BY TYLER BRADFIELD | Ball State Sports Link
Losing a starter and statistically one of your most valuable players to injury is never a favorable scenario for any team in any sport.
Therefore it goes without saying the stunning news received by Brady Sallee right before Ball State’s shoot around Wednesday that Destiny Washington would not be available that night for his women’s basketball team was far from encouraging.
Washington sat in streets clothes Wednesday night as Ball State welcomed Bowling Green for the second of two scheduled meetings.
During timeouts Washington stood, supported by two curved crutches, nursing a knee injury. The details of the injury remained undetermined through Wednesday night.
The 5-foot-11 Washington met with team trainers and doctors. Further testing was scheduled for Thursday afternoon to help determine the details and then, subsequently, the timetable of her absence.
The news was as unexpected and alarming for fans as it was Sallee.
Washington has been the team’s second-best scoring option this season, adding better than 12 points per night and pulling down 6.5 rebounds. The news had to be quickly swallowed like a large pill. As Ball State’s only true starting post player, Washington was the top rebounder on a team that at times has struggled to rebound the ball in meaningful games
But, is all lost? No, in fact, if you watched Wednesday’s 82-41 slaughtering of Bowling Green, everything seemed just fine. Why?
A few numbers suggest partial answers, which could provide reasoning to a bigger picture — and a clearer reflection — on this team’s dynamic. Besides, this is not the first time this season they have been stranded without their lanky, athletic senior.
Washington missed three consecutive games (Vanderbilt, Tennessee State and Butler) around Thanksgiving due to a concussion. Couple those three with Wednesday’s game against Bowling Green, they’ve been left to play without her now four times. Let’s run some numbers.
4-0 Without Washington
It is sometimes necessary to state the obvious. Ball State has been left without Destiny Washington four times and its record in those four games is 4-0. They have played good teams as well. Two of those four wins came against Vanderbilt (SEC) and Butler (Big East). Wins boasted as two of their largest during the program’s first ever-undefeated non-conference slate.
Perhaps one of the most impressive wins in non-conference, came on the heels of Washington’s three-game leave, on the road at Purdue (Big Ten). That game served as Washington’s return. Due to foul trouble and needing time to be reinserted, she only played 18 minutes. Those 18 minutes were the fewest she had played all year and twelve-minutes less than any other starter logged that night.
So, they have played without Washington — and with a limited Washington — in significant games and won.
Let’s first ask… What do they lose in Washington?
A reliable defender, post scorer, and maybe, most importantly – her minutes. So let’s utilize this as a framework.
Ball State has been a top tier defensive team in the Mid-American Conference this year. Part of the reason is Washington’s ability to defend post players – more often than not, larger than her. Their field goal-percentage defense and points allowed currently leads the league. But look at the numbers as a team this season compared to the four games without Washington:
Season: 37% FG Defense, 64 Points Allowed
Without Washington: 35% FG Defense, 65 Points Allowed
Now granted, a 42-point outing and 20-percent field goal percentage by Bowling Green certainly helps the average in Ball State’s favor, but consider when Ball State played Bowling Green with Washington the first time around. Bowling Green shot 40-percent as a team, scored 73 points and out-rebounded Ball State by six with Washington.
Without Washington a few weeks later, the Cardinals forced Bowling Green to shoot 20-percent, allowing just 41 points and out-rebounded them by 10.
Interesting, which brings to the forefront the point about rebounding.
For most of the season Washington has led Ball State in rebounding around 6.5 per game. Ball State has struggled, as mentioned, in meaningful games to rebound.
The Cardinals have been out-rebounded nine times through 19 games including Central Michigan, Buffalo, Toledo, Western Kentucky and Purdue. Which all five rank somewhere in that list of meaningful games.
But, four games they haven’t been out rebounded?
Vanderbilt (+16), Tennessee State (+5), Butler (+1) and Wednesday’s game against Bowling Green (+10) — all without Washington.
Rebound Margin as a team this season: +2.4 per game
Rebound Margin as a team in games without Washington: +8.0 per game
Now, before throwing out numbers and saying case closed, is rebounding margin an incredibly misleading stat? Yes. It is an easy and quick way to look at rebounding numbers, but it indeed can be misleading.
In a fictional example, let’s say the University of Phoenix shoots 32-percent from the field and Online Tech State shoots 61-percent from the field. University of Phoenix had 21 offensive rebounds and Online Tech State only grabbed 13 offensive rebounds.
Based on those numbers it seems University of Phoenix out-rebounded Online Tech State by +8 on the offensive glass. But that’s misleading.
Online Tech State actually did a better job of offensive rebounding. They had fewer opportunities because they shot such a high percentage. But University of Phoenix had twice as many chances at offensive rebounding because they shot such a low percentage.
So in reality, rebounding margin can be misleading. Is this a stat coaches still rely upon? Yes, because in most situations teams are shooting similar percentages in games, therefore it is a quick indicator. But, you will see coaches rely upon rebounding percentages for in-depth examinations.
So let’s consider the numbers of offensive and defensive rebounds on rebounding opportunities and compare percentages.
