Thursday, January 11, 2018

SCU Men's Basketball - It's A "Con" Game





That's right, a con game.  

Not that we've been conned into believing our coaching staff are miracle workers, but it's a "con" of different sort.  IMHO, it's the lack of "con" that is missing.  CONFIDENCE.

Our 3-1 start to WCC play looks good, but we all know is hasn't been easy.  Maybe gritty, but not pretty.  Wins against lower echelon teams is expected, but the road ahead gets continually harder facing the "big three" and a revived USF team.

The biggest of all the "cons" is confidence; which comes from learning consistency, concentration on the game plan, and getting contributions from every team member.   When you successfully add all those "cons" together, you end up with a lot of "pros."  

So far, it seems the connection from strong practice performances to strong game performances has been inconsistent. There is confusion from the assignments on the white board to what happens at the backboard.  It's confounding to all of us.

The other day, I asked Women's Volleyball coach Jon Wallace (14 NCAA's in 19 seasons) how he deals with the above scenario.  His answer:  details.  He continually works on the skills and details that allows his players to be in the best position to be successful.  When they connect those details in game situations, boom, they build.  You got it, CONFIDENCE.  

That's where we are now with MBB connecting those details on the floor.  You can see it when players miss a good shot or are unable to finish at the rim or are out of position on D and give up an easy 3-pointer.  

The next four games vs St. Mary's, BYU, USF (road) and Gonzaga will be full frontal confrontations on our journey to put all our "cons" together as we try to contend in the WCC.

I know we're all concerned.  Rightfully so.  None of us, coaches and players included, will be content until NCAA's happen.  

The investment in the MBB program has a confirmed goal to be nationally relevant - by 2020.  Instead of of being adrift the past 20 years, we have a plan for a steady continuum of being better.

We have a coaching staff with considerable skills and track records.  Once they get all our "cons" going in the right direction, it will breed confidence, creating a winning culture that will become contagious with success on the court and throughout the University.

When that happens, I'll be the first to offer congratulations!













Thursday, January 4, 2018

SCU Men’s Basketball - We Need Some “Tude”





I woke up this morning with a big case of “tude.”

After the Gonzaga humiliation, the level of my “tude” isn’t at its maximum amplitude - but it’s close.  Total servi-tude to the Zags on the road in Spokane.

Got me thinking that at this point in our MBB season this team needs a monster case of tude.  Aptitude, attitude, altitude, and a big dose of fortitude.

Lets start with aptitude.  For whatever reason, it seems our team just isn't getting it.  Players out of position on offense and defense and "blanking" on where they should be.  The translation from practice to the game plan on the court gets lost.  The stat sheets against D1 opponents are not pretty if you dare to peruse.  

Let talk about attitude.  We all can use a reboot here.  As fans, we were feeling upbeat over the magnitude of improvement last season.  Now it's morphed into definite incertitude.  Doubt...

The coaches and players now face a stark season outcome and a real test of character.  Can they answer the call?  I say take the attitude of we've got nothing to lose and just play basketball.  Coaches might look at the stale pieces of our play and maybe take some risk with the "process" by trying some of the talent on our bench.

The altitude piece is evident.  We don't have enough bigs to stop the conga line into the middle.   It's hard to ask your smaller guys to play "big" when your bigs are playing small.  Out rebounded by an average of 10 per game so far in the WCC, our shots our getting rejected by a 3:1 margin.  

The last is fortitude.  Some toughness.  We've been pushed around by better teams like USC and the Zags, but we've also lost five games where we were either in the lead or close in the final minutes.  Teams have imposed their will on us; one game making their last 14 shots and another their last 7 of 8 to finish us off.   

We need all the "tudes" to right the ship over the next 16 games. 

If we can finish at .500 in the WCC, it will show we have a great plentitude of tudes.   It will vanquish the streak of ineptitude and for season ticket holders, fans, and alums, allow us to express some real gratitude!



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Thursday, December 21, 2017

Santa Clara Men's Basketball - The "Test's" are Just Beginning






For Men's Basketball, instead of Ho - Ho - Ho, December so far has been Whoa - Whoa - Whoa!  

