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Archive for the ‘Game Analysis’ Category

Bummer yes; disappointment, no

Posted by Jeff Nusser on March 27, 2008

So, I just got home from the restaurant. I’m not going to go too in depth, because we all saw what happened, but here are just some general thoughts to wrap up the final game of the season.

(Dang, it sucks to write that. I’m pretty sure it hasn’t sunk in yet.)

First of all, if there was any doubt about how good North Carolina is, those doubts should be firmly put to rest now. They just ran through and over the second-hottest team in the tournament with ease, mostly on the strength of that unbelievable offense. I’m not sure I can think of a college offense in recent memory that has had that kind of firepower.

We certainly didn’t help our cause; shooting 32 percent from the floor is bad no matter who you play. But when you’re depending on made buckets to keep a team from getting into its transition offense and you miss that many shots — not to mention turn the ball over a few times — that’s just death.

I suppose I might feel a little better about this loss if North Carolina had done anything special on defense to cause that 32 percent, but I just felt like it was nothing more than a bad shooting night. We can talk about not getting the ball to Aron Baynes enough, or not going hard enough to the bucket, but really what it came down to was that it was an extremely poorly timed bad shooting night. Nothing more than that.

Of course, that’s really all it takes with a team such as North Carolina.

To be sure, North Carolina’s defense is predicated by its offense — something no other team in college basketball can say, except for maybe Tennessee. And their offense is so darn good, it works for them. I mean, we held their All-American to two points in the first half … and were down 14 at the break. When you give the Heels a crack in the door, they kick that freaking thing down, whether it’s Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson or Danny Green, who just happened to exceed his season average with his 12-point first half.

A two-point game all of a sudden becomes a 10-point game, putting tremendous pressure on your offense to catch up. You start getting a little tight, you miss a few more shots … all of a sudden it’s a 17-point game. And it’s absolutely over from there, because the pace you must play to catch up doesn’t favor you, it favors North Carolina.

While I’m bummed out that we didn’t compete a little longer than we did, I’m hardly disappointed. This has been such an awesome ride, how can any of us be disappointed? Losing seven times to your in-state rival and getting bounced in the first round of the CBI with top 25 recruiting classes is disappointing. Spending the better part of two seasons ranked in the Top 25, going to consecutive NCAA Tournaments and making it to the Sweet Sixteen is not.

I’ll probably have some thoughts in the next couple of days to wrap up the season, once I’ve had some time to collect my thoughts and put it all in perspective in my mind, but now’s not the time. The only thing this is the time for is this:

Thank you, Cougs. You’ve brought immeasurable joy to our lives, something we can’t say enough. I know this isn’t the way you wanted to go out, and this probably won’t make you feel any better right now, but we love you just the same.

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Posted in Game Analysis, NCAA Tournament | Tagged: , , | 6 Comments »

One down, five to go

Posted by Jeff Nusser on March 20, 2008

So, how about those halftime adjustments?

With WSU and Winthrop tied at the half, I identified five things that were going wrong for the Cougs that allowed the Eagles to hang close. Some of it was Winthrop; most of it was our own doing. TB and the boys must have had the blog on the laptop at halftime, because here’s what happened:

  1. Too many turnovers — 1st half: 5; 2nd half: 3.
  2. Too many offensive rebounds — 1st half 5; 2nd half 1.
  3. Too much Taj McCullough — 1st half 15 points; 2nd half 2 points.
  4. Too many 3s given up — 1st half 4-for-8; 2nd half 2-for-11.
  5. Too little Low — 1st half zero points; 2nd half 11 points.

I honestly don’t have enough superlatives to describe that second half of basketball. What a veteran, gutty performance. It was so calm, so collected, that you’d hardly know they were being threatened by a lesser team. They knew, if they shored up a few things and kept doing what they were doing, that they were going to be able to stop Winthrop and get some things going offensively.

To me, this game illustrates perfectly the difference between last year’s team and this year’s team. With the offense sputtering tonight, Kyle Weaver was able to carry us until the rest of the team got going. Not only that, but our offense was able to keep us in it, even as the other team played out of its collective mind. And of course, Aron Baynes had just the kind of game we all thought he could — some nice post moves against smaller guys and dunks off guard penetration.

