Much has already been commented on what we all witnessed the other night. I think it is safe to say that everyone noticed that something was different. I decided to do an extensive breakdown of the film from the other night's game to try to put into words exactly what it was that we saw. While all of us have obviously noticed the change in personnel, I am going to try to stay away from that as much as possible and just talk X's and O's (I will have an individual player grades and commentary on both the frontcourt and backcourt coming later), but the personnel issues do play a part.
To start with, I think it safe to say that the Cougar offense has been absolute garbage for quite a few weeks running. Comments have flooded CougCenter about the effectiveness of Taylor Rochestie, lack of a perimeter shooter, lack of free throw attempts (which is a direct result of the lack of ability to penetrate), and of course which combinations of players give this team the best opportunity to be successful on the offensive side of the ball. It has been my (unpopular) opinion that coach Bennett has put way too much of a straight jacket on this group of players to this point in the season, and that while the offense has been increasingly unproductive, Bennett has refused to waiver from his discipline. Until halftime Saturday night.
Watching this team all season, you can see that these guys have all of the talent and ability to have an effective offense. But they continually look hesitant, unsure, lacking confidence and down right afraid to take the shot. At first it was hard to notice, and I remembered watching Dick coach this team when Harmeling was a freshman. I remember thinking that this year's team was similar in their look of confusion. But it really came home to me when Grady posted this video (go ahead and watch it, you'll see what I mean). We all look at that and think "damn, I miss Low and Weaver." But there is more there than that. That is a team that took advantage of opportunities when they had the chance.
Perhaps that is what Rochestie has been doing with his untimely pull-up jumpers with 20 seconds on the shot clock. But you can see it in this current group; they never push the ball when they get the chance. Now I know that we have all come to love the slow, half-court efficiency of Bennett ball over the years, but part of being efficient is taking the easy, high-percentage shots that are there for the taking. And fast break opportunities are some of the highest percentage shots you can get. And the Klay Thompson dunk served as proof positive of that. But was Klay acting alone? Who does this kid think he is? Nobody has pushed the ball like that all year. Surely coach Bennett wouldn't approve!
Well, before that destiny-changing dunk occurred, I found something on the film that showed me coach Bennett had finally taken the leash of these kids. No, it wasn't the sweet post move that DeAngelo Casto had to get them going, it actually occurred at the start of the Cougars second possession of the half. It started with a beautiful help side block by Casto, Thompson retrieving the ball in the corner and charging hard up the floor. The Cougars were running? The possession eventually ended with Rochestie missing a layup, but what I saw was very subtle. I missed it when I was watching the game live, but noticed on the replay. Casto blocks the shot, and starts to pursue the loose ball. Thompson picks up the ball and as he starts to move up court Casto weaves in front of him and motions with his hand, as if to say "LET'S GO! LET'S PUSH IT!" It was evident that this was by design in the fact that all of the Cougs were screaming down the court (even the Baynes Train was sprinting). And it wasn't the only time we saw it either, it happened several times through the course of the second half.
The good Lord knows that I would have loved to be in that locker room at halftime, but since I wasn't I can only speculate. Thus, having to guess by the evidence seen in the second half I believe that Tony finally came to the conclusion that enough was enough, and that this team isn't going to win without scoring some points and it's just not coming in the half court. Now that's not to say that they are going to be running up and down the floor like Louisville, but that video from years past shows that the Cougar teams that have made the Tournament haven't been afraid to push the ball when the opportunity presents itself. If nothing else, a new approach was entered into the fray Saturday night, and at the minimum it produced "The Dunk."
I know this team is young. And I know that it takes time and that the Bennetts, though they offer freshman minutes, don't often let freshman have much freedom. That was certainly the case under Dick. But for as great as that class was, four years ago, this year's freshman class is even better. You can see it in their facial expressions, they have been frustrated. I believe that, to this point, the Bennett handcuffs that were meant to serve as a teaching tool while the upperclassmen carried the team have served to terrorize the confidence of the freshman. And when it became obvious that we couldn't count on Harmeling, Koprivica, and to some extent Rochestie to carry the scoring punch for this team, the wheels came off the wagon.
Coach needs to let these kids play a bit. I think it makes the upperclassmen more effective and that is what a team is all about. This is Tony's first go as a head coach bringing in a huge class full of talent. And I think maybe he has held them back just a little bit. But I think that the second half against Stanford showed that there are at least two freshman on this team that have ability to play fulltime minutes, along with the freedom to make some plays happen.
This FanPost does not necessarily reflect the views of the site's writers or editors, who may not have verified its accuracy. It does, however, reflect the views of this particular fan, which is just as important as the views of our writers or editors.