Thursday, November 29, 2018

SCU Men's Basketball - Lost and Found




                                                     


Starting our season 1-5 is not what anyone wanted to see on the heels of losing three of our last four to end the 2017-18 season. 

Other than SCU and St.Mary's (3-3), every other WCC team has a winning record in their preseason games including the Zags downing # 1 Duke; showing no sympathy for the Devils.

A realistic start to our first six games would have been 2-4.  We're one off that expectation and only an early upset against some better teams would have flipped it to 3-3.  If we shot the ball better than some of our intramural teams, we had chances in the second half to pull one of those out.  

It's disappointing, but although we've lost, we also have found some things to give us hope. 

We've lost five games and now KJ, due to injury, is out until January. 

We've been lost at the free throw line; making just 60%.  We're lost on defense; committing 28 more fouls turning into 41 more free throws made by our opponents.  We need to "rebound" from our poor rebounding deficit that is giving teams too many second chances.  We've been losing the ball via turnovers at a nearly 50% higher rate per game than at anytime over the past five years at 15.3 per game.  

Most of all, fans are losing patience...

Despite the angst, we've found some things that could bode well for the immediate future.

We've found noticeable talent in our Freshman.  We've stopped recruiting "projects" and have landed players.  Center Zeke Richards can jump, move, pass, score, and defend.  He has work to do, but is quickly "learning" in only his fourth year of competitive basketball.  

Guglielmo (Willie) Caruso has range and reach as a backup 5 or stretch 4.  His transition to the NCAA game vs international competition is evolving; particularly in how fouls are called.  Strength Coach Medina will beef him up to become a more active physical presence.

Keshawn Justice has been solid and has found his shooting range and confidence at 11 pts per game.  He should be even better as he learns our offense and gets to his "go to" spot off the catch and shoot.

Trey Wertz has obvious talent, but so far seems overwhelmed trying to understand our system and D1 level speed.  At this point, he sort of reminds me of Matt Turner from last season. With KJ out, he's been thrust into playing more point guard and just isn't comfortable yet in that spot.  His team high 22 turnovers shows that.  He has more size (6' 5") than Matt and if he adjusts and finds his game, could be a big factor in this lineup.  

Juan Ducasse, one of the most skilled of the incoming class, is lost for the year with a knee injury.

The Sophomores are playing big minutes due to a short roster.  Tahj Eaddy is as advertised; a distributor and shooter, averaging a team high 16 pts per game. The loss of KJ really hurts here as he would be another "must guard" for our opponents that would change our offensive dynamics.  With Wertz not shooting well, it makes it easier for defenses to force others to make shots.  

Josip Vrankic has found his rhythm after a slow start averaging 16 pts in his last four games.  He is critical to this current lineup.  ALL our opponents know our Achilles' Heel, lack of penetration and perimeter shooting.  We will be "zoned" to prevent us from getting into the zone shooting.  With Josip playing the pop in the middle position against the zone, his effectiveness will dictate the options we will have.  If he can execute a quick catch and shoot from the free throw line, it will force the perimeter and inside zone coverage to stop him.  This opens space to pass to the post near the basket or kick-outs to unguarded wing shooters.  It's a big load for a second year player.  

Senior Henrik (Hank) Jadersten has played well his last two games coming off a foot injury.  His career high vs San Jose State was a big lift as Ndoye was hurt and Caruso in foul trouble.  His 17 points was perfect timing and key to the win.

Grad transfer Josh Martin has been high energy and our best rebounder.  He's an effective scorer, but has drawn the tough defensive assignments and has had early foul trouble; limiting his minutes.  Right now, I view him as our "glue."  He's versatile, aggressive and plays with "tude."  We need that.

Our other grad transfer, Fallou Ndoye, has not settled into our system yet and has a foot injury that is not listed as serious.  We really need his size to be a deterrent to easy layups.

Although we've lost five of our first six games, we've been in games in the second half, but can't close anything out.  The good news is we find ourselves with seven of our next eight at home.  Six of those are winnable; unless we upset USC or Washington State on the road.

