That’s really the only way to describe a year where your absolute favorite sports team finishes 6-23-6. That’s a bafflingly ugly number, ain’t it? In perspective, UMass finished just six points ahead of Lowell, which had one of the worst seasons any D1 athletics program has ever had in any sport ever. The difference there was UMass’s 3-0 record against its vastly inferior little sister school. The Minutemen would win three other games all season – two against a pretty-bad Vermont program, and a lonely nonconference rout of Quinnipiac (hardly adequate revenge for last year’s heartbreaking loss which sent the Minutemen into a season-collapsing tailspin).
We all saw this coming, although some of us (i.e. this blog) saw a slightly less hopeless season ahead. While most critics rightfully saw an already-overrated Lowell squad losing pretty much every relevant player to graduation as a recipe for disaster, most were equally skeptical of a UMass team losing its five leading scorers to either graduation or the professional ranks, and UMass was thus picked to barely finish ahead of Lowell in many preseason rankings. Indeed, in many years, 16 points would be enough to doom UMass to miss the postseason, and only yet another awful Providence season allowed UMass the chance for a hard-fought two-game sweep against BC (again). The Minutemen managed not to win any of its final 14 games down the stretch. Their last win? Paul Dainton’s only career shutout victory, which we attended, the 6-0 thomping of Vermont that led the three of us to some misguided optimism about how far this primarily-freshman team had come in just over half a season.
Yet, for once, the long stretch of winless games down the stretch actually showed signs of improvement, believe it or not. As the schedule turned from the dregs of Hockey East, from the Lowells and Vermonts and Providences of the world, we saw the Minutemen jack up the caliber of play to match the opposition. With the notable exception of one weekend, during which the UMass men’s club hockey team apparently suited up and wore the varsity team’s numbers in a 17-2 combined clubbing at the hands of BC and ‘Mack, UMass played a long series of down-to-the-wire heartbreakers against the class of Hockey East – Merrimack, BC, Maine. Five straight one-goal losses followed by an easily-winnable tie.
In fact, making that weekend more inexplicable, the Minutemen played the class of Hockey East pretty damn close all season long. Even in that BC game, the Eagles were kept mostly in check until they broke it open in the waning minutes. In the three-game series against UNH and BU, the Minutemen pulled off two ties (again, both winnable games, but I digress), and kept the other games close enough considering the considerable blue line youth on display back early in the year. UMass blew leads against the Huskies twice at home (though their visit to Matthews was a pretty poor showing) too. All of these woulda-shoulda-coulda moments can come to a couple conclusions, not any of which are mutually exclusive:
1) These guys were young, like REAL young, and has yet to learn how to close games out.
There was a severe lack of experience at pretty much every key position this year for UMass. Doug Kublin led the blue line corps, but everyone else of note was a freshman or sophomore. Adam Phillips and Joel Hanley saw a huge chunk of minutes. Anthony Raiola was forced into a lot of action. Conor Allen and Colin Shea logged a lot of ice time. See a pattern? Outside of Kubbie, who really had any significant experience coming in? Darren Rowe played a bit, as did Mikey Marcou. The latter had a pretty awful season, but he’s also going on just one year of regular playing time, and missed a number of games this year to injury. The young D-corps got better as the season went on, but can we really expect/trust these guys to be able to know how to shut down bigger, more experienced forwards when the game’s on the line? Not yet, my friends. Not yet.
Likewise, the forwards, outside of Hobbs, Syner, Concannon, and Langeraap, were a rotating group of youngsters. The offense performed admirably in the absence of Jimmy and Casey and the like, but even those guys took until their sophomore years to develop into offensive leaders. Mike Pereira, Conor Sheary, Branden Gracel – all of them look poised to have great careers for this squad. I’m also high on the prospects for guys like Troy Power and Adam Phillips (as I’ve said in the past, I’m a big proponent of having a blue-line scoring threat like Irwin showed flashes of being) contributing in big ways offensively next year. Syner and Hobbs, while not as dominant as Marcou and Wellman were, are a dynamic scoring duo who I think will have a lot better support around them than their predecessors had (no offense to Syner and Hobbs themselves, who were part of that support). This unit will nonetheless require a bit more time playing together to really find their groove. The offense unfortunately did struggle at times this year, but again – it’s hard to imagine such a young team succeeding against bigger, more experience teams, when the Minutemen are already at such a recruiting disadvantage to the more established powers of Hockey East. The program is making strides, but it’s not there yet, and it’ll take a lot more sustained success if and when it wants to get up to that level.
