"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

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The view from Row Z

Being it was the first time in a while I had a Sunday night off that featured something to do, I thought I'd make the drive up from Kenosha to the BC for this game. I was lucky enough to find a lower-level seat and I watched the disappointing proceedings. Some thoughts:

1. For a team that has been touted as guard-oriented and quick, the lack of movement on offense is STAGGERING. Now some of that may be on Crean for the offensive system he has in place, but the lack of simple movements...things like hard cuts, holding the picks and for tonight (and what will likely be repeated throughout Big East play), just an outright refusal to drive and kick from the top to the middle was troublesome.

You could have counted on one hand the number of times James tried to split the defense going from the top of the key. You probably could have also counted on one hand the number of times he penetrated, period. There were some plays that worked... i.e., the penetration along the baseline when there was a filler in the middle and also, the parallel drop pass to the alley (McNeal got it to Barro once, as did Matthews).

For all the talk Crean has made of "reversing the ball", there also has to be sharp-angle, 45-degree passes that get a defense to lean or become off-balance. Passing it along the perimeter without those sharp cuts (example... DJ is at the top of the key, DC is on the wing... if Wes jab cuts in, then pops out, then that mid-range jumper is open on that pass from DC) to a player who comes along the baseline off a screen against a 2-3 zone defense is not as effective. If you're going to play the perimeter game, you must create space to squeeze the shot off.

2. This relates to James exclusively. Out of the 3-pointers everyone else attempted while it was a contested game, I would say almost all of them were within a sneaker's length of the 3-point arc. McNeal may have fired a deep one off... but James apparently his figured out where the NBA 3-point line is on the MU hardwood and is hellbent on showing his range. That is why he's 1-for-15 from beyond the arc in his last two games. I thought his form was fine, he's just too deep.

3. I liked the fact Crean started Lazar tonight with the upstate N.Y. thing, and he gave good minutes. While he's not a post-up "4", he's a gamer and a scrapper. He'll get his confidence back with his outside shot soon enough, but at least he likes to get his nose in there on the offensive glass. I think that starter's spot is going to be his permanently by the end of the month.

3a. Fitzgerald seemed a half-step slow and indecisive. Just shoot and miss, get it out of your system. Shooters shoot, and they keep shooting until they get hot again.

4. I realize the "Three Amigos" are the best offensive option on seemingly every play. But their inability to even keep the defense honest with a low-post entry pass is one of the reasons that leads to contested 3-point shots and in turn, lower 3-point percentages. I'm not saying do it on every possession, but you have to at least make the effort to look inside.

I think there were maybe five 45-degree entry passes into the low post on the block the entire game. Barro had a nice sweeping hook shot on one of them early in the second half, why not go back to him again? Just getting Burke and Lott touches could do wonders for the spacing for the three guards.

5. I thought Barro held his own defensively tonight against Watkins and Roberts. He held his ground fairly well more often than not and didn't seem to be caught out of defensive position due to poor footwork.

6. While I will fight to the death for Tony Miller's "10" to be raised to the rafters, I couldn't ask for a better person to be wearing it than David Cubillan. I love his defense, it's so textbook and pure when it comes to slides. His outside shooting is better than average for a freshmen, and he's starting to figure out driving to the basket. I didn't mind the charge he took because he was attacking the basket.

7. I think the free throw woes have been well-documented. I concur the three misses up 39-37 were damaging to the psyche. McNeal's 0-for-2 didn't help either. My only suggestion would be old-school. Everybody on the team gets 10 attempts... you must make 8. Anything below that, everyone runs gassers.

8. I think some of Matthews' cool, calm and collected style has rubbed off on McNeal. I think he made maybe three bad decisions, max on offense and the pull-up jumpers were nice to watch. And Matthews is just a treat to watch, almost like a smaller version of Luke Walton.

While 0-2 is far from ideal, and the upcoming schedule is not promising, I think this team can turn it around, but it has to start with all "Three Amigos" having one good game together, because right now, it's the only way they're going to be able to win.


Anonymous said...

Terrible effort, and you have to wonder if this team can even make the tournament. It sure doesn't look good. Responding to the points:

1. The lack of movement was ridiculous. At the start of the game it went fairly well then tapered off. There were two long spans in each half with no offensive production. There were some baseline sets and the guards were getting inside before getting the ball, but not enough. You could see some of the fundamentals for cracking the zone being applied, but then other times they would go back to having no offensive movement besides one man weaving across and getting the perimeter pass. This would hint that Crean at least had an idea of what to do so the players have to be blamed for much of the poor execution.

2. The three pointers were horrible. The only one that was a good attempt was the one he got fouled on. The three free throw misses following it resulted in heavy booing from the student section. Not something you'd like to see happen to your own talented player, but something that has not been fixed. He definately doesn't look like the same player as last season. I've noticed it's a rare thing for him to post up or "sneak in" underneath and get the pass. He excelled at scoring against other team's big men last year and made a lot of spectacular plays doing it. Right now his play is just terrible.

