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Harmeling picture clears up just a bit in pummeling of ISU

Posted by Jeff Nusser on December 23, 2007

The Cougs predictably whipped Idaho State today — it was nice to see them more or less obliterate an inferior opponent from start to finish for the second consecutive game — and in the process we got a little bit of a glimpse into how Tony Bennett will handle the absence of Daven Harmeling.

Now, I won’t pretend to totally know what happened today; after all, there’s only so much you can glean from a box score, play-by-play and not listening to the game. However, here’s what we know:

  • Caleb Forrest was the first guy off the bench, coming in to replace Robbie Cowgill with just over 14 minutes to go in the first half and the Cougs up 7-5. He would go on to play 28 minutes in the contest, easily a season high for him.
  • Nikola Koprivica was the second guy off the bench, giving Taylor Rochestie a blow with 12:37 to go in the first half. He would go on to play just 11 minutes.
  • Thomas Abercrombie was the third guy off the bench, subbing into a 16-7 game with 9:19 left in the first half. He played four minutes, missed a jumper, collected no other statistics, and did not re-enter until the game was 55-31 with just over 10 minutes to go in the game. He played the rest of the way.
  • Derrick Low played 29 minutes, Kyle Weaver played 30 minutes, and Rochestie played 31 minutes … in a 30-point blowout.

What to make of all this?

One little insight we can get into a player’s contribution is a stat called plus/minus, which is relatively simple: Did your team outscore the opponent while you were on the floor, or vice versa? It’s hardly a perfect stat, but it often can help quantify intangibles. (One of the all-time kings of plus/minus in his days as a guard with the Sonics was Nate McMillan, a guy fans often described as more valuable than his traditional statistics would measure.)

I think we can learn a lot about the reserves by looking at the first half plus/minus of this game, ignoring the second half to a large degree because I don’t think you can learn much about a player’s contribution once a game has become a rout, as it was by the time any subs came off the bench after halftime.

While the game was still in doubt (at least as much as it ever was in doubt), Forrest was plus-12 in his 14 first-half minutes, Abercrombie plus-3 in his four minutes, and Koprivica plus-2 in his four minutes. Some of that might be a function of the quantity of minutes Forrest played, but it certainly appears that Forrest did more with his opportunity than either Abercrombie or Koprivica. (Especially frustrating is that Koprivica was a guy who seemed to be the ultimate plus/minus guy last season before his knee injury. However, I don’t have any stats to back this up.)

That Forrest was the only guy to see an appreciable jump in minutes and the starters continued to log heavy minutes in a blowout tells us a lot.

Bennett showed this afternoon that his philosophy of this season has not changed despite Harmeling’s injury: He’s going to go with the guys that are helping this team win now, development be darned, and he’s going to ride his horses no matter what. Each of our guards likely would have played 35-plus minutes today in a close game. Barring a pleasant surprise contribution from Koprivica or Abercrombie here or there, I think this is what we can continue to expect to see in Harmeling’s absence, which will take us well into the first half of the Pac-10 schedule.

I’m still a bit troubled by this, as I think that 30 minutes for each of our guards in a 30-point blowout is insane. But it is what it is, and it’s tough to second-guess a guy who is the reigning national coach of the year.

I just hope against hope that all these minutes playing together in blowouts pay off more like funding a Final Four investment and less like a series of withdrawls that leave us bankrupt in the second round again.

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6 Responses to “Harmeling picture clears up just a bit in pummeling of ISU”

  1. Longball said

    I wonder if the sheer volume of basketball this team played in the off season will help them play through the fatigue of the late season. Afterall, if they go on to play at the next level an NBA starter or even a high-minute reserve will pack a whole college career worth of play into a single season, so at some point players who excell in the NBA playoffs have learned to overcome much more than we’d be asking Low and Weaver to, come March. Maybe Tony has seen over the summer that these guys have just built up the stamina they need to go all the way, 110% this year. Of course, Tony is a very young coach, and we should expect that some decisions he makes will not work out, but he’s smart, he’ll learn from those and continue to get better and wiser.

