Sunday, January 25, 2009

Being Average Is Frustrating

The UO basketball team is 0-8 in Pac-10 play right now. Perhaps when you read this they are 1-8 or 0-9, it really does not matter. Given the team's track record over the last nine years (the amount of time I have followed the team) one cannot be the least bit surprised that they would not be very good this year. Would one expect them to be one of the worst BCS conference schools? Doubtful. But hey, when the coach is able to set expectations at the beginning of the year and the local media and fans find that acceptable then an epically bad team is what you get. Just so you know, when it comes to most things in life I am not big on excuses. If you find this post infuriating, then you probably love to find excuses when things go wrong and will therefore not agree.

My assertion: Over the last nine years the Ducks are nothing more than an average Division I college basketball team. If being average is acceptable then I think the team and its staff is constructed in just the right way. If one aspires to be better than average then, well, it's not brain surgery.

Let's start with indisputable facts. Most of the historical information was found at
  • According to Ken Pomeroy, who is a math guy that tries to approximate the RPI, the Ducks are 139 out 344 (as of 11:20am on an 31, 2009). That really is not that good. There are all of 5 teams from BCS Conferences rated lower.
  • Over the last nine years the team has had an average (mean) finish of 5.5 in the Pac-10 Conference. So that nothing gets past anyone, the Pac-10 only has ten teams. From 2000-01 to 2008-09 the Ducks standing in the Pac-10 has been (6, 1, 5, 4, 8, 7, 3, 6, 10).
  • Since the Pac-10 Tournament returned the Ducks have been 10-4, with two titles. They missed the tournament entirely one year but that will never happen again since all teams are invited now.
  • The Ducks have been to the NCAA tournament four out of nine years, advancing to the Elite Eight twice and losing the first game twice.
  • The Ducks have been to the NIT a couple of times. For me, the NIT means absolutely nothing. All that is needed is a .500 record, which this day and age (30+ games and a ton of nonconference cupcakes) is not a big deal.

Okay now that the basic facts have been laid out there, some analysis is needed.

1. The last nine years of UO basketball have proven one thing: The Ducks are consistently inconsistent. The team has finished in the bottom half of the conference five out of nine times. The Pac-10 is nowhere near the strongest conference. My sources tell me the Ducks have had more talent during this run than at any other time in the program's history. My eyes tell me talented players have worn the jersey but really spotty team play has characterized the on-court performance.

2. I have not really seen a legitimate offense too often. Watching exceptionally fast-paced play is a lot of fun but it seems only a select few can actually thrive in that system. This year's offense in particular has been an abomination. My junior high team ran some set plays that required a bit more creativity than high post screens at the three-point line and long range three-pointers. I'm far from an expert but when Mike Montgomery puts Yao Ming's cousin in the game just to shove it in the Ducks' faces that he is one helluva coach that would be a good time to get the ball to the only good post player I have ever seen wear the green and gold.

3. I was unaware that freshmen players have to suck for the first few years. If I have to hear or read about a the Ducks having a young team one more time I will cry. Just last year I had to hear that the experienced Ducks were at a disadvantage because all of the good players were freshmen. This year, it is the exact opposite story. It simply makes no sense. Michael Dunigan is routinely talked about in the paper as very young and in need of a lot of seasoning. The best way to get that done is to play the guy, though it seems foul trouble does get in his way. I'm not sure he was in foul trouble at Cal but I think he was pulled out of the game for displaying a phenomenal post move, the drop-step daddy dunk. Perhaps he wasn't taken out immediately after but that play alone should have warranted a few more touches.

4. The coaches seem to be in complete denial. After every loss the team is "really close to getting over the hump" and "didn't quite execute the game plan." Am I the only one that actually watches the game? When multiple teams shoot their season-high field goal percentage it probably is not a reflection of really lucky shooting. When a team loses by 15+ points that is not a positive thing. It does not matter if things looked good for 18 minutes, the game is 40 minutes in duration. By the same token, a "close loss," anything less than ten I suppose, may not be that close. Last week's Cal game being a perfect example. At no point were the Ducks out of the game but at no point did it seem they had a chance to win. It is a hard feeling to describe but if you have felt it you know what I am talking about.