SCU quarter final exams may be over.  But, like you, I'm feeling downright testy...Irritable, cranky, cantankerous, grumpy.  Pick one.  We're not alone.  I'm sure the players and coaches feel the same way.  

As much as we’ve “learned" about the season outcome so far; the biggest tests are yet to come.

Of course, the most obvious test that lies ahead is our WCC schedule.  The other tests, although less visible, may be greater.

How so?

As season, ticket holders, fans, and alums our faith in the turnaround of our MBB program has gone from we're on the up and up to what's up?

The Athletic's administration is still on message, stampede ahead, but so far the season feels like a cattle drive.  Not much momentum and a good number of "strays" - late game losses to corral. 

I'm sure the coaching staff is pulling all nighters, cramming for the next test/game and doing intensive reviews to amp up the learning curve of their students - the players.  

You can see and hear the "testiness" on the sideline during games.  Coach Sendek has changed from his Yoda persona into a drill sergeant demanding more from his team.  The assistant coaches are now all standing up and shouting instructions on every possession.  The sense of urgency is palpable.  

This turnaround of MBB might be Coach Sendek's biggest test.

His reputation, prior results and record of post season appearances is enviable.  BUT, as we all know this is Santa Clara.  Where Athletics has been flat-lined, at least since Football was amputated in 1992 until now, when Fr. Engh and the Trustees decided to resuscitate the MBB program with adequate funding and the hiring of proven staff.  

Let's be real.  Recruiting at NC State and ASU is an order of magnitude easier than SCU.  Both of the above have had Athletics as a key University reputation driver for decades.  It's part of their fabric and culture.  

We have great history - but it's ancient.  I'm pretty sure today's top 150 high school prospects aren't blown away by what happened nearly 50 or even 20 years ago.  I'm not being a downer here.  Claradise is an incredible place, but to the NCAA basketball cognoscenti it's not on the radar.  

That said, our newcomers show strong potential that hasn't yet translated to the performance they can/will deliver.  Unlocking that potential is the toughest part of coaching.  What do you do when great practices don't result in great games?  Lots of soul searching and hard questions, that in the end rightly or not, fall on coaches.  It's intense.

It's not just on the coaches.  We are all being tested.  As season ticket holders, alums, and fans our support and resolve is facing severe examination.  The haunting of the past nine years of a name coach who faltered still lingers.  

Our desire for better runs DEEP. 

Senior University Administration and Athletic staff are steadfast in their commitment to national.  No second guessing.  This is a huge test for them; as more investment in MBB isn't yet showing it's promise.  

The hardest test of all:  Patience.  I don't have much and I know most of you don't.  I think that's a good thing.  But let's all push in the right direction - UP.   It's OK to be "testy" just realize we all want the same outcome - national.  

It's on the coaches to deliver on the floor and on us to deliver support in the stands.  I'm confident the coaches can pass their test.

Can we?

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Saturday, December 9, 2017

SCU Men's Basketball - Can We "Weather" the Storm?






IMHO, our season so far has been the perfect storm.  Inferior teams dropping 3's late in the clock from everywhere like they're layups. Our shooting has been a disappointment so far; to say the least.  The better teams - Nevada, Idaho were just better...
Add to that, some of our veterans are off to a s-l-o-w start. 

The newcomers have talent, but the transition to D1 has been a huge learning curve.  Don't assume these guys come from high school programs with great coaching.  You can see it on the court, out of position on offense, and defense leads to breakdowns and mistakes.  Vrankic is the exception; he's been very good so far.

Add it up and that's what 3-5 looks like vs reasonable expectations of 5-3.  The road ahead gets harder:  Portland State, USC, Valpo, and San Jose State before league starts.

Going 2-2 in this stretch would be very good.  Portland State is very experienced and talented.  They are coached by former SCU assistant coach Barret Peery.  They've played much tougher competition.  Their two losses were to Duke and Butler.  Most recent wins were against Stanford and LMU.  You know for sure that Coach Peery would love to get a "W" against his mentor, Coach Sendek. 

USC was ranked as high as 7th before the loss on the road to SMU.  BTW, SMU also beat Arizona.  Valpo is 8-1, but hasn't played strong teams until their first loss last Thursday vs Purdue.

As for your questions about rotations and playing time.  Coach's criteria is straight up.  You perform in practice and you earn playing time.

