OGDEN — Year after year, at least for the last 12 years, Weber State has tended toward a slower brand of offense under Randy Rahe.
But this season, Rahe is speeding things up.
Through 15 games, the Wildcats are running more than ever, having undergone a style change that relies heavily on defense leading to offense and on their backcourt depth to quicken the pace.
“We’re trying to feed off our defense. We’re trying to focus on defense and rebounding,” Rahe told KSL.com. “We’re trying to get easy buckets. … We’re gonna push it at you. We want to push the tempo.
“Run more on makes, run harder on misses, try to get more primary breaks, push the pace on them,” he continued. “And that’s based on our personnel. We haven’t had the kind of personnel, as a whole, as a team, to be able to play that way (in the past). … But it’s been good for our personnel, and our guys have really gotten comfortable with it, playing better within that system.”
At a blistering 72.9 possessions per 40 minutes, the Wildcats play at college basketball’s 38th fastest pace, up from 209th, 238th, 243rd, 265th and 263rd in its last five seasons, according to KenPom’s adjusted tempo metric. Additionally, 36.8 percent of Weber’s possessions are coming in transition this season, easily the highest of Rahe’s teams dating back to 2011-12, per hoop-math.com.
Add it all up, and this season represents a dramatic reversal from what has been Weber’s identity for more than a decade: methodical and deliberate, running only when the situation calls for it. But internally, Rahe and the Wildcats believe this is the way they are supposed to play.
“It’s a ton faster, I think it fits our personnel a lot better as well,” said Cody John, who is enjoying a career year — 15.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 57 percent true-shooting — after missing all of last season with a back injury. “We have a lot of good athletes and stuff, so we get easy points, get some assists and just get easy points in general.
“In games, I think it just makes us move a lot better,” Brekkott Chapman added. “We get the ball going, just up the floor quick and moving.
"You know, towards the end of the second half, if it’s a close game, I feel like teams get tired and they don’t want to keep running with us," he added. "So I think it’s a big advantage we can use as the year goes on.”
With only two rotation players taller than 6-foot-8, Weber lacks the traditional size fundamental to playing slow. Rahe makes up for this by grouping as many athletes and ballhandlers together as possible.
“We can play all our guards together. We’ll play Caleb (Nero), Izz (Israel Barnes), Doc (Ricky Nelson), every combination with those five guards,” said Rahe, who acknowledged but did not mention Jerrick Harding and John by name in his comment. “I like it because all of them have good athleticism, they all have really good feel. You know, four of those five could be point guards.
"They've got handles, they've got skills, they've got vision," he added. "So it makes it kind of fun to play offense when you’ve got guys that have good feel and play with almost a point guard mentality — the ball moves pretty good, all that stuff.”
As for the overall results? Mixed.
On the one hand, the Wildcats, which sit at 9-6 after Saturday’s loss to Southern Utah, are scoring a respectable 108.3 points per 100 possessions, a mark that ranks 100th nationally in offensive rating. But on the other, they continue to see key elements of their offense disrupted, often leading to losses.
Take, for example, the team’s recent three-game losing streak in December. In those games, against Fresno State, Utah State and Utah Valley, Weber shot a combined 14-of-58 from deep and watched its offense become congested against opponents’ interior defenses.
“The way teams are defending us right now, we’re having a hard time getting the ball into the paint, which is one of our strengths,” Rahe said at the time. “If you don’t make those outside shots, they just keep packing it tighter and tighter and tighter.”
Too often, Rahe said, the team’s lack of spacing and outside shot-making has led to lead guards settling for low-quality first-side shots. And the worry is, without a hired gun, such as a Ryan Richardson or Dusty Baker (who were both lost to graduation), to space the floor, the Wildcats may remain limited in their half-court offense.
In this regard, Rahe acknowledges the offense, despite mostly encouraging early returns, is lacking.
“Now we can’t space you out quite as well,” Rahe said. “Teams aren’t as afraid of the 3-ball as they were last year.”
But, he added: “Last year, we were slow. We couldn’t get transition baskets, we weren’t very athletic, and we had no depth. So we had to be real efficient offensively. So now with the change of personnel, we decided to go do it (play faster). And I’ve been really pleased with it. It’s been kind of fun. The kids like to play in it.”
Follow Dillon on Twitter @dillondanderson.