Liberty played 3 games over the course of 5 days to open the McKay era for the 2nd time. With a brand new staff and team of fresh faces and several question marks, we got a taste of what this team can be through its first few games of the season. With those games in the books, let’s take a look at what we learned.
1.) This team will be much more enjoyable to watch than the recent Liberty teams.
We tried telling you preseason this would be the case, and based on the interaction we received on twitter last night, you’re beginning to catch on. No, our record will not likely be a pleasant one to look it. We won’t be competing for a regular season conference championship. There will be games that we will want to pull our hair it. But in its entirety, this team will be fun to watch. It will be fun to watch these kids grow up before our eyes. It will be fun to watch McKay mold this team how he wants it. It will be fun to watch us knock off teams we didn’t expect to have a shot at. It will be fun to watch this team compete.
It didn’t show itself as much against the non-Division I opponents, but it was very apparent against the Tribe on Tuesday night. McKay doesn’t have much of a bench to rely on. Against William & Mary, the bench totalled just 29 minutes, 2 points, and 0 rebounds while shooting 1/6 from the floor. In the 2nd half, Caleb Homesley played just 1 minute. Ezra Talbert struggled with his shot. Hansel Atencia looked like a true freshman. William & Mary outscored the Flames bench 22-2 and seemed much more fresh in the 2nd half.
Hopefully as the season progresses, McKay will be able to rely on the bench more as they get more experience. We’ll also be adding John Dawson to the mix in December.
3.) The team has some work to do defensively.
McKay warned us it would take some time to build a defensive identity with all these young guys. Through the first 3 games, opponents are shooting 49% from the field, including William & Mary’s 55.6% shooting. Too many times opponents have been able get by their man and get to the bucket with little resistance. The Tribe abused the Flames with the pick and roll. Fouls have been an issue at times. It’s just going to take time.
4.) There will be games where we struggle to rebound.
It’s to be expected with a roster that features just 2 players over 6’5″ and only 2 over 200 pounds. William & Mary out-rebounded the Flames 38-21. Liberty has a -1 rebounding margin through its first 3 games even with the 2 games against sub-DI’s. With Maxwell averaging 8.3 boards and Lovell Cabbil the 2nd leading rebounder at 4.7, it’s hard to imagine this will improve much this year.
5.) Lovell Cabbil has shown great promise in his first 3 collegiate games.
The true freshman dazzled in the first half against Summit, scoring 19 points in 15 minutes on 5/6 3-point shooting. He followed it up with a very solid line against his first Division I opponent, finishing with 10 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists while knocking down 2 of his 6 3-point attempts against William & Mary. He also hit the game-winning free throws in his first ever collegiate game. Through the first 3 games, Cabbil is averaging 11.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, just a shade under 3 assists and 2.3 steals per game. He is 8/15 from 3 (53%) and 10/22 from the field (45.5%). He’s listed at 155 pounds, but I’m not sure if he weighs that much soaking wet. Give him a full year in the weight room with the added playing experience, and the sky’s the limit for Cabbil.
Kemrite went from a freshman role player to team leader virtually overnight, and he seems to be flourishing in his new role. He leads the team in scoring at 15 points per game including a career high 22 points against Summit when he knocked down 6-of-7 3-point attempts. He’s also improved his ability to drive to the basket. Against William & Mary, they were overplaying him to take away his 3-point shot, and rather than forcing it or getting frustrated, he put the ball on the floor and took it to the hole. He was a perfect 3/3 from inside the 3-point line and found a way to score double figures when he was off from 3. By watching him play on defense, you can tell he has completely bought in to Coach McKay’s system and he’s working very hard on that end of the floor. It’s exactly what a team leader is supposed to do.
The biggest surprise through the first 3 games this season has been Evan Maxwell. The 6’10” center entered the season as the only big on the roster, and he has stepped up his game big time. Maxwell told us Tuesday night after the William & Mary game that he lost 20 pounds during the offseason to improve his stamina. It’s showing. He’s averaging 13.7 points and a 8.3 rebounds per game while shooting 68% from the line. He had an impressive showing in his first test of the season by scoring 12 points and grabbing 8 rebounds against William & Mary. I was sitting right next to the William & Mary radio team, and I overheard them on several occasions praising Maxwell and his low post game. McKay mentioned post game that he loves that teams have to double team Evan because that leaves his 3-point shooters open. What a pleasant surprise he has been this year.
8.) As is typically the case with McKay coached teams, we like to shoot the 3.
The Flames have already attempted 74 3’s this season. That’s an average of nearly 25 attempts per game. Last year, Liberty attempted less than 15 3-pointers per game. Expect this trend to continue all season. The Flames’ 14 made treys against Summit were the most since Liberty hit 15 in a game against Charleston Southern in 2009 when McKay was head coach. 5 of the 6 Liberty squads that have made 14 or more 3-pointers in a single game have been coached by McKay.
9.) Our youth and inexperience will hurt in some games this season.
Other than the lack of bench production, the youth and inexperience are likely the biggest culprits of the Flames’ faltering against William & Mary in the 2nd half on Tuesday night. While the Tribe were leaning on 2 seniors and 2 juniors late in the game, McKay had to rely on 4 freshman and 3 sophomores. In fact, William & Mary did not have a freshman play a single minute against the Flames, a stark contrast to the 67 freshman minutes played by Liberty. Anthony Fields is the lone upperclassman on the roster, and he stepped up against William & Mary, leading the team in scoring, but at this point in the season there’s just not enough experience.
10.) This team is still a work in progress.
We knew it would take time for this coaching staff and this team to come together. Look how much they’ve grown from the season opener against Covenant to their 3rd game of the season against William & Mary. There will be ups and downs throughout the season. There will be losing streaks. There will be upset wins. Enjoy the ride.
Welcome back Liberty basketball, we’ve missed you.