I don’t even know where to start. I’m still in shock from our performance. I’m not a big scary movie guy and last night was like watching the horror film of our Indianapolis game all over again. As a team we lacked energy and purpose. Our new identity, defense and rebounding, was replaced by our past demons that used to enable our offense or the minutes we played to influence the effort we gave defensively. This lack of focus on the winning attributes of a team directly correlated to the result we earned. (I use “we” because even if one of the guys did things well, we win AND lose as a team). The other part to “defense and rebounding win games” is that if you don’t do those things, you lose. Oakland shot the highest field goal percentage of the season against us (53.6), out rebounded us (-1) and had the lowest deflection total of the season with 10.
This loss was different then Indianapolis in that prior to that exhibition game, our preparation was awful. We went through the motions in practice for the week prior to the game. We got what we deserved because we played the way we prepared. I don’t think that was the case vs. a talented and battle tested Oakland team. I thought we had a really good practice on Sunday followed by an ok one Monday. The difference was that when the lights came on vs. Oakland, we were all too focused on our offense. Thus, after a poor offensive possession, missed shot, or a trip down the floor where we didn’t touch the ball we put our head down and floated back on defense. This showed in poor transition defense, the inability to “guard our yard” consistently and settling behind in the post. When our team is playing well we are engaged throughout every moment of the game. We have great energy, are communicating, picking each other up, stunting off the ball, making violent cuts and are first to the floor for every loose ball. We took a step back in this regard vs. Oakland.
A certain amount of talent is needed to be successful. I’d be wrong if I said that it wasn’t. To be one of the better teams in the tough SEC or throughout the country, you need talented players and we have them. However, the difference between a good team and a great team usually isn’t talent. It’s the selfless effort, energy and execution that these talented teams buy into that separates them from mediocrity. As painful as it is to do, look at the teams in the Final 4 last year and what are some of the adjectives that pop into your head when you think about those teams? Michigan State? West Virginia? Butler? Duke? Toughness, defensive minded, discipline, high energy and the list could go on. Not being able to sleep I did some research about these Final Four teams. Here are some interesting stats. Michigan State: #1 in the country in rebounding last year. West Virginia: held its 4 opponents before the Final 4 to 33.8% from the field. Butler: first team in NCAA history to hold its first 5 NCAA tournament opponents under 60 pts. Duke: Teams averaged 56 pts and 25% from 3 and out-rebounded its opponents by 11.3 per game on its way to the National Championship. Hmmmm, looks to me defense and rebounding do in fact win championships.
Ok, so where do we go from earning our first loss of the season? First each of us must go to the mirror to check ourselves and hold ourselves accountable for improving. This is important to do first because we can all improve. Coaches, staff and players. If each of us is not willing to improve and fine tune ourselves, then we are making a selfish decision that states we are above the team. Once the commitment to improve is there we can then move forward as part of the solution. This is done by spending extra time in the weight room, film room and on the court while school is not in session. However, as we learned last night, we must never forget about our identity, what we stand for, what enabled us to start 7-0 while we work to improve. Energy, effort, execution as we defend and rebound every second of every practice and every game. It’s what we do. It’s the mindset that will enable us to be successful on Friday night vs. Charlotte. Prideful competitors will enable our setback vs. Oakland to be a spring board to improvement. Who will those guys be? Who will bring it to practice today? I’ve looked in the mirror, I know what I’m going to work on and what I’m going to sacrifice to help our team be successful and I’m confident others will do so too because I know we have a program full of people that truly care about nothing more than that name of the front of our jerseys.
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