Bumped. GO BRUINS. -N
Much has been said about team chemistry or more to the point, team dynamic. What is the dynamic of this year's basketball team I wonder?
It's easy, I think, to assign an identity to this year's team based on the past. With us, this is an easy thing to point out. Rugged defenders who dictate the flow of the game, get transition buckets and like to grind out victories. That's been our MO, and I credit that style of play for getting us to three straight Final Fours. And to a large extent, that's the identity the team strives for on a nightly basis. But watching our team this whole year, I feel that there's been a shift in team dynamic. And it's not a shift in athleticism or physicality, it's a shift in our mental makeup.
I mean to say this as more of an observation than a criticism. But our losses this year have followed a similar pattern. There have been offensive droughts and lapses in defensive intensity. But the most glaring thing to emerge is a discernable timidity from our freshman players. The teams that have beaten us have largely relied on an alpha dog who imposes his will on the game (AJ Abrams, James Harden, and most impressively IMHO, Taylor Rochestie). Washington, excluded...we've always had problems up there.
We of course have Darren Collison who has shown in the past that he's capable of taking games over. But I've always felt that this was a designation that was placed on Collison out of necessity. He's in his element when he's managing the game, taking shots in the flow of the offense. Contrast that with guys like Arron Afflalo who played like an animal in the clutch. Darren is a more polished player than Afflalo was, but in terms of being that alpha dog...I'm not sure it's really his game.
Which brings me to the freshman. In years past, we've been blessed with young players who come in and hit the ground running. I could rattle off a bunch of names, but the one that comes to mind first is Luc. Remember, he had to start his freshman year because of injuries and he responded big time. Every freshman/sophomore from Luc to Love to Farmar, took over the reigns of the team and led our teams deep into post-season play. What was most impressive was the mental fortitude they exhibited in the face of huge pressure.
Contrast that with this year's freshman. I would say that from top to bottom, this year's freshman class has more raw talent than the Farmar class or the Luc class. But there is a marked drop-off in terms of mental acuity. They have been solid contributors all year long, no doubt...but when games gets tough, a freshman has not emerged to be a viable threat down the stretch.
Does this mean that this year's freshman are in any way inferior to our superb classes in the past? No, not at all. But we do have to take into account that intangible quality...team dynamic. In the past, Howland had no choice but to turn the reigns over to his freshman (something I feel no coach would be comfortable doing). Edward Young once said that "Affliction is the good man's shining time" and classes of the past were forced to step up...thrown into the fire. And their talent certainly shined through.
This year's team has a completely different mental makeup. I love our seniors. Aboya, Shipp and Collison have all stepped up their game. Unlike years past, however, Howland hasn't had to turn the reigns over to the underclassman. This is a team that belongs to the seniors.
I point to that as the major reason our freshman haven't forged that mental "aggression" yet. They'll get there...they'll have to when the seniors graduate. But for THIS year, we are a good team. If we want to be a GREAT team, a Final Four team, it's time for the freshman to assert themselves and take a more aggressive hand in the formation of our team identity. We'll have to bite our tongue when they make mistakes, but I'd rather have them be aggressive and making mistakes, than passively deferring to the seniors. That'll be the difference between good and great.
Heads up Bruins. We've had difficult stretches in the past and Howland has shown time and time again that he's able to turn lemons into Final Four appearances.
Our upperclassmen will be there in the clutch. They've been there, done that. It'll be our freshman who will determine how far this year's team will be able to go.