Well, to paraphrase a great band, "The Season's passed and it's too late to
cut the grass, there isn't much to rake anyway in the Fall." As the NCAA
Tourney takes place, I am filled with melancholy, as again we Cardinal
Faithful are stuck watching the pretty girls dance with the football players and
the guys whose dads can afford to buy them nice cars. It's like we are
hoping and praying that in the refrigerator is one more beer...and there
isn't. Which leaves me with two questions: (i) is the light at the end of
the tunnel a train or God? and (ii) next year do we get to be cool again and
dance with the hot chicks?
First of all, I asked God if the light at the end of the tunnel was indeed God and God referred me instead to Glen Beck for further insight. So God has a sense of humor. Which means the skinny kids better get their butts in the gym right now and start sucking down amino acid protein shakes by the gallon because you never know…. And I hope the gospel choir doesn't start hymning "Train" in the background while you are reading this.
Do we get to Dance next year? In my opinion, yes. We lost a lot of close games this year for good reason. We weren't quite good enough, but it was usually a lot of little things and not talent. And a lot of those little things (free throw shooting, screening out, defending the screen and roll, weakside recognition and rotation, entry passing, strength) will be improved next year by natural progression. We will also be aided by the fact that few teams, if any, are considerably more talented than we are. Just an example, but we beat Wazzou on the road because our best player shot the ball well early, we took care of the ball early, we made free throws throughout the game, and Jarrett Mann and Anthony Brown finished at the rim in the second half. It was a game in which we did a lot of the little things down the stretch correctly, but in which we also started the game well. And as we all saw too many times this year, we started too many games in conference and in Anaheim in November, badly - to put it lightly.
Jarrett Mann - Over the last month or so of the season I wrote some pretty harsh things about Jarrett's play. And I was right, he simply has to become a better game director and less of an offensive liability. But, Jarrett played 31 minutes a game in conference because, by a wide margin, he was our best perimeter defender and primary ball-handler. He did average 4.6 assists per game in conference, good for third, and he was No. 7 in the conference in A/TO ratio at 1.84. In case you were wondering, he also led the team in conference play in steals. I expect Jarrett to improve markedly next year at the point for one reason - he has to or else the coach will have no alternative but to look at the future and play Bright and Randle. I also think he will improve markedly because it is a very tough position to play and it really isn't one that takes just two years to comprehensively understand and excel at. You will recall that Mike Montgomery, basically tired of waiting for Julius Barnes to "get it," moved on. Coach Dawkins has taken a different tact and has pushed Jarrett to learn it. Just based on personal experience, I think Jarrett's third year will be much more comfortable, and yet also have that added motivation of knowing that every minute is precious because you don't want to end up like Lathan Wallace at OSU - jettisoned to the ass-splinter division, or as Mrs. Roscoe so eloquently put it, "He doesn't want to end up eating hot dogs with Doug Wall."
Jeremy Green - There has been some discussion about who did and who did not get better as the conference season wore on. Well, Jeremy Green got better. A lot better. I don't think anyone in the conference had a better second half than Jeremy did. He scored more, shot less, improved his entry passing, got on the glass, and cut down on his turnovers. Where does Jeremy go from here? He has to become an NBA player next. His handle has to become a strength, he has to finish at the rim and draw more fouls off the bounce. More than anything else though, he has to stop letting others think they get to make decisions as to where the ball needs to go on offense. I was watching a normally sucko ESPN show about college basketball and they had Tom Crean on and he said in a nutshell, Ohio State does 80% of its entry passing to the post using Sullinger and Deibler and they do that with numbing frequency. Well, sounds like smart ball to me. We did nothing with numbing frequency this year other than pathologically avoiding getting Owens posted up with Green making the entry pass. If the guys can't get that nailed down on the floor next year, and if the coaches can't sufficiently indoctrinate it, then Green and Owens have to bring the hammer down and stop being so nice.
Aaron Bright - The following is the opinion of the author and that is it, so don't shoot anyone else for this: Aaron played better this season than I thought he would and he is better than I thought he would be. Aaron is going to be a very good player in this conference and he is going to be someone that has to fight his entire career for minutes and starts. Timing is so important in a career and he is the first point guard in quite a while to not be handed the job by default. He was brilliant at times and he was pedestrian at times, but the kid is tough and probably held his opinions in check a bit too much. I am going to enjoy watching his growth and for the next three years we know we have a point guard that can shoot in the clutch, scrap, lead, and handle. Let the competition begin for next fall - because this kid is going to compete for it.
Anthony Brown - Not a two guard right now, but once Jeremy Green moves on to bigger and better things, I just don't see how Anthony becomes the starting two. Its too easy to say he needs to get in the weight room. So I will say this, from the opening tip in November until the clock ticked out on us at Staples, I think this kid was our best competitor. He was relentless, even when we were being blown out at Butler and at USC. He has a lot of talent, but that relentlessness makes me teary.
Gabriel Harris - He gave us some good minutes at times this season, but he has been recruited over and I simply don't see how he doesn't become even more marginalized next season. Too many turnovers, too little productivity. Great kid, who will stay positive and work hard, but he has to fix the release on his jump shot and stop thumb flipping it without rotation and become an effective shooter. That he is two years into college and that hasn't been fixed yet is an indicator to me.
Final Thoughts. Right now UCLA is the runaway team to beat next year in the conference, no matter what. The Wear brothers coming in, Jones back, Smith back, Lamb back, and not everyone from Lee, Nelson, and Honeycutt are going to go. So, we have to get much more physical and tough with the ball next season to get over that hump. How? We finished the conference year with three guys shooting north of 43% - Green at 43.4%, Owens at 58%, and Huestis at 59%. As a team, we shot 42.8%, which is bad, but not horrible. My impression was that we actually took a lot of good shots this season and were not a team of chuckers and double pump junk. Dwight Powell and Brown are very talented and their percentages will go up significantly and as they do, so will Green's. Bright will shoot better because technically he is pretty damned sound. John Gage, same thing. The real challenge will be on the defensive end, where we gave up 38% from the farm and 46% overall. Terrible numbers. Second year in a row of terrible numbers, and yet there was some hope, too. The hope is found in our activity level around the rim defensively, where Owens and Powell were often flying around chasing blocks without getting them, which opened the back side to easy follow ups. I won't say that will improve, but it has to improve. If it does improve, we will get several rebounds a game better on the glass as well.
Final Final Final Thoughts: Tall cans in the air boys, lets stop wishing and go fishing next season. Despite our horrendous shooting, poor assist to turnover ratio, spotty defense, and general lack of offensive mission, we were rarely blown out. We played a ton of freshman minutes and at times they were clearly leading us. You can look at the first Cal win and the UW win this season and stare at the film and see where we can go next season for 20 wins. So buck up campers, it's a long summer and I really hate Kansas, but this one guy thinks next season we will put a lot more warheads on foreheads.
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