Tuesday, February 17, 2009

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!


Nuss said...

I agree that Tony's still learning, but man ... the team he has in front of him right now doesn't give him a lot of options. There's really only one dynamic player on the team, and he's a freshman. Taylor comes close, but every other guy has a very specific skill set that features distinct strengths ... and distinct weaknesses. That makes it tough on a coach.

I've just finally come to the conclusion that this team isn't very good. We've got just three guys on the whole roster that right now are 30-minute-a-night Pac-10 players, which means we're counting far too often on guys to perform down the stretch beyond what their actual ability level is.

Longball said...

Howdy Nuss,

I agree that there are some personnel shortcomings on this squad, but to be beaten so badly in the 2nd half, again and again is a sign to me that our adjustments are not working. We have better players than OSU, but we were out-coached in that game.

I could write a whole other post on how our floor leadership, especially Rochestie cant be counted to come thru in the clutch for us. But at this point the seniors are about to move on, while this coaching staff is (hopefully) here to stay for a while.

Soze said...

Not saying you are calling for Bennett's head, because I'm sure you aren't... but I'm glad this is happening this year and not a different year. This is definitely the transition year for the Cougs and Bennett does not have the personnel to make-up for any coaching deficiencies. The keys will be to keep Thompson and Capers happy, and keep Casto in class. If we can graduate these 3 in Cougar uni's, I have a feeling that the hoops team might could become a semi-regular contender in the Pac-10.

Nuss said...

"but to be beaten so badly in the 2nd half, again and again is a sign to me that our adjustments are not working."

(Bear in mind that what I'm about to say does not apply to the OSU debacle.)

I actually take the opposite approach, begetting kind of a chicken and egg dilemma: Is the team actually outcoached in the second half, or did Tony outcoach and outprepare the other coach in the first half, only to have his team's true ability level show through in the second half?

I dunno. It's tough to say.

Longball said...

Hi Soze,

I don't think Tony is deficient at all. I just think he bears some responsibility for this team falling just short of post season play. He is a young coach in a league full of great coaches who are out dueling him quite a bit. But he is learning. This is his first year with a team that isn't full of 4 year starters and future pros, so its to be expected.


Great point, and I would say that Tony prepares his team really well. I also think the fact that we have 3 true freshman contributing regularly in Pac-10 play, one of which is competing at an all-league level right now, shows that Tony is also great at getting young players ready, right away. The more I think about your comment the more compelling it is. I would love to go game by game to analyze the chicken or egg question you raise. I just need the game films and a keg.

ptowncoug said...

Shove it up your arse Longball.
I'm glad your pointing out some missteps by TB, but I believe his biggest misstep was failing to go fill up the middle class with players. I posted this over on Nuss' site, but essentially look at who we have in the middle class: Kop and Boehke. Are you kidding me? We aren't UCLA or AZ and therefore our frosh generally aren't all around ballplayers and therefore need time to develop. See e.g., Capers, man if someone had a gun to my head and asked who I would want to shoot a mid to long range jumper to spare my life, Capers would be last on my list.
The fault lies on TB in not getting a JC guy for this year, or letting guys run off. Where art thou Thomas Abercrombie?

Soze said...

Abercrombie wanted to go back home to New Zealand.

Not to change the subject, but WOO HOO!:

Sedihawk said...

WOW! Amazing roller coaster for Griffey fans. I still can't believe it/won't believe it until the press conference. But WOW!

BH said...

Good points all around, boys. But, I still like my take better than both of yours (god am I NOT cool).

Anyhow, its hard to knock Bennett for loyalty to the seniors because, after all, if it wasn't for T-Bone's loyalty he'd be the head coach right now at LSU or Indiana (hell, how good would Marquette be right now with him?).

But, his loyalty to those seniors cost us what could have been a pretty special season. Last time I checked, we were an upper division type team that lost two heartbreakers (one that was in THE BAG against SC) and beat ASU on the road while giving a TON of time to our youth. Then, we went away from our kids--including @ Arizona, @ Stanford, and the second half of the SC game. Why? Why?

My sense is that Taylor and Baynes aren't going to quit. But you have to think that Tony is going to have to pad the landing for next year starting about right now.

Remember, we were tied @ CAL with 2 minutes left. We were leading @ Arizona in the second half. We won @ Arizona State and we should've blown out the Oregon schools.

Thursday's the biggie. I'm not saying we're going to win both this weekend, but these kids are capable--especially if we don't play to protect a lead.

And if they play the kids, they might replicate OSU at the Bay Area this weekend.

I don't like our chances next weekend much because I HATE our match-up with AZ, but I actually like our matchups this weekend a whole lot.

Nuss said...

Couldn't agree more. I think it's pretty clear we matchup better with USC and UCLA than anyone in the conference not from Oregon.