I deliberately have not allowed myself to come onto the board since our loss yesterday. But I have been reading other’s opinions (here and elsewhere), talking to friends, and just plain thinking.
I have seen the opinion that somehow Nick Smith’s return has been bad for the Hogs. I have seen the opinion that there is locker room dissent. I have read criticism of Muss’ attitude and tactics. I could go on.
I am not going to discount anyone’s opinion. But I do want to express what MY opinion is, just for conversation’s sake. Am I am expert? No. I have watched a zillion basketball games, my grandad was a coach, my mom played college ball (all 5-1 of her) and I played for many years. But I am hardly an expert. The only thing I am an expert on is probably classical music. And how to be a caregiver to my wonderful, miracle of a great wife. But I would like to think I have somethings to offer. So here goes.
What is “right”: The trio of AB, Devo and Ricky C. I don’t suspect any of you will argue that these three have been the heart and soul of the team this year. Whether its simply watching, or doing a deep dive into stats…these three have been very good. All year. AB and Ricky will play in the NBA. Devo will be a pro somewhere. All 3, while they have certainly had ups and downs, have been pretty consistent. That said, I do think all three of them are starting to wear down. That is, in my humble opinion, why AB and Ricky’s FT percentage has dipped. It could be the pressure as well. I will give you that. But I don’t think those two are particularly impacted by pressure so much as by wear and tear on their legs…which of course came about because of Nick’s injury. Which leads me to Nick,
I think its just off-base that Nick has been anything but a positive for the Hogs when he’s been healthy enough to be…well…Nick Smith. To see if the stats underscored what I remembered, I took a peak at some stats in games that were significant.
Two “important” non-conference wins which involved Nick were wins versus Oklahoma, and UNCG (which I happen to know has a very fine basketball tradition…though they were admittedly upset by Wofford in their conference tourney). Here are Nick’s stats from those games:
Nick v UNCG - 22pts/6-14FG/1-5 3pt/9-11FT/4RB/3Ast/+7 (plus/minus)
Nick v OU - 21pts/8-16FG/1-53pt/4-4FT/+5
Then Nick was out. Once he came back, he didn’t play meaningful minutes until the the Florida game. Here are his stats the games since his return:
Nick v. UF 10pts/4-12fg/0-4 3pt/2-2FT/1RB/+23
Nick v. UGA 26pts/9-15fg/5-8 3pt/3-4FT/2ast/+23 plus/minus
Nick v. The Team that shall not be named 24 pts/9-23FG/4-5FT/6Reb/2steals -4 plus/minus
Nick. v. Tenn 12pts/3-13FG/1-6 3pt/5-6 FT/2 ast -21 plus/minus
Nick. v. UK 25 pts/10-23FG/3-8 3pt/2-4FT/3Reb/6assist/4steals/1BS -2 plus/minus
Now, I will excuse Nick versus Florida. It was his first meaningful amount of minutes back. Plus, Graham went completely off that game, so his offensive contribution wasn’t as needed. But in the remaining games? Pretty consistent…excluding Tenner. Just yesterday, Nick had a really fine game…albeit in a lost cause. Also, judging by the eye test and looking at team stats, team assists are NOT down. The ball still moves. Nick playing gives the above discussed trio a break.
Y’all…Nick Smith is NOT the problem. Fact is, we NEED Nick to keep playing like this…and add what is clearly THE problem.
Then what is the problem? Let me just lay out some stats:
Hogs v. UNCG
Makhi - 4-5FG/5-7FT/ 14 Rebounds
No other front court player had a FG
Hogs v. OU
Walsh 5-9/2-5 3pt/3 reb/2 steals/1 Blk
Makhi 5-8 FG/6Rbs/4 assts/2 blks
Kamani 2-3FG/5 rebs
Hogs v. UF
Makhi 5-7 FG/10rebs/2 blks
Graham 12-15 Fg/2-3FT/7 rebs/ 2blks
Hogs v. UGA
Graham 3-4FG/5 rebs
Makhi 3-4 FG/5 rebs/4 asts/1Blk
Hogs versus Bama (spit)
Walsh 2-7FG/7reb/3 steals
Makhi 0-2 FG/2rebs/2 asts/2blks
Makhel 2-4 FG/8 rebounds
Graham 1-3 FG/2rebs/3 blks
All pretty good front court production. At least acceptable from 2 or more players from the 4 and 5 spots. Importantly, all of the above were wins accept for the game against Bama (spit)…which was a game even Muss said we played good basketball in a one possession loss
But now look:
Hogs v. Tenner
Makhi 0-2 FG/3 rebs
Graham 0-0/0 rebs
Kamaini 0-0/3 rebs
Hogs v. UK
Makhi 1-2DG/1 reb
Makhel 0-5/5 rebs
Walsh 4-12 FG/1-6 3 pt/7 rebs
Graham…1/2 FG and barely played
This proves to me what my eyes already told me. The “problem” on this team is consistent front court production. Since TB went down, we have 5 players rotating at the 4 and 5 spots: the twins, Walsh, Graham and Kamani. When any 2 of these produce rebounds, hopefully some blocks, and make some in-the-paint shots, we tend to win. Or at least play well.
When they don’t…we have a team of 4 guards trying to carry the load. And we tend to lose.
THAT is the problem. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps because Tenner and UK were VERY physical. Probably gave the twins back more than they gave. Certainly they bodied them in the paint and dared officials to make some calls…knowing they are weak at the line. (Oscar should have been tossed…TWICE).
So…looking ahead…I think we can acknowledge we have roster problems in the front court. Of the 5 playing up front, only Walsh has an all-around game. And he’s undersized against some teams’ #4. Plus, he is not consistent (yet…he needs to stay put and progress…if he does he will be terrific here next year IMO). The twins were never recruited to be offensive forces…but they HAVE to produce in the dunker spot on offense. make the catch. Go up strong and score. If I were Muss I would take a risk and play Graham more. he has great offensive skills. But once Graham shows he can’t handle his match-up defensively…to the bench he goes. And Muss ain’t playing zone to allow Graham (of Pinion for that matter) to play more. Might as well not even hope he does. His core philosophy is man. Just like Eddie. Or Bobby K. As for Kamani…he is also undersized at the 5…but if the game is physical, I suspect he’s gonna play more. May have to.
So…there it is. If you read this far, you are exhausted. I am exhausted writing it. But I hope I have shown that our back court ain’t the problem. Its having front court production in wins…and the total lack of it in recent bad losses. I admit I had to look at the box score to understand how truly bad the front court had played in the last two games. No wonder we got our butts beat.
Front court production will tell the tale in the SEC and NCAA tourneys.
And if you ask me…its one of the twins that is gonna have to play well. hate to say it. But that’s how I see it.