Know your role: For the Bulls to win at the MAC tournament in Cleveland, they must focus on their best "role player"
The most successful basketball teams are the ones that don’t solely rely on their star players.
Take the Bulls, for instance. Junior forward Justin Moss and sophomore guard Shannon Evans are two of the best players in the Mid-American Conference, let alone on their own team.
But being the best player also comes with a price. The best players are expected to be the highest scorers on the team every game and have little room for error. If they do not play up to standards, then it can jeopardize the team.
That’s when the role players step in. The term “role player” has a dirty connotation to it. It suggests the player excels in one area of the court while the rest of the team picks up the slack. But for junior guard Jarryn Skeete, that’s more of a complement than a critique. Skeete takes 72 percent of his shots from beyond the arc and hits on 40 percent of them.
That’s not just any average role player.
The biggest improvement the Bulls can make right now is the addition of a reliable third scorer. So far this season, the combination of Moss and Evans has combined to score 45 percent of the team’s total points and have taken 43 percent of the team’s total field goal attempts.
Skeete can fill that void.
Skeete has averaged 9.8 points per game, but it’s his success from beyond the arc that makes him an ideal candidate for a jump in the MAC Tournament. Skeete leads the team in three-point shooting percentage. Outside of Evans’ 36 percent from beyond the arc, the Bulls don’t have a single player hitting over 31 percent from three.
The key to success in basketball is spacing. The key to create space is to have consistent outside shooters. That’s where Skeete excels. While the only other above-average shooter on the floor doubles as the lead playmaker, Skeete is allowed to roam around the arc, using screens to get himself open to launch a three from beyond the arc.
His ability to hit threes in abundance gives the Bulls more spacing, as well as shifts defensive attention from Moss and Evans. An effective Skeete from downtown gives Moss less attention in the post, gives Evans more space to attack the rim and gives freshman guard Lamonte Bearden and senior forward Xavier Ford a bit more space to decided on whether to shoot the jumper or attack the rim.
When teams overshadow Skeete in an attempt to run him off the three-point line, he’ll find the open man, and eventually, the mismatch or open man on the floor. He’s great at doing the little things, like boxing out opposing guards for rebound and moving the ball around the perimeter.
Being able to do those little things on the floor helps fills in the small cracks in the starting lineup.
And yet, one of his best attributes is something that has nothing to do with shooting.
Skeete seldom turns the ball over, which is valuable in this backcourt. With Bearden and Evans doubling as scorers and distributors, they’ve had their fair share of turnover problems. Skeete, however, doesn’t have to create for others, and that has allowed him to operate in the backcourt without turning the ball over much this season – just 16 times heading into their last game against Bowling Green.
The value of having a player who can simply catch the ball on the floor and make a play that doesn’t create a turnover is an underrated virtue. Skeete’s ability to do that, combined with his shooting prowess all equals up to this underrated offensive weapon for the Bulls.
I also find Skeete to be effective on the defensive end. With Bearden and Evans as solid defending options, Skeete’s ability as a team defender has been key in their success this season. At 6-foot-3, Skeete is capable of defending point guards and shooting guards, and his long arms allows the Bulls to play him on smaller forwards as well.
Regardless of outcome on Friday, I believe the Bulls win the MAC Tournament this year. There have been hiccups and bumps along the way on the floor, but every time the Bulls seem on the verge of completely stumbling, they’ve responded with a winning streak.
The combination of Moss and Evans will have to carry the Bulls and ultimately lead them to wherever they land. Ford will be the defender to help anchor the defense and create turnovers, and in turn, points. For my money, Jarryn Skeete has the ability to take a step forward in the conference tournament and help the Bulls bring home their first MAC Tournament Championship.
Quentin Haynes is a sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org