If we pull it off, we will be 7-7 going into the WCC.  What I expected.  Our early losses should help us "find" ways to be more competitive.  In addition, KJ should be back on the floor when we start the WCC slate on January 3rd when USD and former coach Sam Scholl come to Leavey.

Tonight we play Jackson State.  They are also 1-5 but have the type of roster that has given us fits - like Prairie View.  They go about 6'4" to 6"7 and have experience and speed.  Won't be easy.  They just played USD and lost 76-58, a measuring stick for us.

There you have it. 

We've "Lost and Found" some talent who have the ability to grow in Coach Sendek's "learn and improve" system.
  
The expectations are for a lot more losses.  But, what I've found is that this is the best position to be in to prove the conventional wisdom wrong...

We'll see.  Lost or Found?

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Tuesday, November 6, 2018

SCU Men's Basketball - Preseason Rankings and Schedule




                                                              




I guess it's human nature to try to predict the unpredictable.

It's easy to look at the top 15 NCAA programs and know they'll be around for the NCAA tourney.  In the WCC, it's pretty much a no-brainer to pick the Zags first - again...

For the rest of the teams, picking the WCC season final standings might be fun, but it's foolish.

Let me just say, no matter what, I'd rather have any ranking than being just "rank".  

SCU preseason rankings:  ninth in the WCC and overall R.P.I. is, gulp, 233.  If you're Alabama A&M with a dead last R.P.I. of 353 you're "rank."

R.P.I. - the rating percentage index, is touted as being a quantifiable method of selecting NCAA Division 1 league outcomes and NCAA qualifiers.

In the W.C.C., the real answer is, other than Gonzaga, "nobody knows."  Looking back 16 years using R.P.I. to predict the order of WCC finishes and NCAA tourney bids, R.P.I. was a worse predictor of both of the above versus the standard preseason coaches poll done every September.  That's why we have so many "surprise" teams in the WCC and NCAA tourney. 

Surprises in the 2017-18 WCC were USF, San Diego, and Pacific and the Broncos in 2016-17.  

For me, R.P.I. is, in reality, a Really Poor Indicator.   

Not to open old wounds, but last season the Broncos had a veteran team returning and promising newcomers to add to the mix.  Expectations of a 20-11 season quickly disintegrated into an 11-20 head scratcher.  

This season we have the opposite.  Lots of newcomers (9) and fewer returning veterans (4), only three who saw significant playing time.  We do have two Grad transfers, but they are new to Coach Sendek's system.  In the newcomers, we also have as a scholarship counter in D.J. Mitchell, a redshirt transfer from Wake Forest who will sit out this year and have two more years of eligibility.

Everyone's asking me, "How are the Broncos going to be this year?"  The above R.P.I and coaches poll data says not great.  For me, those predictions carry a big "hangover" from last season.  Throw them away.

I'm going full Newton's Law: "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction."  

Last season, lots of veterans and a few newcomers, lackluster season.  This season the opposite, few veterans and lots of newbies, so I'm feeling we need the "reaction" season.  Put R.P.I in it's place - wrong.  

Gut feel.  

We'll know in the first 14 preseason games.   Unfortunately, we will start the season with only ten scholarship players.  Henrik Jadersten is out recovering from a foot injury.  Freshman Keshawn Justice has an ankle sprain to deal with and D.J. Mitchell is a redshirt.

This year's roster has more balance.  In talking to coaches and watching practice, we have more size, speed, and a competitive attitude.  Scrimmages where no one wants to lose. 

We have three bigs (Ndoye, Richards, Caruso) who can defend and score, a "big" upgrade.  Ndoye is a grad transfer that is experienced and will bring an attitude in the paint.  In freshman Zeke Richards, we finally have a center who is athletic, no lie.  "E" from last season was a physical specimen, but lacked offensive instincts.  If Richards develops, it will be huge for this roster.  Caruso version #2, no relation to Henry from last year, is a slender 6' 9" but has a 7' 2" wingspan and might become a weak side "swatter" that we sorely need.  Finally, no more need for Vrankic to pretend to be a center.  

