Back in October, I posted a way-too-early, "On the Horizon" view of what I thought a problem area for us might be, focusing mainly on our ability to cover the perimeter. (We've already discussed our recent concerns over our ability to consistently cover and rotate out to shooters, ever since Rochestie and Thompson carpet-bombed us at Pauley.)
My concern today, however, is linked to this disclaimer I mentioned at the very beginning of my On the Horizon post:
Sincere and honest disclaimer -- if LMRAM had come back for his senior year, along with everyone else we've got on the roster right now, I’d already have $50 down on us in Vegas to bring home Banner 12. Yep, d*** serious.
And that's the point of my analysis today: the 4-spot. The power forward position, one of the unfailing linchpins of our success in recent years.
ND has improved his game, no question about that. On the year, ND has averaged 9.3 points in 23.7 minutes per game (mpg), and gone for career-highs at least twice, IIRC. Most would say ND has been giving us an added offensive threat at the PF spot... but has he?
I looked back at our team's offensive stats in 2006 and 2007. I omitted 2008 because our overall team makeup is more similar to the 2006 and 2007 teams, IMO, unless CBH is hinding a double-double player on our bench that we don't know about.
Anyway, I looked at our production at the 4 from our beloved LMRAM, and here's what I saw:
2006 -- 29.5 mpg, 9.1 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.3 apg (LMRAM)
2007 -- 29.9 mpg, 8.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.9 apg (LMRAM)
2009 -- 23.7 mpg, 9.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.4 apg (ND)
Thus, in about 4/5 the time, ND's offensive output is already comparable to what LMRAM did for us in the past, albeit at considerably longer-range. The rebounding, though, is considerably LOWER. In our last 5 games, in particular, ND has given us the following stats:
(A) ND (last 5 gms):
149 minutes, 59 points, 29 rebounds, 12 fouls.
29.8 mpg, 0.396 ppm, 0.195 rpm, 0.080 fpm.
Now, take a look at THIS stat line during the same 5 games:
(B) ?? (last 5 gms):
41 minutes, 15 points, 14 rebounds, 4 fouls.
8.2 mpg, 0.366 ppm, 0.341 rpm, 0.098 fpm
If you take the stats of Player (B) and project them out to the same 29.8 mpg (or just 0.5 mpg more than LMRAM in 2007), you get the following: 10.90 ppg, 10.16 rpg, and 2.92 fpg.
In the same 5 games, ND has produced the following stats: 11.80 ppg, 5.8 rpg, and 2.3 fpg.
Even at ND's average of 23.7 mpg this year, Player (B)'s per-minute projections from the last 5 games would still come out to some very LMRAM-like numbers: 8.67 ppg, 8.08 rpg, and 2.3 fpg.
Granted, no single player can replace all the Swiss-Army-knife contributions LMRAM gave to us the past 3 years, but I'm sure many of us would like to have a PF who can give us 8 and 8 or 9 and 9 while riding shotgun with PAA. My point today is this: we already DO have such a player. And his name is James Keefe.
It may be unlikely, it may be too late, but I sincerely think that for us to regain our defense, our toughness, our CORE, we should get JK back in the starting lineup asap. At a minimum, I think JK needs to earn/ play/ get as many minutes as possible.
Keefe could be the KEY for us in three areas where we've been having trouble all year:
(1) Defensive rotation -- Next to Aboya, Keefe is our physically strongest AND most experienced big-man defender. Simply put, he knows how to work the double-team AND the hedge better than ND. We need our PFs to close the lane from penetrators, and crowd post-players without getting burned by being a step too slow or not properly sealing off an exit lane for a pass-out. Drago's been having a lot of problems on exactly these kinds of rotations and shifts for the past 2 weeks. If Keefe can take ND's minutes away by providing solid D, I have no doubt that our prospects will improve.
(2) Rebounding -- Pat Riley said, "No rebounds, no rings." Around here, we can easily say, "No boards, no banners." We all know that rebounding is a BIG part of CBH's overall team philosophy. If you outrebound your opponents (either on our misses or theirs), they get less possessions, we get more, and we can control pace WITH our possessions (either by running more breaks or slowing down the game with grind-out plays. The first rule of any ball-control offense is, by definition, GET THE BALL.
The Huskies rightfully took the Pac-10 season crown by having the kind of rebounding margin WE used to bury opponents with. If we end up brain-locking and settling for outside jumpers at any time during the Tournament, the only way we may be able to generate points for mintues at a time may be on putbacks and garbage points. Aboya has greatly improved for us this year, but he can't clean the glass alone.
Possessions will undoubtedly be at a premium in the Tourney. He may not be able to maintain the same pace at 8 mpg over a more healthy 29mpg, but Keefe has been averaging half as many rebounds as ND in barely more than one-quarter the time. With Josh's shooting touch restored, I think we need more force and less finesse at the 4 spot. No boards, no banners.
(3) Inside scoring -- I know, I know, JK is no Tim Duncan. Shoot, he may not even be Mark Madsen. However, while Drago has certainly improved his footwork in the post, when Darren and Jrue drive and are unable to connect, they need someone who can muscle in a basket. If a thin, but athletic shotblocker like Gibson can flummox us, what will the bigger, wider, bulkier trees from the East region do to us?
At present, our starting lineup lacks the traditional Howland-type bangers, aside from PAA. If Keefe can draw fouls inside just by showing the toughness to get IN there, that helps us down the stretch by fouling out or slowing down enemy bigs, or by simply getting us to 1-and-1s a lot faster. As the $C game and the UW games have proven, if you're looking to draw fouls on an enemy big, ND is not EXACTLY the guy to do it.
I BELIEVE IN THIS TEAM.
I BELIEVE IN COACH BEN HOWLAND.
I BELIEVE IN THE BRUINS.
AND, I also believe, based on the last 3 years running, that the TOUGHEST teams are the one who go farthest in the Tournament.
As I've said before, toughness is a choice. It's a decision. It's what the CORE of this team under CBH is all about.
With that in mind, how about we throw a big man pairing of the 6-9, 245-lb. Aboya and the 6-8, 235-lb. Keefe at people and play Howland's defense again from the opening tip, rather than hit the boards 20 pounds lighter than we used to do?
What would we rather have? ND giving us 12 and 6 like he has the past 3 weeks; or Keefe giving us 9 and 9?
OK, enough from me. Feedback is welcome.