"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

How one minute and 13 seconds of play can pollute expectations months later

I've stopped and started writing this blog entry probably five times in the last six months, but after reading OnMilwaukee's story today about MU and time running out, it seemed now of never. There were some quotes in that article from Buzz Williams that were dead on right. He may have said them back in the day and people just ignored them, or felt it was Buzz just being a coach and lowering expectations. People should have paid more attention, the media especially.

Let's start first by taking a look back. Last year was a special year in MU basketball lore. Our first Big East regular season championship, a trip to the Elite 8 to cap a three year run of Sweet 16, Sweet 16, Elite 8 performances. That's a resume that 98% of schools across the country would sign up for right now. As a result, the expectations for the 2013-2014 season were more of the same. MU was moving to a slightly watered down, but still very solid Big East. Back were two senior big men men, the backup PG, a talented but engimatic Todd Mayo, and a loaded freshmen recruiting class. Supposed to be back was a super talented Vander Blue, but he decided to pursue his NBA dreams. Despite Blue's departure, the loss of their starting PG and young inexperienced newcomers, MU was picked to win the Big East this year.


Appears Buzz correctly identified why...because we had won in the past and why the hell wouldn't it continue? "They don't know who's on our team. If you look at our team, who's on our team? Who's on our team that's really had elite level success? The reason we're being picked is because of what was previously accomplished."

I would take it one step further and not just focus on what was accomplished previously, but how razor thin the accomplishment happened at all. In the last one minute and 13 seconds of the Davidson game in the NCAA Tournament MU needed almost divine intervention to come away with a win. EVERYTHING had to go right for the Warriors AND they needed Davidson to make a big mistake. It happened. Davidson played well down the stretch, only missed one free throw, made other shots, made free throws, but also watched MU hit three consecutive three pointers that they couldn't make the first 39 minutes. Then the big turnover by Davidson, the refs stopping the game to review to give MU a free timeout, and the Vander layup for the win. Pretty incredible, some would call lucky. Buzz described the advancement as a situation we are lucky to be in.

Regardless of your interpretation of the end of the Davidson game, what if it didn't happen? Say MU misses just one of those three pointers? Davidson makes their free throw and doesn't turn it over? Vander's kiss falls short? Say we didn't win that game, went down as a three seed in the first game. Would expectations be different this year? Would MU be chosen to win the Big East? Would Vander Blue have left?

If Buzz is right and we were picked to win the Big East and all the expectations that go with it due to past accomplishments then it seems if that most recent accomplishment was wiped out in a stunning upset loss, expectations would have changed. For the record, I think he is right and we were picked based on the past, not what we have which is a youthful team that is inconsistent and struggles at times at the guard positions. It goes to show that the line is razor thin. The ball bouncing a foot closer to the Davidson player likely means we lose, expectations are lowered, this season is viewed differently as more of the rebuilding year it really is.

A chance to watch that last one minute and 13 seconds again below and perhaps in your minds wonder if it didn't happen, would you view this year differently? Just as if the Final Four didn't happen in 2003, would you view the immediate years to follow differently? Expectations can get grossly out of whack based on a mere play or even 73 seconds of action.


Bill Waldron said...

Absolutely correct. There is a large element of randomness in postseason. I tend to judge "success" based upon the regular season results (i.e., getting to the dance) -- and hope for good fortune in the tournament. Your point also applies to previous MU teams -- our 77 champs and the 03 FF team both made narrow escapes earlier in the tournament.

Sure, luck does average out over the years, and a great program will certainly have more postseason success than a lesser one. But any one year's result? Lots of randomness involved -- just as in any one game in the regular season.

Go Warriors.

VinoD47 said...

Most all preseason picks are based on past success, and safe guesses, that's why Duke, Kansas, etc. are always ranked high in preseason; they've been there and done that, so why not again. In the case of the Warriors, no one looked deep enough to see that this team doesn't have an on court leader, has no cohesion and team chemistry, and has players that confound. J Wilson is an enigma, supremely talented, but prone to doing really dumb basketball moves; Mayo plays for himself and not the team, which is why he sometimes disappears both on the court and on Buzz's bench. The two starting PG's, one can't shoot from outside 10' and the other needs to be completely wide open to get his shot off, and opponents play defense to that weakness. The Warriors don't take care of the ball (the array of bad passes is almost mind boggling, and I believe a hallmark of Buzz's teams), and I think unfortunately Buzz has not adjusted his coaching to play the players that can help this team win. John Dawson clearly demonstrated in the Georgetown game that he has critical moments game, yet where was he in the Villanova game? Finally, Buzz has stated the he plays players like Chris Otule because he plays hard in practice, but it's what you do and how you play and produce in the game that helps a "team" win, and Buzz needs to re-examine his non productive game players and adjust...that's what's called making coaching decisions!