First things first. I do not want to speculate as to what happened with Chane or try to prognosticate when/if he will rejoin the team. I think we all agree that Chane has some skeletons in his closet and some demons in his head. As someone who has dealt with a lot of young men who have come from tough spots, the transition to a functional, responsible, accountable adult is very difficult for some of these young people. It is very easy for people like me (adult who is secure in my identity) to disparage this young man by saying things like, “He is throwing everything away.” or “He’s just in a long line of athletes who don’t know what they have.” I do not find this helpful. Often times, things are not as black and white as we make them.
The purpose of this article is to assess how things change on the court during Chane’s absence. One thing is certain, this is a BIG loss. Let’s dive in a bit deeper and see where it will hurt the worst.
This is a huge hit. Last year, Chane averaged 7 rpg while splitting time on a front court with Dieng and Montrezl. We all saw the tremendous tenacity he attacked the glass during the Final Four. Can Blackshear rebound from the 4 spot? None of us know. Will his body (specifically his balky shoulder) be able to handle the banging that comes with playing the 4? Can the freshmen provide energy on the boards? Are the guards as good of rebounders as Coach Pitino is saying? I will be honest, the loss of Chane’s rebounding is the scariest thought for me.
Defense is not Chane’s strong suit but he is a third year player in a very tough defensive system, one that requires a lot of time and patience to learn. Chane was very effective on the back line of Coach Pitino’s 2-3 zone providing length and rebounding. How does Coach Pitino alter his stlye with this loss? Does he press that much more and try to force teams into scrambling situations with four guards on the court? Will we see less zone? More zone?
Losing the second leading returning scorer just weeks before your first game is not ideal (Sidenote: I was part of a team that lost all 3 PG’s one week before the first game. I thought the staff were all going to die of coronaries). I fully expected for Chane to make the jump from averaging 10ppg (last season) to somewhere north of 15ppg. Trying to replace 15ppg with players out of position/freshmen in Pitino’s system is tough.
Chane’s has two qualities that are rare and will be hard to replace:
Ability to get to the FT line– Although he is a terrible FT shooter, he got fouled a lot (I realize that sounds like I am speaking out of both sides of my mouth but I am firm believer in running up as many fouls on the opponent as you can, even with a bad FT shooter). If not for Russ’ ridiculous proclivity of getting fouled, Chane’s number of FT attempts were pretty staggering. Can Montrezl give the same production?
Ability to make game-changing plays– We all remember the clear out against Florida (in 2012 tourney) and the second half against Michigan. Chane had “it” that allowed him to show up big in late game situations. Now, who gets the ball on a post up with 30 seconds left in a tie game?
Another question offensively is who plays the high post? Chane and Gorgui worked marvelously in tandem last year. They both could occupy the high post while facilitating the offense- making plays for themselves and others. Can Blackshear now slide into that role or will Pitino empty out the middle of the floor and look for more driving opportunities for Jones, Russ, etc.? Emptying out the middle is a scarier proposition as it is much more of a “feast or famine” mentality. I look for Blackshear to utilize the short corners much more than we would have seen with Chane or Montrezl.
I am thrilled to see how Blackshear reacts to this. He seems to do better with consistent playing time. Well, Wayne, you’ve got it buddy.
We all acknowledged that frontcourt depth was an issue on this team. This was before yesterday’s press conference. This only makes that problem worse. Where does Coach Pitino go if Montrezl gets in foul trouble (which will happen)? Who does he play if Wayne does not flourish as a 4 (and that is a distinct possibility- some guys cannot get over that mental block of “changing positions”)? SVT is much better when he plays 10 mpg because he does not have to conserve any energy or fouls. If he is being called upon to play 20 mpg, how is his effectiveness? I will be closely watching how Coach handles the two young posts (Agau and Mathiang). We all know that Coach Pitino prefers to bring young players along slowly (when compared to his contemporaries). What does he do if they are pressed into more action than he is comfortable with?
With Chane and Montrezl on the court at the same time (which is what would have happened at crunch time despite who started), opposing teams had a really hard time matching up. You had two guys similar in size and build who were beasts on the glass and bulldozers with the ball. If opponents played a traditional lineup (a distinct difference between the 4 and 5), who guards who? Guarding one of them with a Blackshear/Kuric-type 4 would be disastrous to the opponents. Put it this way, guys like Cal, Pastner and Cronin are able to breathe a lot easier when they don’t have to pick their poison of a Montrezl/Behanan duo.
I am a firm believer that adversity and duress (physical and mental) reveal your strongest habits and character. How does this team rebound (bad pun) from this loss? I have been on teams which have reacted positively after the loss of a teammate. I have been part of teams that reacted very negatively after the loss of a teammate (and did it get bad quick). How will the seniors react? This team is already searching for an identity. Losing stalwarts like Siva and Dieng is hard on a team devoid of turmoil, much less losing your second best player. Can Hancock and Russ step in, calm the waters and lead these guys? It will be fascinating to watch. How patient will the coaching staff and leaders be if they take a couple early losses?
The exciting part is that it is almost time to see what these Cards can do!