On the flip side…
2) The results would have been even worse – a lot worse – without #31 between the pipes.
The Minutemen, as I noted in last year’s postseason recap, did have one important crutch coming back – a senior goaltender, one who has always been at least above-average in Hockey East, and one who’s had a penchant for stealing games on occasion. Dainton was true to form this year, posting solid numbers and seemingly playing his best hockey down the stretch run, including another strong showing in the playoffs at Chestnut Hill. Obviously, next year the training wheels come off, and UMass will be relying on Jeff Teglia an awful lot.
There are some bright spots to this. Jeff Teglia may have struggled a bit in his initial appearances for the Minutemen, but he nonetheless got some experience under his belt. When Dainton took over following Jon Quick’s sudden departure in ’07, he was a pure freshman with no collegiate experience, handed the starting job with only sophomore Dan Meyers behind him. Granted, Teglia’s “experienced” backup next year is Kevin Moore, similar to Meyers in clubhouse presence and leadership but slightly less legitimate as a “backup.” On the other hand, Dainton also didn’t have a young buck behind him competing for playing time. Tegs will have two freshman recruits, Boyle and Mastalerz, and the competition for the starting job can only help as a motivating factor.
Beyond that, though, it’s pretty well-established in the local media that Dainton was the prototypical “good clubhouse guy,” earning that “C” on his uniform in his leadership of the young Minutemen. Here’s hoping that this means he taught Tegs everything he knows (minus the whole “wandering around outside the crease to play the puck” thing? Please? My heart can’t handle three more years of this!) and maybe even offered some advice to Boyle and/or Mastalerz, too.
And who knows? Not to belittle the accomplishments of the program’s all-time saves leader, but couldn’t it be within the realm of possibility that one of these recruits (who, for what I can recall, all seem more highly-touted than Dainton was when he was recruited) could emerge as being better than Pauly D was? Is that blasphemy? This is a program that produced a top-5 NHL goalie right now in Quick. Sure, that was back when Dennehy was pulling in quality recruits, but goalie coach Mike Buckley is still here. While I think that the students’ chants of “Teg-li-a!” in that last weekend against Maine were frankly pretty moronic (that student article is coming in the offseason, I swear!), I still have a good feeling that the goalie situation with resolve itself sooner than later. (As in, before the bulk of the conference schedule starts next year. Fingers crossed.)
So, yeah. The walk through hell is over. It was one of the worst seasons in program history on paper, yet, unlike the baskettaball team’s season, the trend was upward nonetheless. Aside from Dainton, what is this team losing next year? Chase Langeraap finally started to put it together at the end of his career, and everyone knows that we’re heartbroken to be losing Kubbie, but Saunders was a frequent healthy scratch, Concannon and Lecomte are what-could-have-been stories thanks to lingering injuries, and Keane never really lived up to expectations.
Next year, we’ll see another couple blue-line prospects in Mike Busillo and the towering Oleg Yevenko. Between Yevenko and Phillips, the blue-line will finally have something we haven’t really seen much of in this program: size. Meanwhile, while losing Kublin, UMass will bring back a solid young corps who have improved throughout the year, with Phillips, Hanley, Rowe, Raiola, Allen, and Shea. With all those guys coming in, Donnellan hopefully returning from injury, and Mikey hopefully using his rough year as motivation to come back much-improved (being healthy from the get-go would help), hopefully the team can cover up the loss of one of the most consistent defensemen the team’s ever seen.