At guard/small forward we have experience and, I hate to say it, more legit shooting talent besides K.J.  Taj Eaddy adds much needed speed and can slash, dish, and shoot.  Freshman guard Trey Wertz off the bench will see minutes giving KJ and Taj rest.  He has obvious talent, but we'll see how quickly he can adjust to the speed and size of division one.  Grad Transfer Josh Martin will start and at 6' 7" can play multiple spots. When Keshawn Justice returns he'll add to the above mix.

The real "heart" of this team has to be defense.  Rid ourselves of our opponents making a torrent of three pointers.  Teams will feel and see stoppers in the post - fewer open freeways to layups.  Initially we'll have to play smart with the short roster. We need a mindset to hold teams to < 65 ppg and < or = 45% field goal percent; the winning formula for past Bronco seasons.

In our first 14 games, seven teams have better R.P.I.'s and seven have worse.  A 7-7 start would be an acceptable "reaction."  Early road games vs Washington, Minnesota, and Cal are very hard W's.  However, we do have nine of the first 14 at Leavey, seven that are winnable and two tough ones: Irvine and USC.  Are the lucky 7's aligned?

One thing, for sure this season, is we have to show upward momentum.  Like it or not, although it's Coach Sendek's third season, in reality it's the first roster that has his 10 picks.  Only KJ and Hank remain from the Kerry Keating years.

Not making excuses, but as a bit of history,  Gonzaga was middle of the pack for 18 years in the WCC with only one league title in 1994 under Dan Fitzgerald.  With Nash under Coach Dick Davey, Santa Clara won three straight titles from 1994-96.  Mark Few took over a great roster from Dan Monson in 1999 with Pro Dan Dickau and then added future Pro Ronnie Turiaf that jump-started a 19 year 1st place run.  

Coach Sendek took over a roster of, well, Jared Brownridge and Freshman KJ Feagin.  Good players with little help.  Just sayin...

My prediction on the unpredictable pre-season is a Newtonian reaction.  If it's anything other than that, we may see a "mass" exodus of loyal fans.   

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Friday, September 28, 2018

SCU Men's Basketball - Looking for a "One" and Done







We just need ONE...

The last time SCU Men's Basketball had the one, was nearly 25 years ago when a scruffy Canadian couldn't find one D1 school to give him a shot; except the one school that had one scholarship left; SCU.  The kid went from M.I.A. to NBA MVP and now the Hall.   

Nash.  

We just need another ONE...

ONE's are rare.  They make indelible marks and vault programs and teams to the top.  Pick your one...Jordan, Bird, Magic, West, Curry, Durant or a Nash.  Without the one, the above are just good teams; not dominant Champions.

Sure they had a cast of good players around them, but when it mattered most, they were the one you counted on. 

We just need another ONE...Soon.

Coach Sendek has been pretty good at finding ones.  James Harden, Josh Powell, and Julius Hodge...

Now it's our turn.  We need a "One and Done."  If we find one, it will legitimize SCU as an up and comer.  Add a "Few" upsets, make an NCAA, and we're off to the races or at least in the race after being "lapped" by the Zags and others post Nash.

I hear the moans "OMG" the roster has nine newcomers. Why are so many players leaving?  Why are coaches leaving for other programs?  The "whys" will never stop until we find the one to jump start the resuscitation of our MBB program. 

I applaud the changes.  No standing pat.  Take chances.  What do we have to lose other than lose?

The roster screams of global recruiting to find the ONE:  Sweden, Italy, Uruguay, Senegal, and Canada.  

The new coaches are experienced and have coached players who went on to the NBA. 

On paper, coaches highlight the new roster as taller - five players 6' 9" or better and three 6" 11".  Faster:  five who can defend, slash, and pass.  Shooters:  seven who can fill it up, sorely missing from last years cold as ice group.  No more make someone other than KJ beat us.  

So far, the guys have only done skill development while going to summer school.  Practice opens in October and TBD who will stand out.  I anticipate a three guard approach forcing the action and kick outs to better shooters.  We also appear to have legit "fives" inside with the grad transfer Ndoye and the freshman Richards.  Another grad transfer, Josh Martin, provides experience and versatility both inside and as a shooter.

