Longball’s View from the Cheap Seats

Hello Cougar Nation,

Are your ears still ringing from final nail being hammered in the Cougar’s post-season coffin? Well I am back with my take from way up in the cheap seats to help you put it all in perspective and in that great Cougar tradition… Look forward to NEXT year.

First of all, what happened to this season? From where I have been sitting its pretty simple, this team suffered from failed leadership… at all levels. When I said in my previous post that this team would not even sniff an NIT bid, I wasn’t kidding. The reason I gave was that this year’s veterans were just not good enough to win consistently in Pac-10 play. Over the last couple weeks it has become apparent that in addition to veteran players being unable to lead us to victory on the court, Coach Bennett and his staff are suffering their own growing pains that have hurt this team’s chances. If you watch carefully you can follow Tony’s learning curve as it arches steeply upward, but it is a process and he is learning as much as our young players are this season. While it is frustrating to watch our veteran players refuse to win close games, Saturday’s loss must be placed squarely on our coaching staff.

It is no secret that this year’s Cougs cannot handle any ball pressure and will always wilt under even the lightest press. This sure made coach Robinson’s job easy on Saturday. Down at the half, and getting beat in all aspects of the game he simply had to put on a half hearted 3 quarter court press and VOILA! For the millionth time this season the Cougars were out adjusted at the half and lost a game they were winning. This is a predictable outcome by now and the failure to address it is a coaching failure. If you listen to the Tony Bennett show on Tuesday nights, it is clear this is something they are working hard on in practice, but so far, whatever they have tried has not worked. During games it seems like there are only 2 (bad) options, either go with an athletic lineup that can handle the ball but is very young and inexperienced, or an experienced veteran lineup that is terrible at ball handling. So far the remedy has been elusive, but you can bet that Tony and his staff are learning a lot from these failures.

Why am I so confident they are learning from their mistakes when it appears they make the same mistakes week after week? Because while the outcome is the same every week, the mistakes are not. Confusing? Yes. But true. This staff is trying different things, and sometimes they are having success. Case in point, the Cal game: The theory the coaches were testing was that fatigue was playing a roll in our inability to hang in tough games down the stretch. We all saw a mysterious sub rotation in the first half that seemed to kill some really good momentum we had going. What happened from there can be interpreted a number of ways, but what I saw was a team hang around in the 2nd half, endure multiple runs by Cal and respond with runs of their own. Whether the extra rest was the reason, or not, they were able to compete to the end with a team who was just as capable as UW or Gonzaga of running the Cougs right out of the gym. Of course, they lost, but losing narrowly at Cal is different than fading down the stretch to OSU at home. Though the results were nearly identical, against OSU we played ourselves out of the game while at Cal we played ourselves into a position to win the game. Subtle difference for sure, but important to recognize if you want to understand what this team is going through.

So, while I see hope for Tony and his staff to learn from their mistakes and return each year as better coaches, the clock has sadly run out on our seniors. Baynes, Rochestie, Harm and Caleb don’t get another off season to digest what they’ve learned, work on their weaknesses and return for another chance. For these guys, all we can say is goodbye, good luck and Thank You for all the great things they did accomplish here.

As for our young guns, I am still SKY HIGH on our freshmen and will say without hesitation that Klay Thompson was by far the best player on the floor for either team Saturday. He is so good that I actually have hope for next year. However, there is another frosh who I am even more excited about, Marcus Capers. If you have seen Capers in person, you will have a better idea what I am talking about, but he is the best pure athlete to suit up for the Cougs since Neil Derrick. He has the same length and agility as Kyle Weaver, with even more explosiveness and silky smooth ball handling. On Saturday while our team futzed around looking lost and hopeless against the Beaver press Capers made a play that sent shivers down my spine. He received the ball deep in the corner, behind the 3 point line and the OSU defenders backed off, knowing he doesn’t have a great outside shot (yet). Capers hesitated for just a moment, then went to the rack, two dribbles, and he took off, soared over and past the defense and easily laid the ball in from above the rim. It was the kind of play Coug fans usually only see made against them.

Serious, serious, serious athletes are starting to arrive on the Palouse, folks. I have been watching the Cougs play hoops for a long time and I am seeing things from our young players that I have rarely seen round here before.

*Speaking of high flying freshmen, I saw DeAngelo Casto at the Pullman airport on Sunday morning. He definitely aced the airport eye test! Besides being tall, Casto’s shoulders were almost too broad to fit through the security gate. From 30 feet away I felt like I was about to get dunked on.

*In another sighting round town, I saw Lodwick and Enquist at Safeway immediately after the game, Saturday. I have been annoyed in the past to run into Cougar players about town after tough losses carrying on like nothing happened while I am still wallowing in misery. Not so with these two. Neither even played in the game, but both of them wore appropriately morose expressions and had a general heir of pissedoffedness about them that I found comforting.

*Finally, If you live in the area I suggest you check out the Tony Bennett show in person at the Hilltop on Tuesday nights. They have decent food specials and it is fun to see Coach Tony up close and in person. Look for me, I’ll probably be the only one there under the age of 70. Be sure to arrive early for a seat.

That’s all for now, as always… GO COUGS!