Likewise, offensively, unless someone unexpectedly bolts to the NHL like last year (highly unlikely), there are a lot fewer question marks. Again, Pereira, Hobbs, Syner, Gracel, and Sheary form the basis of a highly effective offensive corps. Rocco Carzo will hopefully use his strong finish to the season as a springboard to becoming a contributor offensively. Czepiel, Olcyzk, Filiou, DeAngelo, Power, and Kiley all saw playing time this year and have potential to be a strong supporting cast with another year under their belts. Shane Walsh and Zack LaRue will come in as freshmen with solid juniors numbers and a chance to contribute without the pressure this year’s freshman class had of carrying the team. Last-minute update: And you can add Joseph Manno to that list, too. He and LaRue both have some pretty impressive scouting reports going for them. And really, for Derek’s sake, it would be sick to have a guy named Walsh AND a guy from his hometown of Melrose (Sheary) on the same team, both doing well.
Do I think these guys will suddenly become the class of Hockey East next year? Of course not. Unless eeerrryone gets up and leaves, BC’s current crop of stars has one more year together, although I’m far less sold on Parker Milner than I am with John Muse. BU and Maine also have a significant amount of talent returning next year, and Northeastern could be frisky if their young stars can fill the McNeely/MacLeod void right away. UNH loses a massive percentage of its scoring and should be on the decline next year, and, while Merrimack’s days in the basement appear over for a while, they do lose some key seniors, including goalie stalwart Joe Cannata, and I just don’t see Da Costa turning down the limelight of the NHL as well. In the bottom ranks, I don’t see Vermont getting significantly better anytime soon, and who knows what to make of Providence or Lowell given their coaching situations. In other words, the middle of the pack is, honestly, a pretty reasonable expectation. I could see this team finishing anywhere from 3rd to 7th next year. There’s a lot of factors at stake. Given everything, though, improvement is the only logical scenario. The question is how much this team improves, and we will have to wait through another long summer and fall until we get to find out.
So that’s the year and the outlook in a nutshell. Now, as for the blog. This was my first year following the team as an alum. Half the year I was limited to watching choppy streaming video online from my apartment in Disney World, and the other half I got to experience the game from the student section a few more times (albeit at 12-16 bucks a game) with Derek and Matt and the gang. We also made a number of roadtrips, one successful (Vermont!) and a few less so (to Merrimack, as well as Matt and Derek’s trip to UNH, which I still need to visit). We will continue to follow the team next year, both from a blog standpoint and literally, as we look to cross Orono and Providence off our to-do list. We also want to make trips to Quinnipiac and any other New England venues the team gets scheduled to visit (Harvard? Cornell?).
That said, I founded Fight Mass to create a venue for the student section to band together, something I haven’t quite seen yet. I love that some of you have approached us about the blog, and your continued readership has been tremendous. Really, I could write about this all day regardless of who reads it, but at the same time, I’d love for those of you who do read it to continue to get involved and spread Fight Mass to your friends. I’ll get into it further when I write my student section piece (I swear, offseason, it’ll happen soon – I figure it’s the perfect thing to fill the offseason void), but I think part of the problem with UMass from a student fanbase perspective is a lack of organization. Without organization, a student section cannot build tradition, aside from “one random drunk guy yells ‘fuck BU’ and everyone else joins in, derp!” It was an organized, albeit small, group of fans that built the limited tradition UMass has (i.e. its chants, many of which are cribbed from other Hockey East schools, by the way), and even these traditions are falling apart (i.e. we don’t even say “how much time’s left?” anymore, people think the goal chant is “fuck fuck fuck fuck go UMass,” and other various fails one would expect from a Lowell but certainly not from a school of this caliber). I don’t want to just tell people what to do, because a) that will never work, and b) no one man should have all that pooowah. Instead, I want the students who know what’s going on to have a place to gather, and tell themselves what to do, together.
