I guess I should have known when I was not totally distraught last night that a night's sleep would not make it better. I have to admit, the more I think about the team and the time I invested in them, the more I hurt with them. Add to that the fact that I believe this team is the most talented in my life time (I truly believe there will be more NBA All-Stars off this team than any before - maybe fewer NBA players, but more All-Stars). Anyway, I have some thoughts, mostly positive, but I do believe there are some things that we should not forget the next time we are downing the koolaid. Maybe its too early for an attempt at an impartial look, but follow me after the jump and feel free to tell me if I am out of line....
The bottom line of why we lost, in my opinion, is best described by looking at the halves:
1st half - As much as I thought only being down 2 the way they were hitting 3's could be a rallying point, I have to believe as good as defense as we played, it was demoralizing the way they were hitting 3's. I honestly believe that we were as close to the shooters when they shot as we were against Cornell; however, they went in this game for the opposition. If you say, we played bad defense, you have to say we did against Cornell. Yes, there were some open 3's, but if I recall they were from the guys where the scouting report would say, let them shoot.
As I look at the 1st half stats and the season stats for WVA, they just shot lights out. It would be like 2 of our best 3 point shooters (Bledsoe, Miller or Dodson) going 50% for the first half. In addition, it would be like Orton hitting a 3 (Mazzulla was 1 for 8 on the season behind the arc before going 1-2 last night). The 3 point shot is almost as dramatic as a dunk and I just believe the way they went in had an impact on us.
2nd half - Coming out of the half, WVA hit two 3's in the first 2:30 of the half - the last of the 3's they would hit on the night. As Huggins said in the post game, they are a better 2H team because teams can play good D in the first half, but as the 2H grinds on, teams get tired fighting through the screens and they begin to get some open shots. Against Cornell, we got to take a break early in the middle of the second half. With the way the first half went, we did not last night.
Now on to some thoughts:
Things we can do nothing about:
1) I am fine having one and dones. Watching such talent play for "my" team is fun. However, I do believe the youth was a factor in this sense: the team let the officiating get to them. Cousins was clearly fouled but he had to keep playing. In fact, I think he had a couple of walks called on him that could have been charges. The calls go both ways and you have to keep playing. - just not sure we did a good job of that last night.
2) 3 point shooting - At the beginning of the season, we all thought this issue would be a problem. Perhaps the fool's gold of the OC part of the season pushed it to the back of our mind, but it resurfaced in an ugly manner last night. I certainly thought our 3 point shooting was serviceable and we could compensate for bad nights. Guess not.
Some "concerns" going forward:
When Cal was hired, I was happy, but also - given that I live in Memphis - I had some concerns about him as a coach. My concerns were (and are) purely on the court related. Call me a Cal apologist off the court, but other than pushing the line as hard as one can when it comes to recruiting, I believe most of his issues off the court have been administrative related - and UK is much better at that than Memphis or UMass.
On the court is a different story. These are issues that we, as Cats fans, are going to have to hope do not become road blocks for future success. I do believe runs to the Final Four will be in the offing - but there are a couple of fundamental issues I have that could make it more difficult than it should be with the talent that will undoubtedly be playing here over the next few years.
Free throws - As a basketball purist (and lover of Kyle Macy), I believe free throw shooting is a basic fundamental aspect of the game, I also believe it can be taught. Watching Cal's teams in Memphis has always made me frustrated from this perspective. Even more frustrating have been his coaching methods (one year, he had his kids visualize shooting FT as they went to bed, another year he had them shoot 2 at the end and run if they missed either, one year he actually had them shoot 100 in practice several times and charted it); however, I do not believe he ever really focused on it the way he should.
Just to make sure I was not totally off base, I looked at 4 players this year versus last.
PPat: 76.8% 08-09, 69.2% this year
Liggins: 67.3% 08-09, 58.9% this year
Harris: 62.3% 08-09, 66.7% this year
Stevenson 68.1 08-09, 61.5% this year
I know there are other factors in FT shooting, but 3 of the 4 are worse off - the most troubling is PPat given his playing time. You could argue that his contribution from behind the arc somewhat offset this stat, but still, I would think a player would improve over his time here.
When you look at it by position - Cousins was 60% versus PPat underneath last year at 76.8% and by who got to the line the most - Meeks at 90% versus Wall at 75% - it is hard not to ask a question about FTs.
X's and O's and in game adjustments - As the season wore on, I began to believe that I might be wrong on this issue. My biggest concern was how Cal would do, night in and night out, in the SEC. I have to admit, he did pretty well at 14-2. Part of it was superior talent, part of it was some luck, and part of it (in my opinion) is that the SEC is just not as strong (players or coaches) as in years past. Last night, I believe Cal got outcoached.
Here is where some of you might take issue with my post. Please understand that I believe we will win a NC under Cal and that I am happy he is our coach. We are relevant and our teams are fun to watch. However, we need watch for the answers to the following questions and/or be willing to live with some of the consquences of Cal's coaching as we move forward.
I coach soccer much like Cal coaches - I worry about getting my team ready to do what they do best and do not worry about adjusting to the other team. That is a style of coaching that works when you have kids that are very talented (unfortunately I do not have the John Wall's of soccer so I lose more often) but it also means you do not make adjustments. As a Monday morning quarterback, it leads to such questions as: After missing 15 straight 3's, why not let Hood come in and take a few 3's as no one else was hitting (that was from my 11 year old, but worth a thought - after all Hall started the 2h of a game with 3 non starters in the 78 run to the NC)? Why did we not press more to take advantage of their limited ball handling - we have the depth to do it? I know a 2 day turnaround is tough, but could not we have been more prepared to play the 1-3-1?
Anyway, I will stop there. I do believe Cal has many, many strengths. However, after this season I have a new found respect for just how hard it is to win a NC. Therefore, some of the things that you have to do at the margin to win, may or may not get done. Luck also plays a role (ie, not running into a hot 3 point team, getting hot yourself, etc). With the talent Cal is bringing, I like our chances over the next few years to get to the Final Four and hanging #8+. I am just pointing out a couple of things that - if they change - will only increase my confidence in getting to the promised land.