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OPINA'S OPINION - Carroll Men's Record Doesn't Reflect Season Turnaround

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I'm a huge fan of stats.

Any of our readers, viewers or twitter followers who are familiar with my work know that I'm constantly dishing out stats.

But the catch with stats is that they're a double-edged sword. They can tell you the strengths/weaknesses of a team and they can tell you why Team A was able to beat Team B.

But there's some things that stats CAN'T measure, like hustling, contesting shots, diving on the floor for loose balls, energy, effort, team chemistry, etc.

In that sense, numbers don't always tell the whole story. That's why the Carroll College Men's Basketball team should not be measured by their 2013-14 record.

Last year the Saints had a season to forget. They won only two games in the 2012-13 season, including a 1-14 conference mark. Their 2-24 overall record was among the three worst records in all of the NAIA.

That offseason, the Saints brought in former NCAA All-American Carson Cunningham to be their new head coach. If anyone could put Carroll Basketball back on track, Bruce Parker and his committee believed Cunningham was the man for the job. Cunningham was fresh off a stint at Andrean High School in Merrilville, Indiana. He took a program that had a 2-win season and lead them to four straight sectional titles.

As if Cunningham didn't already have his work cut out for him, he was dealt a couple of huge blows. Riley King, the Frontier Conference 2013 Freshman of the Year, decided to leave Carroll and go play professional baseball when he got drafted by the Kansas City Royals. Nick Jones, the Saints' leading scorer from last year, had hip surgery and never fully recovered due to complications. He only played in four games and was never the same player he was in the 2012-13 season. Carroll's other leading scorer, Dennis Mikelonis, had been battling bad knees the entire year (and for most of his career) but somehow he powered through the pain. This forced his only healthy Senior, Chris McGrath, to log some heavy minutes (35.1 minutes per game on the season, the most on the team).

Still, Cunningham plowed through the obstacles and was able to put the "fight" into his young, Fighting Saints squad.

Their 9-19 record (4-12 in conference) does not reflect the turnaround season they've had.

When Carroll lost a game in the 2012-13 season, they got beat. Destroyed. Spanked. Embarrassed. A lot of their losses weren't even close contests. They had performances that did not live up to Carroll's reputation. There were times where the players gave up and you could see it in their body language.

When Carroll loss this year, they went down fighting. They never gave up. They battled till the end. There's a phrase that goes "teams get their personalities from their coach." And that is where Cunningham's biggest impact is on his team can be seen: The fact that the Saints battled, clawed, scratched, and fought tooth-and-nail for every second of a 40 minute contest. There were times where the men were down by 20 with five minutes left and they still played as if they were only down by one.

Like I said: Cunningham put the "fight" back into the Fighting Saints.

I actually pointed out my observation to both Coach Cunningham and Dennis Mikelonis when I randomly ran into them out-and-about Helena. They both told me the exact same thing, "yes, that's true."

Let's look at Carroll's turnaround statistically (if I did my math correctly):

Carroll in 2012-13 finished with a 2-24 record, 1-14 in conference.

Average margin of defeat: about 13 points per game (including exhibition games).

Carroll in 2013-14 finished with a 9-19 overall record, 4-12 in conference. It's a 7 game overall improvement.

Average margin of defeat: 9.1 points per game (including exhibitions against D-I opponents Boise St and ISU).

Cunningham has said multiple times that he wants his team to be like "wild honey badgers" on defense. The Saints scored just as many points per game this year (67.25) compared to last year (67.22). But opponents only averaged 70.46 ppg against the Saints compared to 78.82 ppg last year. An 8-point differential is huge, as it resulted in seven more wins. Defense was the key to their improvement this year.

Carroll will lose three great players in Jones, Mikelonis and McGrath this year. But the future is bright for the Saints. Cunningham's young squad will be a year better and they got some great talent coming in (Bozeman High's Oliver Carr is probably the best back-to-basket player in the state).

Cunningham told me that he believes games are won in the off-season. If the Saints can improve 7 games in one off-season, imagine what they'll do after another.

Look for Carroll to make some noise when the Saints march into the 2014-15 season.


Want to discuss? Follow me on Twitter: @DerekOpina

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