More on that later. For now, what you need to know is that myself, Matt, and Derek will continue to write for the blog, observers that we are. (Ben is welcome to continue contributing as well, if he so desires.) We have a few interested undergraduates who have contacted us about contributing. I’ve talked to all of them and gotten a writing sample from one, and I like the cut of all of their very different but interesting jibs. None of us is comfortable about “handing the reins” off to anyone, of course. I’m not entirely sure if that will ever really happen, because if someone with a 9-to-5 “real” job like Coogan can find the time to maintain a blog at a high level of involvement, we should be able to do so between the three of us with whatever employment we post-graduate scrubs can scrounge up.
How the blog will continue remains to be seen, but I envision the three founders contributing more the way we have so far: myself as the “big picture” guy, Walsh with the nitty-gritty hockey knowledge, Matt with his sharp wit and fury of a thousand suns fueling his various rants. Alongside that we see contributors as a chance for us to stay in touch with the student section, as we almost surely will be limited in our ability to all three of us commute all the fucking way to Amherst from wherever we happen to be when next season rolls around. For all we know, we might all end up closer to Boston (the other two already do live near there and I live slightly closer to there than to Amherst) and we’d catch the Minutemen in person more often in their road games out here. This is where the contributors would be useful. Again, it’s all up in the air. For now, if you’re a reader and interested in contributing, hit us up on the Facebook group and send us a message. And keep telling your friends, goddamnit! “Like” the Facebook group. It takes like 10 seconds. Really.
One more thing I’d like to say before the sun sets on our season recap is that the highlight of the year, for me anyway, was the chance to befriend Mark of Fear the Triangle. I’ve made it no secret that FtT is my most prominent inspiration for starting Fight Mass, and I’m pleased to announce that he’s also a great guy outside of his Internet persona, too. His blogging advice has been priceless and you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone with a more genuine love for this program and dedication for what he does. And on top of all that, he’s provided us with some tremendous beer recommendations to boot – even Toot gave him a shout out on senior night at the press conference. (Seriously. Read the “Road Trip” section on FtT if you’re going to a UMass road game ever.) We here at Fight Mass are proud to call him a friend and the UMass hockey community is lucky to have him.
So that’s it for the 2010-2011 season. Like I said, I’ll be offering my take on what’s wrong with the student section soon, and maybe the occasional update on our nationally-ranked men’s lacrosse team or the hopefully-imminent move of UMass football to the FBS, but otherwise, there’s not a ton to talk about in the offseason. I would like to take this opportunity to mention my forthcoming secondary blog, Six Lengths Ahead (tentative title, which will probably stick since I already started it and such) in which I will be publishing various musings, from Boston’s pro sports teams and other non-UMass happenings, to other pop culture things. Yeah, it sounds kinda Simmons-y, but hopefully with all the wit and none of the continuous references to the same three or four 80’s movies. Anyway, I haven’t written anything yet (I’ll probably start with a roundup of this week’s returns of Community, 30 Rock and Parks & Rec, or a look at the soon-to-be-done-for-the-season U.S. adaptation of the brilliant British show Skins) but rest assured that content is coming. Oh yes, it’ll be coming, hard and long (maybe not 3,000+ words long, but you know) all summer long and beyond.
As for the hockey team, the future is always brighter than the surface of a freshly zambonied ice surface. For all we know, Hobbs will head off to the Rangers early, all the goalies will suck, and the team will struggle along yet again. Or they’ll bolt out of the gate to a 10-2-2 record, then Cahoon Swoon their way to another low seed and early exit.
But maybe, just maybe, they won’t. And so goes the life of a UMass hockey fan. Call it masochism, call it madness, call it blind loyalty to an alma mater. We call it devotion. And one of these years, damnit, we’re bound to be right.
And so the question begs to be asked…
Is it October yet?
The UMass men’s baskettaball season has finally, graciously, come to an abrupt end. And not a moment too soon.