Looking ahead to the next four games and the WCC, it won't be easy, but barring injuries, I think we can get to a .500 season, 15-15.  If the team gels, add an upset or two, 17-13 can be done.

Not horrible, given the start.

The recent move to put K.J. Feagin at the point is a subtle, but important move.  He can both shoot AND penetrate; opening the court for other shooters.  Case in point, Matt Hauser had his best game at the 2 guard spot, going 7-10 from 3pt.  Much needed.

Not everyone agrees, but I think we need to see what Coach can do when he has a roster of HIS recruits.  That's 3 recruiting seasons. I'm OK with being patient if he can deliver post season consistency like his prior stints - Miami, NC State, and ASU.

Enough blabbering.  Click the link below to read about our 2018 commits.  It's a headline you haven't seen about SCU MBB in a LONG time.  There are 18-20 Division 1 conferences and about 200 schools considered mid-majors.  A top 10 recruiting class should be good news. 

Santa Clara 2018 Recruiting Class
https://basketballrecruiting.rivals.com/news/ranking-the-10-best-mid-major-classes-of-the-2018-early-period

Coach has had an eye for finding talent that became game changers for his programs - Wally Sczcerbiak, Devin Davis, James Harden, and, our own, Julius Hodge.

Expectations are high.  There is viral impatience for success after 20+ years of mediocrity.   As painful/exciting it may be for this season, we need to give Coach Sendek's "process" time to work.

I can assure you, no one is more impatient than Coach Sendek and his staff.  We're all on the same page.  We just need to see that "page" include better players and post season tourney invites...



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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

SCU Men's Basketball - Do We have a "Shot" in the WCC?




It's hard to imagine anything colder than our shooting in Leavey over the past two games as we head to the Great Alaska Shootout. 

Tough to swallow when your opponents seemingly can't miss and we just can't get anything to fall at home.  Makes you feel like Joey Chestnut after a hot dog eating contest when Cal Poly made 8-16 three pointers; five of them with under five seconds on the shot clock.  Gag me...

Meanwhile, we've been missing more layups than the Leavey halftime kids.  

Not counting LaVerne, a non D1 stat stuffer, the shooting lines read like a weather "cold snap."  FG% 45-117 or 31%.  3Pt FG% 11-33 or 33%.  FT% 21-36 or 68%.  

So, what are we "learning" from this unexpected shooting climate change?  I bet the coaches are focused only on the things they can control.  Teaching details on creating the best shot preparation, setting and using picks better, and keeping the ball moving.

I say let's go full Morpheus from The Matrix. "Free your mind" and just let it go.  Relax.  Draino.  The guys want to win so badly that maybe they're trying to do too much - forcing the action and trying to make it happen vs. let it happen. 

So, I think it's perfect they are going to a colder temperature in Alaska to warm up.  I know for sure they will shoot a higher percentage than the 15 degree temperature.

The opener Wednesday against Idaho will be a tough test.  The Vandals return their top seven scorers and are the consensus pick to win the Big Sky Conference.   If we play CSU Bakersfield, it's winnable as they rebuild from back to back NCAA and NIT appearances.   Alaska Anchorage should be in the win column, a D2 opponent, albeit on the road.

The bigger question is do we have the "shots" to take a shot at the upper tier in the WCC?   I'm still down for a run at third with one signature upset.  Acceptable.  It's going to take some "reversion to the mean" to get it done.  Huh?  Reversion to the what?

It's how you pick the value in something, mostly used in picking stocks.  If you find a stock that is priced 15% under it's intrinsic mean value, at some point it will return/revert to that value and in this case rise 15%.  Let's try it on MBB.
  
More fuzzy math.  

If our shooting percentages revert to their intrinsic mean, both the 2pt FG and 3pt FG will rise 15%.  That gets us to (25) FG's and (7) 3pt FG per game + our 9 free throws = 80 points per game.  I like our chances in the WCC with our defense holding opponents under 80 points.  We most likely won't out shoot most WCC teams, so our "D" will have to generate more possessions to get us to 80.  

There you go.  Rip it to shreds.  I'm sticking to it!

That's the way we'll have a "shot" in the WCC.  

