Had the example of the earlier unit been given appropriate discussion in October, that cautionary perspective would have at least tempered the sense of disappointment with a 9th place finish in the conference. Clearly, the success of the past three seasons obscured this reference from all those eyeballs… remarkable in and of itself, and something we all ought use to better advantage when given that opportunity.
Turnovers and FT's are the two key determinants in winning basketball games. Navigate those treacherous waters and you will find yourself steppin' large and laughin' easy. However, the corollary is equally true.
Steppin' slow and hardly smiling the 04/05 men's team found the conference schedule to be much tougher than they anticipated. I don't think the Ducks were alone in their under estimation; the league proved to be far more balanced than it was perceived to be by the preseason pundits.
While that conference strength may serve to more quickly season a young team, it can also become a burden if the expectations that weren't fulfilled become legacy.
A stronger interior presence on the defensive end of the floor is the overriding imperative to preclude that legacy from taking deeper root. That improved defense will have to arrive quickly, however, by the start of next season if a repeat performance is to be avoided.
Ray Shafer should provide an offensive threat in the paint the Ducks haven't been able to consistently rely upon for some years. If he can step up on the other end of the court and if Mitch Platt can take fewer minutes but still improve his rebounding numbers and his defensive play, this team can improve quickly. A scholarship will surely be offered to a J/C big man and occasionally help may be found in the two-year programs. As a junior college transfer in 2001/02, Robert Johnson fulfilled the same need for the Jones/Luke/Luke core and, it is worth noting, to fine result.
Lacking that ingredient, no matter how individually talented this group may be, they remain vulnerable to the strength of the conference schedule. A schedule which has shown itself to be a close of equivalent of its football counterpart; with two, maybe three of the schools a step above the rest while the remaining seven or eight teams form a minefield of momentum, scheduling vagaries and sleep depravity.
FOR THE LADIES…
The Pac-10 women's conference tournament was held in San Jose last weekend and the women's team did beat a dangerous Washington Husky team in their opening game, but were eliminated from the tournament when Arizona State defeated the Ducks 54-47. Arizona State is as tenacious a defensive team as there is in the Pac-10 and that trait was corroborated by the low point total for the Ducks.
The lasting memory of this game will be the opportunity the Duck's had to take irrefutable control of this game in the early stages of the second half. Despite holding the Sun Devils to a 31.6% shooting percentage, they were never able build a lead of more than eight points. Seemingly the Ducks could have stretched the lead to 20 or more with fewer turnovers, by limiting the offensive rebound margin to less than the 2-to-1 margin enjoyed by ASU, by making the "cripple" lay-ups when available and by taking care to not give the opposition points off turnovers.
Arizona State is a quality team, but in this match-up the Ducks should have prevailed. It can be a very difficult lesson for a team to collectively learn to recognize when a game is there for the taking and then do the things necessary to seal the result. Especially when time is not yet a factor it can become very comfortable to play to the level on the floor and not force the issue to an early resolution.
This can be a prescription for disaster once the opponent begins to recognize the multiple opportunities being extended. Suddenly the pressure they had been feeling is replaced by a confidence they will find a way to erase the deficit - and in a paradox - the pressure suddenly falls on the team that should have the contest already in hand.
Arizona State recognized their opportunity when the Ducks didn't put it away, and took full advantage.
To advance in the NCAA tournament there is no margin for such error and if given another chance to close the door on an opponent, hopefully the ladies won't let that next opportunity squander.
Though by all logic it shouldn't, but if the NCAA selection committee does pass over the Ducks when filling out the tournament bracket, this loss to ASU will be the loss that hurts the most.
Till next time…