In basketball the last few years, the hot topic has been the rise of the ‘small-ball revolution.’
The NBA has moved away for the days of Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing and Tim Duncan running the league. Now, at the professional level, basketball has evolved into a league revolving around the shooting of Stephen Curry and James Harden and the diverse skill-sets of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
In the past, an NBA power forward was Duncan or Karl Malone or Kevin Garnett — skilled players no doubt, but players that you’d rarely see venturing near the three-point arc in their heyday and surely not bringing the ball up the floor, but now the point forward has replaced the point guard in many offenses with ultra-skilled players like James, Durant and Antetokounmpo redefining how basketball is played.
Although with all changes to conventional wisdom surrounding sports, there was plenty of backlash to the new way of playing at first, but as the results from these ‘small-ball’ teams have come in, fans have been forced to accept the effectiveness of that style of play.
The purpose of playing ‘small-ball’ revolves around getting two types of shots. The first is the most obvious to fans and the main source of backlash amongst basketball traditionalists.
With the increased emphasis to put five skilled players on the floor who can all dribble, pass and shoot, teams are shooting more and more three-pointers and making an increasing higher percentage with each passing season. The Houston Rockets just broke the NBA record for threes in a game last week and most don’t count on the record lasting long.
This increased emphasis on three-point shooting has extended throughout all levels of basketball and Maryville is an excellent example of what that style looks like on the lower levels.
Under head coach Ben McCollum, Northwest Missouri State led the way in Division-II with their embrace of ‘small-ball.’ It helped lead them to a national championship two years ago with Brett Dougherty as the team’s lone traditional big man as he set screens for point guard Justin Pitts, anchored the defense and did a lot of the dirty work for the Bearcats.
With Dougherty’s graduation this past season, it was a question going into the season of who was going to replace that role. In the starting lineup, that answer turned out to be no one … and everyone.
McCollum made the choice to rely even more heavily on ‘small-ball’ and instead of replacing Dougherty with another traditional big, he flooded the floor with shooters with his most used lineup being Trevor Hudgins, Diego Bernard, Joey Witthus, Ryan Welty and Ryan Hawkins.
Sacrificing a traditional big meant added emphasis on everyone stepping up to fulfill the duties that Dougherty had rebounding and defensively. That has led to an increased team effort in those categories with Hudgins and Bernard proving to be top-notch perimeter defenders and Witthus embracing the challenge of guarding some larger players on the interior. Hawkins has also become one of the MIAA’s top rebounders.
While the three-pointer is the shot that draws the headlines, the main shots that ‘small-ball’ is designed to get are shots at the rim. If you look at a Houston Rocket or Golden State Warrior shot chart, you’ll see plenty of shots from beyond the arc, but the biggest cluster is right under the basket.
This is because the threat that all those shooters provide stretches the defense and allows plenty of space for drives and post-up opportunities. The Bearcats have used that to their advantage this year with Hudgins’ drives and Witthus’ deadly post-up game against opposing small forwards, but the Maryville Spoofhounds seem to just be discovering what is possible with that lineup.
As opposed to college, public high-school coaches don’t have the luxury of picking players to fit their system, they play with the cards they are dealt. Last year, Matt Stoecklein was dealt a good hand with one of the most physically-imposing bigs in the area, Jalen Sundell.
Like Dougherty, Sundell was able to be the lone post player for his team and work with the guards to do the dirty work and control the paint.
With Sundell graduating, Stoecklein faced a similar choice to the one that McCollum did and came up with a similar answer. The Hounds went small.
With Matthew Madden and Creid Stoecklein taking Jake Woods and Sundell’s spots in the lineup, Maryville had five shooters on the floor with Eli Dowis, Tyler Houchin and Tate Oglesby returning as starters.
The team immediately realized that their three-point game would be deadly against teams that aren’t used to seeing the type of skill they have at every spot and transition was clearly a strength with just the overall speed they possess, but last week, against Lexington, the final piece of the puzzle seemed to fall into place.
The offense and shooting was sluggish through the first half and the Spoofhounds weren’t happy with the lead they held at halftime, but in the third quarter, they began attacking the rim without hesitation. The spacing that his teammates provided allowed free runs at the rim for Dowis and he took advantage with six dunks and a layup in a 17-point quarter for himself. By the end of the onslaught, Lexington had no answers and Spoofhounds rolled to a dominating victory.
Excluding a season-opening loss when the Spoofhounds played without Dowis, Houchin and Oglesby; Northwest and Maryville have combined for a 20-0 record this season and with the wide-open guard-heavy style they play, the wins and excitement should continue around Maryville all winter long.