For now, we'll have to get colder in Alaska to warm up our shooting before league.  They call it the "Great Alaska Shootout" so hopefully we'll have a shot to win it!!

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Friday, November 10, 2017

Santa Clara Men's Basketball - Game On!






Possibilities, potential, prognostications, premonitions, predictions and maybe throw in a prophecy or two.  Don't forget the pundits. The media and Twitterpaters constantly opine.  

I say, just play...Game on!

For the first time, in a long time, Santa Clara Men's Basketball is a trending topic.  People actually care.  Is this the season we come out of mothballs to show we're for real?  

Hold your horses.  

The media-sphere predicts "this is the year of St. Mary's" in the WCC.  Gonzaga and BYU battle for second, while USF and Santa Clara again race down the stretch to see who claims fourth.

It's all just a nothing burger, an "air-ball."

We think we are the only WCC school to amp up Men's Basketball.  No way.  Ever since Mark Few called out the bottom schools in the league - he lit a fuse that is stoking a "firestorm" of funding around the league to make him eat his words. 

Just Google what's happening at USF, Portland, Pacific, and, of course, Gonzaga is not standing pat. New name coaches, national level practice facilities and overt marketing to expand branding.  Sound familiar?

BTW, it's ironic that St. Mary's is the WCC favorite this year with facilities, that well, are modest at best.  They just win.

Let's play...Game on!

SCU fans and season ticket holders will get to see this coaching staff's first recruiting class.  We have something new.  More depth and, dare I say, more TALENT.  

The coaching staff's # 1 recruiting mantra - to be offered at SCU you must be able to shoot the basketball at a high level.  Some of you are saying "duh", but in the past we accepted projects and hoped for potential.  No more clankers.  

Expect a style of play that is up tempo, fueled by defense, opportunistic in transition, and agnostic as to "who" gets the shot.  News flash, we have shooters.  That's plural.  Pivot from "where's Jared" to there's K.J. or Hauser or Caruso or Vrankic or Healy or Turner and more.

So, Let's play...Game on!

Forget about all the "P" words above.  It's a baloney sandwich.

St. Mary's winning the WCC?  I think not.  BYU?  Lots of scoring punch and something to prove after they underestimated the competition coming back to the WCC.  The Zags?  I think Mark Few has a wry smile on his face right now; relishing the underdog tag when he knows he has some surprises on the roster.

The Broncos?  Depends on how quickly we "learn and improve" which is part of Coach Sendek's four pillars.  The coaching staff has tried to accelerate the learning with a recent scrimmage against Air Force and the exhibition against St. Vincent.  Air Force runs the Princeton offense which has constant motion, lots of backdoor cuts and requires defenses to make many "reads" off picks to stop it. 

Our exhibition against St. Vincent previewed our "go to" game plan.  Starters were K.J., Hauser, "E", Pugh and Caruso, the transfer from Princeton.  It was good to get some reps and see how Coach used the roster.  The team did OK in the blowout.  I have to say Caruso and Vrankic were fun to watch.  Caruso went for a working man's 18 points.  He's a grinder.  Vrankic made some deft passes in the zone from the free throw and baseline for layups and dunks.
  
K.J. looks healthy and stronger and contributed an easy 21 points.

My read.  We will win more.  How far can we go?  We'll see.  The team will be prepared and ready.  To quote the zen of Phil Jackson, "The most we can hope for is to create the best possible conditions for success then let go of the outcome."   

For us, as season ticket holders, fans, students and alums, we're not willing to just "let it go."  We're not looking for a trot.  We're looking for a Bronco in full gallop that leaves the "nag" image in the dust so we finally have something to "brag" about!




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Saturday, October 7, 2017

Santa Clara Men's Basketball - Will More Wins - Win Over Students?





NOTE:  This column was published for students in The Santa Clara campus newspaper to give students more background and encourage them to get behind Athletics. 

ICYMI, SCU recently began a long overdue additional funding plan for athletics and programs to build more school visibility. 

Students noticed and last May, Olivia DeGraca, writer for "The Santa Clara " newspaper wrote; "Is Santa Clara Athletics Buying School Spirit?"  Is school spirit more centered on campus clubs, Greek life, or one basketball game vs Gonzaga? 

