There is so much to unpack from last night’s 1 5/8 game. I got home from a game at WKU last night in time to catch all the OT’s and watched the entire game again today (unfortunately I witnessed two L’s last night). This column (like the game) could go on for days. I am going to keep it concise and hit on a few things.
It is generally all I can do to listen to Dick Vitale for 40 game minutes. After 65 minutes, I found myself wanting to burst my own eardrums with an ice pick or to hurt kittens. I honestly do not know how Dan Schulman does it week in and out. Does he get hazard pay from ESPN?
Observations from last night:
1) I honestly believe that Coach P was sending a message last night with the way he handled late game situations, specifically letting Russ determine the outcome by isolating him in the final seconds of the OTs especially in the final few OTs when ND knew that is exactly what was going to happen. The answer to who he was trying to send that message to is not easily answered (although he may elaborate at his presser this week- he doesn’t shy away from sharing these kind of things). Maybe he was sending a message to Russ or maybe he was sending it to the rest of the team (see below in point #2 under “Going Forward”). I would have liked to have gone to Chane in the mid-post area as ND defenders had no answer for him (ND defenders are a perfect matchup for Chane because he cannot be out-athleted by them like most elite Big East teams). However, I am fairly certain that a HOF coach like Pitino who has coached in more big games than all of us thought of this as well. This team has played in so many tight games this year and I am sure Coach is still experimenting and tinkering with what works. He, like his predecessor, uses conference season to get his team ready for March. I tend to give him a lot of leeway in matters like these.
2) Poor execution down the stretch from everyone across the board- Dieng missed FTs in regulation that would have ended the marathon before it started, Hancock inexplicably helping down on a driver and giving up a 3 in 2OT (that was a ridicuously boneheaded play), not blocking out Sherman several times, Russ going 0-eternity on game winning plays, etc., etc., etc. This game will end up on ESPN Classic but it will NOT be used by any coaches in teaching teams how to execute in the closing seconds of a tight game. Simply put, UofL got outplayed and outperformed by ND.
3) I saw that there has been a lot of buzz on social media today about the lack of playing time for Harrell and SVT. I continue to believe that the package of UofL’s four bigs stacks up with anyone in the country. Dieng and Chane are clearly the better of the four and should get the bulk of the minutes. In order to stay fresh and put pressure (both offensively- by running and offensively rebounding the basketball and defensively), I think that the sweet spot in terms of minutes for these four is: Dieng- 30, Behanan- 25, Harrell- 15, SVT-10. If you look at last night, both Harrell and SVT logged just 11 minutes (out of 65). I hope we see more of them in the coming games.
4) Chane Behanan is a matchup nightmare and an enigma (which, a former Coach of mine said is “an enema with a ‘g'”). He was/is un-guardable from the mid-post area whether playing man or zone. His problem is consistency and the fact that his attention and effort wane from game to game. Let’s hope that last night was a step in his maturation as a go-to scorer and all conference type performer.
As I see it, there are two very troubling trends for this team. These are the two biggest issues I see the team having in March/April and may impede their quest for a National Championship:
1) Siva’s inability to stay out of foul trouble. It is no secret that this team plays much better when Siva is running the show (every team in America plays better with their senior PG on the floor- we are no exception). It is also no secret that Siva has bad impulse control when defending especially in the full court. If this team is going to make a deep run, Siva will have to get better at this (but that is a hard thing to ask a guy to do in the last 6 weeks of his career as PS is just wired that way) or UofL will have to get a favorable whistle in NCAA tourney games.*
*This is unrealistic because referees generally tighten up in the tourney because they are graded on and advance to the next round on their percentage of correct calls- a foolish all-or-nothing formula that is imperfect. This is why many early round NCAA tourney games have terrible flow as the less experienced officials are trying to call everything they see and think they see.
2) This team needs what I call a “part-time a-hole.” Let me explain. This group of guys, by and large, seem like a tremendous group of individuals who conduct themselves well on and off the court. They are upstanding ambassadors for the University and our community is lucky to have them. In the (very) limited time that I have interacted with them, I have come away impressed with the high character they possess. Coach P has raved about this group for years and talked about how they have reinvigorated his passion for the game. By all public accounts and by watching this team for this season, we have seen that this team lacks a teammate that is willing to jerk a knot in someone’s chain when things are going bad and get the team back on track. Let me give an example. At one point or another in OT you could see on the faces and/or body language of Behanan, Hancock and Blackshear that they were upset with Russ for forcing shots and not taking the simple play (whether that be a pass or getting to the paint for an easier last-second shot instead of the maddening “beat the ball into the ground and pull up from 30” offense). Each time, they failed to say something to Russ (as best we could see on camera). What you would like to see is someone (other than Coach) getting in Russ’ face and explaining to him there were easier and better plays for him to make. There are two guys on the team who I think could eventually fill this role- Behanan and Blackshear. The problem is that they are way too inconsistent in their individual effort and performance to be calling out other guys publicly.
***We really can not say definitively this is not happening as we are not present in huddles, the locker room or practice. I am simply drawing a conclusion based upon the best evidence I see. I have been a part of teams like this before and this problem can escalate. It will be very interesting to see how the internal leadership of this team evolves over the next few weeks.
Later This Week
I really want to delve a little deeper into the phenomenon that is Russ Smith but cannot do it justice in this piece. Be looking for a mid-week post from me with my thoughts on Hurricane Russ, a player I truly love. I think he has gotten a bad rap in the last 24 hours. I look forward to explaining it mid-week.
Do you agree or disagree with my take here? I’d like to know. Leave a comment or hit me up on twitter @CoachJBball.