Oh, sure, the CBI and CIT will come a-calling for up-and-coming mid-majors who want to pay the $35G entry fee to play in a meaningless post-season tournament. But newsflash: this is not an up-and-coming mid-major. The Atlantic 10 is not a mid-major. It’s a major, albeit not one of the “power six,” but not a joke of a conference where the Arkansas-Little Rocks of the world can line up to be 15 and 16 seeds year after year. This is what pisses me off the most about the “look how many teams have made the NCAA tournament since UMass last did it!” Yeah. Look how many teams play in bullshit conferences. UMass plays in the Atlantic 10. It ain’t spectacular, but it’s prestigious enough that you need to actually be good to win the conference. That’s why Xavier and Temple win it year after year. That’s why Dayton, certainly a proud enough program, is a yearly contender. With great power comes great responsibility, of course. UMass could drop down to one of the aforementioned bullshit conferences, and be a perennial power in, say, the Northeast Conference. (Actually, based on their performance against Central Connecticut…you know, let’s not go there right now.) But they don’t. They play in the Atlantic 10. And so we will continue to suffer as fans, missing the tournament year after year, until they build a team capable of competing at this level.
This was not such a team this year.
That 7-0 start (no, seriously! They started 7-0!) was a facade, and we all knew it. Rallying against a Rider team that fell asleep at the wheel, and only after Gurley and Riley caught absolute fire behind the arc. Barely squeezing by teams like Sacred Heart and Holy Cross. (Unless it’s Notre Dame, you generally want to blow out schools with adjective-noun religious names.) Those blowout wins against not-so-great TCU and New Mexico State looked nice until you factor in their hellish travel schedules. The real warning sign should have been AIC hanging around in the first half. AIC! Basically a community college! I mean, for chrissakes, even Travis Ford’s tournament-missing teams were able to blow out middling A-10 squads at home. No matter who UMass played, a 20-point win just seemed to be too much to ask for. And yeah, margin of victory shouldn’t matter if you’re winning, but face it – it does matter. If you’re not significantly better than shitty competition, then something is severely wrong with either your focus, your style of play, your talent, your coaching…something. And in some combination, all of these factors undermined the Minutemen’s season, until their most embarrassing two-game span in recent memory: snapping Fordham’s 41-game conference losing streak, and then a “nationally”-televised (which is to say, even less-“nationally” than Versus’s “nationally”-televised NHL games) playoff game against a middling Dayton team which saw the second-worst loss in Mullins history. Moreover, the student endzone was actually full for the first time since, ohh, I dunno, probably the last time BC was in town (my 21st birthday, incidentally), and once again, a poorly-timed stinkbomb of a performance likely made the marketing department’s job that much harder for next year.
So where do we go from here? Turn all the lights down now. I’m NOT feeling this. (With apologies to blink-182.)
Seriously. There is nothing to be gained from spending thousands of dollars to play in a mediocre tournament. This team has regressed drastically as the season has gone on. And yeah, part of it was that the Minutemen started playing against teams who didn’t have to travel thousands of miles and/or the third day in a row. The fact of the matter is, the offense made nil progress as the year went on, while Anthony Gurley (who pretty much was the offense at the start of the year) started getting contained and shut down. There was no plan B. This team had one way of winning: grind the game down, hang around and make the other team play “baskettaball,” and hope that the opponent goes just as cold from the field. In a few games – the first game against Dayton, both games against Rhody, and almost that Temple game – it worked. More often than not? The offense sputtered hilariously.
Enough is enough with this “dribble drive” crap. The halfcourt offense had almost no chance of scoring unless Freddie/Gurley/Morgan happened to hit a jacked-up 3. Gurley had a streaky year, true, but I’d take “streaky” over the shitshow of outside shooting from the rest of the team. Riley’s shot selection was atrocious. Morgan still looks like he’s figuring out the rhythm of D1 hoops and it’s hard to get a grasp on whether he can be the dominant scorer he’s shown flashes of. But look at the rest of the squad – Correia’s not really an outside shooter, Putney’s outside shooting was awful, and even Sampson and Vinson(!) jacked up the trey from time to time. Has anyone ever heard of midrange shooting? It felt like watching the Jim O’Brien Celtics from time to time, with Gurley as Pierce, only not nearly as good. Worse still, when the team actually DID drive to the hoop, nobody seemed capable of finishing. I mean nobody. Sean Carter was lobbed awful alley-oop passes all season long (most of the time not his fault), Farrell and Gurley occasionally slashed to the hoop with mixed results, and Bailey managed to become an alright defender and rebounder with absolutely no inside scoring game whatsoever, sort of a homeless man’s Kendrick Perkins. It looks a million times worse after years of watching Travis Ford’s teams run up and down the court, scoring seemingly at will at times, defense-optional. I appreciate that these guys recognize the importance of defense, but you can’t win basketball games without a consistent offense. You just can’t.
