Initial Impressions And a Plan
The practice here so far has been for the game story to be done after the video breakdown is complete, but that can sometimes take a couple days and I want to have some content in place within 24 hours of the game this season, so here are some half-baked impressions that I plan to fill out more after the video breakdown.
1) Watching this game was a thoroughly unpleasant experience for me, for a variety of reasons, most of them having nothing to do with the Hoos. After four years at one apartment that had rock solid internet, I've moved to a new place where the internet although promised at 100Mbps has in practice been completely unreliable, and the WatchESPN stream was for the first time in five years virtually unwatchable. Add in the constant bombardment with ads financed by petrodollars to defeat the Washington state carbon tax, and the watching experience was pretty poor. The first half of the game was disturbingly and eerily similar to the last game the Hoos played, as the defense smothered the (supposedly) over-matched foe yet the game remained agonizingly close because the offense was completely inept. And this was WITH Hunter. As the offense improved, the internet deteriorated further, so it was difficult to enjoy.
2) I sometimes say stupid things. Ok, some would argue I usually say stupid things. I actually wasted hundreds of words blathering on about how Sides could be the perfect offense for this roster. I am hereby asking you to wipe that article from your minds. I don't know what I was thinking, because having watched it in action again, I can say that I hate that offensive system now as much as ever. I must have been lulled by a lack of exposure to it (and a lack of sleep) into a delusional haze of Bennett-worship that led me to overlook its faults. Well, it stinks. Bennett continues to squander the offensive potential of the most talented players he's ever had by shoehorning them into that 'built-for-underdogs' system. We started the game running some motion, and if you ignore the fact that we missed everything put up early, you will notice that we were getting some really good shots. Key and Hunter both missed layups.
In my defense, I was expecting the rotation to be more post-heavy than we saw last night. Never did I project Kihei Clark to play 26 minutes, and his ability to play long stretches meant that we could play small. With Key, Hunter, Jerome, Guy and Clark on the floor, there's no way on this planet that we should be playing a mover-blocker system. And yet, there we were, with Braxton Key and De'Andre Hunter hanging around the blocks setting screens and at least three defenders at all times within one step of the lane. Once again, Ty Jerome's bombs masked a lot of offensive shortcomings.
3) Other than the primary reliance on Sides, I was mostly pleased with what I saw last night. Let's get the other negatives out of the way so we can finish on a high: Mamadi Diakite and Jay Huff showed virtually no mental improvement over last year. Diakite was, in a word, dreadful. The same stupid fouls, the same lack of rebounding, the same essentially passive offense we saw until late last season. I've been picking up vibes that the coaches have been frustrated with him, and I can see why. It's fairly critical that he make progress, because we need minutes from him. Huff was again terrible on defense and the boards. Even with an opponent that did not run a lot of ball screens (there was not much hedging last night) he was just out of position and reacting to the wrong things, and they killed us on rebounds when he was in. It's a shame and something that needs to be fixed because he would make the offense so much better.
4) While we passed up opportunities to run after defensive rebounds (more on this coming later in the week), I liked seeing Jerome pull up for that dagger. Catching the defense backpedaling and taking those early rhythm shots is important to rounding out the offense. Jerome again served notice that "you have to guard me everywhere and all the time or I am going to cut you. Jerome, at least, had the kind of first game I wanted to see. As I wrote this offseason, Ty is now a veteran and one of his "level up" powers is being strong out of the gate. He's not a freshman adjusting to college or a sophomore moving up into a large role. He's been here before. He did that. He served notice. He's going to be ready this year. His three-point shooting was crucial and that pass he made to Dre for the early layup was sick. It was insane, but it worked. People continue to talk about his "athleticism" but I continue to see a guy who like Larry Bird tends to be the best player on the floor, so, really, can we fuhgetaboutit?
5) The poor shooting doesn't bother me. Shooting comes and goes and the guys were clearly uptight early. Once a couple shots fell through the net they settled down and you started to see the ability. In that vein, I'm not bothered by Guy's quiet performance. He will have his days. He will settle in.
6) De'Andre Hunter and Braxton Key are men. Dre has become a solid block of man and his game will only continue to expand. Key is similar, and they give us two forwards who can battle in the post or pick up point guards coming off ball screens.
7) I did not see much switching on defense last night, which is one positive. We were shading screens and slipping through. We kept Kihei on his man. Now, Towson doesn't seem to run a lot of ball screens and handoffs, so the offense did not really stress the matchups, but it was a good early sign. I think the quickness all over the floor helped. As dissatisfied as I was with most of what I saw on offense, I loved a lot of what I saw on defense. Especially when we were small, we were pressing out on the perimeter. We have the ability to pressure ballhandlers and take away their space. This team is going to again force a lot of turnovers and generate steals.
8) Kihei appears to have made an effective transition to college. What we saw last night is a lot of what I saw on his high school film. We will see more as he gets more acclimated and figures out how to bring more of his game. Bennett talks mostly about his defense - and with him on the floor our defensive potential is enormous (more in a later post), but the kid also can run an offense. And he can score. Mark my words - he will hit for 20 one game this year, because some opponent is going to continually leave him open, and I've seen him hit four or five threes in a game. Jerome said it in his press conference, Kihei can "control the game." He showed he can convert when he gets in the lane, and his first half floater set up the gorgeous oop to Huff, because the defense knew it had to honor his drive.
9) Thank you to Wahoo Josh for providing some original multimedia content for us, including this beauty of Braxton Key's pass to Jay Huff:
After the video breakdown, I will go into some of these points in greater depth, and before the George Washington game will dissect three or four plays from the game that illustrate themes I will be looking for in future games.
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