As Dave Pilipovich prepares for his first full season as Air Force basketball coach, he knows at least one thing he must do: Keep the score down.
In the past four seasons, Air Force has allowed opponents to score 70 or more points 35 times. The Falcons have lost 32 of those games.
“After 70, it’s usually not very good for us,” Pilipovich said, employing the power of understatement.
Air Force opens its season Saturday against Army in the All-Military Classic at Charleston, S.C. Pilipovich is seeking to renovate a program that has lost 36 of 46 conference games in the past three seasons.
One of the first items on his improvement list is defense. He wants the Falcons to make the lane a less hospitable destination. He especially wants Air Force to limit offensive rebounds for opponents.
That might not be easy. The Falcons return 84.1 percent of the team’s rebounding from last season, but those returning players were outrebounded by nearly nine per game in conference play.
“We cannot let people get second and third shots,” Pilipovich said.
He mentioned last season’s game against TCU at Clune Arena. The Falcons battled, Pilipovich said, but had to settle for a 65-62 loss.
The reason for the defeat?
“They had 22 offensive rebounds,” Pilipovich answered. “We can’t defend for that long.”
He hopes to ease his defensive and rebounding troubles by keeping fresh players on the court. Pilipovich hopes to avoid keeping starters on the court for more than 30 minutes per game.
Michael Lyons led the Falcons in scoring last season, and he often played with little rest.
“He’d play 36 minutes, and six of those minutes weren’t very good,” Pilipovich said, explaining that fatigue caught up with Lyons.
Pilipovich said he plans to “trust” his younger players and go deeper on the bench this season.
He’s also working on changing the culture of the program. He’s pushing for his players to remain positive, even when adversity strikes. When examining video of games last season, he noticed his players’ heads often drooping.
That’s not Pilipovich’s style. He is relentlessly positive.
“We’ve got to break some old habits,” he said.
And, he said with a smile, keep opponents below 70 points.
Pilipovich said 6-foot-6 sophomore forward Justin Hammonds will not play for the Falcons until second semester. He is academically ineligible, Pilipovich said. The Falcons hope Hammonds will return for the Dec. 22 game against UC Riverside.