Couple of housecleaning items before I get to the (lackof) meat of my post.
First, a couple of you have had a hard time trying to figure out what to call me since my name change. So let me provide this suggestion: Just call me by the old moniker. I will forever respond wherever and whenever the name “Brinkhater” is called. “Bank on it.”
Second, I encourage all of you to check out the WSU Hoops blog that is run by Nuss who frequents this blog. Nuss has tons of real journalism experience and is a big hoops fan. We encourage you to check out his takes and compare them to mine throughout the year (hint to the Brinkhater army: Make sure that Nuss character isn’t stealing my posts and, if so, call him out on it!!!)
Third: You all can expect that I will be covering most of the WSU Hoops season, although Hootie and Sedi will provide their opinions as they see fit. Plus, with all of the recruiting stuff and spring ball gossip, you will see their posts periodically throughout the Winter and Spring.
Okay, now to my quick hit.
For me, this season is broken into quarters. The first quarter was the pre-season, non-conference schedule; the second is the first half of the conference; the third quarter is the second half of the conference; and the final period is the post season.
This post is principally about the end of the first quarter of the season which for me ended with another beat-down of the Huskies who barely qualify as a conference foe (actually, I thought they played quite well yesterday)
There are three primary strengths to what we have seen so far this season. The first strength has been the play of the front court. Say what you want about the loss of Ivory Clark, but both Baynes and Cowgill (man, do I love R.C) have really been a force. Add to that the surprising defensive presence of Harmeling (who is MUCH bigger than last year) and you have a conference contender front line. These guys are surprisingly good.
Second: Despite some of the weaknesses I will touch on in second, the overall moxy of this bunch has really been something. As I mentioned in previous posts, a top 20 or 30 team loses one of the games against Baylor, Gonzaga, or Washington. The fact that our guys continued to execute and make BIG TIME plays down the stretch really speaks to their character. It really is amazing to see a group of kids respond so well to such high expectations. That type of moxy will help them weather what is going to be a grueling conference slate.
Third: Coaching and role awareness. The Baylor, Zag, and Husky games showed the tremendous confidence that T.B. has in this group of kids. But, to have that confidence, Bennett needs to know that his floor leaders know where the ball needs to go during critical stretches. Clearly, Rochestie understands where the ball needs to go, and the rest of the fellas know how to execute the play calls. The exception was last night but when you take away Taylor's nightmare game, our late game execution has been superb.
Now, This point may seem trivial to some, but similar to operating out of a no huddle in football, not having to call a T-O in hoops at the end of games allows other teams who are either young—or not defensively minded—to get caught in the wrong sets. In addition, coaches typically don’t like to call defensive switches mid-stream without a time-out. So, when we get the ball in transition with little time left in a game, we have a HUGE advantage over other teams.
The first weakness of this team is the lack of a Go-2-Guy. While Low has been the big gun for us, he has been too frequently absent and has shown an inconsistent ability to get himself good looks. Part of that has been our tendency to set picks too close to the basket, but the other part has been that other teams are trapping high CONSTANTLY in order to disrupt our perimeter game. Whether its Low stepping up more consistently or other guys being more assertive, our perimeter game has been a bit lacking. And, for us to go deep in the tourney, we need MUCH more consistent scoring from our guards. The defense has been solid, but the offense is still way too erratic.
The second weakness is bench scoring. And where our rotations are concerned, I am in disagreement with the great TB (you see, Bennett is 41-8 or something as coach, which means that its about high time that SOMEONE has the guts to criticize him for those 8 stinking losses!).
For me, I think that Harmeling becomes a much bigger offensive threat when he starts. When he comes off the bench, he is much less effective. Conversely, where Baynes is concerned, I don’t think that flow or rythm matters one bit to him. I think his game is EXACTLY the same whether or not he starts or not. In fact, given his emotion and volatility, letting the game start without him may spare us from a quick 2 fouls early.
The third weakness—which relates to the first—is our offensive set which has been poor generally and was visibly horrible last night. Part of our problems on offense last night was exacerbated by Taylor Rochestie’s HORRIBLE performance following a week long bout with the flu which can throw ANYONE out of sorts. But, in spite of that, we still do not have a consistent offensive set that creates good shots when we are not in transition.
In short, the double high post set doesn’t work well—especially with Baynes. Cowgill is still too erratic with his handle up top especially with the opposition’s defense always crowding high. Low still isn’t getting clean looks as teams are jumping that first screen. And Rochestie and Weaver haven’t been filling it up much either (although Weaver’s long range game is improved this year, his mid-range game not-so-much).
Personally, I’d like to see Weaver handle the point guard duties more. While I love Rochestie’s moxy down the stretch, I think he becomes better when he has his own offensive flow that he can built from when running the offense (kinda like Mike Bibby).
With Weaver up top playing as point, he can create a bit for himself, use his great passing skills, and perhaps open up the perimeter game for Low and Rochestie on the weak side. I know that might tax him a bit, but I think it would help us immeasurably on the offensive side of the ball at the same time that it prepares him for the next level. In my mind, we MUST improve offensively if we have any real hope at a second straight top 2 finish and a much needed #2 NCAA tourney seed. Kyle Weaver at point guard would be a HUGE step in that direction.
Our two x-factors are Rochestie and Harmeling. If one of those two guys plays well, we’ll win.
Yesterday, it was Harmeling who kept us in the game with those two threes in the last ten minutes. In the Gonzaga game it was Rochestie who hit the dagger three that turned a one-point cruncher into a four-point coffin slammer.
Bennett MUST find a way to get those guys going. When they do, everyone else comes alive and we become a team that is nearly impossible to beat as was manifest in our 11-4 close yesterday.
Second Quarter Outlook
A 6-2 start to the conference slate would be a really, really special start to a magical season. With that in mind, this weekend is going to be key. USC is going to be fighting for their lives after losing both in the Bay Area this weekend. And UCLA is going to be really something. In my book, they’re the #2 team in the country.
Look for Mayo to be really off his game on Thursday as the Cougs win a nail biter 61-56. While the Bruins ruin our perfect season in a “it wasn’t that close” 75-69.I see us at 6-3 after the first half.
I’ll post again after we beat
And although it won’t happen, there IS the real possibility that our Cougars could be #1 in the country a week from Monday.
Think about that.