WKU basketball – Post-Puerto Rico thoughts

23 11 2010

Where to start?

We learned quite a bit about where this team’s at over the three-game stretch in San Juan.

Let’s take a look at the top three positives and negatives, because we’ve got to be balanced – right?

We’ll start with the negatives:

– Attitude

Ken McDonald touched on it after the Davidson game, though he really didn’t need it – because it was obvious. Most of the WKU roster looked like it wanted no part of even lacing up its shoes for that one.

I know it’s early in the season and I know it was the third game in four days on an island 1,700 miles away. But not showing up every night is a lesson that the 2009-10 team learned the hard way.

In fact, it was almost February before they finally figured it out – something McDonald’s current group can’t afford to have happen. The schedule’s too difficult and there’s too many new faces in new places to mess around like that.

Can that be put on coaching? Sure. But we’re not talking about 12-year-olds here gang – the bulk of these guys are in their 20s. Brandon Peters is a true freshman that plays, Kene Anyigbo some and Stephon Drane has yet to see action. But outside of Steffphon Pettigrew, the only three players I can point to that had consistent efforts for all three games in Puerto Rico were Caden Dickerson and Jamal Crook – two sophomores – and Cliff Dixon, a second-year senior.

Kahlil McDonald played hard at times, but doesn’t quite have a grasp on the whole D-1 thing at both ends yet. Sergio Kerusch went hard at the end of the Hofstra game, was aggressive on the glass against Minnesota but really struggled to get anything going against Davidson. Ken Brown is still figuring out how things work at this speed, adn the freshmen are playing like freshmen.

Juan Pattillo – well we’ve seen how good he can be when he plays hard. And we’ve seen the alternative when he doesn’t.

The whole ‘coming to play every night’ thing isn’t new, it’s not new to WKU and it’s not new to college basketball. But whatever needs to be done to fix it, needs to happen fast – otherwise the Hilltoppers will be limping into Sun Belt Conference play in about a month’s time.

– Shooting

And I’m not just talking about outside shooting. But free throw shooting, mid-range shooting, layup shooting, dunk-shooting – heck, I’d bet WKU’s pool shooting is struggling right now.

There’s no way around it, WKU was just terrible from a shooting standpoint in Puerto Rico.

The Hilltoppers shot the lights out against St. Joe’s earlier this season. Some of that might a been a bit of an aberration, but much of it was due to the fact that WKU moved the ball, played as a team and knocked down open looks when it had a chance to.

In Puerto Rico, players were playing one-on-one against zones, not sharing the ball and passing up open shots for fear of another miss.

On top of that, WKU’s free throw shooting sits at just 53 percent on the season – that’s eighth-worst in the country folks.

It’s really not a secret, consistent outside shooting will be at a premium this season for WKU.

But if your shots are falling inside and you move the ball well, open looks will come – and this is still a college basketball team gang, these guards wouldn’t have been offered scholarships from multiple schools if they couldn’t knock down open shots.

But as I’ve said before, there’s no fail-safes or bail outs. WKU can’t afford to be sloppy in the half court, because there aren’t any pure shooters around – that can get their own shot – to save the day when the shot clock expires. That’s just fact.

Sergio Kerusch isn’t a 3-point shooter. He’s a slasher. Caden Dickerson can hit from deep, but he’s at his best spotting up and being set up by a teammate. Kahlil McDonald can hit from deep, but he’s got to have more confidence and understand that when he’s on the court, he’s there to stretch the defense – not beat people one-on-one off the dribble.

McDonald talks a lot about settling for shots instead of getting good ones. This group can’t afford to do that. They’re simply not polished enough offensively. They’re as athletic and explosive as anyone they’ll face all season, but that does nothing for you in a half-court set against a zone.

– Rebounding

Really no excuse for this one and it really makes no sense.

WKU gets outrebounded by just one against Minnesota, easily one of the biggest and most physical teams it will play all season. And yet, the Hilltoppers were right there on the glass.

Against Hofstra and Davidson – two teams that were far less athletic and far less physically imposing – WKU gets taken to the woodshed on the glass, especially against Davidson.

The Davidson game might have been a result of poor effort. But both games were a result of poor box outs. Something McDonald and players have admitted to be a problem and something I’m sure they’ll take this week to work on.

WKU wants to get up and down and beat people in transition, but that can’t happen if they don’t rebound.

And now, the positives:

Rather than getting long-winded here, I’ll just lump it all into one –

Everything I listed above, is absolutely fixable:

Attitudes can be fixed, shot selection can be fixed and rebounding can be fixed.

Theses aren’t fatal flaws, or at least not yet.

These things tend to happen with massive roster turnover – and in three years as head coach, 26 different players have put WKU uniforms on for Ken McDonald.

That’s a lot.

And with that, comes constant adjusting.

But to McDonald’s credit, he hasn’t shied away from any of these criticisms thus far. He’s harped on the rebounding, he’s called out players for not bringing A-efforts and he’s talked at length about the need to continue improving a rough half-court offense.

His tune early has been quite a bit different from a year ago – he’s talked about taking things one day at a time and trying to stay somewhere in the middle, rather than getting too high or too low. That’s got to be the approach with a group filled with new players.

Again, none of these issues are unfixable. There have been flashes with this group, and I don’t think anyone in their right mind would call this team talentless – they’re far from that.

The pieces are still floating around waiting to be put together, but it like Ken McDonald has already said, that needs to happen sooner rather than later.




5 responses

23 11 2010
Prime Rate

Good job as always, Nick. We have 10 plus athletes on this team. Why we’re not full court pressing every second is beyond me.

23 11 2010

I absolutely can’t stand the lack of effort put forth by this team. It reminds me of the Kilcullen days and that’s very, very bad!

23 11 2010

Maybe the ongoing early and late daily practices will give the coaches and the team time to resolve the problems. Players seem to be working on their attitudes, as well.

23 11 2010

I don’t know how the coach can’t be blamed. This team has talent. Ive watched every game this year. They were in the Minnesota game. If that 3 doesn’t go down at the end of the 1st half I think the second half could have been a tad different. i was not that unhappy with most of the Minnesota game. They were horrible the other games. HORRIBLE! NO EFFORT! I would have yanked the squad, no questions asked. Why was Sergio given the right to play…looked like a fool, no smiles and was just not happy and it showed in his play. WHAT IS THE DEAl

23 11 2010

I agree with and appreciate your assessment regarding the team. Why settle for a good shot when one extra pass might make it a great shot or why settle for an outside shot when you have an inside game? It is important that the team play as a team – together! Everyone will have an opportunity to score if the ball is shared. The players have off-court issues that in some instances might affect their performance. Sometimes a “word of encouragement” or a “vote of confidence” might push that player to his best performance yet. Over time, they will develop the mental toughness to isolate whatever has gone wrong in their lives and focus on the task at hand – winning the game.

To single out one player to pick apart as in the comment above certainly does nothing to improve that player. It is easy to criticize when the team does poorly and jump on the happy wagon when the team does well.

Although I don’t know a thing about coaching, I would have the players watch the tape, and critique their own game. After determining what they did wrong, in addition to practicing with the team, they would have to go to “Player Development” where they would practice on specific areas. For instance, if they shot bricks from 3-pt range, they would be practicing on their 3-pt. shot. If they shot free throws poorly, they would be practicing on their free throws. If personal issues got to be a bit much, I would have a person to deal with that also. If unity was an issue, there would be unity/team building exercises in which they would be required to participate. I have every confidence that WE WILL pull it together! T-O-P-S, TOPS, TOPS, TOPS – LET’S GO – LET’S WIN!

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