That was as dominant a stretch of basketball as you’ll see in this tournament, No. 1 seed or otherwise. To hold any tournament team that’s not a No. 16 seed to single digit points for the vast majority of a half is just spectacular. It even allowed us to get a little rest for the regulars, which is no small thing this time of year.

And don’t take it for granted that that’s what high seeds do — just look at all the trouble Duke had with Belmont and Xavier had with Georgia. (And Wisconsin is having with Cal State-Fullerton. Go Josh Akognon!) This was just what the doctor ordered. If a deep run into this tournament isn’t in the cards, it won’t be because this team isn’t ready.

I’ll probably have some additional thoughts tomorrow once all the stats roll in, but you should be doing what I’m doing right now: Basking in the glow of a tremendous victory.

One down, five to go.

Posted in Game Analysis, NCAA Tournament | Tagged: , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Was that more Oregon or more us?

Posted by Jeff Nusser on March 14, 2008

Welcome to our first edition of You Write the Recap!

There are a couple of reasons for this, one driven by pragmatism and the other by curiosity. I just don’t have time to write a recap and game thread preview on the same day, so this will have to do. But I’m actually really curious as to how you viewed what transpired in the second half.

In lieu of having a DVR and the opportunity to watch the game again, I was of the opinion as it unfolded that Oregon’s comeback had a heck of a lot more to do with Oregon making plays and shots than it did with us doing something wrong.

Tajuan Porter just started going nuts, and it’s awful hard to maintain a big lead when you’re constantly trading 2’s for 3’s (and later 1’s for 2’s when we started missing our free throws … again!). Although the Cougs weren’t perfect, I just don’t think it had much to do with flawed defense.

Other things I noticed were the absence of Aron Baynes and the ineffectiveness of Daven Harmeling on the offensive end.

I can’t find any mention of Baynes being injured — Vince Grippi at the Spokesman chalked it up to matchups — but I found it curious that the guy who was the difference in the previous game against the Ducks could only get on the floor for 13 minutes. I was encouraged, however, that we rebounded as well as we did without him. (Oregon’s four-guard lineup probably had something to do with that.)

In terms of Harmeling, he looks like he’s wound up tighter than a two-dollar watch on every shot right now — kind of like he did at the beginning of the year before he hurt his hand. That fluid stroke just isn’t there. If he doesn’t produce tonight, Bennett is going to have an interesting quandary with his rotation heading into the Tournament.

OK, that’s it from me. This is your floor now. Let me have it.

Posted in Game Analysis | Tagged: , , | 7 Comments »

A day I’ll always remember

Posted by Jeff Nusser on March 10, 2008

I have a lot of conflicting feelings about what I witnessed in Pullman on Saturday, mostly because I think the game represented two very separate and distinct experiences as a Cougar basketball fan.

The first experience, and obviously the one I will remember most fondly once this season is in the rear view mirror, is of being able to give these five seniors the hero’s send off they all so richly deserved. As I contributed my voice to the cheers that descended from the rafters, I thought of all the joy these guys have brought us — not only in the successes of the past two years, but in the lumps they took the first two years as we learned to love Bennett ball.

In that respect, the game did not even come close to disappointing. As Ryan Appleby’s last chance to send the game to a third overtime clanged off the rim (do you realize that guy never beat WSU in his three years in Seattle?), Aron Baynes practically stomped a hole in the Friel Court floor, the seniors smiled weary, exhausted smiles, and I high-fived anyone within reach of me. (Except for the guy to my left who spent the entire game trying to impress his girlfriend with his “knowledge” of basketball and superfluous string of profanties. I didn’t high-five him. But that’s another story.) Watching the players gather at midcourt for one final time at Beasley and then thank the fans back for their support — specifically the Zzu Cru, which stepped up huge with spring break already underway — just made me feel so proud to be a Coug.

But during the game itself, I had a heck of a hard time separating that experience from the one that kept staring me in the face — the one that let the Huskies hang around far longer than they should have, the one that scares me to death going forward from here, now that the postseason is upon us.