  2. Diek said

    Don’t worry about the fatigue. Is it real? Yes, to some degree. But these guys are in college–young, agile, muscles that recover quicker than most. They are trained athletes and bounce back much quicker that folks our age. Longball above makes a great point that in the NBA they will play far more than ever in college, and that is a much more physical game.

    The reason that coaches keep starters out in blowouts has nothing to do with fatigue, unless it is a case that there is a big game a couple days later. For instance, in the Pac-10 season, if we were to play USC on a Thursday and find ourselves up 30 points early (which I can’t imagine happening), with the UCLA game looming on Saturday, Coach Bennett is going to rest everyone he can.

    The main reason that coaches pull starters is for sportsmanship. There is no need for Bob-Stoops-like point mongering. The secondary reason they pull starters is to avoid injury. Face it–injuries happen and it would be so disappointing to see Weaver or Low–or hell ANYONE–go out with a bad injury in a pointless second half of a game already won (or LOST if we find ourselves down 20 or 30.)

    The Harmeling loss is devastating though because Caleb Forrest and Koprivica are not enough off the bench to carry these guys. I am scared shitless of what will happen in big Pac-10 games when Baynes gets in foul trouble. Who are you going to bring in–Chris Henry??? Have you seen that guy in warm-ups even? Christ!!! Anyway, time will tell just how bad this will be. I hope Harmeling comes in with a cast on just for defense, even if he can’t drop threes from the corner with as much consistency.

  3. Jo~Jo said

    Easy there Diek. Let’s not make Daven’s post defense something that it isn’t. The truth is; he’s not a very good post defender, he’s a wing. Bennet only uses him down there because there is no other options, and it is only to give Cowgill and Baynes a blow. Honestly I think Forrest is a better post defender (only slightly) than Harm is, so that isn’t were the Cougs will hurt from this injury.

    Foul trouble will be the issue here, not necessarily if one of our posts has to leave the game, but when they both have to leave the game. The Boise State game is the evidence. Much of the first half was played with Forrest and Harm in the post because both starters were on the bench. That is the reason the Cougs had to recover from a double digit defecet.

    Niko will have to be the guy to step up and fill the void that Harm leaves. Forrest can supliment the defense in the post, as long as one of the starters remains in the game. Baynes and Cowgil will have to be disciplined, and if one gets into foul trouble, the other will have to put in long minutes. Where this loss is really going to shake down is the fact that Harm actually help give the guards a break. It is not uncommon to see one of our post starters on the floor with both Forrest and Harm. That is when Rochestie, Low and Weave catch a break. Niko is going to have to be productive on the perimeter so our guards can rotate to the bench. I believe several games will come down to the wire in the Pac-10 this year, and I would much rather see our guards a bit fresh at the buzzer then worn down because they have no perimeter help with out Harm.

    All of this is mute, however, if we can’t keep one of our starting posts on the floor at all times. Again, tihs is where we could have used the German this year. Thank you NCAA, for being so incredibly unfair Fabian Boeke.

  4. Jo~Jo said

    Oh, and one other thing Coug fans. I remember at the beginning of last year wondering who, on this team, will be able to bring the stones of pure scoring potential from the perimeter that Josh Akognon had. I don’t think anyone expected D-Low to emerge as the shooter he was last season. And, I remember last year, I was so impressed with Niko’s contributions to the team early in the season. When he went down I thought that it was going to be a huge blow to the teams ability to bring offense of the bench. I was also thinking at the same time; “who the hell is this Rochestie kid?” I don’t think anyone expected him to contribute in as many ways as he did last season either (and what a frickin’ leader, too). Coach Bennet has the ability to help these guys believe in themselves. Don’t be shocked if Niko and Forrest start to surprise people later in the season, or even Abercrombie. I have a feeling someone will rise to the challenge.

  5. Diek said

    Good point there Jo~Jo on the defense. I agree with you as well on the fact Bennett will likely get way more out of these bench guys than they would get on their own. I love watching Abercrombie play–kid has so much potential and some serious hops as well. If he gets a bit more aggressive instead of always thinking pass-first, he may emerge as a serious threat!

  6. Nuss said

    It’s amazing, isn’t it Jo-Jo, the amount of trust Bennett’s earned already? Let’s hope he never has to use up all that capital …

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