I’m 28 years old, but at this rate, it’s unlikely I’ll see 29. I’ve always kind of figured a woman would be the end of me, but after this weekend, I’m certain that won’t be the case.
Instead, it will be this team.
See, we don’t rebound. At this point, it almost seems less like the inability as it is the refusal. In the Old Spice Classic, we yielded 16 offensive boards to Rider, 23 to South Carolina, and 18 to Villanova. We all know that offensive rebounds lead to second-chance points, of which I lost count somewhere around 1:30pm Friday afternoon. This is one of the best frontcourts in the nation?
Great, now you’ve got me started.
Turnovers have proven to be an epidemic. This weekend, we were minus-19 in turnover margin, a stat that would shame even Daniel Evans. We turned the ball over 14 times against Rider, 13 against South Carolina, and 22 against Villanova. South Carolina, particularly, exposed perhaps Hickson’s biggest weakness: double team him outside the post and he’ll more than likely turn the ball over. He had a total of 12 this weekend, including five against South Carolina; although in all fairness, the errant pass to Gonzalez was entirely unprovoked. More discouraging was that the veterans Costner (nine), Grant (eight), and Fells (seven) had their own problems as well, combining for 24 total over three games.
Meanwhile, when we weren’t turning the ball over, we were missing foul shots. We were an abysmal 69% from the line for the tournament (54-for-78). This stat is particularly troubling once we realize that we shot a total of 43 more free throws than our opponents – we shot 25 more than Rider but missed 10, which was a large part of the reason we couldn’t put the game away until late. Degand, who we can expect to go to the line often, shot only 50% (9-for-18) for the tournament.
This will eventually catch up with us, possibly this week.
Furthermore, there isn’t much to feel encouraged about at point guard. In addition to his woeful foul shooting, Degand seemed timid in the half court offense and erratic in the few fast breaks he led. Most troubling was the difficulty we had against a very passive 1-2-2 press in the first half against Villanova; a press without traps that was intended to do nothing more than disrupt the offense and control tempo. Degand hasn’t shown the ability yet to penetrate against hassling defenses. This should come with experience…hopefully.
So looking back, over three games we were wretched on the glass, minus-19 in turnover margin, and missed 24 free throws. And this morning we’re 4-1 and the 2007 Old Spice Classic champion?
Nothing about that sounds right. I reckon it’s true that while stats never lie, they don’t always convey the entire truth, either.
For one, the issue of playing time, as many of us suspected, worked itself out through the natural progression of the season. McCauley started all three games due to Hickson’s “violation of team rules,” but foul trouble limited his minutes versus Rider; Hickson and Costner were both in foul trouble against South Carolina while Costner got into foul trouble early against Villanova and was largely ineffective because of it. In the tournament, McCauley contributed 22 points in 82 minutes (7.3 ppg), Costner 34 in 83 (11.3 ppg), while Hickson led the way with 37 in 75 (12.3 ppg). This is solid production from the front line, but the fact remains that Hickson will be the most dominant player on the court most games this season, and quite simply he needs to be playing 30 minutes every night.
Grant struggled against South Carolina but the Rider and Villanova games were marked by his reliable consistency. He averaged 10 points per game in the tournament and even more encouraging was the fact that he always seems to come through for us when we need it most.
While Degand remains a bit tentative overall, he showed brief flashes of being a scoring threat, especially against South Carolina, where his 14 points were a much-needed offset to poor performances by both Grant and Fells; overall, he’s protecting the ball, playing solid defense, and shooting well from the field. Horner added solid minutes against both South Carolina and Villanova, and apparently has solidified his place in the rotation ahead of Ferguson, who only saw time against Rider. Ferguson being on the bench is a definite positive.
Quite simply, Fells has shown time and again his ability to change the course of any game with his pure, explosive athleticism – it’s amazing to me how anyone let him out of Mississippi – and he proved the most pivotal player of this tournament. Beyond his 18 against Rider, he was crucial in the 13-3 charge at the end of the first half against Villanova, accounting for eight of the 13 points in the final 3:09. He hit three free throws, had an offensive board that quickly became a jarring dunk, grabbed a board off Reynolds’ missed three, and then hit a three of his own just before the half. He finished the game with 21 points in 33 minutes and rightfully earned tournament MVP honors.
What you won’t see in the box score is that late in the first half, Degand and Fells started attacking Villanova’s press, which created most of our scoring opportunities during that 13-3 run. This is just another example of how aptly Lowe adjusts in-game; George Mason had clawed its way back into the game against Villanova Friday night the exact same way.
And as atrocious as we were at the charity stripe, the fact is we went to the line over twice as often as our opponents (78 to 35). Even more importantly, we had a 39-point advantage this weekend over our opponents at the free throw line – 18 against Rider, 13 against South Carolina, and eight against Villanova. For years, we’ve lost games against Carolina and Duke because they’ve hit more free throws than we’ve taken, and now our aggressive play has put us in the position to do this to our opponents.
It’s a bit of an enigma exactly how we got here, but we’re here nonetheless, at 4-1 with a trip to East Lansing looming. It’s a cliché, sure, but the most important lesson we can take away from this weekend might be that it’s unlikely we’ll dominate anyone this season; we’ll have to earn every victory.
But for now we can relax – at least until Wednesday night.