That Old Familiar Feeling
With about eight minutes left, I started to think about tonight's drive back to St. Louis. I let myself think about what one of these drives would be like after an exciting win. Put on a favorite album, maybe even sing a little bit in the car. And then....
Well, then the same old feeling came back. Just couldn't close. Led 72-68 at that point (when I was daydreaming), and then a 20-8 run from Georgetown to close the game. A game where we're favored by eight and we lost by eight. A game where the crowd is ready to explode and then they're heading for the exits. And yet another quiet, depressing drive back to St. Louis.
I mean, this game was just a continuation of the games across the street this fall, right? I wrote that post where I called us "Turnover U", saying how both coaches base their defenses on creating turnovers. Well, this fall, we've been Knife Through Butter U. That's probably not fair to the basketball team (only two games), but it just feels so familiar. "This could be so much fun if we could just stop them."
I mean, that's it, right? This was a FUN atmosphere. Really felt like I'd leave this game buzzing. And yet, I'm leaving the game deflated. Georgetown was 28-43 on twos (6-18 on threes) and that's the game. Offense is there, defense isn't.
And so here we are as the fanbase that just constantly yells "STOP SOMEONE". That woman who used to sit behind me at football games and scream "tackle him!" on every defensive play? She has to be hoarse by now, right? "This would be fun if we could just find a way to stop their offense" is our thing.
OK, yes, our best player was out. That makes a big difference. As I'm typing this Brad Underwood is doing his inside-the-arena interview after the game and he's talking about missing Trent as the "quarterback" of the defense. Trent took five charges in the last two games, and Underwood felt like those charges were there to be had tonight (he's right) but nobody was there in the right spot.
I'm sure I'll calm down by the time I get back home. Which feels like football as well. This game was dominated by the newcomers (I mean, just dominated - Kipper and AJ had poor games, Trent was out, so Da'Monte was the only returning player who really contributed). This was the Ayo and Giorgi show with Feliz joining the fun in the second half. There's a lot to be said about a coach finding his kind of players.
We've seen that in football too, right? Lovie immediately turned to his own recruits. They're sophomores and freshmen now, and we see glimpses of what he wants them to be, but it's not there yet. That was tonight, right? Certain glimpses of the up-tempo basketball that Brad Underwood wants to play. Several members of his first full recruiting class (Ayo and Giorgi and Tevian Jones and Alan Griffin) all showing glimpses of what kind of team he wants to put on the floor. Very exciting glimpses. But, in the end, the defense lets us down and I drive home thinking about a loss.
I'm so tired of this feeling.
+ OK, let's talk about Ayo. As advertised and more, right? Our top recruit since 2010 and he comes out in his second game and puts up 25 points on 9-15 shooting (3-4 from three) and a perfect 4-4 at the line. Steals, solid defense, running the offense - that was impressive.
I'm just sitting here thinking back on my emotions during that timeout with 7:00 to go. We're leading, even without Trent, and our freshman star is having a breakout game. I follow a lot of national college basketball people on Twitter, and it seemed like all of them were watching this game. Ayo breakout game! Beat Georgetown! 2-0 on our way to Maui!
And then everything slid back to "normal".
+ We should talk about Giorgi too. It's only three games (the exhibition plus these two games), but I think we have to say that he far, far exceeds even the highest expectations anyone had for him. 12 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and, perhaps most importantly, not in any way lost out there.
When we heard he verballed, our expectations were pretty much Matic Vesel, right? Someone we'd never heard of, ranked somewhere in the 300's, and the day he committed we're expecting maybe 5 minutes a game off the bench. Now, three games in, I'm staring at the clock and wondering when Giorgi can come back in with his four fouls because we NEED him in there. He feels so vital to this season (and the next three) and I can't believe I'm saying that.
Underwood said in the postgame radio interview that Giorgi has to learn that this isn't Euro-ball and that his sliding screens are going to get called every time. He said they have officials in practice every day trying to break him of that habit. It wasn't called in Austria, so it's a hard habit to break. I get it - this is his third game.
But if we're grading on a curve, Giorgi has an A+ right now. Way, way beyond anyone's expectations. That's encouraging.
+ What's not encouraging is only having three blocks. As Tyler has written a dozen times, having a rim protector is the single biggest thing this team is missing right now. The defense is going to force turnovers, and when it doesn't, there are going to be guards driving the lane, and when there are guards driving the lane, it would be really nice to have that rim protector. I don't think it's Giorgi (and it was never supposed to be), and I don't think it's Adonis De La Rosa (he never was a shot blocker at St. John's or Kent State, and he has that giant knee brace), and Samba Kane isn't ready, so... yeah. There's nobody to block those shots.
Which means it will probably bother me my entire drive home and then I'll go watch video of new commit Antwan January and hope that he's that guy. Unfortunately, he's not here until next year and we're about to play #3 Gonzaga. Ouch.
+ One problem I saw tonight that will plague us the entire season: guys playing out of position (out of necessity, really). Kipper playing the post (where he doesn't belong - he's 6'-6"). Aaron Jordan playing the four (he needs to be on the wing). Other guards needing to guard bigs.
A lot of that probably depends on De La Rosa. This was his first game since the ACL injury, and he only was cleared to practice last week, so rust is going to be obvious until December. I'll give him five games before I'll pay attention.
But if he can provide a post presence along with Giorgi, then that opens up so much more. Kipper can move more to his natural position, Jordan can move more to his natural position, and on and on down the line.
And tonight was exacerbated by Trent being out. Even the guard rotation was messed up (obviously, without our #1 guy). So when Kipper is at the five and Da'Monte is playing some point guard, everything is off. To build this thing, Underwood is going to need his guys to settle into their roles. Tonight was pretty far off from that.
So yeah, this drive won't be THAT bad. There are positives. I still think this is maybe a 13 or 14 win season, and that's fine. We saw glimpses of what it's supposed to be, and that was honestly exciting. This place was buzzing for a while.
But then, like always, it suddenly wasn't. And that feels way too familiar.