Bumped. GO BRUINS. -N
Let me start off by saying that I don't believe in moral victories. Last night was closer than many of us expected, to be sure, but I don't consider that a moral victory. Nothing describing a loss should have the word "victory" in it. That being said, there were several positives - and still some negatives - to take away from the game. The team showed true heart for the first time all year, and there were definite glimpses of Ben Ball defense and of what the future might hold.
First, the positives:
1. This team is still 100% behind it's coach.
Now, this should be a given, seeing as it's 5 games into the season. But hey, coaches have lost teams before - especially teams that didn't have a major contributor returning from a previous, more successful year. After the lackluster Portland game - both in effort and execution - it was worth questioning how much faith our young team had in their coach. That question was answered yesterday.
Guys were diving on the floor seemingly every play - ND and JK in particular. RN was also throwing his body around without pause going after rebounds. Guys were taking charges and rotating on defense. This team still fully believes that they can win, and it showed. As long as they continue to trust one another, we'll see consistant growth from these guys.
2. Ben Ball Defense showed itself last night
Let me make something clear first: we are not a good defensive team. Yet. But one of the things that really caught my eye last night were the hedges and post double teams on defense. Yeah, sometimes the freshmen bigs rotated slowly out of the hedge, and sometimes the double teams were ill-advised, but at least the effort was there. The kids were really making an effort to learn and understand CBH's system. The execution has a way to go, but again, last night was about the effort the team was making to play Ben Ball defense. And they're getting better at it.
3. The Freshmen showed why they were top recruits
I think one of the dumbest things a fan can do is to judge a recruit after one season - or even worse, 5 games. None of these freshmen (with the possible exception of RN) are ready for Pac 10 play. But we saw glimpses last night of what they can all do (except TH and AS, obviously)
BL: Big body not afraid to mix it up, with range out to the 3 pt. line. When Lane puts on some weight and gets stronger, I think he could be a big time player. At first I compared him a bit to Keefe (and saw a similar comparison in the thread last night), but watching him it's clear how much more fluid his game is than JK's. He just looks smoother with the ball, and when he puts 20+ pounds on that 6-9 frame to add to his outside game, we could have a really solid player on our hands.
MM: Long, long, long. There was a play, I think middle of the 2nd half, where our offense broke down and the ball was rolling out of bounds. ML grabbed the ball and just flung in towards midcourt. It looked to be going way over everyone for a back-court violation, but MM just reached up and snared the ball out of midair with one hand. This kid has some serious length, and added to his athleticism and (possibly, he hit a 3 last night) a solid outisde shot, he could evolve into a superstar.
Another thing about MM - the kid gets it on defense. A few times last night he was guarding the point man on defense, and he was low to the ground, hands in the right position - basically saying, "you're not getting by me". He's got the right attitude, and clearly the physical skills, to be a lock-down defender under CBH's teaching.
RN: Nelson clearly gets the most PT out of the freshmen class, and for good reason. The man (not a kid) is a beast inside. He plays with an intensity in the paint reminiscent of PAA and LRMAM - taking charges, going through people for rebounds, etc. He picked up a couple over the back fouls last night, and forced a few wild shots down low, but showed a great motor and some solid post moves to get in those positions. If he can develop a jumper out to 15 feet he could be something special.
In terms of negatives, just about every negative I saw was matched with a positives. More after the jump.
So here is a pro/con analysis of a few guys who there was plenty of debate about:
Wow...where to begin with him. For 39 minutes he was a timid, scared kid looking like a high schooler out there. He wasn't a threat to do anything up top except pound the ball and pass along the wing, which led to at least 3 TO's that I remember. He got lost on defense and got routinely blown past by the Butler guards. But when it came to crunch time, he blew past his defender for a quick layup then hit a huge 3 to tie the game with 8 seconds left.
What really caught my eye about those last two plays was the confidence that JA had to make the play. He knew full well what was at stake, and it must've been in his head how poorly he'd played to that point. Yet there was no pause, no hesitiation, no nothing leading up to that 3. When he released it, he did so with so much swagger that I knew it was going in. Hopefully JA can learn from that and play with that swagger all the time.
I fully believe that JA can be a starting Pac 10 point guard. He was a top 50 national recruit for a reason. He just needs to be more decisive on offense and give defenses something to worry about when he has the ball. The more they have to pay attention to him, the more space that MR, ML and co. can have to get open outside or down low.
If JA took some heat last night, it was nothing compared to what ND's taken this weekend - and not with out cause. Against Portland, awful doesn't even begin to describe how he played. But last night, despite his many flaws, I saw a guy who really, really wanted to do things the right way. Yeah, he took some bad shots. Yeah, he got beat on defense. Yeah, he didn't always box out. But he always, always, hustled.
I think there's a lot to be said for a senior - and the only returning starter - to be hustling his butt off for loose balls. ND was diving on the floor, crashing the glass (and picking up some "hustle" fouls in the process), and really giving his best effort on D. The problem, of course, is that he's just not athletic or quick enough to guard most guys man-to-man. Plus, he was often guarding Shelvin Mack for some reason, which is a tough guard for anyone.
ND is important to our season guys, like it or not. The reason CBH keeps playing him is because he knows he needs him. He hit a huge 3 last night, then nailed 2 FT's right after to bring us within 3. He may not be the most athletically gifted guy, but if he cuts down on the dumb plays and gets a better matchup on D, he's going to be a useful player. CBH knows this. So he's going to keep getting minutes this season - and I'm going to look for his contributions, not whine all game about his flaws.
As far as the other guys go, ML and DG both had pretty typical games. Lots of energy and hustle from both, some out of control plays leading to foul trouble, but overall solid basketball. These two are clearly our most reliable playmakers, and need to have the ball in their hands as much as possible. I thought we did a fair job getting them involved - although I'd like to see ML handle the ball as the PG more.
JK...well...he's JK. He's got heart, he tries, but he's just not a Pac 10 player. I give him all the credit in the world for fighting back from his injuries and giving 100%, but his minutes really need to start going to MM, RN, and BL. The freshmen are our future. Let's get that future started now.
Overall, this wasn't a terrible game by any means. But as I said before, I don't believe in moral victories. What I do believe in is taking the positives from a loss and turning them into wins in the future. The focus now should be bringing the same intensity and passion we saw last night to the game Sunday morning against LB State. I'm not getting into that game because I know nothing about the 49ers. But I do know that we can, should, and hopefully will win. This can still be a tournament team. Maybe not on paper (barring a major upset non-conference), but in talent and ability. If we can get the pieces rolling by the time we hit conference play, anything can happen. It's a down year in the Pac, and we have as much talent as anyone in the conference. We just need to put it together.