For the fourth time in five games, the offense performed well below its season standard. What’s weird about it is there’s not really one thing you can point to as a neat and tidy explanation for the issues that have caused the funk. In two games, it was simply poor shooting (Arizona State, Arizona); in another, an inability to get anywhere near the rim or to the free throw line for the most critical stretch of the game (Stanford); against Washington, it was turnovers and poor free throw shooting.

The problem with having no tidy explanation, of course, is that there are no tidy fixes, either. So we’re left to wonder: Is there something bigger going on here? At various times throughout the year I’ve openly wondered if this team is tiring, given not only the heavy minutes most of our starters log but the nature of those grinding minutes thanks to the Cougar basketball style. And I’ll openly wonder it again.

I think this team is a lot more worn down and banged up than anyone is letting on. Daven Harmeling was completely ineffective again, getting absolutely abused on defense, thanks to his lack of lateral movement, to the tune of three fouls in four minutes. Kyle Weaver clearly is playing hurt, something that was exacerbated when he landed hard in the game. I don’t know if they showed it on TV, but many times Weaver was the last to leave the huddle, sitting on his chair until the very last second he had to get up and limp his way into position. He is battling, but he made some uncharacteristically boneheaded decisions with the ball in that game, which makes you wonder if his pain is getting into his head.

Then, there is the not-so-obvious candidate. For about 38 minutes, Aron Baynes was having a flashback to his freshman year, and someone close to the program speculated after the game that he might be playing through some back issues. It would make sense, because he just didn’t look like the same guy out there for most of that game, allowing a lot of rebounds that he normally just does not give up. It also might help explain his sudden ineptitude from the free throw line — when you’re dealing with that big of a body, it doesn’t take much to throw off a shot.

For the Cougs, Weaver, Baynes and Harmeling are three important cogs that serve distinctly unique and important roles on this team. For all that Ptowncoug wants to rail against Baynes being a focal point of the offense, you saw how much the game changed once Baynes started being aggressive around the basket, how the threat of him scoring opened things up for everyone else. You’ve also seen at times this year how a healthy Harmeling completely changes the way teams defend us. And it doesn’t even need to be stated what Weaver means to our offense.

Additionally, I think it affected us on the defensive end, too. We’ve been doing such an outstanding job of rebounding as of late that we’ve started to take it for granted. We did a spectacular job of keeping the Huskies from making shots on Saturday, but we got absolutely destroyed on the glass. A lot of the credit has to be given to Washington, which was relentless in its pursuit of the ball. But how does Weaver play 44 minutes and grab only three rebounds? Or Baynes play 38 and grab only eight? How do we get outrebounded by nearly 20? We know what the point of emphasis will be heading towards Thursday, especially after Oregon did a similar thing to Arizona on the glass in its win on Saturday.

Now, I know everyone is banged up this time of year. But one of the interesting things about the way this team is constructed — besides lacking a lot of depth — is that it’s not a team full of interchangeable parts. When one of these guys isn’t able to do his job, it’s to the detriment of the whole. And this whole needs to be functioning at its tip-top level very soon. Let’s hope some of this stuff heals up a bit between now and Thursday.

That said, nothing can take away from the fun I had this weekend, and the memories I made. I couldn’t stand the thought of having to get to November’s Apple Cup with the Huskies finally breaking the streak. Thank goodness I don’t have to.

Seven in a row, baby!

Posted in Game Analysis | Tagged: , , , , | 7 Comments »

Thank goodness Brook Lopez will be in the NBA next year

Posted by Jeff Nusser on March 3, 2008

I tried to be upset about Saturday. I really did. And it worked for a while, as I thought about how our chance for a signature win had disintegrated before my very eyes under an avalanche of Brook Lopez and stunningly ineffective offense.

But then I remembered I was at my son’s first birthday party. It was awful tough to be mad when this was staring me in the face all day:

So it was that I didn’t get a chance to put up a game thread — I could not get to a computer at all from the time I left Wenatchee on Friday until last night when I got back to Wenatchee last night. I apologize for that, and can truthfully tell you that it won’t happen again this year.

Back to Saturday’s game. It’s not tough to figure out where this one went wrong.

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Best performance of the season so far

Posted by Jeff Nusser on February 29, 2008

Today’s going to be a two-post day, because I’m finding as I’m writing that I have a lot to say. (Which, of course, will come as a complete shock to anyone who knows me.) Here’s the first one, a look back at last night. I’ll have one a little later on the defense.