3. Hayward brought a ton of energy in the opening minutes and I was disappointed to not see Crean play him very much later in the game or try to get him involved in the offense after the opening minutes. He still has a ways to go but we've seen a lot of progress and he probably is the best option to start.

3a. Fitzgerald didn't look too good, and he has been way too timid with the ball. You'd expect him to at least try a contested shot; he's made them in the past. It's better to see Fitz take a non-hurried shot with a hand in his face than James take an NBA three with the shot clock winding down.

4. The guards have to be able to penetrate some, even against a zone, but the 4 and 5 have to be able to make quality touches. I think Hayward or Fitz should be in the game at all times...having any two of Lott, Burke, Barro, and Blackledge on the floor together pretty much limits the game to the guards offensively and other teams know who's going to put up the shots. I think having that fourth option in Hayward or Fitzgerald is essential right now even if they aren't the strongest defenders. Also, there's no rule saying the three guards have to stay 18 feet away from the basket and pass it along the perimeter. They should be looked to to post up occasionally or run off picks down low instead of on the perimeter. There seems to be no screens being set besides on the perimeter. We've seen how effective McNeal's mid-range jumper can be, but it's always as a pull-up with a guy running at him. With more time to shoot that shot coming off a screen it could be deadly. Plus sending a big man to the top of the key pretty much concedes the fact that he's useless with the ball on offense. If he sets a pick 8 feet from the basket he's a good interior pass away from scoring. So yes, the 4 and 5 aren't getting involved in the offense, but the playsets do not need to be starting on the perimeter either.

5. Barro's defense wasn't outstanding, and Watkins and Roberts got their points, but the game plan isn't to shut them down completely anyway. Overall the bigs played fairly well defensively. Even Burke wasn't really a liability on defense.

6. Cubillans charge was actually a great foul to see. He wasn't afraid to take the open shot and he seemed very poised. It was good to see. If they can work the other guards inside Cubillan could be open for even more opportunities. Hopefully he takes a page from Devendorf's book on penetration inside tonight. Even if he can't finish he could rack up some assists and become a much better point guard.

7. Syracuse had their misses early on too when we were making most. The misses just came at very inopportune times. Crean said earlier that they did everything short of bringing their sleeping bags to the court to fix the problem...maybe some players need to do just that.

8. McNeal has gained a lot of poise. Even his turnovers aren't all terrible decisions anymore, just slightly bad execution. Like I said earlier, I would love to see someone screening him open for the mid-range jumper because how how far his mid-range pull-up has come. Without McNeal this game is another blowout.

Additional observation: Having all four guards on the floor late was a mistake by Crean. McNeal is a good defender, but Nichols just shot the three that proved to be the dagger right over him since he had the 6 inch advantage. There's no reason Fitzgerald or Hayward couldn't have been in the game instead of Cubillan or the struggling James. The Villanova 2.0 lineup just allowed Syracuse to seal the game shut at the end.

TB said...

great analysis.

FWIW its clear now that this is Jerel McNeal's team.....seven turnovers are maddening but his intensity, energy, speed and fearlessness are unique. Somewhere along the way, DJ never assumed the mantle of leadership that McNeal has earned from his peers.

I fear that'll become an albatross for DJ -- hoping I am wrong, but regardless -- this is McNeal's program now.

Anonymous said...

The only thing Fitz does well is get quick fouls so that he can sit the rest of the game and not screw up from the bench.

Anonymous said...

It might be too early in conference play to say this, but perhaps we've just been figured out. The rest of the conference saw Villanova play 3 guard all season last year. They've already had a year's worth of tape to figure out how to stop it. (granted, it shouldn't be nearly as easy as it has been)

its not just us. of the bottom 7 teams in the big east right now (in terms of overall record), 5 are former C-USA. (coincidentally, another is 'nova).

Hoya Suxa said...

There's still a ton of basketball left. I wouldn't write off the season just yet; crazier things have happened in the Big East.

Need I note Syracuse's run through the Big East Tournament last year?

Good luck the rest of the way and keep hope alive.

Gene Frenkle said...

Before everyone brings up 'Nova of last year, remember that all four of their guards had good range and could shoot from the outside. Nardi was no Novak, but he could nail an open three.

MU? McNeal is developing better range, but should still stick to two-point buckets. Matthews can knock down an open three, but not nearly consistently as he should. James? 1-15 the last two games says it all.

Athleticism wise, MU's guards are with 'nova. From a shooting standpoint, no way.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Anon @7:28am. I have no use for Fitzgerald. He has an incredibly inflated sense of his 3point shooting ability. It seems like nothing good can happen when he's on the court. The best thing he did Sunday night was get in foul trouble early.

TB said...

No way Nicole. Sure Fitz played poorly the other night, but he's a role player -- that'll happen.

As for his "incredibly inflated sense of his 3point shooting ability" -- you are wrong. At better than 41%, Fitz has the second best % from that distance on the team....by a wide margin.

McNeal, who inexplicably leads the team in 3-point field goal attempts yet makes just 26% of them, just might have an "incredibly inflated sense of his 3point shooting ability."

If anything, Fitz' problem as a shooter is a lack of confidence -- surely not overconfidence.

7:53 PM