Tsuj’s Ten: College basketball, 2/23
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • February 23, 2012 @ 11:23am
1) Thriving late: Ohio Bobcats’ head coach John Groce said something pertinent, if relatively obvious, after his team’s 88-77 road win over the University at Buffalo last night: “I do think [my] guys are still hungry. Every year our goal is to play our best basketball in February and March. We take a lot of pride in that.”
You’re saying, “Duh. Of course you want to play your best basketball late in the season in more meaningful games, whether they’re conference contests or the NCAA Tournament.” For Reggie Witherspoon’s Bulls, however, there was a serious lack of hunger and passion in front of 3,000 home fans last night in the disturbing blowout loss. The Bobcats collected 21 offensive rebounds, out-rebounded the Bulls 42-34 overall and beat UB in second-chance points 24-10.
“With rebounding, you have to be willing to go through a wall,” Witherspoon lamented. “We didn’t show that we were willing to do that, and they did. [Ohio] came out and said, ‘Get out of the way.’ And we didn’t respond.”
2) History lesson: Is this slumber in the return leg of the MAC East schedule a trend for the Bulls? Counting Buffalo’s last two losses against Kent State and Ohio, the Bulls are 9-18 in the last five conference games over the past five years. UB has a tendency to peak too soon, it seems, and that eight-game winning streak in January and early February is a distant memory.
3) The soul-searching chat: The Buffalo media—well, all six of us—waited over an hour after the conclusion of the game to talk to Reggie Witherspoon, Javon McCrea and Mitchell Watt in the media room. While Witherspoon didn’t disclose exactly what he said to his players, the sheer length of time he spent with his team spoke volumes. The emphasis was obviously on the Bulls’ lack of energy and effort because those two words were repeated over and over in the post-game.
“The obvious question is ‘why?’ [did we struggle], and I don’t know why,” Witherspoon said while slowly shaking his head. “We couldn’t get a rebound. Ohio took us behind the woodshed. On the offensive end, we got our hands on them—we weren’t men about it, and they were.”
“We’ve been a great rebounding team all year, but now it’s a different part of the season,” Watt said. “When teams come in, they know how good of a rebounding team we are, and they’ll try to come in with more desire than us—that’s what rebounding is, it’s all desire—I don’t think we’ve raised our desire and alertness to match what time of year it is.”
4) Where’s the desire?: McCrea and Watt had no explanation for the team’s sluggish play, offering only frustration and commitments to fix the problem. “I felt [the lack of energy] in warmups—some guys just didn’t want it as much as others,” a terse McCrea stated. Watt, a senior, juxtaposed the play of the ‘08-09 Bulls, the MAC Tournament runners-up, with his team’s effort last night:
“It’s my last year, and I don’t like to see us lose games in the fashion that we lost it tonight. I had the pleasure of being on a really successful team my freshman year when we made it to the final of the MAC Championship Game, and I feel like we lost that game but gave a really good effort. When you’re at the end, you start thinking about the beginning a little bit. Then, we had great leadership from some of the upperclassmen on that team, and I want to make sure I’m bringing that same energy. We could hold our head high after that championship game because we played hard but Akron shot the lights out. I wish I could say the same about tonight.”
5) Turning point: The Bulls had narrowed the deficit to five with 7:26 left in the game by virtue of a vicious put-back slam by Titus Robinson after a Watt hook shot had bounced gently off the rim. Ecstatic with the play, Robinson pulled himself up quickly on the rim and slapped the base of the backboard, earning a technical foul. Ohio’s Nick Kellogg popped in the two free throws, and Walter Offutt (career-high 23 points) drained a three on the ensuing possession. Buffalo wouldn’t get back to within single digits again.
(Edit: After spending the last 15 minutes browsing through the NCAA Rulebook, there’s nothing in there that explicitly says “you can’t slap the backboard after a dunk.” From what I gather, it’s a subjective call by the referees to decide whether it’s taunting/showmanship. I do not believe that it’s been consistently called as a technical.)
6) Coaching props: Groce admitted that the Bobcats played a lot more zone last night than they’d played in the past.
“We struggled to guard [Buffalo] in man early, quite honestly. We were just okay in the zone, but then the zone got better as we started playing it. I thought Cooper and Kellogg and Walt—guys who play the 1 and the 2—started to adjust to their attack a little bit. I was nervous a little bit [considering] how good a rebounding team the Bulls are.”
Ohio first showed zone out of the under 12 media timeout of the first half with the Bulls leading 15-14 and McCrea and Watt combining for 10 of those points. The Bobcats’ packed-in zone dared Zach Filzen and Tony Watson II to hit open looks from beyond the arc, and the duo was a combined 2 for 11 from three in the first half, 4 for 18 for the game. Usual starter Auraum Nuiriankh, another sophomore who’d shown range recently, didn’t start the second half, only played seven minutes and turned the ball over twice.
7) Little respite: There’s not much time for the Bulls to correct their mistakes, whether they’re mental or physical. Miami (OH) visits Alumni Arena at 3 p.m. Saturday. Under wily 70-year-old head coach Charlie Coles, the Redhawks’ record suggests a bottom-feeder team (9-17 overall, 5-8 in MAC), but they own wins over the Bulls and, more recently, Kent State. A scrappy bunch, the Julian Mavunga-led squad has persevered despite the loss of two starting guards—Orlando Williams to dismissal and Allen Roberts to injury—to perhaps play the role of giant-beater down the stretch of MAC play.
8) Griffins: Canisius wraps up regular season play with two weekend road games against Manhattan and Siena. The Griffs need to at least split the duo to match their 6-25 season from 2007-08. No one’s sure whether or not head coach Tom Parrotta will keep his job heading into next season, when he would gain the services of three highly-regarded transfers.
9) Who’s the point guard?: I’m not trying to argue that a team needs a true point guard to have success—Duke won the NCAA Title in 2010 with two two-guards in the back-court—but it’s tough to determine who’s the lead guard and who’s the off-guard on the Griffins’ team. Both Gaby Belardo and Harold Washington are better scorers than creators, but—when both are healthy—they’re also the Griffins’ most dynamic players. Can they coexist? It’ll be interesting to see how Parrotta—or whoever the Griffs’ coach is next year—manages the situation, and whether either guard will embrace a more unselfish role for the good of the team. Adding a strong off-the-ball player and long-range shooter in Isaac Sosa is useful, but will Belardo and Washington sacrifice a few of their looks to keep Sosa and Alshwan Hymes content?
10) Bonnies roll: St. Bonaventure shot a ridiculous 63% from the floor in dismantling the Fordham Rams 89-63. Andrew Nicholson is hitting his peak at the right time, scoring 30 points in the win—his second straight contest with 30 or more. He’s hitting at a dynamite clip—76% (22-29)—over the last two games, and he’s putting himself back in the conversation for late first round pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. St. Bonaventure plays one more regular season home game—Feb. 29 vs. St. Joe’s—before the Atlantic-10 Tournament.