In the wake of the Arizona loss, we were left with a number of questions floating around in our heads.

We wondered if the offensive funk against the Sun Devils and the Wildcats was an aberration or a sign of something bigger, such as tired legs. We wondered if we should simply chalk the second consecutive poor performance against Arizona to matchup problems.

Most of all, we wondered if the four-game win streak, in which the Cougs played the kind of defense that reminded us of last year, was a mirage — and if our hopes for a high NCAA seeding were slipping away before our eyes.

After last night, there should be very little doubt about the answers to those questions. And the answers are all positive.

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That was impressive

Posted by Jeff Nusser on February 28, 2008

I’ll have a full breakdown tomorrow morning, but man was that spectacular. There was a lot more to that win than just great shooting in the second half. To prove it, I’ll leave you with this until tomorrow.

Cal did not score a point in the last five minutes and nine seconds of that game.

Domination.

Posted in Game Analysis | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

What the heck is it with Arizona?

Posted by Jeff Nusser on February 25, 2008

I don’t know that I would say Arizona just has our number — I’d put UCLA in that category this year, and I would have put Oregon in that category last year — but man, there is something about playing WSU that absolutely brings out the best in the Wildcats.

Longball referred to them as the “short-handed McDiva All Americans from Arizona,” and maybe that’s a part of what happens. It’s clear that Arizona coach Kevin O’Neill did a good bit of appealing to the Wildcats’ pride, and with a chance to make a very good case for their inclusion in the NCAA tournament, the weren’t about to let a bunch of nobodies from nowhere stop them. Their play almost screamed, “Washington State? Who the heck is Washington State? We’re freaking Arizona. You think you’re the only ones who can play hard? We’ll show you what it’s like to play hard with All-American talent, something you’ll never have.”

And that was the difference on Saturday. Simply, Arizona wanted it more.

Sure, we hung around for a half; despite shooting 28 percent, we only trailed by a point. As I flipped over to watch the end of Memphis/Tennessee, I actually felt pretty good. Our best offense was in front of us and despite the hot start by Chase Budinger, our defense had been very good for most of the half — remember, Arizona scored its 11th point at about the 14 minute mark, but finished the half with just 24. Pretty darn good.

But something funny happened after halftime. The Wildcats just willed themselves to a victory, while we just wilted.

In second chance points, Arizona held just a 4-2 advantage in the first half; in the second half, it was 5-0 Arizona. In points off turnovers, the Cougs held a slim 6-5 advantage in the first half; in the second half, it was 12-2 Arizona. Those are sure signs of one of two things: Either being physically dominated or being caught flat-footed after being outworked. I don’t think the former is the case; Jo-Jo and I were exchanging text messages as we watched the game, and the thing we kept coming back to is we just don’t think Arizona is a better team than we are. So the latter must have been the case, especially in terms of the turnovers. Most of them were of the sloppy variety, and those are the ones that lead to extreme advantages for the offense.

Of course, that’s just the defense, which allowed a 115.9 efficiency after not allowing an opponent to exceed 96 in four games. The offense was even worse; this was by far the worst weekend of offense we’ve seen all season. Our shooting was bad against Arizona State, but it was absolutely horrendous against Arizona — just 39 percent in effective field goal percentage. That is positively brutal. It led to an offensive efficiency rating of just 98.0, easily our lowest of the Pac-10 season.

Against ASU, I was willing to chalk it up to a bad night, especially since I felt like the shots we were getting were good shots that just weren’t falling. Against Arizona, however, not only was it a bad night shooting, but it was a bad night with decisions and schemes. Credit Arizona for doing a great job manning up — seriously, how many screens does Derrick Low have to run through to get open? — but we did not help ourselves. A perfect example is that I think we know by now what Aron Baynes can and can’t do; if his teammates all of a sudden start asking him to do things they should know he can’t do, well, in my book that’s on them and not on him.

Since both were bad for what I see as different reasons, I’m not sure what kind of reasonable conclusions we can draw from the outcomes. What I’m hoping is that this isn’t pointing to what I’m afraid it’s pointing to — tired legs. We’ll know a lot more this weekend, especially against Stanford, and I really hope I’m wrong.

