I was planning on looking into this today anyways, but it just happens to fit pretty closely to Will's article. So I'll try to tie it in.
We have Final Four talent in the starting five.
I know that seems like a crazy statement, so I'll just let it sink in. We have Final Four talent in the starting five. If it was true in December, it's still true now. And it was. The problem is that we're horribly inconsistent, and talent that doesn't play to its potential isn't worth much (ask last year's UNC team). I've gone back and looked at our big wins this year, along with a couple losses, to try to find out what we do when we succeed and how far we can go if we can make it happen again.
Also, this is long, so if you don't like lots of numbers, skip to the final conclusions (which are set off by a heading in bold and caps)
- Hopson: 18 points (on 11 shots)
- Harris: 15 points (on 10 shots)
- Tatum: 17 points (on 13 shots)
- Williams: 12 points (on 8 shots)
- Goins: 9 points (1/8 from the field), but memorable perimeter defense
- Rest of team: 7 points (on 5 shots)
That game right there is evidence against Will's theory that we really need somebody on the bench to step up and provide scoring. We just need more than three starters.
- Hopson: 27 points (on 13 shots)
- Harris: 7 points (on 8 shots)
- Goins: 19 points (on 9 shots)
- Tatum: 14 points (on 6 shots)
- Williams: 4 points (on 3 shots), 5 rebounds
- Rest of team: 12 points (on 9 shots)
This game, on the other hand, provides evidence against my own theory, which I'll give at the end. Harris played his worst game of the season, Williams provided nothing. Yet, despite getting nothing inside, we still out-rebounded a good rebounding team. Somehow, the point guard position was responsible for 25% of our rebounds (Goins had 5, Golden had 3), and Hopson and Tatum added another 5. Harris had 7, Williams 5, Fields 5. So we got rebounds, even though they were spread out.
On the subject of scoring, only three people came to play. How did it work? They each had points to shots ratios of 2:1 or better. That'll do it, even when you don't get that key fourth option.
I'll skip over the Memphis game, as it's a bit bizarre. Everybody was scoring. Guys with 8 or more: Hopson, Harris, Goins, Tatum, Golden, Maymon, McBee.
- Harris: 15 points (on 13 shots), 9 rebounds
- Hopson: 16 points (on 20 shots)
- Tatum: 12 points (on 10 shots)
- Williams: 8 points (on 9 shots), 12 rebounds
- Goins: 4 points (on 10 shots)
- McBee: 10 points (on 6 shots)
- Rest of team: 2 points
This is another game that's a little strange, and it most clearly points to the idea that we need a bench player stepping up, because we don't win this game without Skylar McBee. However, I don't think it was McBee's scoring that did the trick, but rather his spark. Nobody was hitting anything until McBee came out and hit a couple shots and pumped life into the team. Then he sat back down on the bench and let the starters do their thing. I don't have first/second half stats, but I'd imagine that the awful efficiency you see from all four starters is the result of the first half and that they made up for it in the second half. Still, even with McBee, we had four starters scoring.
- Harris: 15 points (on 16 shots)
- Hopson: 15 points (on 14 shots)
- Williams: 10 points (on 6 shots)
- Goins: 6 points (on 6 shots)
- Tatum: 0 points (on 5 shots)
- Rest of team: 13 points
We won this despite having only three players step up and score (two who were horribly inefficient) and without anyone stepping up on the glass, as Scotty Hopson led us with 5 rebounds (and we outrebounded Georgia. Somehow). I think this means we can chalk this one up to defense.
- Hopson: 19 points (on 16 shots)
- Goins: 15 points (on 11 shots)
- Harris: 10 points (on 7 shots), 11 rebounds
- Williams: 6 points (on 3 shots)
- Tatum: 2 points (on 7 shots)
- Pearl: a memorable 6 points (on 3 shots)
Only two or three players really step up on offense, but we play good D and outrebound the 'Dores.
Now a couple of the losses.
- Hopson: 22 points (on 14 shots)
- Williams: 11 points (on 7 shots), 9 rebounds
- Harris: 9 points (on 7 shots)
- Goins: 7 points (on 9 shots)
- Tatum: 6 points (on 7 shots)
- Rest of team: 5 points (on 7 shots), all scored by Bone
Only two or three players stepped up. We played Good D and tried to let Scotty and Brian win it by themselves, but it didn't really work this time.
- Hopson: 20 points (on 15 shots)
- Tatum: 21 points (on 11 shots)
- Harris: 18 points (on 12 shots)
- Goins: 2 points (on 5 shots)
- Williams: 6 points (on 4 shots)
- Rest of team: 8 points (on 13 shots), 6 by Fields
Three players on offense (in Tatum's only good game of 2011), and we didn't play good defense to go along with it, as Florida shot 53% from the field and had all five starters in double figures.