Coaches hope for some firepower from freshmen Justice and Wertz.  Justice, 6' 4", was all-state in Wisconsin averaged 20 ppg and Wertz, 6' 5", a McDonald's All-American nominee.  Mix in KJ, Hauser and big expectations for redshirt Taj Eaddy, who averaged 25 ppg in high school, and on paper the roster's not bad.

All interesting, but back to business, are any of these the "one"?

We just need ONE.

Three Dog Night says "One is the loneliest number" but for SCU Men's Basketball - ONE is exactly what we need. 


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Sunday, June 17, 2018

SCU Men's Basketball - The Changing of the Guard(s)





Everyone's asking - what's up?  

While it's no Buckingham Palace, the changing of the guards within SCU Men's Basketball and the University is major for our so labeled "mid-major" program.  Big changes.  New President, eight new players and two new coaches.

Let's go full Chaos Theory:

Chaos:  When the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future.

Got that?

Some say, "With Fr. Engh leaving, the University will back off Athletics and decomitt just like some of our recruits."

No doubt Fr. Engh made a number of both courageous and strategic decisions with regard to Athletics and Men's Basketball.  Much Cred for that.  With a year to go before the new President, I'm sure he will be fully engaged in the SCU 2020 goals.

With all due respect, this isn't a deal breaker for MBB.  In fact it's another huge recruiting opportunity to bring aboard a President that not only shares the vision, but also has the much needed  experience in Athletics.  A President who will leverage our location and academic reputation on top of a rising Athletics plan to take us to National on BOTH fronts.  Big...

Outside the "U" it just seems to be pure Chaos.  I love it!

I'm tired of the "deterministic" rut we logical Santa Clarans have succumbed to.  I.E. - provide more funding + bring in a new A.D. + hire new Coach + get better players = within two years get WCC titles and NCAA berths.  How's that working for ya?  Not.

Ergo, the changing of the guards is both positive and needed.  On the roster, we seem to find ourselves with a glut of guards, about seven including the non-scholies.  As of now, on paper, we have  too many scholarship players with 14.  However, it looks like Tai Wynard from Kentucky will not be coming to SCU getting us on the number at 13.  Should be announced soon.

Underneath it all, we have what it takes to create Chaos in the WCC.   How so?  IMHO, we have a Coaching staff who have an extremely deterministic "process" that can create the small changes that can become big changes to our play and deliver results that can make the bitter taste of last season go away. 

Our new roster has size, speed, and experience that can make an impact that's not a thud...More on those details soon.

The strategic plan Fr. Engh will leave behind declared National relevance in Athletics by 2020.  Women's Soccer and Volleyball are already on that National map.  This means Men's Basketball has to make the jump for the plan to mean much of anything.

We all hope this happens.  If it doesn't, then there will be much more changing of the guards - on and off the bench.





Saturday, May 12, 2018

Santa Clara University Athletics - Are We on Track to National Relevance?




Nearly three years ago, Santa Clara made a major commitment to Athletics.  The President's Commission and Trustees gave the green light to invest in SCU Athletics becoming more competitive and nationally relevant in major sports.
  
Renee Baumgartner was hired to lead the effort to "stampede ahead" with the stated goal of success by 2020.  

So, where are we?  

If you view it as investors, you would be disappointed in your three year R.O.I. after the 2017-18 results in the "Major Seven" sports.

Women's soccer kept its deep NCAA tournament runs rolling and Women's Volleyball finished a .500 season following two prior winning seasons and another NCAA bid.

Men's Basketball regressed with an 11-20 meltdown. Women's Basketball was 9-21 and had its last winning season in 2015-16; going 23-9 under coach J.R. Payne.  

This season Men's Baseball is 23-24; with about seven games left, but next to last in the WCC.  This follows nine consecutive years of losing seasons.  Women's Softball was 7-36; continuing to flounder. 

Men's Soccer was 3-13 to mark three out of the past four seasons under .500.

At face value, with two winners and five losers in your portfolio, you might be pulling the plug afraid to stay the course.  That's where many of our fans and season ticket holders are.  

