Palsgrove’s Points

I am overjoyed to say that Flames’ basketball is back, and it’s back in full force. After two games, Head Coach Ritchie McKay’s boys are 2-0 and have put up 174 points on their opponents, and there is so much I cannot wait to break down from those games. So, for this edition of Palsgrove’s Points, I’ll be talking about some of the storylines I find most interesting as the Flames continue their season. Let’s get to it. 

Is Kyle Rode the new number-one option? 

The Flames are without Darius McGhee for the first time in years, and that leaves quite the power vacuum. However, it seems like there is a good chance said vacuum could be filled by senior forward Kyle Rode. 

In game one, the Flames beat the Mustangs by 60, so Rode wasn’t really needed or utilized and played only 10 minutes. In game two, the Flames faced off against a much better opponent, the Charlotte 49ers. The Flames needed Rode to be his best self from buzzer to buzzer, and he delivered.

In his 31 minutes on the court, Rode scored a team-high 20 points while shooting 8-14 from the field and 4-8 from beyond the arc. His best moment came after a hard foul against sophomore forward Zach Cleveland, when Rode popped out into the corner and hit a three with a lightning-quick release over the defender. 

Rode had one of the best games of his career, offensively. He was almost perfect from beyond the arc, he was ferocious in attacking the rim and best of all, he injected electricity into a stagnant Flames’ offense. 

Can Rode become the true number one option for the Flames going forward? I’m not sure, but after his showing in Charlotte, I wouldn’t be surprised. 

Let’s talk about Brody Peebles. 

Junior guard Brody Peebles is having one of his best seasons, or maybe just THE best, over his career, and we are only two games in. In his first two games, Peebles has been McKay’s go-to scorer off the bench and man, has he put the score in scorer. In those two games Peebles has scored a total of 33 points (20 in game one and 13 in game two) — the most on the team. 

Like I talked about above, without Darius McGhee, the Flames are without that sparkplug, 20-point-per-game, constant threat-to-score kind of player, and Peebles has an opportunity to fit into that role. He’s currently fourth on the team in minutes (which is above two starters) and first in total field goals taken, so he’s getting the opportunities. The question is, can he maintain this flamethrower-esque pace? 

To answer my own question, I believe he can. Don’t be surprised to look up later this season and see a team lead on and off the court by Peebles and Rode.  

What kind of role will Colin Porter play?

I feel like I’m overusing the whole “Darius McGhee is gone, now what?” theme, but it’s by far the biggest storyline and question for this team going forward. There are times when the lack of McGhee on the court is so incredibly apparent that it becomes painful to watch. There’s a lack of someone to just take the ball to the top of the key, calm down the offense and pull a rabbit out of the hat for two points. Rode can be that, but being a first option and playing iso-ball doesn’t really suit his skill set. 

Flames fans seemed to gravitate to Colin Porter as the possible successor to McGhee, but that hype train seems to have slowed to a halt. Without McGhee, there seemed to be an opportunity for Porter to step up and lead this offense as a premier scoring threat. But after two games, I’m a little more skeptical of that. I know it’s very early, but let’s look at the numbers. Through two games, Porter is averaging 8.5 points per game, which is tied for the fourth highest on the team, but he’s also playing the most minutes of anyone on the team by a rather large margin. 

He’s shooting the ball pretty well, but he’s not shooting it enough. Right now, he’s tied for fourth on the team in total field goals taken, but he’s shooting 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three, which is phenomenal.

As a playmaker, Porter is struggling as well. He’s leading the team in assists with 3.5 per game and 7 total, but his assist to turnover ratio (7 assists:6 turnovers) makes me cringe. Again, I know it’s early, but I’d like to see more from Porter, and there are a few different ways he could adapt to this new season that could seriously benefit his game and the team. He could either lean heavily into playmaking, focus on limiting turnovers and getting the ball to the Flames’ shooters in the wings, or he could become more of a score-first guard, like the legendary Darius McGhee, and start calling his own number, jacking up threes and taking it to the rack with a fury. 

