clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Meet the VMI Keydets: Bad at basketball, but darn it, still givin’ the thing a go

I already regret not feeling bad about this one.

NCAA Basketball: VMI at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

What I am realizing here at the outset of the season—now that I’ve started really digging into one of the many talent-challenged programs on NC State’s non-conference schedule—is that I am going to need to come up with roughly a thousand different ways for putting things diplomatically. Eh, I’ll work on that in the next preview.

The Virginia Military Institute has a long and proud tradition of existing since 1839, and for reasons certainly excluding vague curiosity, support, or competency, the school has had a basketball program since 1908. The Keydets have an all-time record of 885-1494, which is so unfortunate that the school’s media guide does not even bother including the winning percentage.

During the Civil War, VMI sent countless students and graduates to the front lines of an unwinnable fight on the wrong side of history before getting burned to the ground by a superior foe. You have to give the basketball program credit: it has maintained that tradition—metaphorically, thank heavens.

The author of this latest Keydet basketball unpleasantness is third-year coach Dan Earl, a man with two first names and 15 wins against 45 losses in his first two seasons at VMI. Earl had the difficult task of replacing Duggar Baucom, who had the audacity to make the program interesting by pushing the ball like hell and shooting a zillion threes. Baucom, naturally, was hired away. (By The Citadel.)

Earl hit the brakes after getting the head coaching job, erasing what modest intrigue VMI basketball offered, and now this team is just plain old depressing.

Dan Earl-Era VMI

VMI Offense OFF_EFF (rank) eFG% TO% OR% FTR 3FGA/FGA 2FG% 3FG%
VMI Offense OFF_EFF (rank) eFG% TO% OR% FTR 3FGA/FGA 2FG% 3FG%
2017 97.6 (297) 48.1 (273) 18.9 (209) 26.6 (265) 29.5 (311) 44.5 (20) 48.2 (224) 32.0 (322)
2016 97.0 (309) 47.1 (289) 18.4 (200) 26.3 (280) 27.0 (346) 44.3 (18) 45.7 (285) 32.5 (267)

Earl’s VMI teams continue to heave it from three—that at least he’s been willing to take from Baucom—but his first two squads haven’t been able to make very many of those attempts. (In fairness, that never stopped Baucom either, but at least he offered some style to the bricklaying.)

Earl’s decision to slow the tempo at VMI has done the Keydets no favors at all—they have not improved in any noticeable category and they have bottomed out as one of the 50 worst offenses in D-I. There was a method to Baucom’s madness that actually led to a reasonable amount of success: VMI’s offense actually finished 58th in adjusted offensive efficiency in 2011, and his teams also won more games than they lost in four of his 10 seasons. Which is probably how he got out of there with his head coaching career intact.

It does not appear the current staff learned anything from the approach that led to those modest successes. But there is good news, and by that I mean please place your hands over your eyes and peek between your fingers until you are certain you can stomach the following paragraph:

VMI finished last season 6-24 and 328th in the Pomeroy Ratings. They will be missing their top five scorers from that team on Friday night. Three were lost to graduation, one transferred, and the other is out with an injury. VMI has seven freshmen on the roster—half the team—and four sophomores. The Keydets are starting nearly from scratch, which is either mildly horrifying or exceptionally horrifying depending on how optimistic you’re feeling.

Normally in these previews I like to go a little more in-depth on the handful of guys who are the presumed starters or impact players, but in this unprecedented case I cannot even find five guys for that purpose. Three-quarters of this roster has either no college basketball experience or a track record so limited as to be useless.

Dan Earl-Era VMI

VMI Defense DEF_EFF (rank) eFG% TO% OR% FTR 3FGA/FGA 2FG% 3FG%
VMI Defense DEF_EFF (rank) eFG% TO% OR% FTR 3FGA/FGA 2FG% 3FG%
2017 113.8 (323) 56.7 (347) 17.9 (209) 32.3 (298) 39.7 (267) 36.7 (197) 54.2 (328) 40.7 (348)
2016 111.2 (293) 53.0 (308) 18.7 (136) 34.0 (320) 41.4 (280) 37.1 (247) 51.2 (269) 37.4 (309)

And then there is this side of the ball. VMI has not had much size to work with over the last couple years and won’t have much this year, either, which is likely to lead to similar results inside the arc. The Keydets need to find a counterweight of some sort to allowing such high shooting percentages but have yet to do so under Earl, and they probably never will. The talent’s never gonna be there.

VMI needs to find a way to force a whole bunch of turnovers given the rate at which it allows made buckets, and while the oh-my-god-there-are-gnats-all-over-me short-guy zone defense does help the Keydets to some degree, they were still below average in turnover rate last season and a bit above it the year prior. That’s not near good enough.