Trying to break down each individual men's basketball game without the benefit of game tape is very difficult. Plus when you're playing a cornucopia of opponents with various levels of ability, combined with the random Yahtzee dice Coach Heath is using to try and figure out a rotation before conference play begins, rating this team on a match-by-match basis might not be the best way to see what we've got. So five games on (of which I've seen four, sorry Georgia Southern), we'll start to try and make sense of where we're good, and where we're not so good.
You may have noticed around here, considering our wildly popular and award-winning Protect Your Unit contest, that we've been known to enjoy a bit of degenerate gambling occasionally. So I can't think of a better analogy for amateur student-athletes performing for their university than using Texas Hold ‘Em hands to rate them.
A primer on this scale: Dominique Jones is a pair of Kings (it crushes your opponents range, you're most likely going to ride or die with it, but the two aces of John Wall still has you), Will McDonald is two Jacks (you're willing to get chips in, but also willing to fold quickly to a bad flop) Altron Jackson is two 6's (really need to flop a set to continue), and Federico Peruzzo is 7-2 offsuit (instantly thrown in the muck, possibly even before it's your turn if you're not paying attention).
Reaching For Chips:
Ron Anderson, Jr. The junior forward has been the Bulls most consistent player so far, and Heath rewarded him with his first start last night against Liberty. He paid back that faith with 17 rebounds, chipping in six points as well. He rebounds like a true 4, and also has a nice touch around the basket when he's fed the ball in the proper position. But too many of his teammates' entry passes have come in poor position or never arrived at all (more on this later). If he can continue to play at this level against Big East competition, he might be USF's best junior transfer since Kentrell Gransberry.
Anderson also seems to have great court vision and feel for the game. When an undersized St. Francis continued to play him straight up without help, he made them pay with 16 points in 24 minutes. When UCF was doubling him on the catch on the block, he found a way to get the ball to teammates on the perimeter and across the lane.
The question becomes can he do these things against tougher competition. When conference play comes, he might be the difference between winning and losing on many nights. But what we know is he's a tough, heady player with a nice scoring touch. How did Frank Martin let him get away from K-State?
Hand rating: A-Q suited. Pretty to look at, lots of potential, but still a drawing hand.
More players, hands, and the good/bad/ugly, after the jump:
JAWANZA! Poland. Besides having a name that is delightful for beat writers and bloggers, Poland is an athletic wing with a good motor who has shown flashes of a nice shooting touch. He has that Marlyn Bryant/McHugh Mattis pogo stick gene around the basket, and seems to be fearless on the rare occasions he puts the ball on the deck and heads towards the rim. The finish can be spectacular in either success or failure, but will be memorable either way. He's also 7-16 from three point land so far this season, and if he can continue to knock it down at that clip that will go a long way towards freeing up the post for the Bulls primary scoring threats closer to the basket.
Poland also seems to be covering the opponent's best wing player when the Bulls are man-to-man, and doing a nice job. He gets in your shirt and has active hands, and when he does get beat, it's normally to the side where his help is waiting for the driver. Shutting down Big East 2's and 3's is always a priority, and it looks like Poland will be asked to be the stopper.
Hand rating: A-3 suited. You like what you see, but you'll need to see more cards before truly knowing what you've got here.
Late Position Only:
Gus Gilchrist. So far, he hasn't been the player we saw last season. That could be because he doesn't have Dominique Jones and Chris Howard to take the pressure off offensively, but he also seems a step slower and without the confidence he showed in his previous campaigns. Whether his severe ankle injury that cost him 15 games last season is still lingering is a fair question since he doesn't look the same player that was averaging 18.8 ppg and shooting over 50% from the floor before going down last year. He's now just averaging 11.0 ppg, but seems to be having trouble asserting himself on the offensive end. He seemed like he shook off the funk with an 8-8 from the floor against Georgia Southern, but against a terribly undersized Liberty he was barely a factor going 0-4 with three rebounds in 23 minutes.
A player with Gilchrist's skill set needs the ball in his hands in the right areas of the floor to create. He's not going to get you a ton of points on putbacks and excuse-me baskets, but he's a force off the bounce as well as with his back to the basket despite being 6'10. I'm not sure how much of his drop off is physical, how much is mental, and how much is not having teammates as talented. But you would think his ability would still be in his body somewhere. It's not like he blew out an ACL or needed microfracture. The Bulls will need him to get his mind, spirit, and body back to full power to get to where they want to be.
Hand rating: 10-9 suited. It's certainly playable, but you're going to need to hit a flop to move forward.