- Harris: 18 points (on 13 shots)
- Hopson: 13 points (on 10 shots)
- Goins: 9 points (on 4 shots), and great D
- Tatum: 9 points (on 6 shots)
- No Williams
- Rest of team: 9 points (on 14 shots), 6 by Hall
Hopson prevented himself from being terribly inefficient by getting to the line a lot, and we had a little bit of secondary scoring, but not enough to counterbalance being dominated late on the glass.
CONCLUSIONS (SKIP HERE, THOSE WHO DON'T WANT LOTS OF NUMBERS):
What's worked, what hasn't
I analyzed most of the big games this season. Twice did we get five guys solidly contributing. One was the win against Villanova, where four scored in double figures and Goins added 9 points and great D. The other was the home win over Vanderbilt, where four scored in double figures and Williams added 8 points and 12 boards. In the Nova game, the main contributors were the five starters, and the bench guys combined for just 7 points. In the Vanderbilt game, it was the same, except switch McBee and Goins. Goins and the bench guys combined for 6 points.
I expected to see us do well when we had four guys contributing. But we never really had four guys contributing. Two of our other big wins (Georgia, Vandy away) involved three guys stepping up big and the team playing tight defense and winning the battle on the glass. One (Pitt) involved three players all having the night of their lives, shooting lights out and getting to the line at an incredible rate.
In the three losses documented, the scoring was fairly similar to the wins against Georgia and Vandy (away). We had two or three guys step up, but we had missing pieces. In one, our defense was memorably horrid (Florida home), in one we got killed on the glass (Kentucky minus BWill, although UK killed us on the glass both times), and in one Scotty and Brian just couldn't do it alone, despite pretty good team defense (Florida away).
I know Pitt is our proudest win, but I'm going to throw it out, because that isn't sustainable. But note to Scotty, Mel, and Cam: if you can get to the line at that kind of rate, DO IT! Especially Scotty.
So the play we want to emulate is Villanova and the comeback part of the home comeback against Vanderbilt. Five guys come to play, and we can seriously take it to some pretty good teams. And if we can take it to Nova and Vandy, we can play with Pitt and Kansas. Might not beat them, but we can play with them. And we don't really need bench production to do it. We need starter production (or one bench guy to replace a struggling starter). We had 6 and 7 points from the non-contributing five in those two games.
The play we usually get is three guys stepping up and the rest of the team disappearing. We can win with that, sometimes. When it's coupled with good defense and rebounding, we used that formula to beat Georgia and Vandy (away), but it lost to Florida (away). When it's coupled with poor defense or poor rebounding, we lose like Kentucky (home) and Florida (home).
How about when four guys step up? I can't tell you, because it hasn't really happened all year. The closest is the recent Kentucky game, but none of those four guys stepped up on the glass.
What we can do
When we're at our best, we have two consistent scorers (Scotty and Tobias), a deep threat (Cam), a great defender with decent driving ability (Goins), and an almost-double-double machine (Brian Williams, who during one period midway through SEC play averaged 12 points and 9 rebounds over 6 games without recording a double-double). Our best games had major contributions from Cam or Brian, and a lot of our wins had noted defensive work by Goins (and one had Skylar from nowhere). With a couple defensive specialists (Fields, Pearl, Bone) to sub in here and there, that starting five can take us places. If we're at our best.
Can we be at our best again? Scotty and Tobias will be ready. Of that, I have no doubt. Mel played lockdown D in his last game, and he's a senior, so he should be motivated. Brian was huge through the middle stretch of SEC play; he needs to come back strong from his injury, but I think he can. My worry is Cam. He's still stuck in a rut, and even the 9 points against Kentucky didn't give indication that he could be that deep threat that we need. To get a fifth player, we either need Cam to step up or Skylar or Bone to get hot deep.
Do we need that fifth player? It'd be great, but what happens when we have four? I don't know. It hasn't really happened. When we've coupled good offensive performance from three players with good D and rebounding, it's been moderately successful (2-1 against Florida, Georgia, Vandy). I've mentioned the wonders we can work with five. But we haven't seen four. And if we do, while keeping good performance on D and on the glass, I think we'll have success. And I think we can. Scotty has found his groove, Tobias is out of his slump, Mel played well last game, Brian should be back from injury. We should be able to do four. And if we are able to, we'll go deeper in the tournament than we expect. If we aren't, like most of the year, we'll need defense and rebounding and good luck in the last 30 seconds if we want to keep playing.