After the VCU loss I posted here that we should rethink our philosophy because it clearly isn't working. I think Coach Grant is doing that, but doesn't have any answers right now.
We used my favorite starting lineup of Releford, Lacey, Randolph, Cooper, and Pollard. The only problem with this lineup is the lack of size. Even a mediocre at best center can tear us apart, as we saw Saturday. Pollard continues to play well, but he doesn't have the body to play the 4 and 5 positions as we are asking him to. I really wish we would double team in the post out of our man to man defense, especially with this lineup on the floor. Yes, we will leave some guys open, but we are short handed right now and will have to take some chances.
The offense actually played well at times. We were inconsistent, but did not have any of the long scoring droughts. We opened up a 12 point lead in the first half but allowed the Bears to cut it to 5 at halftime. The second half started well as we were able to build the lead up to 11 with 10 minutes remaining in the game, thanks in large part to outstanding play by Trevor Releford. We all know what happened next.
One of the most frustrating things about this team is that it can't seem to put together a complete 40 minute game. We either fall hopelessly behind early and have to scrap and claw back, or we take a lead and coast just trying to hang on for dear life. I think a big part of this is only having 8 scholarship players.
I said earlier that it would be difficult for us to execute the "94 feet both ways" style of play with our lack of depth. Apparently, Coach Grant agreed, but he went to the other extreme. We only applied pressure in the back court for a short period of time in the first half, and had some success with it. We certainly can't press as much as we would like, but there were some key possessions late in the game where I think we should have tried it.
I know you people get tired of hearing me bitch about this, but once again, we had an 11 point lead. That evaporated into a 3 point deficit in the matter of about 5 minutes and we DID NOT CALL A SINGLE TIMEOUT during the Mercer run. Furthermore, we answered with a 4-0 run of our own and seemed to have regained momentum, THEN we called a timeout. I do not understand our decision making with regards to timeouts at all.
I also question why we continued to try to pound the ball inside late with the game on the line. Even though Lacey had an off day, we need to run more plays to get him involved, I would rather have the ball in his and Releford's hands down the stretch. We went to Nick Jacobs 2 or 3 possessions in a row, and by this point Mercer had figured out that he can't go right. The results were predictable, and Jacobs continues to be a disappointment in this awful season. He did a little better job rebounding in this game, but it's hard to figure why Nick has not been able to live up to expectations. I know he worked hard in the off season to lose some weight, and one would think his ankle should be healed by now.
I know this may sound odd given that we only have one somewhat consistent outside shooter on this team, but we need to shoot the ball. We pass up too many good shots in a possession only to end up forcing something in the last 5 seconds of the shot clock.
In the past we have been able to rely on our defense to keep us in games, but that is not the case right now. Giving up 40+ points in a half to Mercer is inexcusable. As noted above, we have absolutely no defense in the post. Our defense is very overrated. Lacey is average at best on defense. Releford is adequate but not great. Jacobs is nearly as much of a defensively liability this year as Eblen was an offensive liability last year. Gueye is a stiff. We are at our best when we have Levi, Cooper, and even Pollard in the game trapping and pressing the ball in the back court, but I said, we can only do so much of that with 8 players.
The bottom line is we are not a very good team right now. We should have beat Mercer, but apparently we did not learn our lesson from the Dayton game, and that is that we aren't good enough to beat "inferior" teams by playing half of a game. I think when we got the double digit lead in the 2nd half, the team had one foot out the door anticipating the Holiday break.
Looking at the big picture, Coach Grant's results have improved every year up till this year. We got back to the post season in his second year and made it to the championship game of the NIT tournament. Last year, we overcame some midseason discipline issues to break the NCAA tournament drought. This year, as a result of bad roster management we started with only 10 scholarship players and little skill in the post, and are now down to 8 players due to injury. We narrowly missed out on some recruits that could have made a huge difference, but we apparently did not have a "plan B." While Coach Grant bears a good deal of responsibility for that, let's not forget that we should be in position to have a very good team next year. I will continue to support this team and coach as they do the best they can this season while looking forward to next year.
The atmosphere for the Mercer game was as bad as I can remember it for a game at Coleman. There were only 2 students sitting on the floor seats, and there was probably only about 3,000 or so total in attendance. It being the start of the holiday weekend and the students being off campus, plus the team's lackluster performance of late, that is to be expected. Up next, the Tulane Green Wave will roll in Sunday, December 30th for a 5pm tipoff. I look forward to watching it live with a few dozen others. If you can't make it to Tuscaloosa, and still want to watch for some reason, it will be on ESPNU. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.