Let's jump right to it then, and talk about where I think we can improve the most as a team going into this conference season, using the first two games of the conference season as a backdrop - passing the basketball to our own team instead of the other team. Coming into conference play we had more turnovers than assists (160 assists to 176 TO's), and we improved that in our two conference opening wins by generating 30 turnovers to 19 assists. Depending on your perspective, we really improved our assist to turnover ratio. We are a bunch of sophomores and a freshman and Jarrett Mann, none of whom came into college with reputations as magical passers. No question they need to value the ball more, that they need to do a much better job of hitting the Owens on the low block, and they need to spend less time staring down the next pass or surveying the floor, but that takes experience. This is a baptism by fire.
The double edged sword of having young guards that can play is that they are young guards. You get Aaron Bright averaging 16 points a game in conference, making big shots and sinking huge free throws, and playing tough and scrappy every second. You also get the Aaron that had three assists to six turnovers in the two games, and missed the open post entry pass at least 20 times in two games, maybe that many in the ToeScum game alone. And yet, Aaron just picked us up and scored our last seven points to get us our margin of victory. When Aaron starts hitting Owens on the block more often his assist totals will skyrocket, much as Mitch Johnson's did when Brook Lopez turn over left shouldered Mitch into the record books. Nothing says "great passer" more than the routine black hole on the block.
Of course who can forget Aaron's magical step back dribble move against the ToeScum that appeared to go off of Kevin O'Neill's dress shoes right out of bounds, which the refs completely missed, and which should have been a technical foul on that rash or at least our ball for O'Neill double teaming poor little Aaron. O'Neill pretty much spent the entire game parked twp feet inside the sideline looking as though he was going to blow a gasket. Are there two bigger pucker monkeys in college basketball than O'Neill and Howland? Talk about two guys that can choke the fun out of a game. And maybe this is an aside to this tangent, which makes it a co-tangent, but the difference between O'Neill and Howland is that O'Neill somehow gets away with f-bombing everyone and everything all game long, whereas Howland only appears to f-bomb everyone and everything for most of the game. If I had a dollar for every time O'Neill lobbed a "Tim, that's a blanking blanking call!", I'd be living in blanking Carmel.
Speaking of tenacious, Chasson Randle played 70 of a possible 80 minutes over the lid lifters and he averaged nine points, collected five assists, five turnovers, and 4.5 rebounds a game. He was our second best rebounder in the two games and he was our best defender. Maybe I missed something, but his defense on Maurice Jones of sc was awesome, and he was equally outstanding on Jerime Anderson of the ‘Ruins (not so much Laz Jones though). There were several occasions against the ‘Ruins where Anderson was coming down on him on mixed temp fast breaks and Anderson threw multiple moves on Randle, and Randle just stoned him. Even more fun, by the end of the game prophylactic game Maurice Jones was exhausted and exasperated (his body language on the free throw line, where he went 3-8, when he normally would go 6-8, was as tired as I have seen a guy in a long time this early in a conference season).
Gabe Harris is lost for the season. Merry freaking Christmas Gabe, knee surgery over holidays is a hell of a deal. Sports can be awfully tough. He was much improved and playing very good minutes and he will be missed. We now have a guard depth issue one injury away.
Anthony Brown gets a guard play mention. When we push the ball in transition, when the game gets a bit helter-skelter Anthony Brown finds a way to get going. Unfortunately, when the game sinks into a half-court bog, Anthony finds a way to throw the ball to the other team too much. I am not a big believer in letting the game come to you, because the game can just pass you by, but Anthony does have to stop flying baseline left - there is a reason they are shading him left baseline. Good defensive teams always force players baseline left for a reason. Not taking the bait is easier said than done. There is a reason bait is used. With that said, Anthony hit a big shot against the ‘Ruins down the stretch from the left corner, he really rebounded well against the ‘Ruins, and he keeps shooting with confidence. He is going to break out soon, probably against the pintails or the nutria or both.
Jarrett Mann keeps on keeping on, busting his butt on defense and being spotty with the ball. His ball-handling was very good against the ‘Ruins (two assists and zero TO's), and then against the condoms he had three turnovers, with two being of the "rip my eyes out" variety. But, terrific energy in both games off the bench, good defense against UCLA (although everyone got caught off of Laz Jones for a good reason-he really can't shoot as well as he did), and a very timely drive against USC in the first half when we really needed a play. His defense, in support of Randle, of Maurice Jones was stellar. Oddly enough, against UCLA's zone I thought Mann's cagey veteranism showed as he moved the ball with more alacrity and purpose than his younger cohort. He spent less time with the ball in his hand while the defense was surveyed, and he clearly understood that ball reversal has to happen quickly in order to be effective. Since no one is buying a shot fake, his effectiveness against a zone is marginalized, but at least he was doing what he can do as effectively as he can do it.
Final Thoughts: 2-0 is the best we can do at this point. Both games in Oregon are winnable, as both the rats and the grebes were exposed as defensive frauds. And they turn it over as much as we do. It's nice to be 12-2, 2-0 and heading on a conference road trip that seems vulnerable. Then again, this year every road trip looks like a good date.
Final Final Thought: The best freshman in the conference is Tony Wroten at UW and it's not a close second. Wroten is benefiting tremendously from rock solid veteran play from Abdul Gaddy (66 assists to only 23 turnovers), but Wroten cooks with the same gas as Aaron Brooks and Russell Westbrook. But, the second best freshman in the conference is Chasson Randle, because Chasson is unselfish, smart and he is heading toward elite level on ball defense. He is exactly what Ben Howland needs… Ha!
Complete Aside: Oregon Duck Rose Bowl football helmets = hood ornaments. But the kids love them and D'Anthony Thomas certainly looks fast with one on. Not that he needed to look any faster.
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