Here at CougCenter, we're pretty open about our man crush on one DeAngelo Casto. We love his athleticism. We love his fire and energy. We love his defense. And we're infatuated with his offensive potential.
Because we love him so much, we could hardly believe that Tony Bennett wasn't necessarily seeing eye-to-eye with us, the purveyors of all Cougar basketball knowledge. Of course, that all changed last Saturday, leading to Casto making his first ever start last night in Corvallis and much rejoicing on the game thread.
But a funny thing happened on the way to superstardom. Casto stunk. He even created some new Cougar math in the process: 2 (quick fouls) + 2 (turnovers) = 39 (minutes on the bench).
Naturally, some of us were up in arms, not only because he got benched so quickly, but because he stayed on the bench the rest of the game after those turnovers. We invoked the name of the all-time dog house king, Dick Bennett, and openly wondered how Casto could get buried so fast after such wonderful contributions the previous weekend.
The genius of Tony Bennett, that's how.
Would I have liked to have seen more Casto? Of course. But what Bennett did last night was a fantastic job of coaching the game that was in front of him. Put simply, this game required a different strategy than coming back on Stanford. This one was all about discipline.
Think about that plodding OSU offense. There are very few guys on that team that are going to beat you with their athleticism -- there's a reason why lots of teams employ the Princeton offense, but to my knowledge Georgetown is the only big time program among them. What it tries to do is spread you out and try to put you in positions where you can't help your teammates, because it's a lot easier to beat one guy off the dribble, or get away from one guy for a shot, or backdoor one guy, than it is to beat two or three guys. To stop that kind of attack, you have to be disciplined. You have to stay home. You have to stay in front. You have to avoid taking chances.
Bennett wisely turned to experienced players who weren't going to be overwhelmed athletically to put the clamps on the Beavers on the defensive end. He featured a lineup in the second half/OT that primarily featured Taylor Rochestie and Aron Baynes (all 25 minutes), Caleb Forrest, Daven Harmeling and Klay Thompson. Yes, there was a healthy dose of Marcus Capers, but in that slow march back from that nine-point deficit in the last 13 minutes, Capers and Thompson were on the floor together for only a few minutes, instead taking turns at the 2.
Now, think about that OSU defense, which exclusively employs a zone. (Just as an aside, don't ever listen to the Barry Tompkins when he tells you what kind of defense a team is playing. He mistook a 1-2-2 3/4-court trap for man-to-man at one point. Moron. I digress.) Zones can make good teams look positively horrible at times. Why? Because there's only one way to beat a zone: You have to out-think it.
Every zone has giant gaps in it. It's just a matter of being patient enough for one to appear, recognizing it, then exploiting it for an easy bucket. It's not as easy as it sounds, especially for players that are used to relying on their athleticism. To borrow a Woodenism, you have to be quick, but not hurry. If you're too aggressive, you get swarmed with nowhere to go with the ball. If you get too passive, you run the risk of having to settle for jacking up a 3 as the shot clock runs out. You just can't beat a zone with undisciplined athleticism -- ask USC.
So what did Bennett do? He turned to his smartest players. Rochestie consistently attacked the gaps in the middle of the zone, repeatedly finding Baynes. Thompson and Capers each got free for easy backdoor looks. Harmeling got loose for a wide-open 3 on a breakdown. For about an eight-minute stretch, it was a clinic on how to beat a zone.
There was no Abe Lodwick or Charlie Enquist, no Casto. And, of course, there was one experienced player who didn't factor into the second half. After losing his starting spot to Capers in the second half, Nik Koprivica came in at the 10:24 mark of the second half for Thompson. At the 10:14 mark, he turned the ball over against backcourt pressure, and promptly returned to the bench never to return.
And that's why Bennett is so awesome: He coached the game that was there.
He turned to the right combinations for this particular game. He wasn't afraid to pull a guy -- experienced or not -- who wasn't going to help the team win by giving the ball away in a game where possessions would be at a premium. He wasn't afraid to put in a guy for big minutes who hasn't made a shot in a month. He wasn't afraid to ride his horses, as Rochestie and Baynes each played the final 25 minutes. (All 45, in the case of Rochestie.)
In short, he was the maestro we've all grown to love over the past two years.
Not every game will require the strategy he employed last night. Tomorrow presents a completely different kind of challenge, as the Ducks want to run, run, run and the have the athletes (if not yet the experience or discipline) to do it. It's incredibly likely that tomorrow will require a completely different strategy from Bennett, and he'll probably have to turn back to Casto. And if that's the case, I have no doubt that he will.
Because for all the wondering we did about Bennett and his mystifying reliance on the experienced players early on, it seems all he was doing was waiting until he knew his team well enough to push the right buttons at the right time.