wrong.
One factor to consider is the conference that the Wildcats are in. The move to the Western Athletic Conference from the Southland Conference brought in an onslaught of new and tougher competition. The WAC is home to many of the top teams in mid-major men’s basketball, so of course, fans may seem some struggle as compared to the weaker competition in the Southland.
Another variable that certainly had an impact over the past two weeks was players missing from the roster due to COVID-19 protocols. In the week ACU was on the road against GCU and New Mexico State, the team missed roleplayers like Airion Simmons and Logan McLaughlin. They came back the next week versus Seattle University, but according to head coach Brette Tanner, had some struggles to get their legs under them. Despite all universities and teams struggling with COVID-19, up until the past two weeks, ACU managed to avoid major COVID-19 struggles in conference play.
However, the factor that has the biggest impact on the success of the Wildcats is the team’s three-point defense.
Especially over the five-game losing streak, there has been a correlation between the games that ACU has won and lost and the way the Wildcats defended the perimeter.
Leading up to the games this past week versus Seattle University and California Baptist, in the 11 games that ACU has won this season, the team allowed only 60 made three-pointers on 220 attempts, resulting in teams shooting a total of only 27.3 percent from the perimeter in the games the team won. There was also one game where the team made over 10 three-pointers.
Meanwhile, in the losses leading up to this past weekend, ACU opponents made a total of 59 three-points on 134 attempts, meaning teams shot 44 percent from the perimeter in all of ACU’s losses. In all four of the conference losses leading up to the Seattle U game, their conference opponents made more than 10 three-pointers.
This stat proved true in both of ACU’s matchups this past week, especially in the Wildcats matchup against California Baptist. By the time the final buzzer rang on Saturday, the Wildcats only allowed the Lancers to make six three-pointers on 24 attempts, totaling in the Lancers shooting only 25 percent from beyond the arch. Meanwhile, ACU finished shooting 43 percent from deep on Saturday.
So far, the statistics do not lie: if ACU men’s basketball wants to win games, they need to shut their opponents’ three-point shooting down. In recent interviews, head coach Brette Tanner has acknowledged this and says that the team is making strides to better defend the arch, all on top of being one of the top teams in the NCAA in turnover margin.
As we saw last week, the team made a stride in the right direction. But, if ACU wants to make noise in the Western Athletic Conference tournament, they need to continue to improve in this area, otherwise, their season may be cut short.