In honor of the upcoming games in New York, I and the people behind the SB Nation blogs for Ohio State, Cal, and Syracuse got together and traded a couple questions each to get a handle on the various teams. Here are my questions for the other bloggers, and their responses; the dastardly lies I told them are being published on their sites, here, here, and here.
My questions for We Will Always Have Tempe:
Big Ten basketball is, to put it politely, a game of deliberate possessions. To put it less politely, it's mind-numbingly slow. With an offense heavy on guard play and perimeter talent like Turner, Buford and Lightly, is there a temptation to run the ball a little? Maybe break 80 once in a while?
Thad Matta is not all that dissimilar from Jim Tressel; if his team doesn't need to score a ton of point to win, it probably won't, unless it's playing some OOC scrub like Alcorn State. That said, he is not really one to interfere with how his players play if they're doing it well and lighting up the scoreboard. Lighty is not the most consistent of outside shooters, but I do think Turner, Buford and Jon Diebler will be good for multiple 80+ point totals this season, if not 90+. It's very possible that this will be the best offensive basketball team we've seen under Matta, not that that's saying much.
How does Ohio State handle an opponent with 5 players 6' 10" or higher, on both offense and defense?
Well, I'm not sure it can. One of the curses of the post-Oden era at Ohio State has been a shocking lack of competent, physical big men. Koufos and Mullens were both highly touted, but neither was even a shadow of an Oden-like presence in the paint. Right now, only one Ohio State big has earned a designation of more than just "has a pulse", and it's Dallas Lauderdale. Zisis Sarikopolous and Kyle Madsen are both meagerly-talented transfers who have seen limited or no time. Both have size, but neither should see the court much if Ohio State wants to win. To even begin to frustrate Carolina's athletes, Ohio State's smaller guys - Lighty especially - have to play great defensive games. Lighty is a defensive mastermind, and really, the only defensive player that I'd call less than "solid" might be Jon Diebler. To beat UNC, Ohio State will have to force UNC to play Mattaball; the team simply doesn't match up well enough to compete if UNC has its typical productive, hot shooting night out of its regular offense.
The Bears kind of fell apart down the stretch last season, losing five of their last seven and exiting in the first round of both the conference and NCAA tournaments. Was it something you could have seen coming, or just string of awful luck? And how do you think the team will be prepared for March this season?
I know I didn't really see the the Bears' March fade coming, but I wouldn't attribute it to simply a run of bad luck. In hindsight, I think Cal's real problem was a lack of depth, forcing our three main scorers (PG Jerome Randle, SG Patrick Christopher, SF Theo Robertson) to all play heavy, heavy minutes through conference play. They definitely looked a bit tired in the second half of some games, and tired legs start missing jump shots.
This year, the hope is that additions and improvements to the roster allow Coach Montgomery to spread the minutes out more liberally to keep him from wearing out his stars. Not getting into so many dogfights with less-talented conference foes would also help save some legs. The Bears were playing some Sweet 16-caliber ball last January; if they can keep that up through March this season, I think we'll really have something here.
Cal didn't have much of a bench last season, with only 7 players averaging double-digit minutes. You brought back almost everyone, though - is the team deeper this year, or is just a style of play that prefers fewer, better players on the court?
It is definitely not Coach Montgomery's ideal to run his bench only two-deep, but the roster he was handed from former Coach Ben Braun dictated the situation somewhat. Basically, Montgomery came in last season, and without naming names, declared that while the roster had talent, several of the players he inherited were not Pac-10 caliber, at least not yet.
It would certainly be nice if this year's team ran deeper on the bench. 7' 3" center Max Zhang was certainly not ready for conference play last year, but it seems he's improved enough that he can at least give the Bears some valuable minutes off the bench this season. Defensively, at least, he has a much better idea of what he's supposed to do with his lengthy frame, and he's going to significantly alter a lot of the shots he doesn't outright block.
Another area where the Bears were thin last year was at backup point guard. Starter Jerome Randle is a great player, but you'd love to not have to run him out there for 37 minutes every game. Monty faced the tough choice of giving backup minutes to Nikola Knezevic, whom, based on his in-conference playing time, Montgomery didn't trust, or energetic-but-wild freshmen guard Jorge Gutierrez, who was supposed to spend the year backing up at shooting guard but ended up handling the ball a lot more than expected. Often, it seemed that Montgomery simply heaped those backup minutes on Randle's shoulders, and it wore him out some by season's end. This year, incoming freshman point guard Brandon Smith already seems more natural at handling the ball than either Knezevic or Gutierrez, and if he's able to take some of the load off of the other guards, the Bears will see benefits up and down their roster.
The belated Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician:
The entirely-overdiscussed exhibition loss to Le Moyne - anecdote for a future championship team to show how far they've come, ominous portent for a season you'll eventually want to forget, or just something to entertain the college basketball world for the first week in November?
I think that we've come to learn that this was an anomaly that just so happened to occur on a night when there was no other major sports story or game and therefore became a much bigger story than it needed to be. Granted, it's not fun to lose to a Division II team, let alone one ten minutes down the road. But it was indeed exhibition and apparantly Boeheim was punishing the players by making them play man-to-man the entire time, something they had not worked on much before then. The Orange have since come out strong against Albany and Robert Morris and quelled any fears that the team will be a mess. Of course, they have yet to be tested so we'll see how this week treats them.
Jim Boeheim started the season six behind Jim Calhoun on the all-time wins list, with both coaches around the 800 mark? Who ends up ahead of whom when they've both retired, and how close to Dean Smith and Bobby Knight in the wins column do they retire at?
If I had to guess I would say that Boeheim eventually passes Calhoun. Not because I think Calhoun will fall off but because health seems to be much more of an issue for him than Boeheim. You get the sense Calhoun only has a few years left in him energy-wise whereas there's no expectation at all of Jimmy retiring anytime soon, even with assistant coach Mike Hopkins waiting in the wings. Passing Dean Smith seems extremely doable but passing Bobby Knight will require another 5-6 years of 20+ wins per season. It's possible but it might also be just out of reach. If I had to give an answer, I'd say Boeheim retires as the 2nd-winningest coach of all time behind Coach K, who will lap everyone.