There was a stretch of games during the 2008 season when through a series of injuries and suspensions, we found ourselves with two or three guards eligible to play each game. And during this stretch of games He Who Must Not Be Named would frequently talk about how few guards we had and how young we were, how tired those two guards were, how young we were, and did I mention that we only have two guards?!
This irritated me so much that I spent thousands of words on it in my award-deficient book Who Cares About Phone Calls?, available for the holidays by clicking on the link to the right.
Now, after a trip to Maui that I loved considerably less than Bill Walton loves his bike, Tom Crean is falling into this same trap. And it’s making me a little nuts.
After the loss to UNLV, Crean mentioned, with little to no prompting, how young our front court was and how it wasn’t the front court we expected to have, what with Hanner, Devin, and Emit all being kicked off the team this summer.
He then doubled down on these comments yesterday during his pregame press conference, this time referencing Emit by name.
And while the lack of experience by Thomas on how to defend a ball screen was a big problem against Wake Forest, especially on the last four points of the game, but I don’t really buy the youth and inexperience of our front court as the issue.
To me, the bigger problem is the play of our experienced back court, in particular, and feel free to say it with me, because you’re thinking it too. Get ready. On the count of three.
TURNOVERS AND ON BALL DEFENSE!!!!
Oh, and if you want to get picky. Blocking out and rebounding were pretty terrible too.
But those aren’t the biggest problem.
The biggest problem is that I don’t think those problems are fixable.
They should be. It’s not like our Co2 levels are getting dangerously high and we need to retrofit the oxygen scrubbers in the Lunar Module to fit the connectors in the Command Module and one of them is square and the other is round. Oh, wait. That problem was fixable.
This is just about footwork, positioning, and valuing the basketball. It should be much easier than what the crew of Apollo 13 had to fix in order to survive. So, why is this unfixable?
I don’t know why, but that’s not the problem.
I also don’t know how to fix it. But that’s not the problem either.
The problem is that Crean and his coaching staff don’t seem to know why or how either. Because if they did, they would have fixed it by now.
These are old problems. Some would argue that these problems date back to the days of VJ3 and Tijan’s elbows. I know I spent a ton of time defending VJ3’s turnovers, citing as their cause the fact that none of his teammates seemed to know where they were supposed to be ever. This got better when Cody showed up, as did pretty much everything else.
But it got worse once Cody left. As did everything else.
And there is no one on this team that can do what Cody Zeller did. Namely, fix everything just by showing up and being themselves.
So, we’re left with on the court team leadership that has been at best bad, and at worst awful, for the last three years, our three most-frequent ball handlers, as our three most careless ball handlers, and those same three most effective scorers as our three worst defenders.
And as an aside, those are the only three players whose parents I could name. I’m starting to think that the biggest red flag for a college player is for a fan to know the name of their parents (excepting when their parent used to play for the team). But, more on that later, perhaps.
And for all the good that comes with Yogi, James, and Troy, Crean has not been able to convince them to value the basketball or play any kind of defense. And to quote Yoda, that… is why you fail.
I was sitting there, watching the games without the benefits of any Maui Jim’s sunglasses, and doing the math. Three of our most veteran players, getting three of the most minutes on the team, are not only our “leaders”, but also our worst defenders and biggest turnover threats. It’s been this way for years, which means the coach hasn’t figured out how to fix it yet, which makes me doubt that he’ll figure it out any time soon.
Which means we may be screwed.
I hope that’s not true, but I saw nothing in Hawaii that gave me any confidence. Those weren’t aberrations. Those were the norm. So, any bright spots we see tonight against Alcorn State, or if we shock ourselves on Thursday at Duke, aren’t likely to convince me that the turnovers and horrible defense have been fixed. I doubt I’ll be convinced until we win the Big Ten and go to the Final Four this year. And even then, maybe not.
Crean may think the problem is our youth in the front court, or the fact that we don’t have Emit Holt, but to quote the great Dave Mason, “We just disagree.”