Thanks to the heroics of Cezar Guerrero, the Cowboy hoopeyballers have the pleasure of taking on the Stanford Cardinal in Madison Square Garden this evening at 6:00 central time. Since the Cowboy's gameplan heading into each game is "eh.. let's play everyone in the first 5 minutes and whoever looks good stays in", there is no great way to preview this team. But we can talk a little about the matchup and a few things the Pokes need to improve upon if they want to advance to the finals to take on either Syracuse or Virginia Tech, but really Syracuse.
Must Improve - Perimeter Defense
Aaron Bright is what makes the Cardinal go. He is a small (5'11) guard who can do a little bit of everything. Dude is their leading scorer (14 ppg), shoots 49% from the floor, and shoots 53% from beyond the arc this season. His 2-point shooting actually hurts his overall percentage... that is a ridiculous stat. On top of that, Bright dishes out 3.5 dimes a game and is the primary ball handler for the tree. If the Pokes want to have any shot at containing him they are going to have to get about 47 times better at defending the high screens and they are going to have to have someone step up and guard Bright. UTSA killed the Cowboys by bringing a big (or 2) up to set a ball screen for a guard who would try to either drive off or it, hit the screener on a roll, or pass to another open guard if the Cowboys brought help. It was painful to repeatedly watch both Cowboy defenders go high, or both go low, or both just wet themselves.
The difficulty in defending this is somewhat understandable as there was a big change for the Pokes in that they played exclusively man-to-man defense in the UTSA game. They will have the same problem this week unless the perimeter defenders can contain Bright, and figure out how to properly defend the screens.
Must Improve - Lineups
This one falls squarely on Coach Ford. I am a Coach Ford defender. I think he is a solid coach who can recruit his ass off, develops players well, and can take this team back to a Final Four contender level. My one complaint is how he manages everyone as a group, and his lack of recognition of his best lineups. What I mean is, Coach Ford can obviously develop individual talents as is very evident with Eaton, Anderson, Muonelo, Moses, and Page, but the list of talented guys he couldn't develop is just as long (Pilgrim, Shaw, Penn, etc), and I think a lot of this comes from the way he has mis-managed lineups.
Why did it take 20 games to realize that Dowell should be the PG last season? Why is he just playing the hot hand right now? Why do we not know who our best player is at any of the 5 positions? Why do we not have a crunch-time nucleus?
I don't have the answer to these questions, but I do know that Coach Ford should and I don't feel like he does. if he does, why does he keep toying with the lineups? I mentioned in one of my season preview posts that a unique challenge this season will be having to play talented guys less minutes than they deserve because there is so much talent on the roster. Part of me suspects that Coach Ford is having a tough time putting JPO or Keiton or Brown or Dowell or whoever on the bench because he knows how good they can be, and he knows how good they know they can be. Yes it may hurt some feelings to play the best lineup, but you are the head coach and you have to make these calls. The other alternative is that Coach Ford really doesn't know who his best players are, and this option scares me even more. You practice with these guys every day, how do you not know who your best players are, and who matches up best with certain types of opponents? Be the head coach, come out and say this is my starting 5, these 3 guys are my crunch time nucleus, and until someone gets outplayed in practice, that is the way things are. Games shouldn't double as tryouts.
Keep Improving - Rebounding
I suspect the main reason for the switch to the man-to-man defense was that the Cowboys rebounding had been atrocious. Playing that zone-trap-press thing was getting the defense so out of position that the only possible outcomes were a steal, a made basket, or an offensive rebound. Well the switch did help as the Pokes pulled down 49 rebounds in the UTSA game. They need to keep this momentum, keep crashing the offensive boards (especially Nash who is an offensive rebounding machine), and keep their edge in the rebounding category.
Keep Doing - Go Small
In OT of the UTSA game the Pokes went with an interesting lineup of Guerrero, Dowell, Brown, JPO, and Nash. They pressed and ran and everyone looked comfortable in this style. I wouldn't want to run this type of lineup for an entire game or anything, but for short bursts it offers a nice tempo change and wears out the opponent. Also, Stanford doesn't have much inside presence so going small shouldn't hurt us on the defensive end at all.
And this post ends here because I can't think of an outro paragraph. (good writing!)