Dissecting the Coverage: Three-Star Saturday
Army Women’s Basketball, Men’s Basketball, and Wrestling all BEAT NAVY! this past Saturday, making it the first three star Saturday of the year.
— SecArmy (@SecArmy) February 22, 2020
Women’s Basketball won handily on a final score 62-52. By comparison, the Men looked like the better team throughout the contest, but they somehow let Navy come back on them twice, including late in the fourth quarter. The last hair-raising minute of regulation saw the Mids outshoot Army by a basket at the free throw line, forcing overtime. However, firstie point guard Tommy Funk took over the game in overtime, sinking multiple baskets and staking the Black Knights to an immediate, overwhelming margin. The last minute again saw the Mids making multiple last-ditch fouls, but this time the Black Knights made money at the line. In the end, Army took the victory, 86-75.
— Army Wrestling (@ArmyWP_Wres) February 23, 2020
— Trackwrestling (@trackwrestling) February 23, 2020
What can we say about Army Wrestling? Arguably the best team at the Academy, nationally ranked, and now they’ve won four in a row against the Mids. In its history, Army Wrestling has just four total wins at Annapolis, and two of those belong to Coach Kevin Ward.
— Army Wrestling (@ArmyWP_Wres) February 21, 2020
To paraphrase my now-favorite motivational speech, “Just be yourself. All you have to give is everything you have.”
I really tried to be mindful of that over the weekend, and not for nothing, but I really, really wish that I could go back in time and whisper those words into the ears of my cadet-self as well. I was always trying to rise to the occasion back in the day, and it was excruciating. Trying to catch lightning in a bottle. It wasn’t until late in my career that I started to get over it, and just do what I did. Not surprisingly, that saw better results.
Why are these guys the best? Because they bring their best selves every day. That’s not as complicated as we sometimes make it out to be.
After a blistering start that saw them climb all the way to #7 nationally, Army Men’s Lacrosse has now dropped two games in a row. First they fell into a trap at Marist during the week, falling 17-9. They then dropped a heartbreaker on Sunday, 9-7, at the dome in Syracuse to the now #4-ranked Orange.
The Marist loss came in a classic trap-game situation. The Black Knights were coming off a huge home win against a ranked team and had started getting lots and lots of national press, and then they ran into a tough, physical underdog team in their first road contest. Army struggled in the face-off game, looked out-of-sorts on offense, and gave up a flurry of quick goals on defense. From there, they never quite mounted the consistent comeback that they needed, and so they never quite clawed their way back into the game. They looked a little better late, but by that time, the score was out of reach.
The opposite happened at Syracuse. There, the Black Knights started hot, going up 5-2 at the half. Though they again struggled with faceoffs, their defense looked great, and their offense did enough to get out to a commanding lead. But the Orange made an adjustment at the half, putting up three quick goals to tie, and though Army scored two more to get back out to a lead as the fourth quarter started, it wasn’t enough. The Orange adjusted again, bringing their midfielders up against Army’s short sticks on defense, and either Army’s defense got gassed, or they just ran out of defenders. The Black Knights contained Syracuse’s attack, but they couldn’t also contain their first-line midfielders, and that gave the Orange a four-goal fourth quarter run to steal the victory.
14:13 4th | I mean we didn't even see that coming.
— Army M.Lacrosse (@ArmyWP_MLax) February 23, 2020
FINAL | #5 Syracuse 9, #7 Army 7 pic.twitter.com/j1EuC3eaXd
— Army M.Lacrosse (@ArmyWP_MLax) February 23, 2020
None of this is a disaster, of course. However, considering the way their season started, it is a disappointment. Had they achieved even a 4-1 start, the Black Knights would’ve been in good position to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they do in Patriot League play. Granted, that’s not now impossible, but at this point, they really need to go on a run against their in-conference foes, and that’s tough because Army faces a lot of quality competition in their conference. Moreover, this team has got to figure some things for faceoffs, or they’re going to continue to struggle to gain possessions in crunch time. Syracuse went 14-2 off restarts; that makes it really hard to win.
The Black Knights have fallen to #15 nationally, two places behind Loyola and one place ahead of Lehigh. That’s right where we started, and despite the crushing early season wins, it’s probably about where this team deserves to be. Army still has every chance to turn 2020 into a magical run, but their road now runs through the Patriot League.
That’s not exactly a surprise, to be honest.
The Black Knights host Holy Cross this coming Saturday at noon. As always, the game will be on the Patriot League Network.
Army Women’s Lacrosse now sits 4-0 with wins over Marist, at Columbia, vs. Iona, and at Hartford. They haven’t played a ranked opponent yet, but neither have they been in a close game.