Certainly justifiable.

But, much like stock market swings, those who bail may miss the upside.  Savvy investors know that investing in undervalued stocks and staying the course beats other methods handily over time.

At SCU, the level of investment in Athletics is the most significant in our history.  Not just the obvious - replacing four of the seven Major Sports Coaching Staffs, but more importantly the investments in the foundations for sustained success, are happening as well.  More staff, top flight facilities, and marketing to create awareness to the Bronco brand.

Our investments aren't just into the "M7" sports.  For example, both Women's and Men's Golf now have more scholarships to start to compete.  Both teams won three events this season and the Men are off to the NCAA regional for only the second time in SCU history.

The Trustees aren't investing for one "lightening in a bottle" season.  They want sustained success - like Women's Soccer is producing as the model.  

As great as Women's Soccer has been on the national stage, to meet the goal of being "nationally relevant" the bulls eye is on Men's Basketball to produce in the WCC and make NCAA's.  The NCAA Men's Tournament generates huge world wide notoriety and money for the teams that earn bids.  Hands down, nothing gets close to generating buzz than NCAA success.  

Right now, MBB is in fast break mode to rebuild a roster after coaching and scholarship departures.  Coach Hodge is moving on.  Players Roche, Turner, and Walters from last season are transferring.  Omar Silveiro de-committed to go back east.  Looks like when the smoke clears, there will be at last eight new to the roster with perhaps adding another size 15 shoe or two in the mix.  For many, not the chaos expected, but it may be just what we need to get this program moving up.  Now.

For SCU fans and season ticket holders, it's hard to judge which is greater, the frustration of 20+ years of Athletics anonymity or the angst that the past three years has yet to show enough traction and success in major sports.  

After all, three years in Silicon Valley culture is three entirely new product cycles - an eternity.  Sounds crazy, but, IMHO it's easier to develop technology than competitive athletes.  I'd love it if we could write some software to reprogram KJ Feagin into Kryie Irving!!  

It feels like we've become a "pin cushion" Athletics' community.  We have been strung along with so many unfulfilled promises that by now its hard to believe/feel anything.  Students don't seem to care, season ticket holders are afraid to cheer, and now constant questions about everything are spreading like a virus.  

It's time to dump the "Eeyore" it's all for naught tude.  Let's go Freakanomics - the conventional wisdom is wrong.  

Why?  The investment is too big and the commitment from Fr. Engh and the Trustees is too public.  Failure to meet the goal of nationally competitive in major sports will seal the fate of SCU as just another nice regional Catholic college while our competitors overshadow us on the national stage - a monumental wasted opportunity.

Maybe the progress is too slow.  Along the way A.D.'s and Coaches may change, but the University Leadership must remain steadfast.  EVERY success story of Catholic universities garnering national academic and athletics accolades has been done with a strong steady hand at the top.  

Do I want success by 2020?  Absolutely.  What I really want is a program that is on the national map forever.  To as good as we were in the 1950's when it's 2050...






















Wednesday, April 11, 2018

SCU Men's Basketball - "Horse" Trading in a Restless Corral





Last season's results created a lot of unrest among fans and season ticket holders. The hope of a better season went down in a barrage of three pointers. 

While we lament and chirp, the coaching staff has been on a "restless" mission to revamp and rearm our roster.

That means managing the ins and outs and having a pipeline to do some horse trading to get us back in the race.

To that end, Matt Turner and Julian Roche have decided to leave and seek playing time elsewhere.  In addition, Omar Silverio has opted out of his commitment to SCU.
   
That gives the staff three more scholarships to add some beef to a skinny lineup.  And it's beef they are seeking.  Close to adding two bigs 6'9 to 7'0 to plug the freeway in the middle.  With these additions, plus newcomers Wertz, Ducsasse, and Justice, it will bring the Sendek roster picks to nine.  Significant.

Starters KJ Feagin, Matt Hauser, and role player Henrik Jadersten come back in the hopes of getting better production from veterans.

I expect another change or two may also happen.

What does it mean?