Point Guard Play: I have a personal issue with going after student-athletes for lack of performance on many grounds. The first is that they're not getting paid. Yes they get a scholarship but as we've discussed here before, they'd probably make more per hour at McDonald's. So realize what I'm saying here has nothing to do with the young man. I've never met Anthony Crater, and am not close enough to anyone around him to make a judgment on what kind of person he is. I hope he continues to represent the university, is a part of our team now and in the future, and I hope he's a fine young man.
But to this point, Crater has yet to show he's capable of being a point guard for even an average Big East team. His stats through five games against opponents which, besides Southern Miss, are in no way nationally competitive:
4 games, 30.5 mpg, 4.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 4.0 apg, 2.75 turnovers pg. 41% shooting, 2-6 FT.
His line against UCF (37 minutes, 0-3, 2 assists, 3 turnovers, 1 point) was particularly atrocious. What it doesn't show the repeated entry passes that put either pull post players out of position, or just miss entirely. It doesn't show that we have only three fast break baskets all season. It doesn't show the secondary transition opportunities lost because of him backing the ball out to the perimeter. It doesn't show the lack of movement on offense, or the inability to create shots for his teammates through either penetration or quality passing. It doesn't show is things like attempting an alley-oop to Poland on a 3-on-1 fast break against UCF that was simply preposterous.
Crater isn't exactly a defensive savant either. Opponents aren't getting around him easily, but he's late on perimeter rotations. He missed last night's game against Liberty with an ankle injury, and Mike Burwell went all Wally Pipp going 5-7 from deep for all 15 of his points. Burwell had a total of eight minutes played on the season entering the game, yet started over Shedrick Haynes and LaVonte Dority at the 1 even though both seemed to be ahead of him on the depth chart.
It seems to indicate Heath is looking for someone, anyone to run the point at even a mediocre level. Though Burwell had a very nice night shooting, he also had just two assists against five turnovers. He also keeps a very high dribble, and doesn't seem very quick. That might be a recipe for disaster when the competition gets tougher later.
Hand rating: Q-4 offsuit. Yes, Queen high beats Jack high... but how often does that do you any good when you're almost always insta-folding it?
The other pieces: Hugh Robertson looks like he can guard bodies bigger than his 6'6 frame, but hasn't shown much offensively so far. He's just 11-30 from the field, averaging 6.4 ppg in 27 mpg. Being second on the team in minutes means that the coaching staff sees something in him going forward however. Shaun Noriega is theoretically a deadeye shooter, but his touch hasn't been there thus far. He's 6-23 from three point range this season. He also can't guard a statue with an M-16. Jarrid Famous looks to be exactly what Jarrid Famous was last year; he can rebound a little and finish around the rim... if he can catch it. Toarlyn Fitzpatrick is getting 4.6 rpg in just over 13 mpg, but his newfound affection for the three ball frightens me. The fact he's started the season 3-6 from out there might only encourage him.
Hand rating: 3-4 offsuit. Sure, you can make something of it... but not much.
Our big issue: I was sitting next to Voodoo last night, and randomly recalled what the UAB students and band chanted at our players after a turnover or bad mistake when we played them over a decade ago at a game we both went to in 2002. FUN-DA-MEN-TALS (CLAP, CLAP, CLAPCLAPCLAP). As if I had planned it, 10 minutes later our students do the same to the Flames. But in reality, we needed to be yelling this at the home team.
Averaging 16.8 turnovers a game (7.4 of them on steals) is not good. When you're only scoring 64.4 ppg, it's even worse. Consistently not running the floor in transition is bad. And that was heavily exploited by Southern Miss and St. Francis. Falling victim to a weak 2-2-1 press by Liberty repeatedly because the entire team looks like a deer in the headlights when they see it is bad. Having more turnovers than assists is bad. Shooting only 63% from the foul line is bad. And if there's one specific thing we do particularly well, I'd like to know what it is, because I sure can't find it.
For a team that liked to get out and run when they could last year, this season we have a grand total of six fast break points in five games. Hang on, maybe I didn't make myself clear here:
WE HAVE SIX FAST BREAK POINTS IN THREE HOURS AND 20 MINUTES OF BASKETBALL!! HOW IN THE HELL IS THAT POSSIBLE???
There's no continuity in our half-court offense. We seem to always be looking for clear outs or isolations to score baskets. Our zone leaks the three ball far too easily. And I've yet to see us score on any kind of sideline quick hitter or baseline out of bounds play (to be fair, I may be forgetting one or two). In other words, we have issues. And they are multiple.
I also know we have an excellent coach leading out team. The teams he's fielded so far in his tenure here have been fundamentally sound, and he's proven to be a quality game coach that adjusts well. Again, it's only five games. But things will need to get better for us to even consider being competitive in what might be the best conference in the country.
Let's all hope that's in the cards.