It's been over 20 years since Santa Clara earned a berth in the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament.
  
That means that the majority of current students were not born yet!  Therefore, many didn't choose Santa Clara for its athletics, unless you play a sport or are from a family that likes sports.

Since 1996, except for a few programs like women's soccer or volleyball; SCU athletics went off the radar and with it, our sports reputation. 

The Administration went "all in" to develop the Campus infrastructure and it is amazing!  More students and ever increasing tuition means more financial aid and an operating budget to feed this expansion.  

Meanwhile, athletics was on the equivalent of "work scholarship." Until recently, many coaches had to do their own fundraising to make their budgets work.  Imagine asking professors to fundraise so they could conduct a great class?  Unthinkable...

Enter Fr. Engh and the "Commission on Athletics".  The question. "What would a nationally competitive Athletics program mean to the University?"  The answer, enormous untapped potential.

The Trustees approved with a major refocus on Men's Basketball as the enabler of national recognition.  For example, last years NCAA MBB tournament had over 150 million viewers.  

The MBB reboot is in its second year and everything is new and different.  The biggest changes have been the coaching and the culture.  Our new coach is one of the best coaches in college basketball - Herb Sendek.  Check out his WIKI.  He's the real deal.

The culture change is still a work in process under new A.D. Renee Baumgartner.  The past eras of meager resources and low athletics performance expectations are gone.  Winning is in, whining is out.

This culture change includes everyone; alums, season ticket holders, and students.  

Why should students care?  Students have said, "We don't go because; we don't win enough, we don't play any good teams, and we have better things to do with our friends."

I get it.  "Claradise" is a great place.  We all love it...

But as much as SCU is giving and has given to us - we need to "give back" to make it better.
  
Over 70% of current SCU undergrads receive financial aid, nearly 4,000 students.  Ever consider where that money comes from?  BTW, the F/Aid need for fiscal 2018 is $100 Mil!

Many think the university is just "clipping coupons" to meet F/Aid needs.  Nope.   The University endowment of $900 Mil only generates about $37 Mil of the need.  The other $63 Mil must come from fundraising.  

Successful fundraising feeds off visibility.  And THAT's why the University needs Athletics and YOU to help meet your growing F/Aid and strategic needs.  Simply put, whether you have F/Aid or not, SCU is investing in your future.  Why not pay back some early dividends by investing in more school spirit?  

I can assure you SCU Men's basketball will do more winning.   BTW, this seasons schedule includes a good number of NCAA post season qualifiers and seven top 100 RPI teams with Nevada and Valparaiso marquee non-conference home games.  

FYI, last season name wins were vs Valpo on the road and BYU at home.  We took the #2 Zags (NCAA finalists) to the final two minutes in the WCC semi-finals.  SCU was the most improved team in the WCC with 5 more wins year over year.

Most think the way into the NCAA is playing the hardest possible schedule.  Not so. The NCAA at-large selection is all about RPI*.  You need to have just enough "name" wins to finish with a under 75 RPI.

As students do you always choose the hardest classes in your schedule?  Not if you want to optimize your G.P.A.  Those calcs are a lot like RPI calcs.  Just like you may need a good G.P.A. for grad school or a great job, we need a good RPI to have chances for post season tournaments.

Net, net.  There's some very positive "blips" on the Doppler for SCU Men's Basketball and Athletics.

Your teams need your support.  Why do we play stronger against St. Mary's or Gonzaga at home?  You're there and LOUD!  Rowdy. Your teams feed off of it.  

So, give it a shot.  Go.  There's lots of Rough Riders and it's time for the posse to show up.  You are attending SCU at a very special time when you will witness, on the court, the resurgence of Men's basketball.  National.

Trust me.  Your support and spirit will be the "adrenalin" that helps take SCU Athletics to the next level.  The level where our Campus, Academics, and Athletics all reach their potential and raise our national visibility.  

And that's a "Claradise" we'll all be proud of.



Fred Crary is an SCU alum and author of The Bucking Bronco Men's Basketball Blog.  For more Articles subscribe at www.thebuckingbronco.blogspot.com.  Or send email to facrary@gmail.com.


*   Is SCU Athletics "Buying" School Spirit
** RPI is the calculation used by the NCAA tournament selection committee.