I think it means we'll really see if the "process" works or not.  
Recruiting is more about fit and feel vs stats.  It's about guys who have a "chip" on their shoulder to compete.  There are a few home runs and a lot of strikeouts.  This upcoming season will be a test of the coaching staff's R.P.I.  Recruits Performance Improvement.  

Vital.  

In the next few weeks the Adidas, Nike, and AAU prep tournaments will be played; where high school talent is showcased.  International looks are also in play.

Some may say that the transfer out and in from SCU is worrisome.  I think it's normal.  The NCAA MBB transfer traffic has surged in the past five years.  It's become a freeway loaded with kids and parents expectations waiting to be fulfilled.  

Expect some new signees in the next four to five weeks.  Think BIG.  

BIG men in the middle, BIG rosters changes; which hopefully leads to a BIG improvement on the floor.


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Friday, April 6, 2018

SCU Men's Basketball - "Nova" Knows How to Get it Done





With the Villanova Wildcats winning the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship twice in the last three years, it leaves no doubt that a "small" Catholic University can play and win on the biggest national stage.

Getting to the pinnacle of college basketball, and winning, is no fluke.  It has been 50 years in the making.  In the process, it has not only made them the premier MBB program in America, but at the same time vaulted, them to elite levels as a premier academic and research institution as well.  

"Nova" Nation knows how to get it done! 

How did they do it?  The parallels with Santa Clara are striking:  
location, size, Catholic, strong academics, and a commitment to excellence.  How did they create this separation from Santa Clara both as a University and Athletic powerhouse?  

Vision.  

While Santa Clara focused and invested in academic infrastructure, the Villanova leadership team believed 50 years ago in a model that to become a truly nationally relevant institution that excellence in both Academics AND Athletics was the best strategy.  Success on both fronts would create success on ALL fronts.

Villanova's numbers are staggering.  Applications have soared to nearly 23,000 this year.  Endowment has grown to nearly $700 million. Their recent five year fund raising goal of $600 million raised over $750 million in the fourth year and is still going.  Academic rankings have also dramatically risen.  If you're so inclined, you can Google their Carnegie Classification that now compares them to elite schools in the nation.  Their MBB APR and GPR's which track graduation rates are 100%.  One of only three NCAA division one teams in the tournament to do this.  Their overall Athletics GPA's are above 3.2 for the 29th consecutive measurement period.

On and On...

The above is not to brag or make you gag over their success, but to reflect that they've been at it for 50 years.  

Can Santa Clara become a Villanova?  Probably not.  BUT, we can be a top 20 team given resources and dogged determination to do so.  It probably isn't going to happen fast.  

Here we are all complaining that we had a poor season and can't beat the big three in the WCC.  We're piling on the A.D. and coaches for lack of a quick fix.  It's always someone else's fault.  
Well, maybe most of it is our own?  Self-inflicted.  

Our past leaders thought "small."  A few didn't like Athletics.  In fact, some would rather have done away with the whole program rather than just football.  Choices...

So now, we wake up and want be an elite team in the WCC and top 20 in MBB after making our first significant effort and investment in 50 years?  Really?  Not.

Our feelings of angst and disgust are visceral and deep.  There are stark differences of opinion about our current direction in the Corral.  Some feel Coach Sendek is the proven turnaround horse to ride and others feel his best days are in the past and we should have gone all in for a top, young gun.  We may get a quick bump up in winning and contending in the next few seasons, but sustained success is a marathon, not a sprint.  

After Rollie Massimino's NCAA title in 1985, Nova MBB was not an NCAA machine, missing 5 straight dances from 1999 until Jay Wright came on board.   Even Wright had his issues, losing his way and the Nova culture in trying to recruit 5 stars over the right "fit" players.  Today, they have the highest wining percentage in MBB over the past five years. 

You can read the details by clicking this link.
Villanova MBB Success

Hats off to "Nova" for their success and their determination to deliver their vision of the past 50 years.

And "Hard Hats" for all Broncos as together we build a new culture and make sure we demand progress in our new vision to be national in MBB.  We are just getting started and have a long way to go. 

I don't want to be the horse that wins once.  I want us to be the horse to ride in every race!



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