The 2015-16 WSU basketball season has been a drain on everyone. But if you think it's been rough on you, the fan, you should take a peek at what it's done to the team's coach.
Because judging by Ernie Kent's answers after yet another whipping at the hands of a program that has zoomed past the Cougars -- this time, Oregon State -- the coach who has built a personal brand out of relentless positivity is now officially out of ideas for staying on message.
Here's the video of his postgame comments via the Spokesman-Review's Jacob Thorpe:
But let's take a closer look at what he said. I don't want to go too hard on the guy on this; his team is in a tailspin and he offered these thoughts probably within 15 minutes of the end of the game. It can be hard to pull coherent thoughts together under those circumstances. That said, Kent is an experienced coach who is often lauded for the articulate nature of his speech, and I think it's fair to try and make some sense out of what he had to say.
Because, honestly ... I'm not sure if I can. (Transcription also via Thorpe - thanks big guy!)
A great senior day for Oregon State and I thought it was a great environment over here. And again it was the same old story for us. I felt like, again, we left points on the floor, particularly in the first half. We had opportunities to score, make a few more plays that would have made the game more interesting in the second half. By not doing it they got confidence, and I thought they played with a tremendous amount of freedom and energy in that second half, with a great crowd on Senior Day for them.
We're off to an OK start here. He's not wrong that they "left points on the floor," because of course they did when they only scored 49. Besides, coaches say that stuff all the time. Unfortunately, the points they left on the floor appear to have been the difference between a 20-point shellacking and "(making) the game more interesting in the second half."
Seriously, our options have become getting annihilated and making enough shots to keep it close enough to make it kind of interesting. Sigh.
(How has OSU improved so rapidly under Wayne Tinkle?)
Ah, yes! Here's the rub. OSU hired Tinkle after WSU hired Kent, so the intent of the question is quite clearly highlighting the juxtaposition of the two programs. So ... coach?
You've got to talk to Tinkle. I've just seen it on TV. The biggest thing is they get players, the fans are back and the style of play is great.
That seems like a pretty fair assessment. Tinkle took what most people thought was a reasonably talented roster left by Craig "I Do Less With More" Robinson and added junior college transfer Gary Payton II, top 100 recruits Stephen Thompson and Tres Tinkle, and four-star top 150 recruit Drew Eubanks. Indeed, Tinkle "get(s) players." Remember this. We'll come back to it!
That's what I can see from afar, but you have to talk to him about the inner workings. They are a program that's not been to the tournament now since I think 1990. So just keep all that in mind right now. He's on his way. They need to close out and do some things to have that opportunity, but that's a long time not to have NCAA tournament opportunity for a school and for a program.
Wait, what exactly am I supposed to keep in mind? I'm honestly not even sure what Kent's trying to say here. Is he trying to say that the fact that they haven't been to the tournament in so long is some kind of advantage? Or is he saying that they're not quite there and they could still blow it, ergo, they're not that far ahead of his team? I'm legitimately confused.
(How impressive is it that Drew Eubanks and Tres Tinkle play so well as true freshmen?)
I think they've become big contributors because they started out contributors. He had to play those freshmen early and they've kind of gone through the fires, and here they are playing well having gone through the season. We have more veteran players in the program, just now starting to get our freshmen more minutes as we come down the stretch of the season.
This is where Ernie's starting to lose me. Here's a team that's, A) on the verge of the NCAA tournament, and B) relying on freshman, and it's working (he says) because those guys played so much so early, as opposed to WSU, where the freshmen sat behind veterans?
Let's be very clear about something: Tinkle did not "(have) to play those freshmen." Oregon State has even more veterans than WSU does! Tinkle played "those freshmen" because "those freshmen" are really good -- they're as good or better than seniors whose names you heard for the past three years: Malcolm Duvivier, Langston Morris-Walker, and Jarmal Reid. All three saw their minutes slashed this season because of an undeniable talent infusion that made OSU better immediately.
(Next year could we see more of Derrien King at the four position?)
It just depends. I've been a guy that loves getting skill on the floor, getting up and down, playing a lot faster, getting speed. I didn't think we played very fast today. We tried to change some things up and put him on the floor, get a little more offense on the floor.
No, Ernie, you did not play very fast against the Beavers: The game was played at just 64 possessions.
But here's the dirty little secret: For a "guy that loves getting skill on the floor, getting up and down, playing a lot faster, getting speed," WSU has been playing slow for quite a while! That's the fourth consecutive game in which possessions have been in the 60s, and sixth time in the last seven*. (The other one? 70.)
*Technically, Colorado was at 79, but it was in the 60s before two sessions of overtime.
In fact, over the Cougars' first 10 Pac-12 games, they were averaging 73 possessions. That's dropped all the way to 65 over the past seven.
Now, how do you suppose the Cougars got that way? Do you think the players got together and said to themselves, "You know what I think we should do? We should ignore our coach's directives to play with pace, walk the ball up the floor, and run 28 seconds of offense. That sounds like a real hoot!" Or, if you prefer simpler explanations, perhaps they are led by a coach who -- like Ken Bone -- saw a season flying off the rails and decided the best way to try and get more out of his team was to exert more control from the sidelines, achieving the dual accomplishment of not making his team any better and making them far less aesthetically pleasing.
