by Bob Geary
Over at StateFansNation.com, the boys have already got Sidney Lowe fired and are angling for Rick Barnes or — well, they can't really think of anybody else, but how 'bout somebody like the Cornell coach who's winning with sketchy talent at Boston College this year?
Only a few SFN diehards say give Sid a sixth year. (Someone said to me last night, name another major or even a mid-major conference where it would be a question for any team whether to fire the coach if he didn't make the NCAA tournament five years in a row?)
Still, Packbackr04's sarcastic question to his SFN mates is the right one: Is there a silver lining here?
Yes, pollyanna that I am, I see one — sort of.
The big lineup that started the second half is actually State's best lineup against teams with decent big men. Tracy Smith and Rich Howell are physically a match for anybody AND they play well together. C. J. Leslie, who's been starting at the 4, plays the 3 in this lineup, and the combination clicked turned State into a power team. Scott Wood moved to the 2 — you must play him with this group, as it needs an outside shooter and he's the only one State has. And Ryan Harrow, who played the whole second half, is a take-charge point guard offensively.
In the long run, C.J. Leslie should be a 3. Coming from the outside in, he's an unstoppable offensive rebounder. He actually has a decent shot if he takes his time. (REPEAT: TAKE YOUR TIME.) And he runs the floor as well as anybody in the ACC who's 6'8. Wood needs to be out there, but he can play the 2 as well as the 3. Until tonight, however, I don't think he's been used there at all.
Unfortunately, this big group was like a sieve on defense. Lorenzo Brown, who starts at the 2, is a decent on-the-ball defender, nothing great, but without him, not one State player could stop any Duke player in the open floor. In fact, no two State players could stop Nolan Smith in the open floor.
I'm not sure what to say about defense. Some at SFN want to play a zone. Maybe, but the back line guys aren't really quick enough to keep offensive rebounders off the glass in a zone. I think the answer is to use a trapping style (half-court, not full-court) and protect Harrow, who really is poor on defense, by never asking him to guard his man alone, or the screener alone, in a pick-and-roll situation. Trap the ball-handler and scramble inside. You get beat? You're getting beat anyway. Go for steals, gamble, force, do something. Straight up man-to-man is a loser for this team given Harrow's deficiencies and the fact that Leslie quits defending 15 seconds into every possession. And a zone would be worse.
I like this team's offensive prospects. I like Tracy Smith, who is not at full speed yet but worked his butt off tonight. I like Howell and Leslie and I think maybe DeShawn Painter can spell Howell inside if we stick with that big lineup — because Howell does need to rest periodically, as does Smith. Let Brown spell Harrow if need be, and Wood, Brown and C.J. Williams can share the 2 and back up Leslie at the 3.
Defensively, I'm convinced that the reason this team looks like they're not hustling is that they don't know where they're supposed to be half the time, and their hesitation comes across as sloth. Their confusion is obvious whenever they're screened — do they go under? over? switch? show big? trap? And it doesn't help to switch if your teammate thinks you're going to fight through. How many times do we see one State defender switch and the other chase the same guy and the screener goes the basket ALL BY HIMSELF.
And on the inside, NOBODY HELPS.
To play good defense, you first have to know instinctively what to do in a given situation and then, with hustle, you do it. Instantly. These guys don't seem to know what to do at all, let alone instinctively. Part of it is playing three freshmen. Part of it is coaching. How much of each, I dunno. What I do know is that Leslie is faster than Wood and can cover any small forward that Wood can cover. And Wood's a good enough defender to at least stay in front of other off-guards. Where he has trouble is, as he did tonight, staying with bigger guys like Singler when they go inside. Leslie has no such problems.
So teach Harrow, Wood and Leslie to trap, and if they get tired, bring in Brown and Williams and have them trapping too.
This season isn't over for State. But at 1-3 in the league, it's nearly over unless they can somehow win 9 or 10 of their last 12 league games or, failing that, win the ACC tournament. Not to be stupid or anything, but if these guys learn how to play defense — and then play it — they'd have a chance in the tournament.
The way they're playing now, they have a chance to finish below .500 and not even make the NIT.