Doesn't take long to put an end to one's tournament dreams, does it? I'd say it took just over two minutes of game time - about what it took to lose a three-point lead in Cassell - to slam home the reality that what we have here is just what I called it during the Q&A lead-in to the GT game: a lower-mid-level ACC squad. Capable of beating you if doing things right, but only if for forty consecutive minutes. The hoopsters followed up the loss to Poly with a very balanced effort - crappy defense in the next game and crappy offense in the one following - and the result is that a very different style of bracketology is in the cards for the rest of the year.
I look at this two ways: one, I clearly jinxed the team to hell and back with that post that highlighted the team's offensive improvement; and two, they couldn't have done a better job proving that post correct. Other than the Maryland game (which was still as bad a meltdown on offense as the other four games in this losing streak) nothing has really changed on defense. Honestly. It's as solid (or not solid, whichever you think) as it's ever been this year. But the offense took a dump on the floor and rolled around in it. It's that bad. I could recite a litany of numbers to this effect, but I think the one that really matters is 15-for-81: that's the three-point shooting in these four losses. 18.5%, if you want to know. You'll never win basketball games like that.
What's going on, then?
- As you might have guessed from that statistic, Sammy Zeglinski is just completely ice-cold. Nothing he shoots goes in these days.
- Sylven can't go anywhere on the court without being hounded by two defenders. Obviously nobody is scared of anyone else ever hitting a bucket, and with good reason. Try to set a screen for Sylven and not only does your own defender switch over to him and cut off his lane, but Sylven's guy just drops underneath the screen and finishes the double team. He's also showing a pretty clear reluctance to try anything left-handed, and the defenders are giving it away knowing he won't take it.
- Florida State played pretty good defense, but even when they weren't, the team forgot all their junior-high fundamentals. They pump-faked open shots and then took the shot once the defender had arrived to contest. They drove the lane without any forethought whatsoever. They grabbed offensive rebounds and did the infuriating one-dribble before taking the shot back up. They got careless with the ball and lost the handle on it. They forgot about the shot clock entirely. They passed to phantom teammates. That game was 2009 redux: terrible offense leading to easy buckets for the opposition and making the defense look worse than it actually was.
- We have defensive players and we have offensive players, and the problem is the defensive players can't all be on the court at the same time and the same holds true for the offensive guys. I think Tony Bennett sees this and is awfully limited in his substitutions as a result. There are only three players who are about equally useful on both offense and defense: Scott, Sherill, and Farrakhan - and the latter is such a streaky shooter that he's really a stretch. The rest have gaping holes in their game on one end or the other. Ever see, for example, Sene and Meyinsse on the floor at the same time? Rarely, because you can't pass to either one of them in the post. Try putting Jones and Zeglinski both in the game at once and the perimeter defense is going to collapse miserably. Even Landesberg gets beat more often than he should. Jontel has no jumper and Baker has no handle, and you won't see them share a backcourt much, if ever. So rather than totally give up one end or the other of the court, Bennett pairs an offensive player with a defensive one and the result is predictable - sometimes it works, sometimes it don't. This is actually just fine as long as the offensive players are playing effective offense, but that hasn't happened lately.
There are lots of things we could try here and there to fix this mess and right the ship. Finding the open man when Sylven gets doubled off the screen would be a great start. Not letting Calvin Baker play the point would be another. Four out of five dentists agree, though: hitting your jump shots® is the most effective treatment for Shitty Offense Syndrome. It's amazing how many problems would fix themselves when the jump shots are falling and the defense has to care about that. It sounds overly simplistic, doesn't it? Sometimes that's the way things are.
Oh, and in case you're wondering, no, I'm not going to use the three-games-in-five-days excuse. Was it a factor? Maybe it was. Me, I hope it wasn't, otherwise we can forget about ever winning an ACC tournament.
Remember, now, I made no predictions for this season other than to guarantee an improvement over the 4-12, 11th-place showing from last year. This has been done, so theoretically everything else is gravy, but it sure would suck to end the season on a nine-game losing streak. Make that improvement feel like no improvement at all. There are two games left on the schedule against teams worse off than we are in the ACC standings, and both are on the road but not in the scariest gyms in the world. Winning these games, which happen to be against Miami and Boston College, would do wonders. Two lousy games, that's all we need. That would be good enough for the NIT, which has proven itself happy to take a 7-9 ACC team and doesn't concern itself much with resumes and strength-of-schedule wins and all that jazz that the big tournament cares about.
Programming note: I am so sowwy for not having anything for you to read yesterday; it was supposed to be the first day of my ACC baseball preview, but circumstances conspired against me. So that gets pushed back to next week, because tomorrow the baseball team kicks off the season with a big series against East Carolina, and I want to do something to actually acknowledge that that exists.