GREEN BAY - Youngstown State was a thorn in the side of the Green Bay Phoenix men's basketball team this past season winning two of three meetings including eliminating the Phoenix from the conference tournament. The Phoenix hope a quickly improving defense may be the difference this time around.
The squeak of shoes moving on defense, it's music to the ears of college basketball coaches and lately the Phoenix have been maestros at limiting their opponents ability to move the strings.
They've limited opponents to 47.4 points per game and 33.8 shooting from the floor during their five game home winning streak, significant improvements over their overall numbers. The Phoenix for the season allow opponents 63.5 points per game and a 41.2 percent shooting percentage.
According to head coach Brian Wardle numbers that low do involve a little luck coupled with a lot of skill.
"I think we've done a good job disrupting rhythm so many when we did break down and make a mistake and they might have gotten an open look or that open half second they still miss it because they're still no in that rhythm."
One of the keys to the improvement on defense was actually born out of necessity. The Phoenix had a stretch earlier this season, where due to injury and suspension they were forced to play with only eight players. They played a lot of zone during that time and it's something they've stuck with.
"We went to it with eight guys and we haven't left it," Wardle said. "With our personnel and our length I've found a little niche with our zone here and working on different slides and bumps it's a little different from how other people run it."
The ability to fluidly switch between various defenses has created the element of surprise for the Phoenix D.
Shot blocking center Alec Brown said that helps prevent the opponents from getting comfortable.
"It's keeping them on their toes. They don't know what we're going to do next," Brown said. "Whether it's man-to-man, zone, or full court press, just doing that little stuff really helps out."
Point guard Keifer Sykes explained why those different defenses are successful.
"We just want to play zone so we can get them to play from the outside and we do the full court pressure to waste some time off the clock and just send them to our bigs because we've got really good bigs and make them score over the top."
With two freshman and two transfers in the rotation, the improvement could also be part of the seasonal evolution of the team.
Sykes, a sophomore, said that progression is something he can relate to.
"You know you have to learn just as I did when I was a freshman to play defense much harder and to value each possession on offense and defense."
"It takes everyone a while to get used to college play and to the season really and playing with each other," Alec Brown said. "Hopefully that's beginning to mesh together and we can get a little bit of a roll going."
They get two more chances this weekend against Youngstown State and Cleveland State, both at the Resch Center.
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