To his credit, Kellogg seems to recognize this. In the postgame interviews after the Dayton game, he dismissed the idea of competing in a low-level tournament and stressed that it would be much more productive for the team to get into the gym, and prepare for next year by being bigger and stronger. He said he wants to run more, saying the team “did what they could with what they had” this year. So he knew all along that the team didn’t have it, but didn’t want to mention any of this until after the season. Okay, so that kind of sucks with regards to this year, but I’d be rather concerned, frankly, if he came out and said something like “well, that’s too bad, but the more we run this offense, the better it will be.” He hinted that the team wants to run more. It all sounds pretty apologetic, but how much of it is posturing? Whatever. It’s a step in the right direction for now, and that’s all we can hope for. What it actually means for this program is another monster entirely.
Now, Kellogg himself ain’t goin’ nowhere, for anyone who hasn’t yet grasped that UMass cannot afford to buy him out right now. He’s here for two (or three, depending who you ask) more years, because that’s what he’s signed for. That’s absolutely fine with me for a few reasons; first of all, a surefire, instant upgrade does not seem readily available, nor does one seem interested. Al Skinner’s still out there, but eh, I’ve never been horribly impressed with what he’s done with considerably more resources at BC. Outside of that, the powers-that-be seem to be, at least publicly, dead-set on keeping a coach here long-term, a la Majerus at Saint Louis or Baron at Rhody. Never you mind that neither coach has been horribly successful of late. We want no part of being a stepping stone for anyone. There’s no denying that DK being successful would be a godsend, a feel-good story, and most importantly, a way for this team to keep it rolling because of his undying loyalty to his alma mater. So he’s here, for better or for worse, and instead of debating whether he should stay or not NOW, the debate for us now becomes whether he can figure it out by the end of his contract.
So how can he do this? Well, call me crazy, but I’m optimistic that next year CAN be a huge improvement. Yeah, I’m the same guy who just spent 1300 words telling you what went wrong this year. But what makes me optimistic is that a) the turnover in players is going to make it easy to rectify all the failure, and b) the coach has indicated that he sees what went wrong and is, for the first time in his tenure as head coach, openly discussing an overhaul of the way this team plays. Let’s take a look.
Next year, the roster loses Gurley, Correia, and CDP (and maybe Hill, but – with all due respect to the new father – whatevs). One of the biggest problems with Kellogg’s tenure has been his inability to get HIS point guard. Chris Lowe was a fantastic talent, but his talents in the uptempo game were wasted between DK’s first-year adjustments and the fledgling offense. Wiggins, Traynham…different guys, different stories, same fates. Gibbs? Might have been better in Ford’s system but more likely just one of those guys who, for whatever reason, can’t put it together at this level. (Good as Ford’s offensive system was…Gibbs was the best recruit he could land? Really?) And Correia, the guy whose entrance made us cringe even in Chris Lowe’s worst games of his senior year, who was only our point guard this year because of what happened with the previous three guys I mentioned. That’s something people are so quick to forget with regards to this team. Look, I don’t want to pile on GC, but it was clear from his freshman year that this guy was a backup point guard at this level, and instead we were left with him, having no legitimate PG backup, running a convoluted offense all year long. The point guard is the quarterback of your team, and UMass’s was a backup, plain and simple.
