Expert Analysis: Guards vs. UCSB
As Dee Dee Ramone used to shout before every Ramones song, " 1-2-3-4!"
And away we go... So Mrs. Roscoe and I caught the Northwestern State and UCSB games this weekend. Hailing originally from the Northwest, I was completely baffled as to where Northwestern State was from, but it turns out that the school is in northwestern Louisiana - OK, whatever. The gym smelled good upon walking in for the first time this year. I always walk in and take a big snort and listen for the sound of a ball bouncing as it echoes. I think most former players love walking back into the House That Roscoe built, knowing we don't have to practice or take a big snort of the locker room. But the gym smells better now, no stale burned popcorn stank on it.
My first impression of this year's team is that the warm ups suits are nice and clean-looking. I like them. Now I just wish that some of our players would utilize the draw strings in their shorts so that their shirts would stop pulling out every time they go flying to the basket and get knocked ass over tea kettle. Fred Washington, who hit the floor, by my unofficial count during the two games I attended, 24 times. That's a lot of bumps and bruises and a lot of shirt tucking and shorts pulling. I should note though that Fred's ball handling is noticeably improved. He is dribbling lower, staying flexed at the knees and waist and keeping his off-hand in play a lot better. Consequently, it was rare in the two games that anyone stayed in front of him when he really wanted to penetrate and his passing his crisper because he on balance better and the pick up of the ball to pass is quicker. Fred's jumper is also much improved. I am not saying we can look to Fred for a lot of perimeter jumpers this year, but he is going to knock down a few and he is going to take them with more confidence.
What is better about his shot you ask? Well, better arc and rotation stemming from his improved release point and better wrist pronation (follow through) and he appears to be jumping more vertically and less forward. The arc on his free throws is also much improved and as the season goes along he will become a a 70%+ free throw-shooter, I think. Fred was the swizzle stick holding the olives in our martini yesterday afternoon against the Gauchos, playing 37 minutes, and holding Alex Harris down for most of the second half. Outstanding defense. A random thought, but with Fred busting ass as hard as he does, and his wearing the neoprene calf supports, I bet his mother is glad she doesn't have to launder his socks anymore.
Anthony Goods carried our rear ends in the first half of the Gaucho game. So far, Anthony looks more on balance, dribbling lower and with better vision, and he appears more explosive. Which tells me he put some time in the gym this summer on his ballhandling and a lot of time in the weight room. It is really early, but he nailed a couple of step back threes this weekend that at his size require a lot of leg and butt strength, and they were no problem. I also thought he generated some offense into games from his defense, which he didn't do at all last year. When guys that didn't seem to have good defensive instincts are stepping in passing lanes and getting steals and hammering dunks at the other end, they are feeling more comfortable on the floor, they are staying down in their stances and the game is "slowing down" for them.
Mitch Johnson, as Dave Matthews puts it, "so much to say so much to say so much to say." In the first half of the Northwestern State game, the whatevertheyare's left Mitch wide-open from three and Mitch calmly, with his new improved stroke (better release point, some smoothing of his hitch, and more vertical jump), sank two of three, with another 19-footer. That is 14 points in 19 minutes from Mitch, by the way. We were going to crush these guys anyway, but with Mitch twisting the knife like that, we got so far away so fast I don't think Northwestern State knew what hit them. Mitch followed that up with one for two from deep against the Gauchos, combining for a nice three for five from the stripe and a combined six of 12 from the field in two games. But enough about shooting, because what we need Mitch to do is defend and get us into offense. Mitch converted a beautiful 40-foot alley oop to Robin for a dunk against the Gauchos and hit Robin for another two dunks on nice bounce passes. I want to emphasize the bounce passes because they were in traffic. In the past Mitch has had trouble completing these passes, but on these occasions the balls were right on the money, no mustard anywhere, just easily catchable dimes. And the big fella really seems to enjoy those, because when the dinosaur is fed, team chemistry improves.
However, the Gauchos really put a lot of outstanding ball pressure on Mitch. It was clearly a focus of theirs and they ran some good-looking, well-drilled athletes at Mitch and Johnson did crack a few times. Six turnovers under the circumstances is really three too many. He threw two bad long passes that both could have been completed because they weren't bad ideas - the guys were open (channeling my "inner Todd Husak" here). But the passes stunk. And he threw one sloppy entry pass. This was the only regression fundamentally that I saw from him in the two games. He is handling the ball against pressure with more vision and he is also dribbling the ball with more pace and a lower center of gravity. Most importantly, he is moving the ball on the perimeter with more intent - he isn't peering at the backside post or some weakside seam, he is moving the ball to the shooters and then finding the next open space to sit down in and get ready to be a shooter and passer again. Between Mitch and Fred, when Anthony was open, the ball got there on time and in the shooting pocket. UCSB isn't a great team, but their guards can guard, so our ball movement was under pressure the whole game. We did a pretty darned good job.
