Ball movement keys potent Seawolves offense

Originally published in The Statesman

91 points against Princeton. 86 points against NJIT. 83 points against American, UMass Lowell and UMBC.

All of these point totals, achieved this season by the Stony Brook Men’s Basketball team, would have marked a season-best for the Seawolves against Division-I opponents last season.

In fact, Stony Brook is averaging an America East Conference-best 77.3 points per game in 20 contests so far in the 2015-16 season, making it the highest-scoring offense in the team’s Division-I era to date. The scoring is also a significant 11.9 point-per-game improvement from the Seawolves squad that averaged 65.4 points last year.

Ball movement and passing has been a major key in contributing to Stony Brook’s improved offensive efficiency this season, allowing the Seawolves to take more open shots.

Perhaps the best measure of a team’s passing ability is the rate at which it records assists, which are awarded when a player makes a pass that directly leads to a basket by another player. According to Kenpom.com, an advanced statistics database for college basketball, Stony Brook has recorded an assist on 59.3 percent of its made field goals this season, up significantly from the 49.1 percent rate that last year’s team attained.

More simply, the Seawolves are averaging 17.3 assists per game as a team this season after averaging 12.0 assists last campaign.

Head coach Steve Pikiell praised his senior center, Jameel Warney, when asked about his team’s ball movement.

“It all starts with Jameel,” Pikiell said after Friday night’s home win against Albany. “He’s your best passer as your big guy and it’s an unselfish approach. Guys are good passers to begin with but it starts with him—the other day against Hartford he led us in assists.”

Warney, a two-time America East Player of the Year, demands more respect than most players in the low post, as teams throughout the season have thrown double-teams at the America East’s scoring leader, guarding him with multiple defenders. Warney excels in making plays out of double coverage, often passing the ball to a teammate across the court to reverse the point of attack and create holes in the opposing defense.

“I think that really helps the mindset of all the guys,” Pikiell added. “When your best player is willing to make the extra passes, then it’s kind of contagious. Luke [Woodhouse] is a good passer, Ahmad [Walker] can really pass the ball too.”

Neither Walker nor Woodhouse—a pair of junior guards—played for Stony Brook last season, as Walker was attending Barton Community College and Woodhouse was required by NCAA rules to redshirt, or sit out for one season, after transferring to Stony Brook from Longwood University. Their presence has elevated the team’s offensive game, particularly in the passing department.

Walker, as a starting wing player on Pikiell’s offense, has doled out 4.6 assists per game this season, leading the America East. The Port Washington-native notched eight dimes against both Loyola and Hofstra and has dished out at least three assists in 19 of 20 games this season.

Woodhouse, playing the role of the “sixth-man,” as the first substitute off the bench for the Seawolves, has added 3.3 assists per game himself. His prowess in facilitating ball movement was well-known to Stony Brook when he transferred. As a sophomore at Longwood, the point guard ranked fifth in the country with 6.7 assists per game.

The passing display by the Seawolves this season—often comprising of three or four passes directly leading to an open shot—has put the team head and heels above the rest of the conference offensively. Stony Brook leads the America East in scoring, two-point field goal percentage, three-point field goal percentage and assists.

For many years, Stony Brook has been known for its strong defense—leading in conference in fewest points allowed in five of the last eight seasons. But now, the team may finally have the offense to match its defensive play, perhaps making this team more dangerous than ever before as it seeks its first trip to the NCAA Tournament.

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