— Army W.Lacrosse (@ArmyWP_WLax) February 21, 2020
Put up 20 goals and got the road win! 🙌 #GoArmy
FINAL | Army 20, Hartford 5 pic.twitter.com/fDCkEF5ZEq
— Army W.Lacrosse (@ArmyWP_WLax) February 21, 2020
We saw them get off to this kind of start last season as well, but they faded down the stretch as they got into Patriot League play. Granted, you can only beat the teams you play, but despite getting a series of truly dominating wins, it’s difficult to predict exactly how this team is going to fare when they get into the heart of their schedule. Most of their in-conference foes are a lot tougher than the teams they’ve played to date.
The Army Women travel to Monmoth on Wednesday. Play starts at 2 pm. They then host Siena on Saturday at 3 pm before heading to East Carolina (3-1) a week from Saturday for what will probably be their first true test of the season. After that, they start Patriot League play.
At least right now, this team has got a lot to be excited about.
Finally, Army Baseball opened its season on the road at #16 Duke and then at #20 Texas A&M. The Black Knights won the season opener and then opened up a 7-1 lead in the second game at Duke but couldn’t — quite — put together enough relief pitching to upset the Blue Devils again. Instead, Duke stormed back, taking both that game and the series, and despite putting together both quality starts from their pitchers and a bunch of quality at-bats, Army hasn’t won a game since.
To be fair, these are out-of-league games against nationally ranked foes, making them something like Spring Training games. It’s not an accident that all of Army’s early-season games are in North Carolina or Texas. They’re playing where it’s warm enough to play. Winning matters, of course, but these aren’t the games that will decide the Black Knights’ season. Those won’t start until Army hosts Holy Cross in late March.
Still, it sucked to drop a winnable series at Duke, and despite being competitive against Texas A&M, Army couldn’t quite get a “W” there, either.
It was a wild one in Texas.
We're back in action next weekend in North Carolina #GoArmy
— Army Baseball (@ArmyWP_Baseball) February 23, 2020
Army Baseball starts a four-game set alternating against Air Force and Campbell on Friday, with a double-header Friday afternoon, followed by single game Saturday and another Sunday. The team’s games have so far been on ESPN3, and if you’ve never watched college baseball, it’s absolutely worth your time. It’s quite different from the Major Leagues in the sense that the pitchers are less precise and the hitters have way less power, which means there’s much, much more hitting and base running but way fewer home runs. This leads to crazier, more action-packed games than you’ll see from MLB.
Bottom line, it’s like the difference between college and pro football, but even moreso. Way, way more, to be honest.
Go Army! Beat Air Force!!!
Football Hits the Preseason
ESPN released their early preseason SP+ and FPI rankings for college football’s coming season. Regular readers will know that we here at AFF don’t necessarily put a lot of stock into college power rankings, especially early-season SP+ rankings, but they’re useful for setting betting lines and general expectations. It would be foolish to ignore them completely.
Both metrics are decidedly bearish on the Black Knights after a decidedly lackluster 2019 campaign. In many ways, Army finds itself in the same kind of situation Navy was in at this time last year. The team itself is coming off a tough season, and what’s worse is that it was a season in which they should have been good. Like the Mids did last year, Army has to both replace a bunch of quality starters and improve radically on both sides of the ball.
Fortunately, the Black Knights have a bunch of young, talented players, a good-looking crop of incoming recruits, and a bunch of new coaches to go with them. In fact, Head Coach Jeff Monken has replaced something like half his coaching staff this offseason, including his defensive staff, special teams coordinator, quarterbacks coach, offensive line coach, tight ends coach, and wide receivers coach. Not all of the faces are new. Former Tight Ends Coach Sean Saturnio has taken over as Special Teams Coordinator while former Offensive Quality Control Coach Matt Drinkall becomes the new Tight Ends Coach. Former Defensive Coordinator John Loose has picked up the title Assistant Head Coach/Outside Linebackers. Still, that’s a Hell of a lot of turnover in the coaching ranks.
But sometimes the message gets stale. Army Football in particular tends to run on passion and emotional fire, and the crop of kids who have to start games now won’t necessarily remember the ten- or eleven-win seasons. Coach Monken has a tough rebuilding job ahead, and I expect he’s put himself in a position to push it forward.
— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) February 21, 2020
Final note: Football’s Spring Game is scheduled for the night before Army-Navy Lacrosse. That’s usually a Men’s and Women’s double-header. So if you’re going to visit West Point for exactly one weekend this spring, well, now you know which weekend it ought to be.
That’s all we’ve got time for this week.
Go Army! Beat Navy!!!
Cover image via Twitter, @ArmyWP_MBB.