A response to Seattle Hoo
To read Seattle's post-game take on the OT loss to Virginia Tech, read here.
I'll keep this short so I can stay on schedule for my Miami preview tomorrow, but this past game is only 30% about the X's and O's of the loss, and moreso about the mental makeup of the team going into the final stretch. The team played with fire this week, going down big against FSU first and having to fight back, before going down big against VT a few days later. It's both reassuring and worrying that against two 6/7-seed quality tournament teams, we had to battle back twice to be in it at the end.
We're officially in "the hunted" territory for the next month and change as a Top 5 team, a top ACC seed, and a 1 or 2 NCAAT seed. With the fade back to the pack of Carolina and Duke and Louisville, and #2 Clemson still being unsexy, we are now THE team every ACC squad wants to knock off, all of them tired of being punched around by our defense over these last few years.
I was very curious how we'd respond Saturday given what I call the "USC pre-Rose Bowl treament." For context, the 2006 Rose Bowl (end of the 2005 season) saw the Matt Leinart - Reggie Bush (each a Heisman Trophy winner) Trojans so heavy a favorite that ESPN was already running TV content discussing where to slot them in the pantheon of greatest college teams ever, before they'd even won that season's title. Enter Vince Young and the Longhorns who played with the bigger chip on their shoulder and ultimately hoisted the trophy.
GameDay blew sunshine up the team's ass for an hour straight, had basically anointed us the #1 team, treated the VT game as a foregone conclusion. In my VT preview I wrote that I was assuming our team was mentally tough enough that the closer it got to a prize, the more it could taste it, the hungrier they'd play. Boy was I wrong. Saturday felt like the Syracuse E8 loss in a number of ways: the early lead, the confidence, being higher ranked and having momentum and feeling like the prize (FF ticket, #1 ranking respectively) was assured. We were lucky on Saturday that our collapse came early enough in the game that we actually had time to dig in and fight back to a figurative draw. But frankly, the way Kyle and Ty jacked up ugly 3's with no regard for scheme or flow or rhythm, that told me everything I needed to know about their state of mind, that they now believed they were invincible. And that Tony didn't bench either of their asses for that miserable display of ball hoggery tells me he's given them too long a rope. I don't care that they missed shots. I care about their entitled shot selection.
There's a serious come to Jesus that needs to happen this week. This team is really good. But it's not so good that it can afford to read its press clippings. Kyle and Ty are really good shooters, but they're not good enough to try and be Steph Curry and expect to play winning offense.
We won't know how to properly contextualize this loss until April. Was this a wake up call? Or was it the crack in the armor? Only the coming weeks will tell for sure.
In 2014 Syracuse was 25-0 (12-0) on Feb 18th. Then they lost, at home in OT to Boston College (who was 2-10 going into that game), immediately followed by a road trip to Duke for another loss (the infamous Boeheim jacket-tossing game), and they finished ACC play on a 2-4 skid, bounced in the quarters of the ACCT, and upset in the second round as a 3 seed. Total collapses happen when a coach runs his hot starters into the ground, opponents can smell blood in the water, and a rolling team that had thought itself heretofore invincible loses its edge.
I am not saying we're about to go on a similar skid, though as worn out as our starters as, a road trip to a solid Miami squad couldn't come at a worse time. The week off will be a chance to reset. To reevaluate how we're playing offense, which has been pretty mediocre for a few weeks now. Against Duke and Louisville we played some pretty inspired, creative, diverse offense, but other than that we've been hovering around 1.00 ppp, and are a solid 7th in the ACC in O by KenPom, 45th nationally. Yes, we're historically good on D, but you need to be good at both to win in March, and time is running out to make the adjustments we need to before post-season play starts. Part of it's scheme, part of it is mental, a lot of it is fixable. I've said before our Sides offense is more versatile than folks give it credit for, with ball screens, pick-and-rolls, back cuts, and drive-and-kicks all perfectly acceptable actions. It doesn't have to be all flares and curls. But everyone, players and coaches alike, are going to have to be humbled and be made hungry anew after Saturday, buy back into team offense (as opposed to 25 seconds of perimeter dribbling followed by an out of rhythm bomb).
So how do we play as the hunted, with blood in the water, with our starting guards accumulating a ton of minutes? As much as I root against the Patriots, I've never seen a franchise play so hungry despite having such a commanding pole position. Their ability to be a top seed year after year, to be weighed down by rings and trophies, and still view every opponent as a miserable obstacle that must be crushed without mercy, is enviable. I want to see our team come out Tuesday angry, focused, hungry, and I want that hunger and focus manifested against every upset-minded opponent that takes its best shot, and brings its best game plan, to bear against the Hoos down the stretch, in the ACCT in Brooklyn, in the first two rounds in Charlotte, and in the regional championships in Atlanta.
I want these guys to prove all my concerns horribly wrong.