As the shards of our national championship opportunity lay strewn in the
tattered grass, the marauding migratory water fowl flapping their way north to
their fetid, drizzly mill pond, the Men's Basketball Team's season kicked into
gear with the Pre-Season NIT, calling the question, "Dude, I guess I better
check my season tickets and see if I can get a sitter for tonight," which is
really another way of asking, "If a Tree falls in the forest…?" Well,
apparently a lot of basketball fans were so busy nursing their psychological
hangovers from the football game, or so busy making dumbass signs for College
Game Day on Friday Night and then crashing hard because they had to be on the
Quad at 6 a.m. Saturday morning to try and out football dork Lee Corso (and by
the way, what is the over/under on the number of times a Stanford professor this
past weekend said something akin to "They can get up on Saturday morning and be
at the Quad for a football show, but they can't make it to a 9:00 a.m. class on
Tuesday morning?"), that they forgot that they bought season basketball tickets
and that when you purchase them it is incumbent upon you to attend. Come
on people, what the hell good are you if you stay home and sit on your butts and
watch your kids do some homework and watch Chaz Bono cha-cha?
Anyway, in case you missed it, and I know you did, Friday night we destroyed a bad junior college team called Central Arkansas (they had great purple shoes and the next time one of them, the players or the shoes, drives left and makes it to the rim will be the first time), beat a solid, scrappy Fresno State Bulldog team (75-59) on Monday night and then beat another solid team, the Colorado State Rams (64-52) on Tuesday to earn a trip to New York for Turkey Day, which beats the hell out of sitting around at Coach Dawkins' house without your family on Thanksgiving anyway. Throw the Purple People Eaters game out the window (what was their mascot anyway?), except for this - I'll be damned, we started a three guard lineup of Jarrett Mann, Aaron Bright, and freshman Chasson Randle that played well together. One overarching take away from the Fresno State game is that although we had 16 turnovers and only shot 25-38 from the line (me likey 38 free throws though), but, but, but, in the last 4:17 of the game we went 13-15 from the line, 2-2 from the floor, and zero fumbles or interceptions. Sometimes it is who you have shooting the free throws that matters most, and in this instance it was Bright going 6-7, Huestis going 3-4, and Owens and Mann each going 2-2 (although they overall struggled from the line). Same theme for the mountain mutton game on Tuesday night, as a two-point game with three minutes left ended up a 12-point win because Josh Owens went 2-2 from the floor, with two assists by Gabriel Harris, and 6-6 free throw shooting by Jarrett Mann and Harris (4-4), and zero turnovers. Say what you want, but we just closed out two tight games against quality opponents by taking care of the ball, making shots, and making free throws when it matters most and it was a bunch of guys making their "frows."
So let's get to the guard play analysis:
Aaron Bright is where we will start because well, he starts and so far he is our best player. In the first two games Aaron was en fuego, 7/8 from the barn, 10-13 from the stripe, and so on in a hybrid point guard, shooting guard role. Against the feral sheep on Tuesday he came back to earth a bit, shooting only 2-8 on threes (9-16 is still better than being poked with a sharp stick), but still collecting 12 points in 32 high quality minutes. He is leading, he is assertive, he has thrown a behind the back dime, he has no-looked a dime, and he has played relatively safe, high risk penetration basketball. He is our best offensive player and makes our offense click. His three-point shooting is impressive so far and is the result of vastly improved pre-catch footwork. He has gone to work this off-season, gotten much stronger in his legs, which has enabled him to rely on his butt-coil for his power, instead of having to step into his shot. Now he is crab stepping into the catch, if not just sitting down and catching on the spot. He did let a couple go against the sheep that were a bit less balanced, but they were of the late shot clock, mediocre pass variety, which is what your teammates ask you to take when you go 7/8 to start the season. The result is a quicker release, a more consistent release point, and a confined shooting perimeter (straight up, straight down, maybe a few inches forward after the release on the landing). Not surprisingly, Aaron is catching in rhythm, with his base compact, his shot fakes and his ball fakes are quick and the floor is opening up before him, and he is driving with a lot more room. The extra room and his improved strength is allowing him, so far anyway, to get to the rim, where he is also using space more judiciously this year to get his shot off. This is important folks, the mechanical improvements in Aaron's shooting and the improvements in his strength and athleticism are improvements that usually take more than one off-season. Fulminate on that.