As Gurley went through the year, putting up big numbers for a team on which he emerged as basically the only scoring option on many nights, the question arose from UMass nation: “Who’s gonna replace this guy next year? Where will we get his scoring from?” That’s fan-ese for “I don’t understand how stats work in basketball.” That’s like the people who think that wins and losses are meaningful statistics in baseball. Here’s the answer: “Well, other people are going to shoot more, in a system that will be designed so that they get scoring opportunities rather than Gurley, and – voila! – points may or may not result.” And honestly, Gurley’s season wasn’t that impressive. He’s not Jimmer Fredette. He’s not even freaking Gary Forbes. He really wasn’t that much better than he was back when Ricky and Gaffney et al were on the team, and he was not exempt from criticism then. On a team that struggled this much offensively, that shot in the bottom 1/7th of the nation from the field, it’s not “how do we replace this guy’s scoring.” It’s “how can we overhaul the offense so that the other guys actually take quality shots?”
Back in the – ahem – “glory days” for UMass, sure, we had outside shooters. Yeah, there was Forbes slashing to the hoop, and Ricky to an extent in his absence. But you also had guys like Freeman and Gaffney and Milligan who could occasionally do things down in the post, offensive rebound, etc. CDP is gone, so his offensive woes are irrelevant. But Vinson and Sampson and Sean have, thus far, underwhelmed with their offensive games. Of that triumvirate, Sean had a pretty good season, but he could stand to attack the basket even more. Maybe it’s the number, but I keep thinking of Etienne Brower when I see Sampson out there, only with a better inside game and without as much shooting prowess. And Vinson…boy, what a mystery he’s been. There was just so much potential for him that first year, but his offense out of the halfcourt is virtually nonexistent. He might just be better suited as a finisher in a run-and-gun type of offense. I don’t know, maybe not. But something has to change for him, because it just feels like such a waste of talent.
There were a few bright spots this year. Much has been made of the emergence of Putney and Morgan. Putney, in particular, has been very exciting to watch, with his phenomenal reach, aggressiveness, and, well, he’s just so goofy-looking! Seriously, though, if he continues to eat more sammiches this off-season (someone hook this guy up with some extreme mass-building supplements, f’real now) and gets even stronger, he could be an inside-outside threat as his basketball smarts continue to progress. He’s gotta shoot better than 20% from 3, though, or maybe just not shoot them at all. I personally think he might be better-suited shooting those KG-esque midrange jumpers; if only such shots weren’t discouraged by the coaching staff. The guy I do want shooting more 3’s is Jesse Morgan. He was streaky as hell down the stretch, but I like his quickness and aggressiveness, and I think he did a damn good job for someone with so little experience and time to adjust to the system. He’s a curious case, for sure, but one to keep an eye on next year. I’d like to see him do more than just shoot from the outside, but I think he could certainly have a Ricky-before-his-senior-year type role for a team that needs all the shooting help they can get.
Speaking of curious cases…I don’t know how this whole Riley stuff is going to play out. There’s plenty of speculation and rumors that he’s any combination of a headcase, unhappy here, and/or starving for the opportunity to prove himself. Thus, I see this as a turning point for Freddie – either he packs up and leaves, or he gets his head on straight and comes out next year with the same level of determination that we saw in the waning minutes of the Dayton disaster. Both outcomes would be more constructive than the season he had this year, in which he was undoubtedly the team’s most controversial Tweeter, openly criticizing the fans (and even responding to our own Matt at one point, which I’m pretty sure is why head coaches despise Twitter), opining about not getting to play, etc. No player on this team was more divisive for fans. But when you have a guy with the potential to be a prolific scorer and shooter (provided his shot selection and/or the offensive system improves), maybe you have to give him a chance, and ignore the baggage – or, even better, hope he’s able to overcome it.
