Defense wins Championships. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
In an era where Tom Brady is a perennial Super Bowl Champion; the Golden State Warriors splash 3 after 3 en route to yearly titles; and the Cubs, Red Sox, and Astros blast their way to World Series honors it’s easy to forget this simple notion.
Enter the Webster City Lynx boys basketball team. While claiming an Iowa Class 3A, conference, or even district title might be longshots or impossibilities this season, it bears noting that they are heeding this particular motto in a season that was supposed to be a rebuild.
Most recently, the suffocation unit that we Lynx followers call man-to-man defense struck again in a North Central Conference rivalry game.
The Lynx hosted a Humboldt Wildcats team that checked in a game above .500 at 9-8 and had lost 57-54 in Humboldt as Senior Guard Calvin Carlson’s longball at the buzzer for the tie sailed wide for the Lynx 5th consecutive victory back on January 11th.
Tuesday there would be no theatrics at the horn to decide this one. Why? Marty McKinney’s defense put the clamps down early and often, allowing the Wildcats just 3 points after the 1st quarter and 12 headed into the half as they Lynx built a 20 point lead at the break.
The rest of the game was pretty much a lesson in maintaining a lead for the relatively young Lynx. Sophomore Tyler Olson poured in 4 trifectas on the way to a career-high 22 points, the 3rd time in the last week Olson has upped his own career best. Dylan Steen, as he’s done to opposing teams 4 times in the last week, muzzled the Wildcats 2nd leading scorer Jamison Heinz, who put up a great big goose egg despite averaging over 13 and half points per contest this season.
Ultimately, the Lynx would empty the bench with several minutes left in the game to move to 10 and 3 in North Central Conference play with a 53-38 victory over the Wildcats. We’ll talk later in the story about how significant this particular defensive showing is.
I found myself wondering today, “Just how good is this Lynx defense?” Well some minor number crunching gave some insight. There are 64 teams in Class 3A boys high school basketball in the state of Iowa.
Of those teams the Lynx have given up the 22nd fewest points at 935 for their opponents. Solid but not that impressive, right? Well take into consideration that the Lynx have played 19 games this year and only the Nevada Cubs have played more at 20 and many have played 16 or fewer.
So what about points per game? Here we see where the Lynx are truly exceptional. In 19 games played this season, the Lynx have given up 49.2 points per contest, which ranks them a much more impressive 5th in 3A.
Of the teams ahead of them, Center Point-Urbana has been the most impressive, taking the top spot allowing just 45.4 ppg on their way to an 11-6 record. Vinton-Shellsburg ranks 2nd at 45.6 ppg against but sit at only 7-8 overall this season due to the fact that they average just 46.3 ppg of their own. West Delaware (13-5) compares most closely to the Lynx, ranking 3rd at 45.7 per game while averaging 54.6 points of their own which is just below Webster City’s 55.6. And the Fairfield Trojans round out the teams better than the Lynx in ppg at 47.7 per contest surrendered.
Notice that just 2 of the 4 teams with better scoring defenses by that statistic have better records in West Delaware and Fairfield.
Part of the reason the Lynx sit 14th in Class 3A in record at 13-6 is the fact that while their defense is superb, their offense is actually a tad below average. At 55.6 ppg McKinney’s offense sits at 36th of 64 teams but the good news is that when combining the two facets, the Lynx sit better at 22nd in point differential per game at +6.4.
A Deeper Look
Now if those numbers seem great but don’t have the wow factor that’s understandable. Basic stats like points per game and point differential can be very deceiving as they don’t take into consideration the strength of opponents. That factor alone can be very hard to quantify.
One metric that has been around for awhile but has been utilized heavily in college football in recent years is yards given up in a game against that opponent’s average yards per game. It’s a way for analysts to quantify how a college football defense does against a particular team in comparison to how that team has done against everyone else. In an age where spread offenses, nickel defenses, and Big 12 quarterbacks are commonplace; it can be difficult to tell how a defense is actually faring when they give up big numbers to great offenses.
I decided to do the same thing with the Lynx defense but replaced yards per game with points. The Lynx have played 19 games this season and one of the most amazing things I noticed is that in 17 of those games they held their opponent below their season average. Oddly enough, both games in which they gave up more points than their opponent had averaged they won! (Manson-Northwest Webster and Clarion Goldfield Dows)
|Opponent/Date/Result||Opponent PPG Average||Opponent Actual Score||PPG Differential|
|11/27 @ Pocahontas (L) 56-67||70.2||67||-3.2|
|12/4- South Central Calhoun (L) 44-56||65.1||56||-9.1|
|12/7- @St. Edmond (W) 59-56||58.8||56||-2.8|
|12/11- Clear Lake (L) 52-61||67.3||61||-6.3|
|12/14- Hampton-Dumont (W) 64-31||39.4||31||-8.4|
|12/18- @Clarion Goldfield Dows (W) 69-64||48||64||+16|
|1/4- Iowa Falls- Alden (W) 54-50||55.6||50||-5.6|
|1/8- Manson Northwest Webster (W) 59-53||48.6||53||+4.4|
|1/11- @Humboldt (W) 57-54||65.3||54||-11.3|
|1/12- @Waverly-Shell Rock (W) 43-37||50.4||37||-13.4|
|1/15- @Algona (L-OT) 45-50||58.1||50||-8.1|
|1/19- Nevada (W) 74-50||58||50||-8|
|1/21- @Clear Lake (L) 52-51||67.3||52||-15.3|
|1/25- @Hampton-Dumont (W) 53-29||39.4||29||-10.4|
|1/26- Gilbert (L) 39-54||73.9||54||-19.9|
|1/31- Clarion Goldfield Dows (W) 67-33||48||33||-15|
|2/1- @Iowa Falls-Alden (W) 58-43||55.6||43||-12.6|
|2/4- St. Edmond (W) 59-57||58.8||57||-1.8|
|2/5- Humboldt (W) 53-38||65.3||38||-27.3|
Cumulatively, over the course of the season, the Lynx have held their opponents to over 158 points below those teams averages. Per game, that breaks down 8.32. Each and every game, Marty McKinney and his group of regulars hold opposing teams to an average of more than 8 points below their season scoring average.
What makes this truly amazing is that coming into the season, expectations were somewhat low for a team that lost 4 starting seniors and had just 2 players returning that saw significant time at the varsity level a year ago.
Listen here as Marty responds to the question as to whether or not he had any idea coming into the season that this team could be this strong defensively.
You heard Marty say there that the Christmas break was a turning point for this Lynx D. Well the numbers would corroborate his story there.
In 6 games prior to the New Year, the Lynx held opponents to just 13.8 cumulative points below the respective teams’ ppg averages. For the Lynx that meant prior to the break they were limiting opponents to just 2.3 points below what is now their season average, decent but not great.
Since the break? The Lynx have played 13 games and combined have held teams to 144.3 points below their averages in total at this point in the season. That’s an absurd 11.1 points per game below average each contest that the Lynx are holding their opponents to in 2019. Think about that. Every game, the opposing teams know that they have to step up their defense because the Lynx are going to hold them to 11 points below what they normally do offensively.
Championships or not, right now the Lynx are winning. And to no one’s surprise the numbers agree, it’s their D that is getting it done.