High major teams play cupcakes. It's a fact of life -- they even pay them to come to the home gym!
Team like the Bruins need to play someone else besides themselves in practice. No matter how bad the cupcake, it's a big game for them, and they come with a strategy, and they try to surprise. It usually doesn't work for more than a few minutes, but they try.
For us, the fans, what does playing a cupcake really prove? We don't know if the result is real, or will work against another, better, team. That said, we pick up tidbits, and try to read the tea leaves.
What was different last night against Cal State Fullerton?
- The rotation pattern changed. Did the hockey-line shift end? There were never more than two bench players in at once. As a matter of fact, when Noah Allen checked-in for the first time, Looney came back in with him.
- Welsh was the first off the bench and had the most minutes of the bench players. Parker sat even though he was having one of his best first halves ever. So that substitution wasn't about Parker's fouls or play. It was pre-determined. Golomon was next, then Noah and then Bail for a minimal appearance. Was Golomon really promoted, and was Bail dropped from the rotation?
- There was a defensive focus in the first half. Don't laugh. I mean this in a relative sense. The Bruins played more man-to-man than in any other game this season to date. They held CSUF to 24% shooting and only 45 points. Was that because CSUF was so bad, or was the defense good? CSUF was bad, but the Bruins did try.The Bruins had 6 blocks last night, and seem to bottle up the middle while the guards extended the perimeter more than they had before. Ryan Kartje focused on the defensive message in his post-game article. I watched Isaac, and I see someone who knows where to be and actually gets there -- all good. He's not closing out, and seemed to be his mellow self again. The Bruins are going to need to get his UAB first half every night to beat the Utah's of the world.
- Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton were low key.They had 7 points between then in the first half. Listening to the post-game and Tuesday pressers, Steve Alford likely told them not to force shots, and look to assist within the offense (see Ajax post on the Tuesday presser -- there definitely was a surreal tone-deafness in regards to Bryce' and the team's defense, and Jack Wang posted last night's post-game presser here). I thought the low score last night was about possessions and pace. 74 is below the season average of 78 and down from 81 last year, but the difference isn't that big. I'm confused by that math, because all indications (inside game, defensive focus and Bryce and Isaac not shooting) would indicate lower possessions and explain the lower score. The turnover rate, 19%, was over the season average of 16%, and the Bruins did take the foot of the gas very early.
- The Bruins got 26 points in the paint -- most coming in the first half. There was a deliberate effort to feed Tony and Kevon, and they both responded well.
There are two more cupcakes before we get to Gonzaga in 9 days. Salford is trying things, but is he trying the right things, will he continue, and will the changes work against stronger competition?
One the one hand, I like the tweaks on defense and exploiting our bigs down low. I don't have to sing Kevon's praises again, but Tony did do well against some good teams last year: Alabama, Arizona and Stanford. Those two down low may be a strategic advantage for this team in that they've both been proven hard to stop even against some bigger and athletic players.
On the other hand, changing the substitution patterns has proven ineffective. Let me rephrase that -- I'm all for doing whatever it takes to limit the other team's ability to go on a run, but individually, the bench has still been ineffective. Welsh scored 2 points and had 4 rebounds in 15 minutes, but more importantly, the eye test tells me he's mishandling rebounds and letting quicker players in under him.
Golomon is flat-out nervous and timid. I don't know how well he shoots in practice, but his stroke is good enough that it's hard to otherwise explain why he's bricking his FT's so badly, and passing up shots that anyone else would take in a heartbeat.
We can have a fair debate on the bench. The argument to develop them further in-game is certainly there -- especially in this three-game cupcake interlude, and the B4A proved fatigue and fouls are a big issue for this team. We've had several posts on rotation alternatives including style changes to give the starters in-game breathers.
In a recent post I said there weren't any good choices, and there was only tinkering around the edges. That said, I come down (as I've said several times) on the side of riding the starters as much as possible with the suggested style changes. If anything, substituting one-at-a-time is probably the fairest treatment of the bench players.
I'm guessing that next year's class will be four strong and of the quality I've detailed in past recruiting reports, but I could be wrong -- we obviously ran into problems this season. That belief drives my thoughts on current player development. What do you think?