When it came to my defensive analysis, I was OK with the idea that a lot of the issues we had on Saturday stopping Pitt had more to do with the Panthers' goodness than our own badness. Unfortunately, I remain unconvinced that was the case with the offense, as I think Pitt merely exposed a lot of the underlying issues on that side of the court that were masked by weaker opponents.
Why am I worried about the offense? It's not so much that the Cougs underperformed in virtually every one of the four factors against Pitt, it's that they vastly underperformed in them against the Panthers after already showing chinks in the armor.
The most obvious and glaring problem on Saturday was the complete and total inability to attack the basket with any kind of authority. While Pitt was wearing out a path to the charity stripe for virtually the entire second half, we shot four free throws for the entire game, leading to minuscule 8.3 free throw rate (what's that?).
Unfortunately, Saturday was not an anomaly. While Pitt's stifling defense certainly exacerbated the issue for that one game, this team hasn't been good at getting to the free throw line against anyone -- we're currently ranked 310th nationally in FTR. That's translating into only 14.5 percent of our points being scored from the line, 323rd nationally. Given the athletically overmatched competition we've faced this year, those numbers ought to be a heck of a lot higher. That's a pretty severe departure from last year, when the Cougs were about average in terms of percentage of points scored from free throws, 2-pointers and 3-pointers.
You might say that's not a big deal if you're shooting well. And you'd be right. But this team hasn't shot particularly well overall, either. They're pretty middle of the road nationally in effective field goal percentage (128th) and that figure is propped up largely by exceptionally strong shooting nights against Mississippi Valley State and Sacramento State. Against "like" competition over the weekend, this team shot 44.8 (MSU) and 41.7 (Pitt) eFG%, leading to two of our three lowest offensive efficiency ratings of the year (90.9 and 73.7). That's not good; median eFG% performance in 2007-08 was 49.8, and the Cougs themselves shot a robust 53.7 -- 36th nationally.
See why I'm worried? This is a team that doesn't get to the line with any kind of regularity and hasn't shot the ball well in four out of six games. You can be not good at one or the other, but not both. At best, that equals inconsistency; at worst ... that spells disaster.
Now, there are enough good shooters on the this team to figure that there will be some regression to the mean (i.e., inevitable movement back to performance that reflects actual talent). But right now, our offense is almost entirely tied to how well we shoot -- a .92 correlation according to kenpom.com. (1.0 is a perfect correlation, so trust me when I say that .92 is very strong). You really don't want to go through a season having your offensive effectiveness almost entirely determined by how well you're shooting on a given night. That's why the teams of the last two years were so good -- they could score in so many different ways.
So, what's going wrong? To the naked eye, this looks like an offense without an identity. As I said to my brother as we watched the game on Saturday, anytime your team looks completely lost with the ball in its hands when a freshman is on the bench (as our offense did when Klay Thompson was out of the game), that's a bad sign.
I know it was only one game, and you guys who have seen the team a lot can probably shed more light on it, but it seems to me like there's just a really odd vibe on that end of the floor. Thompson is obviously the team's most potent and dynamic scorer, but he's not the leader on offense -- that's clearly Taylor Rochestie. The problem with that, however, is that Rochestie looks like he can't figure out how he's supposed to be leading this offense, torn between when to score and when to facilitate, when to push and when to pull back. Perhaps this has something to do with all the blowouts early on. This is a guy who is used to playing 35 minutes a night, and he just hasn't had enough time leading Bennett's rotation. I'm not sure.
Whatever it is, instead of letting the game come to him, as he was so good at doing the last two years when he could defer to a pair of senior ball handlers, Rochestie seems to be struggling with the idea of being the general. He's not just forcing shots and forcing passes; he's doing it at precisely the wrong times.
Rochestie looks right now like a guy who is getting crushed under the weight of expectations, and the rest of the team is suffering for that uncertainty. Think about it: When was the last time any of these senior players didn't have a rock solid guard at the point? Maybe their freshmen years when Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver were sophomores? It's been that long, and without a strong leader on the floor to guide them, the rest of the guys, frankly, look lost.
I said it in his player profile that "Rochestie holds the key to the Cougs' season more than anyone else." I still believe that. He needs to start leading this offense with conviction, and lead it based on his strengths. When he does that, the turnovers and bad shots will take care of themselves, and this offense will begin to thrive.