% of BSU’s Missed Shots/Grab an Off. Rb. this Season: 39%
% of BSU’s Missed Shots/Grab an Off. Rb. in Games W/O Washington: 40%
% of Opp.’s Missed Shots/BSU Secures a Def. Rb. this Season: 70%
% of Opp.’s Missed Shots/BSU Secures a Def. Rb. in Games W/O Washington: 75%
So, Ball State is securing offensive and defensive rebounds at a more frequent rate without Washington than with her. Very interesting, given the fact, Washington has statistically been Ball State’s best rebounder this season.
One of the most overlooked angles by casual fans, yet draws heavy concern for coaches, when losing a player to injury is how to divvy up their minutes. The injury shuffles around the rotation. Generally speaking, when down a starter, it forces the other four starters to log more minutes.
The other four starters this season have consistently been Carmen Grande, Jasmin Samz, Frannie Frazier and Moriah Monaco. Let’s look at their minutes combined.
Season: 124 Minutes per game between Grande, Samz, Frazier & Monaco
In Games W/O Washington: 125 Mins per game between Grande, Samz, Frazier & Monaco
So, on average, it hasn’t been too strenuous on the starters. They were asked to play 152 minutes between the four against Butler. But, on average, the minutes haven’t been shuffled to the other starters.
So where are these minutes going? Who deserves credit for filling the void? Those minutes aren’t magically disappearing.
The undersized, sophomore post player from Brownsburg has been asked to play such a larger role on this team than a year ago. In the first three games Washington missed to concussion, Walker started all three in her place. She came off the bench against Bowling Green.
Walker’s Season Stats Line: 3.4 Points, 3.4 Rebounds, 11 Minutes per game.
Walker in Games W/O Washington: 6.0 Points, 6.0 Rebounds, 17.5 Minutes per game
Against Bowling Green, Walker logged 19 minutes (11 more than she had in any other conference game up to that point), scored nine points and secured seven rebounds.
Not too bad for a player asked to only play just four minutes a game and appeared in only half of the team’s games last year.
Brown has been one of the most pleasant surprises this season in many regards. The unlimited potential for the freshman is noticeable on just about every post touch.
Brown is averaging the most minutes off the bench this season for Ball State. She has been the Cardinals top scorer off the bench averaging slightly under 7.o points per game.
She has been one of the best rebounders as well, currently leading the team with just under 7.0 rebounds per game, ranking top 15 in the MAC. Her stats in comparison:
Brown’s Season Stats Line: 6.8 Points, 6.6 Rebounds, 17.4 Minutes
Brown’s Stats in Games W/O Washington: 7.0 Points, 11.5 Rebounds, 24.5 Minutes
In the four games without Washington, Brown’s numbers have been astronomically good for a freshman. Brown has had three games this season with 10+ rebounds. All three of those have come when Washington has been forced to sit out: Vanderbilt (16), Butler (10), and Bowling Green (12). Those 16 rebounds against Vanderbilt were two off from the single game record in Ball State Women’s Basketball history. Fairly good for a player only four games into her collegiate career at the time.
Lastly, Ball State’s top scorer, Moriah Monaco has elevated her play every time the Cardinals have been without Washington — all without having to increase her minutes. In fact, her minutes played per game have actually slightly decreased on average without Washington.
Monaco’s Season Stats Line: 16.9 Points (on 37% 3pt Shooting), 34.1 Minutes
Monaco’s Stats in Games W/O Washington: 20.5 Points (on 48% 3pt Shooting), 33.8 Minutes
Three of Monaco’s five highest scoring outputs this season have occurred when Washington could not play due to injury.
So what does all this mean? The defensive and rebounding numbers? The thoughts on minutes played?
Clearly Walker, Monaco and Brown have all upped their game.
By no means, am I suggesting Ball State is better off without Washington on the floor. Absolutely not. That would be foolish. They are CLEARLY a better team when she is on the floor and playing at full strength. Anyone who wants to make that argument would be off base.
I’m not suggesting they are better without her at all. I’m saying they have been forced to play without her and wins are still coming. They have simply been able to adapt. That is a far different claim.
Do not be confused or misconstrue my words. Ball State is a much better team with Washington.
This was just intended to look at how they have been able to win without her. Walker has clearly upped her numbers, Brown and Monaco the same. Perhaps without their best rebounder, maybe they are collectively as a team making a more conscious effort to hit the boards?
The details of Washington’s injury remain unknown as of Thursday evening with further evaluations still to be done. The timetable is an even more distant thought at this point.
Regardless, despite Washington’s impact on this team, Ball State has found ways to win — and win big games — without her.
These four games have allowed players like Brown and Walker to mold into larger roles helping expand the bench. So, when — or if — Washington returns these games will indeed be super beneficial for the development of others.
It would be a bold statement to say this can continue winning with regularity, but it is apparent they can at least win in the near future without Washington.
With Northern Illinois (2-6) and Akron (0-6) the next two games at home, maybe this stretch will help players such as Brown and Walker develop into bigger roles? Maybe it will allow Monaco to take even more ownership as the go-to scorer?
Regardless, I go back to the obvious. Is it all lost without Washington?
No, they’re 4-0 already.