Well, this went a lot better than the last Sunday game after Maui (where we needed a late three-pointer from Tyler Griffey to beat a Chris Holtmann-coached Gardner Webb after Maui in December 2012). The opponent this time was slightly worse than that Gardner Webb team. As in, one of the worst Division I teams in the country.
I feel for them. I looked up their roster at halftime and it looks like 12 of their 13 scholarship players are junior college guys. How can anyone build a basketball program with two-year players? By the time you teach them what you're trying to do, they graduate and you move on to more two-year guys. Whoever you are, Mississippi Valley State basketball blogger, I feel your pain.
What can you learn when you play one of the worst teams in the country on the Sunday after Maui? Nothing. Did we learn anything by tying the school record by hitting 16 threes? No. Most of them were wide open. Did we learn anything about the defense and Mississippi Valley State still shooting 46%? I don't think so. Like the exhibition game, the rotation went 15 deep with several walkons playing in both halves. Samba Kane got his first action, 15 players played at least two minutes, De La Rosa was limited (to keep his knee fresh, I'm guessing) - it was more exhibition game than real game.
So what am I going to write about? Well, I watch a lot of off-the-ball stuff at a game like this (whereas for real games, I'm watching where the ball goes), and here's, like four observations. Maybe five.
1. Ayo Is Unselfish
Nine rebounds and nine assists for Ayo Dosunmu is the main takeaway from this game. Some players see a weak opponent and think "I can put up 26 points in this one". Ayo saw that and went for the triple-double.
I started tracking it in the first half once he had five rebounds and four assists (to go along with two points). He got all the way to nine rebounds and nine assists... but only shot the ball three times in the second half and ended up with six points. I really wanted him to shoot a late three so he'd A) Break the team record for threes in one game and B) finish with 9-9-9. But he came out with 4:00 left and didn't return.
Still, a player who puts up a stat line like that? A coach's dream.
2. Samba Is Athletic
I doubt that Samba Kane plays at Notre Dame on Tuesday. I doubt he's ready to face a major conference opponent yet. He has so much weight to add and so much basketball to learn. But he had a few eye-opening plays today.
One was a block that didn't count. The guy got the shot off but was fouled (by Aaron Jordan I think)? But Samba Kane came across the lane to block the shot. Foul or no foul, seeing this major thing the team is missing was eyebrow-raising.
He also had a few free dunks (just have to catch it and go up and dunk it, but the catching part has troubled us for a long time) as well as a fairly soft release on a turnaround jumper. These are "in two years after he's had 24 months of strength and conditioning..." things to be hopeful for, but he was a bright spot.
3. The Freshmen Are All The Same
We all talked last year about how Da'Monte seemed to be Underwood's favorite (for his hustle and general basketball IQ) and how Kipper was always in the doghouse (for his moments of non-hustle and brain freezes). I noticed today when watching things off the ball that all of these freshmen are in the Da'Monte mold. I don't think that's a coincidence.
Ayo definitely looks to get his teammates involved. Alan Griffin seems to be a very high basketball IQ guy. Giorgi never shuts up and is constantly reading the other team's offense/defense and yelling things out to his teammates (even from the bench, to the point where an official asked him to sit down one time), and Tevian Jones seems to have great fast break awareness (again, just watching him away from the ball on a break).
Sometimes that doesn't mean much. Carsen Edwards comes in and scores 33 with ease and we remember that pure talent is much more important than basketball IQ. But there seems to be a theme with these freshmen, especially away from the ball: they understand the game. Once they get this freshman year out of the way (where nothing ever seems to go right), I'm excited for their futures.
4. Athletic Lead Guards Will Bother Us All Year
Mississippi Valley State had one good player (Jordan Evans, a guard who put up 22 points), and he got most of what he wanted. If a guy like that can be pressured without turning the ball over (Evans had zero turnovers), we're in trouble. Last year, against Michigan State, we were able to frustrated Cassius Winston and force a bunch of turnovers. Carsen Edwards with Purdue? Laughed at everything we threw at him and dunked on us several times.
A guard who can really handle the pressure without turnovers really licks his chops when he gets past that pressure. Evans today was probably just a sign of things to come. Nearly every Big Ten team has a guard who is better than him, so when we play, say, Nebraska next week? Old friend Glynn Watson might have a field day with the way we play basketball.
OK that's four but I feel like I'd be pushing it to stretch it to five. So I'll just sum up the game this way:
Ayo is the real deal. He's the point guard who can facilitate this offense, and with a Trent by his side, we see how this offense is supposed to work. The problem? So far, when we play, you know, a real opponent, we're just not ready to match their knowledge of their systems. As we knew going in, this season will be defined by "four returnees and eight newcomers". I think we can see what it's supposed to be, and we can see, very specifically, why these freshmen were recruited, but it's still a long way off from being something.
Hey, sound familiar?