In a perfect world, it would be a healthy balance of those two realities, but we’ll see. Again, I know it is early, and I would love for this entire point to be irrelevant in a month or two, but it is something to keep your eye on in the meantime. 

The Flames have already gotten legitimate production from their newest additions, but what can we expect from them going forward? 

Like any collegiate program, there is a good bit of turnover on this Flames’ roster. Isaiah Warfield and Blake Preston both chose to take their talents to the transfer portal and off the Mountain and of course, Darius McGhee is working his way into the NBA. To fix the holes in the team, the Flames filled out their roster with some new faces, both through recruiting and in the portal. 

Freshmen Kai Yu, Curtis Blair and Jaylen Davis are three prospects that I was excited to watch this season; all three were redshirted prior to the Flames’ season opener. The two transfer additions for Liberty, junior guard Kaden Metheny and sophomore forward Xander Yates, have both shown flashes in their first two games in Liberty uniforms. 

Metheny is a small, quick guard who can score from just about anywhere on the floor (sound familiar?). He was instantly injected into the Flames starting lineup, ahead of both Brody Peebles and Shiloh Robinson. Against MACU he scored just five points in 22 minutes, but in his defense, he only took four shots and hit two of them. Against Charlotte, Metheny scored just nine points on nine shots. Clearly, he’s still getting used to the system for the Flames, but I imagine it won’t be too long until he’s dropping 15+ on whoever is unfortunate enough to cross his path. 

Yates didn’t see the floor nearly as much as Metheny, but in the time he did he made the most of it. The 6-foot-7-inch forward is clearly a danger from three, and he proved that in his opening minutes as a Flame. Against the Mustangs he ended with 10 points and shot 3-8 from three, and took only one non-three pointer not counting his two free throws. In game two, he only played five minutes and didn’t take any shots, but like Metheny, as he gets more comfortable, I’d imagine he’ll get some more time and opportunities. 

I don’t think either Zach Cleveland or Joseph Venzant have a gear lower then sixth. 

As a basketball junkie, there is no one I enjoy watching more on this Flames team than Zach Cleveland and Joseph Venzant. I mean, there are times watching the Flames that I forget to watch the whole play and just focus on one of the two of them; they’re that entertaining. 

I played this little game with a coworker of mine the other day. I asked her, “Who do you think is leading the Flames in both total boards and rebounds per game right now?” She thought about it, and her first answer was Shiloh Robinson, and then Kyle Rode, and then Zach Cleveland and then finally, she guessed Venzant, who was the correct answer. 

Through two games JV has pulled down a team-high 17 rebounds, and a team-high five offensive boards. He is also one of just four Flames to have both a block and a steal through two games. His non-stop energy on the defensive half of the court and on the glass has made him an essential part of the Flames’ successes of late. It also helps that he can jump out of the rafters to slam home some pretty dunks. 

Cleveland might not be one of the four Flames with a steal and a block, but he does have three total blocks, which leads the team. He’s also just taken on the role of, well I don’t know if there is really a good term for it. Nate Albers fills this role for the Liberty Men’s D1 hockey team, Draymond Green filled it for the Golden State Warriors in their prime. Cleveland has that “I will fight somebody on the other team at any moment” type of energy, and that is to the benefit of the Flames. On any sports team there needs to be a guy like Cleveland, Albers and Green, who won’t hesitate to drop the gloves and body somebody, and there needs to be someone who’s ready to hold them back if need be. The Flames have achieved that kind of balance with Cleveland and with the vets on this Flames roster, namely Kyle Rode. 

Cleveland has been a spark plug for the Flames in more than just his attitude, however. You don’t lead your team in blocks by accident, or claim a starting spot on a mid-major D1 basketball team by accident. 

Palsgrove is the asst. sports editor for the Liberty Champion. Follow him on X

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