Congrats, coach. You've officially made WSU basketball unwatchable again.
(Feel like you're on the right track as far as building a program?)
Fifteen-game losing streak by an average of 16 points notwithstanding, sure.
And I've done this before. I've been through – we rebuilt St. Mary's and at it's still a championship program today. We rebuilt Oregon and it's still a championship program today.
Wait ... WHAT?
Is Kent trying to take credit for where those two programs are right now? Even if we accept his assertion that he's "done this before" and "rebuilt" both those programs -- despite the fact that each was in the NCAA tournament three years before he took over, and Oregon was 52-33 in the previous three seasons under Jerry Green -- simply intimating that those programs are where they are in 2016 because of what he did is absolute silliness.
In the four seasons between Kent and Randy Bennett at St. Mary's, Dave Bollwinkel (real name!) coached the Gaels to a 34-80 record, including a 2-27 disaster in his final campaign. Yes, Kent's final team at St. Mary's was excellent, appearing in the NCAA tournament behind a nice mix of young and veteran players, but Bollwinkel absolutely burned to the ground what Kent left behind. Bennett is why St. Mary's is where it is today.
And as for Oregon? This time, Kent is the one who left the mess behind when he was fired. His final two teams combined for just 24 wins. They finished 10th and ninth in the Pac-10 and ranked 157 and 140 by Ken Pomeroy's laptop at kenpom.com. Yes, Kent certainly helped put Oregon basketball on the map, but the credit for Dana Altman leading Oregon to six straight 20-win seasons and four consecutive NCAA tournament appearances -- unprecedented in the program's history -- rests squarely with Altman, and any suggestion to the contrary is pretty insulting to Altman.
Both of those programs had growing pains like this.
Welllllll ... if we're being generous, that's maybe half true. It did take Kent a few years to really get St. Mary's up and running, as the Gaels finished 7th, 6th and 7th in his first three years in an eight-team league before jumping up to 3rd. However, his winning percentage at St. Mary's was never below .400; if the Cougars lose their final two games (as expected), they'll be 9-22 -- .290 ... with a 17-game losing streak to end the season. This team has plumbed depths none of his other teams have even remotely approached.
And Oregon? C'mon man - Kent won 19 games in his second year and was in the NCAA tournament by his third. The Ducks might have had growing pains, but they most certainly did not "(have) growing pains like this." Not even remotely.
They didn't have as many injuries as we had this year.
OK, Ernie ... you played without Josh Hawkinson for one game. Bad timing, because maybe you can hang with Arizona State if you have him. But other than that? You lost a one-dimensional center who plays 20 minutes a night for eight games and a turnover-prone point guard who has the lowest offensive rating of any regular rotation player for four games, and this is something you think was significantly holding you back?
The difference between the two programs – St. Mary's and Oregon had experienced winning in their history, in their past, over the course of the last three, four, five years. This team, this program has not experienced that. So you've got guys in the program – Junior Longrus, Brett Boese – who have never been on a winning team. Josh Hawkinson, Ike Ireogbu. So therefore they do not know how to win. You bring in new guys and nobody knows how to win at this level. You have to go through it and come a long way before you get there.
So wait ... 30 seconds ago, Kent built those programs from the ground up, battling through tremendous growing pains; now, those programs had the added advantage of having players who had experienced winning, and that's what's holding WSU back now?
And, by the way ... as Kent noted, OSU hasn't been to the NCAAs since 1990, yet somehow they have figured out a way to do what they're doing. With a bunch of freshmen. Weird.
This conference has a little bit of a dip next year, we go overseas this summer and play, hopefully learn how to win, we come back and reload it again.
Yeah, I don't know if I'd count on the Pac-12 having a dip -- the conference brings in four top-30 classes, and most of the top-shelf talent in the league is young and not projected to be surefire lottery picks, which means it wouldn't be surprising to see most of them come back. Ernie's really just engaging in some wishful thinking at this point.
We'll see where we're at. So, we've got a lot of work done for less than 24 months done. We've come a long way, because we graduated everybody in the program from the old regime. Everybody's on track to graduate.
This is how we're measuring things now?
We're building our fanbase again.
Clearly -- look at how hard it is to find a great seat!
Average attendance ...
- 2013-2014: 4,901
- 2014-2015: 3,190
- 2015-2016: 2,857
We're building our recruiting again.
Oh? Was I imagining that time when Kent was hired and he said he'd be able to hit the ground running as a recruiter, that WSU "was not a difficult sell," and that "everything is in place here for this program to have a lot of success?" And now we're "building" it?
We've put in a style of play.
Which he's now abandoned.
There's a lot that goes into these programs and it doesn't happen overnight, but we feel like we're headed in the right direction.
His second team has four fewer overall wins, six fewer conference wins, and is currently rated five spots worse by kenpom.com than it was a year ago after he added seven of his own new players to the program. Oh, and it's in the midst of a 15-game losing streak.
But hey, you all can make up your own minds on whether a coach who has now led a pair of Pac-10/12 programs to four consecutive sub-140 finishes in the kenpom rankings while collecting more than $5 million is telling you the truth about the direction of the program.