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‘Do better’ and ‘try harder’ are not sufficient solutions

Posted by Jeff Nusser on February 7, 2008

Vince Grippi over at the Spokesman-Review has been doing an awesome job covering the Cougs this year, especially since he was thrust into the role unexpectedly at the end of last basketball season. But his most recent article, looking at what the Cougs need to do in the second half of the Pac-10 season, really kind of irked me this morning.

If you’ve read Grippi over there at all, you know that essentially he’s an eternal optimist, which of course is a rare quality among journalists. He spent the bulk of the football season defending Alex Brink — not exactly a popular stance — and often tries to talk fans down off their ledges, which is important. But, sometimes, I think his rose-colored glasses keep him from seeing reality.

In his story today, he addressed five things the Cougs need to do better in the second half to be successful, one of which I outright disagree with. And while I agree that doing the other four of them will make the Cougars more successful, I disagree that they actually will be able to do the most important key, which comes without a suggestion from either himself, Tony Bennett or players as to how the Cougs are going to make it happen.

Key 1 is “Get defensive stops, especially in crunch time.” No doubt, this is important, as the Cougs have struggled to win close games they so often pulled out last year. But has there been any thought as to why this team can’t generally get stops during crunch time?

“Great half-court defense is, to me, not 28 seconds and then giving up a second shot or fouling, it’s finishing the play, and you have to do that a majority of the time,” coach Tony Bennett said. “You have to be on a heightened sense of alertness … when the game’s getting down (to the end) it has to go to code red.”

I maintain that a lot of this has to do with the things we’ve talked about the last couple of days: The lack of a strong shot-blocker around the rim and the fatigue suffered by this team. Their feet just aren’t as quick in the last five minutes of games.

Additionally, I think there’s one other thing to note that hasn’t really been discussed. We established yesterday that Aron Baynes is far and away the Cougs’ best rebounder. Do you think a lot of those second-chance points opponents seem to come up with late in games might have something to do with the fact that he so often is not on the floor because of foul trouble?

So, I pose the question again: Just how does anyone propose getting those stops? Bennett seems to be characterizing it as an effort or intelligence issue, which of course, as a coach, he has to do. He’s not going to go Lou Piniella and undermine his players by publicly talking in the media about his team’s personnel shortcomings. But it doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t exist.

Grippi’s second key is to “Improve the consistency of the offense.” I don’t think this is a key at all. Do we all wish this team would not be prone to long scoring droughts? Of course, and there’s something to be said for being able to apply constant offensive pressure on your opponents. But if you think the offense hasn’t been very good this year — or good enough for the team to be as successful as it was last year — you’re wrong:

  • 2006-07 offensive efficiency (in conference): 105.2
  • 2007-08 offensive efficiency (in conference): 110.5

Our offense is not the problem. On the whole, this offense is better this year than it was last year — it ranks fourth in the conference, ahead of noted offensive “juggernaut” Cal, USC and Stanford. However …

  • 2006-07 defensive efficiency (in conference): 95.5
  • 2007-08 defensive efficiency (in conference): 105.5

So while it would be nice to have a more consistent offense, we were prone to scoring droughts last year, too. You tell me why we have four conference losses right now. Our offense is good enough to be successful. Period.

Lastly, Grippi throws in this little nugget in response to a lot of the comments being left by readers on his posts, and I think he misses the point:

There are a couple things I don’t understand. One is the fascination with Ivory Clark. He was a senior last year. He couldn’t have returned if he wanted to. That happens to every player at every school. So why dwell on it? I know WSU’s shot-blocking numbers are down, but no huge Bill Russell-type guy is going to magically appear. The Cougars have a hand they’ve been dealt. There are not going to be any more trump cards. So how do they win with what they have?

From my point of view, the point is not that Clark was so special, or that we wish we still had him. It’s that we are now beginning to realize how much this set of players needs a viable shot blocker around the basket and the inherent limitations it likely is going to place on the ceiling of potential for this team.

As he said himself, a shot blocker is not going to magically appear. I’ll even do him one better and say that the guards are not going to magically get quicker feet. So while he’s right that there are not going to be any more “trump cards” and that the right question is how do they win with what they have, the answer has to be more than “do better” and “try harder.”

That’s like yelling at my dog to stop acting like a dog and try harder to act like a human being. I can train him a little better or employ different strategies to get what I want, but in the end, he’s still an animal. These Cougs are who they are, and without some sort of logical schematic change or shift in strategy, we’re likely to keep getting the same results regardless of effort.

Maybe those things are in the works and we’re just not being told what they are. I sure hope so, because continuing on the current course hoping for better effort is not the solution.

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2 Responses to “‘Do better’ and ‘try harder’ are not sufficient solutions”

  1. Jo-Jo said

    You can bang your head against a brick wall all you want, that wall ain’t coming down. And if you try harder, the only thing going down is you.

    Has anyone considered the possibility of a Zone defense with this squad? Nuss, what are your thoughts on that?

  2. LD said

    There is no solution. Washington State is what it is. As someone used to say “It’s not about X’s and O’s, but rather the Jimyy’s and Joe’s”. It’s what most journalists and fans don’t get. As a coach, you are only as good as your players play. That will never change. Weaver, Low, Rochestie, Baynes, Cowgil..they aren’t very good.

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