Drew Shiller can shoot the ball. Period. End of story. If you want to see a guy with good mechanics prior to the ball arriving, Drew is a throwback to when we had professional perimeter shooters on this team. The vision is there, he knows he is open, his feet are close to the ground and set when the ball arrives, so it is a quick, efficient stroke from there. He didn't make any against the Gauchos, but Northwestern State was flat lit up. Between Drew and Kenny Brown off the bench, if I were defending Stanford I would have been letting Peter Prowitt get the ball and taken my chances there instead of leaving our guards open. He needs work on his ballhandling, mostly getting used to our one-guard set which requires the point guard to get the ball to the entry point on the wing with the right timing. This is really a question of his learning to go one direction, set up the defender and then bring the ball back the other way with authority and snap off the pass. He is floating too much right now, too many one-handed entry passes (Bootie Note: I have been harping for years now about these one-handed entry passes being incorporated into the offense, which because a virus when Chris Hernandez came on board. Chris learned, and it appears that others can't seem to learn from watching film, they have to screw it up themselves 10 times first. Makes you want to watch practice, doesn't it? This stuff takes time.)
....which allows me to quickly segue to our first few looks at the two-guard offense we have installed. This offense appears to be a pretty basic spread - four guys out and one large Lopez on the block. Law Hill in one corner, getting ready to lock and load, Mitch and Fred and Anthony at the other spots, usually, Mitch and Fred up high, top of the key extended out toward the half court corners about 10 feet. I didn't see any real motion from this set. But I did see us pick the weak defender, or the guy with two fouls, and we let Fred or Anthony or Mitch attack that guy off the dribble and attack the basket or draw and kick. With Anthony and Fred, no one on UCSB stayed in front of them. This offense will work some against teams that want to extend half court pressure out to 40 feet on us. I think this is a direct response to last spring's Louisville game. I don't know if it will work all of the time against them, and I hope we have some motion we can run out of that set as well, but I like what we are seeing early from it. Out of this set, Anthony pulled a couple of vicious crossovers out his bag against UCSB, as well as a Todd Lichti-esque two-dribble left toward the top of the key, dip the shoulder hoopward and snap up a pull up jumper from 18 feet, with no net ripple at all. A work of art, if I hadn't been standing and yelling obscenities of elation, I would have been choked up.
Closing points: We were much better in terms our efficiency over the weekend on fastbreaks, I think our starters only screwed one up, and we beat a solid UCSB team by 19, while shooting 24-39 from the free throw line and our best player, the Law, took home a stale bagel. Nice. Pathetic attendance this weekend. Hey Stanford Season Ticket Holders and 6th Man Club, when you buy tickets, they come with an obligation to attend. What the hell, people!? This isn't football! This is freaking basketball!! We win, we are good, and we actually dunk. The music in the gym sure was turned up loud this weekend. Saturday night we were treated to some 1985 Metallica and a dose of G N' R. On Sunday there were four different "DC" songs rocking the hizzy. If it is going to be loud, thank heavens it was meant to be loud. I learned something new yesterday, boys and girls, broadcaster John Platz is a purple belt in karate. I am changing his handle on this board to "Sensei". John also admitted yesterday that his favorite movie was Karate Kid.
About the Author: "Roscoemaynard" was a shooting guard at Stanford from 1984-1989. A member of the 1988-89 Cardinal team that finished 26-7 (15-3) and made the NCAA tournament for the first time in 47 years, gaining a No. 3 seed. "Roscoe" was named Most Improved Player on that outstanding '89 team, which finished the year ranked #13 in the final AP poll. He still holds the single-season three-point shooting percentage mark at a ridiculous .583 (1988-89). During his excellent hoops career on the Farm, he dropped 188 dimes and shot .483 from the floor (slightly higher than Casey Jacobsen's .470) and .750 from the stripe (slightly below Marcus Lollie's .759) More importantly, he was primarily responsible for a short-lived surge in the popularity of the pioneering punk band Social Distortion on the Stanford campus in the mid-1980s. He is now, go figure, a lawyer.
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