5. There also seems to be a lot of weird finger pointing. I remember when Aaron Brooks was a struggling junior I heard it was Luke Ridnour's fault because he left early and did not tutor Brooks. Really? Then last year the team did not meet expectations and it was because Brooks decided to enter the NBA draft after playing four years. How selfish could one be? The talk about having a really young team and making that an excuse is pathetic. When a team has a ton of seniors it is reasonable to expect that the team the following year will be young. As far as I can tell that is the only thing that can be assumed. Assuming that a team has to be awful because it is young seems like a bit of a stretch for me. Those are general themes, if you read a game report you can find numerous excuses for why something did not happen. Personally, I find great joy in trying to guess what those might be. If you want to try it, my only advice if you want to be correct is to try and be outlandish in your guesses.

6. The UO needs to offer a night class on how to properly arrange a team schedule. For the last eight years the preseason schedule has been chocked full of teams that are rated less than 250 in Ken Pomeroy's ratings. As much as I would love to see teams of lesser quality than those invited to the Les Schwab Invitational, a college gymnasium is not where I want to see them. Then what do you know, this year the schedule could be classified as ambitious and the team is full of freshmen (see above). Again, another point of bewilderment for me. Last year's team had all seniors and played very weak teams, this year's team has all freshman and plays decent teams. It should be fun watching a paper tiger in the early part of the season next year as the experienced bunch plays cupcakes. If history is any indicator of things to come then the opening of Matt Court should be hosting such heavyweights as: North Florida, Furman, Dartmouth, Sac State, Army, and Longwood. Should be easy to pay off the state bonds with those Final Four favorites. I don't know who is to blame for the scheduling but one would think the coaches and administrators are the culprits.

7. I was not aware that if a team recruits good guys that graduate then it means they cannot be good for the duration of their career. It is not a bad thing that the Ducks have good guys but I doubt they are the only team with good guys. Very few times do I hear about college teams rampant with jerks on the roster. For the most part it seems the vast majority of college players are guys you wouldn't mind your kids being friends with. There also is not a problem with players graduating but I don't think that is an excuse for bad on-court performances. Unless things have changed drastically since I graduated, the UO would never be confused for an Ivy League school. When all is said and done I do not think responsible men and consistent winning are mutually exclusive.

8. This does not necessarily reflect poorly on the basketball program but the local newspaper is an enabler. I get that there is only one show in town and if that show does not want to talk then one is screwed. I don't think that means the Register-Guard has to be an extension of the UO SID. After every failed weekend, you can count on a heartwarming off-the-court tale just like you can count on clouds in the sky. You can go to the paper's basketball blog and easily confuse it for There is a weekly update on players from the past and how well they are doing on and off the court. I suppose that is good but let's have a little bit of accountability. My favorite was when LeKendric Longmire (who did redshirt) was asked if he thinks all freshmen should be required to redshirt. This was clearly a question to placate the "there should not be any expectations placed on freshmen" crowd. Given the success of countless freshmen every single season, that is one of the worst questions ever asked.

I suppose this is as good a place to stop as any. If after reading this you think my expectations are that the Ducks should win Pac-10 Championships year after year and routinely make the Sweet Sixteen, then you are not a very good reader. I simply believe that the Ducks have the potential and should be a better-than-average program. Routinely finishing in the top half a respectable conference and therefore going to the NCAAs more times than not does not seem too ridiculous. I am okay with baby steps as long as they are forward. When Washington State is better equipped at rebuilding after having tremendous success it is time something happen. Oh wait, you're to tell me they are not having an epically bad year this year? And playing down to the level, or even comparing oneself to Oregon State, is a place I never thought the Ducks would be. If this is acceptable to you then you will leave a nasty comment on here and I am fine with that. I will leave you with one question to consider before commenting: Is there such a thing as a good coach or program that is by definition average?

1 comment:

Colin said...

Incredibly accurate. I want to highlight a couple of things.

Seeing those finishes in plain reality is staggaring, especially in light of the way the AD markets the team every year like it is 2002 reincarnated.

The duck's offence over the years has been 1) fast break 2) pass around the rim until someone lobs a three 3) high screen pick and roll 4) (if we have a good point guard) penetrate and dish. That is it. When I watch a Big East or ACC game, I am actually reminded that teams don't just play street ball and shoot threes.

Scheduling has been flat out embarrassing.

The local sports media is basically a propaganda factory for University sports. I remember when the Ducks were losing football games in droves in 2004, and after every defeat Joe Giansante or Jerry Allen would say, "they may have got blown out, but the fact that we expected them to win shows just how far this program has come." I listen to Belotti's weekly conferences every week and the local media always asks him positive oriented questions, even after losses:

"Coach, what moral lessons are you going to take away from yesterdays loss?"

"Despite the loss, how about the performance of _____?"

Local sports journalists, with a couple of exceptions, have no cajones. None.