For those of you who stressed and fretted that the Cougs were going to run themselves into oblivion with Ken Bone at the helm, I've got some words of advice for you now.
One of the things I tried to do when Bone was hired was dispel this notion that he was just some run-of-the mill uptempo coach who will ask his players to play at a frenetic pace, personnel be darned. And while the Cougs have most certainly played at a faster tempo this year than in the past six under the Bennetts, it's not like we've become "UW East," as so many fans derisively predicted.
Here are our adjusted tempos for the past seven years ( "adjusted" meaning how many possessions the Cougs would have against an average squad on a neutral floor):
Now, is 10 possessions per game a significant difference? Absolutely. It's huge. But let's put it in context -- that's essentially average. We're hardly UW (75.2), Texas (76.5), North Carolina (75.5) or even Seattle U (82.3).
What I've seen is a team that will take transition opportunities when they present themselves but is perfectly willing to settle into the halfcourt if that's what's there. In fact, they're strikingly similar in that respect to another squad that plays at under 70 possessions per game that just happens to be considered a pretty good "running team." The philosophy has been, and will continue to be, take the opportunity that gives you the best opportunity to score the easiest bucket.
"I'm pleased with how we're getting up and down the floor. I'm pleased with the fact that we're looking for opportunities in transition, and if they're not there, we're running a halfcourt game," Bone said. "I guess I want to be the one who determines how fast we play, and yet they have the freedom to make plays when we want them to look to push it and advance it in transition offensively.
"But there's times where we tell those guys hey, let's just slow it down and run a halfcourt offense -- if things are getting a little bit out of control, or we've turned it over, or taken some quick shots -- there's times where we ask those gusy to slow it down a little bit . But our coaching staff will control the tempo."
That he's been able to get such a young group of guys to buy in wholeheartedly to this philosophy is nothing short of monumental. The players make shockingly few poor decisions with regards to pushing the offense, and a lot of that credit has to fall on Bone.
Additionally, Bone is no dummy. (If you haven't realized that yet, you haven't been watching.) Another thing Bone alluded to in the press conference was that they are managing the tempo in an effort to be able to keep their best players on the floor as much as possible. As they showed in the loss to Gonzaga (when the better players got a breather as the game slipped away) and in the win over LSU (when the better players remained on the floor during crunch time), this is important.
In an ideal world, Bone would spread the minutes around a lot of guys, the way the Huskies do. (I'll have more on Bone's ideal world in a post at some point.) But this isn't an ideal world. This team clearly has three very good players, but the rest of the team is filled with guys who are flawed in various ways. Those three guys have to log heavy minutes, and they simply can't do that at a 75-possession pace.
Again, he's coaching to his personnel.
One final thing. I know some of you are less worried about this year and more worried about future years, when Bone is able to fully implement his system with "his guys." But again, have faith that Bone will coach to the guys he's got. Here's what his adjusted tempos looked like in his four years at Portland State:
Unlike the Bennetts, who are married to their slowdown style -- not that it's necessarily a bad thing, but they're going to do what they're going to do -- Bone's tempos varied widely from one year to the next. Additionally, if you look at some of the other components of offensive style (such as 3 point attempts per field goal attempts), those also varied widely from year to year.
I don't think that's the way he would want to do it -- like most coaches, I'm sure he would prefer to play his ideal style every year -- but it shows that Bone is willing to do whatever he needs to do to put his team in the best possible position to succeed.
Have faith, folks: We have a very, very good basketball coach leading our program.