VALDOSTA — With a month and a half in the books the VSU men’s basketball team will be taking a break until the new year. It is time to take a look at how the Blazers (8-2,1-0) have fared so far this season.
Starting with offense, the Blazers have impressed more than once this season. Three times this season VSU has scored over 100 points and two more times over 90 points. Valdosta won four out of five of those games, and the only loss was the 94-100 loss to Barton.
“We have played very well some games and very average in other games,” said head coach Mike Helfer on Tuesday.
Junior guard Mike Crain is the team’s leading scorer, averaging 17.6 points per game. Even though Crain is shooting only 47.1 percent from the field and 58.6 percent from the charity stripe, he is draining the three-pointers. Crain has made 27 of his 62 shots for an impressive 43.5 percent.
Senior center Jon Rogers has also been a force on the offensive side of the ball. Rogers has been averaging 16.5 points per game and scored a season high of 32 against Florida Tech.
“Jon Rogers has really developed into a great low-post player,” said Helfer.
Point guard Herman Burge and forward J.T. Thomas have also both been factors on offense. Even though Burge is only averaging 9.9 points per game, the junior is connecting on 87 percent of his free-throws and 48.4 percent of his three point shots. Thomas is averaging 12.1 points per game thanks in part to his 54.8 field goal percentage and his 78.3 percent free throw shooting.
As a team the Blazers have been outscoring opponents 91.5 to 72.9 points per game. The +18.6 average is the best VSU has seen in a while. The Blazers are shooting better than opponents, too. Valdosta is connecting on 51.3 of their field goal shots compared to the 40.9 percentage of their opponents.
“We have a tremendous shooting average, and we need to keep that up,” said Helfer.
Overall, offensively, the Blazers have scored on who they are supposed to score on. VSU has put up big numbers against out-matched teams, but more than once it has been the defense that can be credited with the win. The shooting averages are good, but the .665 team free throw percentage is something that needs to be fixed before conference play.
Another problem offensively has been the turnovers. The high number of turn over per game is something that Helfer is hoping to fix soon.
“We shoot exceptionally, but we have too many turnovers,” said Helfer. “It is probably our weakest point offensively.”
In shooting, Valdosta State receives a B grade. In the paint the Blazers receive an A grade, and in ball control the Blazers receive a C. So overall on offense the Blazers receive a B.
Defensively, the Blazers have been inconsistent at times, but at other times have been outstanding. VSU is holding teams to a 40.9 shooting percentage from the field and only 31.4 percent from beyond the arch. Being able to hold teams to 72.9 points per game has been one of the main factors for the seven game winning streak.
“One thing we have to judge ourselves on is the field goal percentage, not on the points allowed,” said Helfer. “We’d like to get it down into the 30s.”
Rogers and guard Jon Banks have been the leaders on the defensive side of the ball. Rogers is averaging 9.2 rebounds per game and a ridiculous 3.4 blocks per game. Banks is third on the team in rebounds with 5.5 per game, but his quick feet have kept opponents from being able to drive the lane.
Burge is a big contributor with 1.6 steals per game and Thomas has been pulling down 5.7 rebounds per game.
Now for the grades. In the paint and on the boards the Blazers receive a B+. In the half court the Blazers receive a B-, and in the full court transition VSU receives a B-. So overall on defense Valdosta State receives a B- overall.
In bench play the Blazers receive a A grade, easily. With so much depth coming off the bench VSU has been able to handle teams with up to eight different players. With such an easy transition VSU should be formidable come late in the season.
“I think we have an exceptional bench, and I’m pretty happy with their production so far,” said Helfer.
As for the team leadership the Blazers receive a B-. With only three senior on the roster somebody is going to have to step up and control the unit. With all cylinders firing Valdosta will be good, but the players will need a field general to get behind.
“Our seniors have stepped up statistically, but they do need to be more vocal,” said coach Helfer.
“Guys like (Rogers) are willing to do the little things, but we still need a little bit more.”
And finally in team poise the Blazers receive a C-. At times VSU looks like nobody can stop them. Dominating small colleges is great, but it is time to look ahead to the conference schedule. The emotions need to stay high and the arguing amongst teammates has to stop. An improved poise will lead VSU far into their conference schedule.
“It has not been great all season,” Helfer said of the team’s poise. “We have been rattled from time to time.”
So taking all things into account the Blazers receive a B- grade, but a few quick fixes could put this team over the top. Look for VSU to be focused going into the second half of the season and continue their great play going into their conference schedule.