Chasson Randle, our freshman point guard, shooting guard, who started the first three games so far for good reason. He and Bright play well together and he is ready to play on the defensive end. Physically, he is a big step up for us, with great lift, very long arms, and significant quickness. He didn't play particularly well against Fresno State, over-penetrating a lot (six turnovers), but he still finished with 10 points in 30 minutes, with two steals. I have no idea how he didn't shoot a free throw against Fresno State, because although he over-penetrated, he got clobbered a bit. Against the goats on Tuesday night he struggled a bit again against a pretty solid backcourt, but I still like that on a night when you are struggling in your third game of your career, in your 17 minutes you go get four rebounds and a steal. The effort on the defensive end is there. He is going to shoot a lot of free throws this year as he gets accustomed to the variety of styles of play he is facing and gets more comfortable with the lanes available in our offense. Like Bright, Chasson brings some attitude to the point guard spot and some "belong."
With Bright and Randle swinging around the one and two spots, we have started Jarrett Mann at the small forward spot against our initial smaller opponents. Against Fresno State, Mann was given the job of locking down their best player, a very capable scorer named Olekaibe. Mann didn't lock up of the whole game, but he did lock him up a lot, and he showed some attitude about it too. Same thing again against Colorado State, taking Eikmeier (who can play), and in the second half in particular, just locking down. We seem to switch more on the perimeter in the first of games so far this young season, but in the second half Mann in particular hunkers down. The spunk that Bright and Randle play with, along with the freeing up of Jarrett's mind from having to think through being the point guard all the time, appears to be allowing Jarrett's inner hard ass to come out. And Mann really went to the glass hard against CSU, collecting nine rebounds to go with his, ahem, five turnovers. Jarrett really is the good, the bad and the ugly, wa, wa waaa. Missing first half free throws and making second half free throws is getting the sequence correct though. In both the State games' first halves, his old habit of getting off center back toward his left foot popped up, causing him to pull each of his free throws short left. Parents with your little aspiring Cardinal in your Menlo Park and Palo Alto driveways, with your real glass backboards and your breakaway rims (you folks near Waverly and Tennyson know what I am talking about), keep the weight centered or slightly forward onto the front foot, don't let your little app writers tilt backwards as though they were playing Mafia Wars 2 on the couch.
Gabe Harris had a damned good game against Central Arkansas, but struggled against Fresno State while guarding Olekaibe. But, he just played 26 minutes of damned good basketball against the Dodge trucks. When everyone else was kicking the can around the gym, Gabe had four assists and zero turnovers and remembered that Josh Owens was in the low post when the clock mattered. He looks at this point to be playing with more confidence and an improved handle. He looks stronger and quicker, too. However, he still thumbs the ball horribly on his jumper and every time he takes a three pointer I cringe. But he had great rotation on his 65 footer with less than one second on the clock against the goats. Maybe he is on to something.
Final Thoughts: Brown and Powell aren't playing or aren't playing well, and everyone thought they would be starters and major contributors if not stars on this team. That may still come to pass. But, we just opened 3-0 with a three-guard alignment, in largest part because in the second half of NIT games this week, we played the defense that we have been waiting to see under Coach Dawkins. We stopped giving up threes, forced both FSU and CSU into the paint where they didn't finish well enough. We have had way too many turnovers, 33 in the NIT, but our offense is really keyed on dribble-drive-kick principles, more so than in past years and we are really adjusting to that. I'll take 3-0, won't you?
Final Final Thoughts: Great to see the Court Jester on Tuesday night. Jeff appears to have had a heavenly three basketball game, one football game, a women's basketball game, a water polo match, women's soccer match, NCAA regional women's cross country meet, and rumor has it he spent a lot of time watching women's lacrosse and swimming practice on his sojourn to the Farm. He also knew where the Duck cheerleaders went to get coffee and lettuce wraps for breakfast. Thank heavens he came to the games, because that made an incremental impact on attendance.
Really Final Thoughts: Josh Huestis is a bad SOB. He is a mistake eraser and the type of role player that oozes "I ain't a role player for long!" I found myself telling Mrs. Roscoe during the feral sheep game "It's about freaking time to get Huestis in the damned game, isn't it?" His footwork on his jumper is much improved, his lift is smooth and his release is much more rhythmic, creating a much better arc. And when Josh Owens stays out of foul trouble and his teammates remember he is down there in the low post, we are a lot better. Don't forget to come see this team play at some point this season, they are pretty entertaining. And our revenge in Davis will be served chillaaay! And then off to the real City.
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