“Organized chaos” is the term Coach D’antoni uses to describe his style of play. It’s a beautiful product when it’s clicking. However, when it’s not, you get what you see early on in Marshall’s practices. The loss of four starters from last year’s team is noticeable from the start. The ball stalls, areas on the court are congested, and the corners aren’t being filled. These instances usually lead to a stoppage of play and a comedic rant from Coach D’antoni. On multiple occasions Coach D’antoni stopped practice to point out missed assignments or he would make sure to acknowledge that someone didn’t make the correct read, they just did what Elmore directed them to do. Elmore, being the team’s only returning starter from last season, and quarterback of the basketball team, knows the system like the back of his hand.
Everyone else, outside of CJ Burks, is having their ups and downs right now. Coach D’antoni talked a lot about chemistry in the preseason press conference and I seen during Saturday’s practice what he was talking about. Over the next month, how quickly the newcomers grasp how the system works and the assignments and reads within the system will determine a lot. The 2017-2018 Marshall basketball team will be longer and more athletic than the previous couple seasons, but until the young guys develop some chemistry, the organization will be missing and all that will be left is chaos.
*** If Marshall has ever had a player who could put a young team on his back and carry them, it’s Jon Elmore. Teams will definitely be keying on him, but I don’t know how you defend him. He can create off the dribble, he knows how to use screens and manipulate space, and can QB the offense similar to Peyton Manning. I’m not sure if it’s just fresh legs or not but he looks a bit more explosive this year too. I wouldn’t trade him for anyone else in the conference.
*** CJ Burks will need to produce like Stevie Browning, not the CJ Burks we’ve seen the past few seasons. I say that in a positive way because Burks has been a really nice player for Marshall off the bench. But Burks has the ability to produce like Browning did and he has to realize his role as Elmore’s wingman and produce as such. Burks will have the opportunities to make a huge jump this year.
*** Someone jumped off the court (literally) and got my attention on Saturday. That player was Phil Bledsoe. Saturday’s practice was more intense than usual. Every time a shot was missed in live action, you’d hear Coach D’antoni roar, “get up and get it!” Usually, that player was Phil Bledsoe. He was violently grabbing rebounds at rim level and was getting the ball up the floor to his point guard as soon as he hit the floor. With him being the trail man, he was often the screen man in the pick and roll/pop in the early offense. Bledsoe has similar height and skill set to Ryan Taylor, but is much quicker and can dive to the basket for the pocket pass or pop outside for the shot quicker than Taylor could. He just can’t finish with contact inside like Taylor could right now. When Bledsoe gets to where he and Elmore develop that 6th sense on the court with each other, the pick and roll/pop with them two will be tough to defend.
*** If Ajdin Penava doesn’t dunk the ball when he has a chance to, he gets an earful from Coach D’antoni. Penava is noticeably bigger than he was last season, but you can see there’s been an effort to make his tougher and more aggressive with the ball in his hands. He looks to have responded well to that. I think we’ll see a different Ajdin Penava this year. It just pains me to think about what little he contributed as a freshman and the different outlook some might have of him if he was a redshirt sophomore this year instead of a junior.
*** It looks like this team may be pressing some this year. There was a lengthy phase of practice dedicated to the press and Coach D’antoni coached this phase pretty hard. Given how the offensive chemistry isn’t where it was, and let’s be honest, will probably never get to where it was last season, slowing some teams down with a press and/or creating some easy scoring opportunities of turnovers might be a slight equalizer. This team being longer and more athletic than the teams the previous couple years have been, it will be better suited for the press than what they were. So this year’s team could look a lot different than how we’ve looked in the past both offensively and defensively.