Whether we should be worried going forward will be a subject of a post later today, but I do know this: Enough playing around. Let’s figure out a way to bring it this weekend, starting with some payback against Cal on Thursday.

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As happy as I’ve been after a win in a while

Posted by Jeff Nusser on February 22, 2008

There’s an old saying in coaching: Control what you can control.

You can’t always control whether your own shots go in.

You can’t always control whether you’re opponents’ shots go in.

And you can’t control it at all when officials miss a blatant goaltend, or send a team’s best player to the bench with a bogus reach call that was instigated by the offensive player, or send an opponent to the line on a clean block because he happened to jump into a 270-pound brick wall and then predictably fall to the floor. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

But among the things you can control are how smart and how hard you play on both ends of the floor. And what I see is a team that is playing smarter and harder than it has all season.

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Cougar basketball is back (I think)

Posted by Jeff Nusser on February 18, 2008

I figure I’ll forgo the rehashing of the Oregon game, since I’m a little belated in my game thoughts thanks to the long weekend.

We know it was a good win, given that wins in the Pac-10 are so hard to come by and that wins at Mac Court have been particularly so for this group of seniors. So good for them on not only picking up a big road win, but getting a win that secures the second season sweep in as many weekends of a team that is going to the NCAA tournament. That’s the kind of stuff that does wonders for your seeding.

The other kind of thing that does wonders for your seeding is finishing the year hot, and there’s a very real chance that might happen.

About two weeks ago, I devoted about 1,400 words of space here to tell you, in a very round about way, what I could have just said in three words: Our defense stunk. But after the events of the last two weeks, I’m pretty certain I have to at least somewhat rethink my conclusion. The Cougs have now gone 3-1 in their last four, including decisive wins over USC at home and Oregon on the road, and the hallmark in all of those victories has been what was missing for much of the Pac-10 conference season — defense.

This still isn’t the defense of last season, but the improvement in the past four games is undeniable. Consider this: After holding our first two conference opponents (Washington and USC) to under a 100 offensive efficiency rating (the benchmark of simply average defense), we allowed seven of our next eight opponents to exceed that mark. (Only the Beavers, in all of their awesomeness, kept that from being eight straight.) That’s just three games out of our first 10 that we were able to play better than average defense.

But after holding Oregon to a 96.2 mark on Saturday, we now have held our opponents under 100 for three consecutive games. Before playing the Cougs, USC had topped the 100 mark in eight consecutive games; Oregon had done it in 11 of its previous 13 games. Our overall defensive efficiency mark in conference games has dropped to 103, good now for fifth in the league. It’s not exactly lighting the world on fire, but it’s an excellent start.

What’s been the major difference? We seem to be doing a much better job preventing dribble penetration than we were through the first half of the conference season. I’m not totally sure why that is, but to my untrained eyes, it looks as though we are doing much less switching than we were earlier in the season. Each guy is responsible for keeping his man in front of him, and for the most part it’s working.

Additionally, we are defending the 3 much better than we were early in the season, and I think that also has a lot to do with the lack of switching and trapping. When a team switches and traps, the defense is often left to scramble to get to the open shooter. The Cougs, frankly, just aren’t that long and quick, and good shooting teams will kill that kind of confusion, a la the first meeting with Arizona. It’s a lot easier to get a hand up in a shooter’s face if you’re not running around trying to figure out which guy you’re supposed to try and rotate to. (Update: Vince Grippi gives some nice insight into what went on schematically here. I read it after I wrote this post.)

Now, the reason I haven’t fully bought in to this defensive turnaround yet is that USC and Oregon are teams that we contained reasonably well the first time around, and as Jo-Jo so eloquently pointed out on Saturday, anytime you beat OSU it has as much to do with how bad the Beavers suck as it does with how well you play. But as I said, it’s not so much that we held them down, it’s how we held those teams down — and that gives me great encouragement heading forward.

Now, I’m going to reserve judgment until after this weekend. If we can keep James Harden and Jarryd Bayless out of the paint, and get out on Arizona’s 3-point shooters — a job made easier thanks to the absence of Nic Wise — then I’ll start to believe this thing has really turned around and that a long tournament run might be in our future.

Posted in Breakdowns, Game Analysis | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »