Following Texas Tech's recent loss to Texas, Red Raider head coach Bobby Knight surprisingly took the blame. Also, a look at why the middle of the rankings are so muddled and a team stepping up in the PAC 10?....
I never ever thought I would write the following words: I thought Bob Knight handled himself admirably Monday night. Following a thrilling overtime loss to rival Texas, brutal if you were on the Tech sideline, The General shouldered the blame for his troops. Said Knight, "…I'm at fault for not calling timeout. I think I cost us the game in that regard." Really, this is exactly what a coach needs to do after a traumatic league loss, deflect the blame away from his players who played hard all night. Do not forget, some of these players are teenagers, and all are still maturing.
Knight faults himself for the situation at the end of regulation, after the Red Raiders had already blown a ten point halftime lead. With four seconds to play and Tech up three, Texas had the ball under their own basket, needing to travel the length of the floor. Tech chose not to guard the inbounds. Texas was able to throw it, uncontested, to halfcourt and immediately call timeout. Here is where Knight believes he errs, by not recognizing from the lineup that Texas has on the floor that his squad didn't match up. No argument from these quarters. From just inside halfcourt, with 3 seconds left, Texas was able to lob the ball to Brandon Mouton, who after one dribble, nailed the tying three. Again, Knight second guessed himself by this time putting a defender on the man in bounding the ball, contrary to his usual philosophy, "I debated on putting a man on the ball out of bounds and I rarely do that," Knight said. "If I would have called time out I think I would have brought him off (the ball)." In OT, with the momentum in hand, Texas stole one on the road.
During the first half, in an attempt to answer Tech's own stingy defense, Rick Barnes ordered his charges into a 2-3 zone, as opposed to the Longhorn's customary man defense. There were at least three excellent strategic reasons for UT to drop into a zone vs. the Red Raiders: 1) Rick Barnes cited the absence of Robert Tomaszek, the Red Raiders' best post player as a major reason for going zone, "I don't think we could have played that much zone with [him] in there." 2) The Raiders' best player is Andre Emmett, a powerful 6'-5" guard who prefers to play inside the three point stripe, from 15 feet in. Emmett relies on beating his man one on one and has hit only nine three pointers all year. The zone neutralized his ability to play one on one. 3) Tech as a whole is a poor outside shooting team, shooting only 33% from beyond the arc.
Given their deficiencies, how would Tech attack the zone? First, this was not a swarming trapping, Temple Owl style defense that looked to create turnovers; Tech only had seven on the night. Nope, this was the same passive 2-3 that every high school team in America knows how to play. However, Texas Tech looked baffled. Most coaches do not play zones for extended periods of time because they can be beaten by any number of strategies, the most common of which include: playing through the post forcing the zone to collapse, behind the zone on the baseline, rapid ball movement, shooting over the top, and dribble penetration or even offensive rebounding. These of course work in concert, an entry to the high post can create an opportunity for a shooter when the zone collapses, a baseline cut, or an offense rebound off a missed jumper. Most of these strategies attack the zone by playing in spots the zone has trouble covering, and creating mismatches. Choosing to shoot threes is the most passive option.
Well, what happened? On the offensive end, nothing really. The teams went into the half at 25-22. Tech featured Emmett in the high post where he was ineffective because he rarely touched the ball, and when he did, he was double and triple teamed. He finished with a season low nine points. Instead of attacking the zone, Tech stood around outside and shot a season high 25 threes. They hit 8 for a 33% clip, almost exactly at their season average. Those 25 three point attempts totaled almost one eighth of the Red Raiders' heaves this season, so it is entirely fair to say that the zone took them out of what they wanted to do offensively.
They say that generals are often fighting the last war, and Monday, that cliché rang true, and Knight and the Raiders never solved the Longhorns' zone.
A MUDDLED MIDDLE
I was intrigued by the result in the SCS.com Fab 15, not so much that UConn is sitting at number six, but by the fact that rank is higher than any single vote they received. Although none of the voters regarded UConn as a top 5 team, everyone agreed that they were a top 10 team, placing them between 7 and 10, a very small variance. There is no such agreement about the eight teams that follow the Huskies. Each of the four voters picked a different #6 team above the Huskies: North Carolina, Arizona, Texas Tech and Georgia Tech. Both of those ACC squads beat UConn. However, each of those teams listed above, pulled in a 15 or lower. What explains these divergent opinions? First, these teams haven't really been trustworthy, combining impressive wins with mediocre performances. North Carolina beat UConn at home, only to follow that up with another road ACC loss. 'Zona is excellent at home, but lost to SC and Washington on the road. Texas Tech should have beaten Texas this week (see above), but were slightly exposed. Georgia Tech followed up their impressive win at Wake Forest with a loss at North Carolina State.
Perhaps we voters just value different things in a team. Certainly regional differences dictate whose games we see and who impresses us. Or perhaps, the uneven results are the mark of teams playing very well, but not playing elite level basketball. Even so, that bunch will make some noise in March.
LOOK WHO'S QUACKING NOW
This week has started well for the Oregon Ducks. With UCLA losing at home to USC, and Arizona falling to Washington, Oregon is now tied with Arizona for second in the Pac-10 at 5-3 in conference. However, Oregon doesn't have a marquee win on the season and did get blown out by Arizona in the desert last weekend. This changes with a win over Stanford Saturday at Mac Court. Mac is one of the toughest places to play in the conference, and Stanford lost to the Ducks on the road last year. How can Oregon pull off the upset? First, Pac 10 Player of the Year Candidate Luke Jackson, who comes in averaging almost 22 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game to go along with a 51% FG, must have a big game, but he cannot do it alone and will be up against the Cardinal's top defenders, Josh Childress and Nick Robinson. Last year, when Oregon beat Stanford by 15, they got double-digit contributions from Ian Crosswhite and Andre Joseph. Missing this year is the 23 from Luke Ridnour. Last year, Oregon, not a particularly good rebounding team, outrebounded the Card, 38-37. The Ducks will need a repeat performance on the boards this year.
Washington, at 3-5 needs to prove that its Arizona upset wasn't a fluke. The Purple Pups have played well at times this year, including a thrilling comeback versus Oregon State. Having now won three straight for the first time all year, maybe Lorenzo Romar's talented but underachieving bunch are finally starting to put it all together.