What’s going on with NYU men’s basketball?

As the Violets began conference play, the losses started piling up. Can they bounce back?

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The NYU men’s basketball team has seen a streak of losses after their 11-0 record last semester. (Courtesy of NYU Athletics)

Pablo Ocariz, Staff Writer

The NYU men’s basketball team went into conference play with a perfect 11-0 record. They had one of the top 10 offenses in the country, and were top five by point differential. Despite their lack of post players, they had more rebounds than every single team they had played against.

The competition may not have been the best, but you can only beat the team in front of you. The Violets had done everything to show that they were a good team.

Then UAA play started. 

Tough start

The UAA is one of the toughest conferences in Division III basketball. In the pre-season poll of all national basketball teams, three teams participating in the eight-team conference ranked in the top 25.

Half the conference was either ranked or at the cusp of being ranked. It would be tough for anyone to continue their winning ways in this conference. The Violets were no exception. 

Conference play began with a 20-point loss to Brandeis University. 

It was something of a wake-up call to a team that had easily dispatched of its previous 11 opponents. They were out-rebounded, they shot under 30% from three and 40% from the field, and they lost a game for the first time all year.

This would be a sign of issues to come in conference play. Since that loss to Brandeis, they have gone 2-5. The shooting hasn’t picked up and neither has the rebounding. 

Losses to top 10 University of Rochester and top 20 Emory University are excusable on paper. The UAA is an incredibly tough conference with incredibly tough teams. But it’s also one the Violets have to compete in. And it’s one they believe they can compete in.

“The teams we are playing against are ranked, and we know they are going to be tough and physical,” said guard Zay Freeney. “But we know that if we play our best brand of basketball we can win games.”

Shooting troubles

After losing a lot of size with the departure of center Bobby Hawkinson this past season, they shifted their focus on shooting. And for the first 11 games of the season, that strategy was working perfectly.

The Violets shot over 40% from deep in all but one game before UAA play started. They were shooting the lights out of arenas and their confidence was sky high.

But in their seven conference games, the conversions have slowed drastically.

They have shot under 30% in four of the games and under 40% in six of them from three. For a team whose identity is built on the deep ball, this makes it very difficult to win games. 

“Sometimes shots don’t fall,” said guard Spencer Freedman. “We’ve shot the ball well all year, we just haven’t shot it as well as of late.” 

Shooting slumps happen. The Violets can shoot better than their current form shows, and their scores in previous games prove it. 

“We’re going to stay confident and keep shooting,” continued Freedman. “That’s our bread and butter, we have amazing shooters on our team.”

In this sea of bad shooting, the 91-95 to Emory was an island of hope. They shot 41% from downtown in this game, including 60% from guard Nikola Lipovic and 50% from Freeney. They might have lost, but that is the type of play that the Violets need to achieve their goals of a run in the NCAA tournament. Elite three-point shooting and elite offense is their path. We know the Violets are capable of both. They just have to show it.

Lack of size

The biggest issue that the Violets have right now is their lack of height. There is no one on the roster over 6-foot-6. They have been consistently beaten in the rebounding battle, and there is no easy answer to this problem.

“We don’t have 6-foot-9, 6-foot-7 players,” said head coach Dave Klatsky. “It’s an issue for us. It’s something we talk about every day. When you’re smaller, you have to be tougher. Right now we’re tough, but we’re not tough enough.”

The Violets lack of rebounding has been a major issue in conference play. They have been out-rebounded in all but one of the games. The worst came against Emory, when they allowed the Eagles to out rebound them by a whopping 26-49 margin.

Defense becomes harder when you give up offensive rebounds. Instead of getting one stop, you have to get multiple. Other teams know that NYU is small, and they know they can crash the offensive glass. The Violets need to learn to handle the fact that they are smaller, or it could spell doom for the team’s season.

“We know we’re going to be smaller than every team we play. We have to dig deep and find that dog in us,” said Freeney. “We need to get rebounds. Games where we get out-rebounded by 10 are unacceptable. It’s on us.”

Now or never

The idea of consistent in-conference play might sound good, but now, the Violets need to execute exactly that if they want to achieve their goals. They know how good they can be, and they know what their goals are. But they need to start winning, and they need to start winning now. 

The Violets showed signs of life this past weekend with a 24-point blowout win over Carnegie Mellon University, and they managed to bring a 16-point deficit against Case Western Reserve University to as little as five. 

“We know that if we want to make that March Madness tournament at the end of the year, we have to start winning,” said Freeney. “Point-blank, period.”

Contact Pablo Ocariz at [email protected]