Inside Perspective

HI.com's Don Oglesby provided some interesting analysis of what happened in Wednesday's loss to Alabama. Much of his opening remarks followed some rants on the HI.com premium message board. Don's commentary gives some great perspective on the UA basketball team.

I'm really glad I didn't jump onto some of the posters on our premium message board with both feet last night as I deeply wanted to do. The easy thing to do would have been to fire off a sarcastic retort like telling "Superiorhog" that he picked himself a very appropriate screen name, or asking if he really was the long departed but seldom missed Hammus Alabammus in disguise.

But I restrained myself and come to the board today pleased to see at least half of the posts showing an understanding of what really happened in the game and urging continued patience as these guys learn some painful lessons (both players and coaches). Concerning the other half it's probably understandable that the bitter disappointment of letting that game get away prompted a few over the edge comments. I confess to hitting my head against the wall a few times myself after I got home.

What might be useful is to try to address some of the comments on our message board that seem to reflect a concensus and to try to point out why the things you wanted to happen didn't -- or why the things you didn't want to happen did.

One thread on the message board running through many of the most negative comments is that serious coaching mistakes led to the loss. I don't believe it. Many of those comments are based on erroneous impressions. For example:

Why wasn't Chuck Tatum used more in the second half as he was in the first half? Actually Chuck played 24 minutes in the game (same as Ferguson), including the first five minutes of the second half and about four minutes from the 6-1/2 to 2-1/2 minute mark. He may have been in for a minute or two in the middle of the second half as well, but I'm not sure.

Why does Ferguson do so much of the ball handling instead of Brewer? Before I answer that let me make perfectly clear that I think Ronnie Brewer has become the best and most consistent player on this team. His play in the past three games in particular has been just sensational... but not without faults.

Along with the great plays Ronnie continues to make careless passes at times that really hurt and cost his teammates good looks at the basket. If you don't believe me, go to the 2-1/2 minute mark of the first half when Ronnie makes a terrible pass at the feet of (I think) Modica. Ferguson recovers the errant pass, penetrates and makes a beautiful blind pass to Matt Jones for an easy layup. At 8:04 as the game had begun to turn around. Another errant pass to Modica that was bad enough that Stan called a timeout immediately rather than waiting for the media timeout that was due within a few seconds.

I'm not saying these things to knock Ronnie, because he is a definite bright spot in the whole picture... maybe the brightest. But there are reasons why Ferguson does handle the ball a lot. (For example, three assists, no turnovers in this game and a series of low-turnover games down the stretch.) And the next time you start to complain about Ferguson over-dribbling at the point when the opponent is in a zone look for a minute at what the wings are doing. Are they moving to get open or are they standing? If the opponent is in a zone contesting the passing lanes and nobody is coming to the ball the point guard had damned well better keep his dribble alive, which both Ferguson and Brewer do almost equally.

A lot of the complaints appear to be directed to Ferguson. I don't know about his interpersonal relations with his teammates and he probably is not as effective a leader as you'd like in your point guard, but he is a lot better player than many give him credit for. In addition to the eye-popping assist to Matt (he also assisted on another Jones basket) Eric made two key free throws with 19 seconds on the clock in regulation that would have won the game had we elected to foul when the clock got below the 10 second mark instead of allowing the tying 3-point shot. He also hit the biggest Arkansas basket in the overtime, bringing the Hogs back from down 5 and setting the stage for a tying basket a minute later (by Modica I think).

There was plenty of criticism of the coaches for two other perceived grievances. Why did we stay in the zone for so long as Alabama began hitting its shots from the perimeter? The answer was that by that time we had accumulated 8 personal fouls and had begun to send Alabama to the line repeatedly for freebies. Also a couple guys were getting into foul trouble themselves. To me the real question should have been "Why did we get into such deep foul trouble so early?" And I think the answer was that we got a little complacent and stopped moving our feet. When you begin to play defense with your hands instead of your feet you afre going to accumulate fouls. Also as Winston heated up there was less help for defending the post and we picked up several fouls as the 'Bama big men took advantage of size mismatches.

Another criticism is for apparently changing the offense to let a bit of the air out of the ball as time wound down instead of continuing to play with the reckless abandon that characterized the first half and first 5 minutes of the second. There is some validity to the "playing not to lose instead of playing to win" argument, but that tactic is not exactly rare in the college game, especially when your team has what looks to be a comfortable lead, is battling for post-season play and, it would seem, ought to be able to pick up enough scores to stay ahead and secure the win. My guess is that the staff would probably like to rethink that strategy, though part of the lethargy late in the game, I think, was due to fatigue by two of our prime movers and shakers. Both Matt and Ronnie recorded 42 minutes and that's a lot. Perhaps they should have been rested more, but it's difficult to sit either of those guys down for long in a game with so much at stake.

For some reason the second best player on the Hogs is coming in for more than his share of criticism as well, primarily for being selfish. Thank God for Pookie in the second half when for about 10 minutes he was the only offensive weapon we had. The staff obviously made a decision to ride Jonathon down the stretch. He was clearly the elected "go-to-guy" (though I doubt the coaches wanted the other guys to stand around and watch) and Jonathon's work was nearly enough. His final 3-point attempt was right on the money and rimmed out. Pookie took a couple of ill-advised shots in the first half, but if when your leading scorer only gets 9 shots you'd probably like to see him get a more touches, not fewer ones.

Both teams played better in their man defenses than in their zones. The Hogs had to get out of theirs in the second half because of foul trouble. Not sure why Alabama stayed in theirs so long in the first half. It almost cost them. I did like the effectiveness of the Hogs' 2-1-2 full court zone press, with trapping, when we made our 13-2 run at the end of the first half and for the first few minutes of the second. That's the second or third game in which that defense looked to be our best. It's tough to stay in that for long periods because it is tiring, contriburtes to fouling and is more effective when sprung on the opponent anyway. But Brewer, Famutimi and Hunter all appear to be very comfortable and effective in that alignment.

Finally, there sems to be some uncertainty among some of you as to the seriousness of the problem caused by the lack of an inside game, and perhaps a perception that the roster is more talented than it really is. Believe me, everything else staying exactly as it has been all year, the addition of a strong inside game would have helped the outside shooting, strengthened the defense, given those maligned point guards more reason to get the ball inside. relieved the over-reliance on 3-point shooting and added ___ (you fill in the blanks) games to the win column. Finally, let's face it.

We have two budding stars in Brewer and Modica, another in Famutimi who, recovering from a serious injury, has made a lot of progress in the past five or six games, and one prospect (Hunter) who, with another year or so of experience and about 20 pounds of muscle has the potential to develop into a strong SEC player. Other than that what you have is a bunch of role players, most of them one-dimensional who, in spite of their limitations, have shown remarkable heart and resilience in bouncing back from disappointment after disappointment to give all-out effort game after game and who have come close on many occasions to pulling off unexpected victories but just can't seem to get over the hump. I salute all of them and appreciate their efforts. And I applaud the coaching staff who have worked with what they have to get them so close to the desired level of performance on many occasions, yet so maddeningly far from where they want and need to be in terms of the won/lost record.

I know some of you won't agreee with much of this, but thanks for reading it anyway.

Hope to see about 3,000 of you in Atlanta.

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