I’ll go ahead and admit a few things. Yes, this game was ugly, They forced the ball too much, the defense was terrible, the offense was out of sync, we turned the ball over way too many times. It was an altogether ugly loss to an Illinois team who had just lost 3 straight to Winthrop, WVU, and FSU. So what went wrong?
While it was in no way pretty, I think we need to take a step back and remember that this is a brand new team. I thnk they deserve our patience as they slowly develop into a more refined product.
At this point, we have all seen the flashes that tell us they have the talent to be a contender. Dorn has been great, Henderson has shown the ability to knock down shots, and Smith was averaging over 20 points in the past few games. Down low Abu has shown glimpses, Hicks and Anya have eaten up minutes and Kapita has come on as a real competitor on the blocks.
But It’s Already Been 7 Games, What’s up with the defense?
We are still only 7 real games into the season! Getting a defense to mesh takes a lot of time. A good majority of this team hadn’t played together before this season and freshmen are getting massive minutes. These guys are still very raw and still need to get to know each other, learn how to communicate and move in unison on the court. Also, remember that a defense is only as good as its weakest link. There are alot of guys learning and one break down leads to a full defensive breakdown.
– A good example of this is Duke during their last “National Title” title season. First off, we know we aren’t that Duke team and our coach isn’t Coach K. But remember, this team early in the season, with all the talent they had, still was an awful defensive team. Now, they were very polished on offense and Okafor was unstoppable in the post,however, they still struggled a good deal on the defensive end for a good portion of the season, even though they were stacked with talent and garnished a future HOF coach.
-We are going for the homerun defense play too often. While we love the aggression and down the line should lead to TO’s, right now guys are gambling too much, causing breakdowns on D. This is something else that just takes time as these guys are athletic enough to get steals but will learn when to pick and choose their times to go for a steal or blocked shot.
-A great example from the other night is Terry Henderson’s blowby on the baseline with the shot clock winding down and Smith’s deep 3 foul at the end of the shot clock. Terry a little less excusable but Smith’s was definitely a freshman mistake learned the hard way.
-Last is the ever rotation and addition of new pieces to our lineup. Due to injuries/NCAA Suspension, Gottfried has had to tinker with his defense with each added new piece. We have had to play small on alot of occasions, losing our rim protection and rebounding. We have also gone with a bigger lineup as Kapita slowly gets accustomed to the pace of the game. These changes will slow the proggress of a team learning their defensive identity.
Well, our offense still looks out of sync…
-Lets start with Dennis Smith. Don’t forget that for all the accolades Smith has received, he is still an 18 year old kid. His first few games we saw that Gottfried was right in saying that Smith was going to have an adjustment period. Smith did adjust and was looking like the player he was projected to be. Facing Illinois, was a new challenge for him. This is a much bigger, stronger, experienced team. Smith will learn what he can and cant’t get away with and how to attack better competition. It will just, unfortunately, be something learned by experience. Remember, Smith is still being seen as a lottery pick by guys who are paid to watch evalutate talent. This should say something about his Smith’s ability. We just need to give him time.
-Early on, the Pack was able to get by on talent alone (against the lesser competition.) As the competition picks up, they will need to learn how to execute in the half court set. The more they run the offense to more familiar they will get with it and the better they will be. Running the offense in a game is much different than running it in practice. Early on we were watching this team just out athlete people. For now, we’ll need to be patient as they learn to trust the system and execute with efficiency and confidence.
Let’s wait until we are at full strength. Kapita is just getting started and Yurtseven’s debut is still to come…
-Kapita has looked very good in his minimal exposure so far for the Pack. The game against Illinois was his first true game in our opinion (the first was in an already out of reach game, the latter he saw minimal minutes due to fouls) and it was evident in the errant passes and a few tough shots he took. It will still take Kapita a handful of games to get into the flow of things and get in sync with the rest of the offense. Until then, expect alot of ticky tack fouls and lapses on both sides of the ball. But overall he seems to have alot of upside and should be a reliable post player on both ends of the floor.
-Then we have Yurtseven. A five-star 7-footer who according to scouting reports and everyone around the program could really be a game changer for this Wolfpack team. Smith even quoted him as “The smartest player I’ve ever played with” and that “People don’t understand how good Omer is”. Though a breif glimpse, we saw how well Yurtseven got up and down the court for his size. He will be a huge boost on offense and defense and gives us one more guy in the post when we get in foul trouble.
Here is another tweet from Greenberg as well on this Pack team without Yurtseven.
— Seth Greenberg (@SethOnHoops) November 30, 2016
Sorry for being long winded on this one, but we really think it’s important for fans to step back and understand that getting young teams to mesh is not a quick or easy process, especially with the unique scenarios tha Pack has seen so far this season. We also need to realize that this is not a thick-skinned veteran group. They need the fan’s support more than ever right now. Losses hurt, we all feel that, but the best is yet to come with this group and we need to remember that. It will inevitably take longer than everyone hopes, but it’s not where this team starts, but where they are able to finish. Gottfried has proven that his team’s start slow but peak in March. I think staying the course, staying positive and holding off on the blame game is the role our fan base can play in helping this team reach thier full potential.