With the defensive domination of Auburn, we are starting to see more consistent defensive performances from the team now that Festus has gotten his defensive timing down. It is also very clear that this team is a better defense than the one we saw at the end of last season, where almost every game was close due to our overall inability to consistently stop anybody.
Last season, while we allowed poor percentages from both inside and outside the arc and did a very good job of not putting the opposition on the foul line, our adjusted defensive efficiency was near the bottom of the teams that made the tournament. The reason for this seeming contradiction was due to a couple of reasons – we almost never created any turnovers and were an average defensive rebounding team. On average we stole the ball on 7.5% of defensive possessions and created turnovers on just 17.5% of them. While this is generally a product of the defensive style that CKS employs (a non-gambling man defense that is meant to contest shots as opposed to create turnovers), our opponent's turnovers seemed to hit bottom last season. In addition, we were unable to corral enough of our opponents misses, leading to several frustrating possessions where the opposition got multiple shots at the basket.
The turnover problem was systemic, as no full time (played at least 30 games) player had a steal rate above 2% - we just didn't gamble at all on defense. Our problems on the boards were two-fold – our bench rebounding was pretty poor and Festus tended to focus on blocked shots, which meant that his defensive rebounding suffered - it wasn't catastrophic, but we struggled at times against tough offensive rebounding teams.
This season, as we have played most of our games without an effective Festus we have seen a greater permissiveness on both sides of the arc, with our shot blocking and our ability to alter shots in the post being significantly reduced. However, our defensive efficiency has improved greatly despite an increase in effective shooting percentage by the opposition. This is due to our greatly increased ability to create turnovers and our improved work on the defensive glass. Our steal rate has improved by 3%, led largely by two players – Lance and Jeff. Both players have greatly improved their steal rates, and in Lance’s case it has nearly tripled. Brad and John have been better as well, and Kedren Johnson has been good off the bench. On the boards the largest improvement has come from Steve, who is fully recovered from a foot injury that severely limited him at the end of last season and from Festus, who has changed his approach to post defense, looking less to block shots and instead being satisfied with being a tall obstacle to shoot over, while staying in position to grab defensive boards.
The overall result of this is while teams are shooting better against us, they are getting a lot fewer shots at the basket. The good news is that we should see our opponents eFG% go down as Festus plays more minutes – our defense is getting better and has the potential of actually being very good. This becomes more true as Dai-Jon Parker improves offensively to the point where CKS can afford to play him for more than token minutes. Going into this season the largest obstacle from improving over last season was our defense. It now appears that we will largely be able to overcome that obstacle.