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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