Next year, the team will welcome the biggest name Kellogg has recruited in his time with the program. Jordan Laguerre projects as a dynamic scorer, an immediate impact-guy, someone who can score off the dribble (lol wut?), hit the outside shot, dunk the ball, cure cancer, and slot right in on the top line next year alongside Hobbs and Syner. Nah, but seriously, we’ve heard this shit before – Gibbs was supposed to be a combo guard who would score seemingly at will, and that’s not even close to what we ended up seeing. Still, he’s the most exciting prospect ON PAPER that this team has brought in since Gibbs, and since he’s a DK guy and not a Ford guy, you have to be at least somewhat thrilled for his arrival. The good news is that he plays a position that we have a few existing guys at – the aforementioned Morgan, Riley (unless he leaves), and even Farrell if needed (although I think JYD’s second half struggles this year had a lot to do with him playing too much 1/2 and not enough 3, for which he seems better suited). The bad news is that the pickings are considerably slimmer at positions where we most need improvement.
Okay, that’s being awfully harsh to Chaz Williams. But really, the last few transfers we’ve had have struggled in their first years with the team. Brower, Gaffney and Gurley took until their senior years to truly make an impact. Bailey and Bonner were busts. Sean Carter’s first year here wasn’t so hot. But I suppose we have no choice. In Williams we trust. The good news is that this guy seems to have his head on straight, relative to our last few point guard projects (Wiggins/Traynham). Still, point guard is one place you never want to have question marks – we just saw that for three straight years. Here’s hoping Chaz is the real deal.
Also of note are redshirt Maxie Esho and Cady Lalanne, who sat out the year becoming academically eligible. Both are big forwards (6’8″ and 6’9″ respectively). Both are highly-touted prospects (sound familiar?) who could step in and succeed where Bailey failed and Vinson has yet to succeed. These guys have flown under the radar, but both have scouting reports rife with words like “athletic” and “good scoring touch” that, while perhaps indicative of hyperbolic scouting report lingo, could just as easily indicate that the answer to what ails this program might already lie within. We shall see. I’m looking forward to learning more about these guys’ role as the offseason moves on and Kellogg figures out what this team will look like next year.
And how will that team play? Ultimately, it comes back to the dribble-drive. Is it time to get Walberg out of town? Honestly, I haven’t been following the DK-Walberg rumors as closely as some have, particularly this year (where I was present for a grand total of one game in person). Some fans insinuate on the forums that Walberg is running the show. If that’s the case…it’s time for him to not run the show anymore. This will be year four for Kellogg. For three years, the so-called architect of the DDM hasn’t been able to get it to work effectively. It’s time for DK to figure out what he’s got and build a system that will make it work. This isn’t Memphis; Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans aren’t walking through that door. (And why would they, we don’t have a coach to pay them off, HEY-O!!! Kidding, of course.) If that means wrestling control of the team away from his assistant coach, then so be it. If it turns out that it’s nothing but idle fan speculation, well, cool, whatever. I just can’t believe that a program at this level could run the same failed offense over and over again.
This program can succeed at the A-10 level. The students – and now, I suspect, many of the local fans – are done with the honeymoon phase, and they ain’t coming back until DK starts putting out a winning product. Now it’s up to him to salvage his own legacy and the respect of the fanbase that once made the Bill one of college basketball’s finest venues. For the fans who have been calling for his head, listen to his words. He knows this season was unacceptable, but I think that maybe – just maybe – he gets what needs to be done, and next year he’ll have the pieces to do it.
This team got what it needed – a year that was spiraling out of control has ended. Josh Maurer’s pronunciation will likely be the same next year, but the era of “baskettaball” has come to an end.
Or at least, for this program’s – and my sanity’s – sake, it better have.
P.S. Oh, and thank you to the graduating class of 2011. Anthony Gurley, Hashim Bailey, Gary Correia, and possibly Matt Hill. My uneducated criticisms and those of all the other fans do not change the fact that these players put their hearts and souls into the training and practice and sacrifice that goes into playing collegiate sports at the highest level.
P.P.S. Thanks for calling me out, Matt, but I’ve decided that my long-promised “state of the students” article will be coming after the hockey season is over. Whenever that may be, hopelessly optimistic exclamation point!