The Jacksonville Dolphins men’s basketball team (13-9, 1-4 ASUN) is mired in its biggest slump of the season, having lost three straight after not dropping back-to-back games all season leading up to this. Fans are hoping it is just January doldrums, and that JU will go back to its winning ways from earlier in the season and hit its stride in February into March. But there are a lot of questions surrounding the team right now that need to be answered before the Dolphins can bring back the optimism that the best start in five years had created.
- Can the defense stop (or at least slow anyone down) enough to win?
Jacksonville is a perfect 7-0 when holding opponents under 70 points this season, which is a nice stat, except JU has not held a team under 70 since Thomas (Ga.) on December 28. Now, in a league that features five teams in the top-100 in scoring and four in the top-50 in made three-pointers per game, its a given that points are going to be scored and holding an opponent under 70 is a bit of a pipe dream. That being said, if the Dolphins can continue to force turnovers at a high rate (opponents are averaging 16 a game in ASUN play) and hold teams under the 50 percent field goal shooting, then JU will find themselves in more close games, which seems to be good with this bunch (5-3 in games decided by less than 10 points this year).
2. Can the offense avoid dry spells?
Jacksonville has officially made it a trend to go minutes in a row without scoring. In Saturday’s game vs. Kennesaw State, JU turned a two point lead at the 7:58 mark of the first half into a 15 point deficit until an Omar El Manasterly jumper at the 2:46 mark ended a 5:20 scoring drought. On Thursday, the first half featured a 5:33 field goal drought that was broken up only by a pair of JR Holder free throws and say JU’s two point lead turn into an 18 point deficit. Not having a Kori Babineaux-type that you can give the ball to, get out of the way and get a bucket from hurts, but there are too many talented scorers for Jacksonville to be dealing with stretches of futility like this. Defensive stops leading to transition (aka easy) buckets should help alleviate this problem.
3. Can the Dolphins find the range?
Part of the offensive problems over the three game losing streak have coincided with the decrease in three-point efficiency. Jacksonville is still 24th in the country in three-pointers made per game at 9.5 and eighth in three-point percentage at 41 percent, which is even more impressive when you hear how poorly JU has shot it lately. Starting in the second half against USC Upstate, the Dolphins are just 16-59 from behind the arc, a dismal 27 percent. There are too many good three point shooters for this to continue (Darius Dawkins, who is 0 for his last 15 from three, cannot keep missing forever), so once JU gets its stroke back from downtown, it should open up the lane for more drives.
Let’s look at Wednesday night’s opponent.
JU swept the Stetson Hatters (8-13, 1-4) in the two meetings last year, but it was Stetson that put together the run in March that culminated in a narrow defeat at the hands of Florida Gulf Coast in the ASUN Championship game, thanks to Zach Johnson’s block of Divine Myles layup attempt at the buzzer.
The optimism from that late season run has faded some with the Hatters sitting tied for last in the league five games in. But, led by sophomore forward Derick Newton (16.8 ppg/5.8 rpg/39% 3pt) and a back court of the aforementioned junior Myles (15.7 ppg/46% 3pt) and junior Angel Rivera (5.5 apg), not to mention the return of oft-injured graduate forward Brian Pegg (2x All-ASUN selection, led league in rpg last year with 9.8), and the pieces seem to be in place for the Hatters to piece together a run in the second half of conference play.
Both JU and Stetson have only one conference win to show for its efforts so far (both beating NJIT) and the sense of urgency should be high on Wednesday night. Can Jacksonville get its mojo back at Swisher Gym, where the Dolphins started last season 12-0 but are just 6-8 since? Or will Stetson figure it out on the road, despite just two wins away from home all season? Despite the records, expect this one to be perhaps the best game in the ASUN Wednesday night.
Jacksonville hosts Stetson at Swisher Gym at 7 p.m. Wednesday, January 25. The game can be seen on ESPN3/Watch ESPN app and heard on mixlr.com/judolphins.