Despite talent, Men’s Basketball disappoints in 2011-2012

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Author: Jack McHenry

The Occidental men’s basketball game against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps on Saturday followed a course very similar to the Tiger’s entire season. Occidental showed a lot of promise as they got off to an early lead, but through mental toughness, opportune offense and tenacious rebounding, the 11 ranked CMS Stags were able to rally and win by a final score of 55-47. For Occidental, this unofficially marked the end of the season as the loss mathematically eliminated the possibility for advancing to the SCIAC Playoffs. This final disappointment punctuated a season that left fans and players alike feeling the sensation of unfulfilled expectations.

Occidental has a record of 10-13 overall and 6-7 in SCIAC conference play. A cursory glance at these numbers would suggest a mediocre team at best, that had a lackluster season due to marginal personnel. But for anyone that saw the Occidental men’s team play, it is clear that this simply is not the case.

The Tigers’ starting five is particularly talented. Guard Jack Hanley (senior) is overall one of the most skilled players in the league. Forward Deshun McCoy (junior) is likely one of the most athletic players in Division III basketball and has stretches of games where he is very difficult to defend. Forward Jake Copithorne (senior) is a strong, physical player who was exceptional on the defensive end of the floor before a hamstring injury ended his season. Center Conrad Leibowitz (sophomore) nearly averages a double-double on the season. Guard Sam Stapleton (junior) is a crafty point guard with good ball handling and passing ability and a knack for getting to the basket. But in spite of these great individual parts, collectively the team underachieved.

One reason for this was injuries. For the first part of the season, Occidental was without talented forward Chris Montoya. Montoya proved himself as a scorer his freshman season and stepped into the role of sixth man once he returned from injury. 

In the middle of the season, Ty Cobb (sophomore) went down with an ankle injury. Cobb was an athletic forward who gave the team some crucial toughness off the bench. The day he went out with an injury, captain Jake Copithorne expressed his concern. “Ty is one of the toughest players on the team,” said Copithorne. “When he is in there, you have the confidence that he will get that rebound.”

These two injuries came in the early, defining stages of the season. As the season pressed on, Stapleton and Copithorne also sustained injuries. Though Stapleton was able to return to play, Copithorne, the senior captain, was unable to return. His defensive presence was missed. In the CMS game, Occidental could have used another tough rebounder and defender in the mold of Copithorne. However, injuries are only one part of the story.

The individual talent of this team was undeniable, but basketball is a team sport, and when Occidental took the floor, it was apparent that the team lacked elements of cohesiveness. 

Many games featured long stretches of offensive stagnancy. Sometimes Hanley, one of the best overall players on the team, did not get involved offensively until the second half of games. In various manifestations, the offensive often times seemed a blunt and ineffective tool required to dissect opposing defenses.

The Tigers struggled defensively as well, particularly in the paint. Individually, the team had capable defenders. However, in terms of collective team defense the Tigers struggled all season long. There were many moments when the team defensively looked confused. An assignment would be blown, a switch would not be made, the opposing team would get an open layup, and the list goes on. Once again, the CMS game proves very indicative of the season. 

 The Stags gashed the Tiger’s defense for back cuts all game. Indeed, one of the back breaking plays came near the two minute mark, when a CMS player finished a back door cut for a layup, and pushed the late lead to eight points, effectively putting the game out of reach.

Injuries aside, there were factors present during the 2011-2012 Occidental men’s basketball season that caused the team to under achieve. 

But whether it was coaching, team chemistry, injuries, an unmentioned cause or all of the above, it is undeniable that the men’s basketball team underachieved with respect to the talent on its roster. After two disappointing seasons, the recruiting this off-season and the team that takes the floor next November will be critical to the state of the Occidental men’s basketball program. 

With talent returning, another losing season will objectively demonstrate that this season was not a fluke, and that there are deeper chords of dysfunction within the team.

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