Well, the season ended with that sudden stop at the end of a month-plus long free fall. I'm sure the gang at RMN will have a series of season-ending pieces that will give the nuts and bolts.
I'm heading out to Charlotte in about an hour to catch the Friday and Sunday games, and looking forward to it. But, I wanted to jot down a few thoughts on my way out the door as an opening salvo on the year-end perspective pieces. So, stream-of-consciousness style, here is my Good-Bad-Ugly of 2010-11.
In some ways the ODU win and the Georgetown near-miss were the twin apexes of the season. ODU gave us a glimpse at the team's ceiling while Georgetown put that ceiling on display for a national audience. Ironically, the Georgetown loss put both the strength and weakness of the team on display. In a broader sense though, think about how disappointed we all feel about a team that won 20+ games, won a conference tournament game, and got to the NCAAs. I currently work at S. Carolina, and still think our coach Darrin Horne was a fantastic hire, and we would absolutely KILL for that kind of disappointment. As I've noted in several game threads, I love that the MU program has gotten to the point where we can be a little salty about a season where we don't make the Sweet Sixteen, but the line that separates high expectations from "drunk off your own sense of entitlement" is... um... dotted. We should all be mindful of this as we look back on the season.
Sometimes you get a group that just does not come together. (Or comes together and then quickly falls apart again.) You can call it chemistry. You can call it whatever you want. Every group is different. Even when a lot of players return. You don't really know how a group will come together. If you're around long enough you will see a group that plays as less than the sum of its parts. Just ask Tom Izzo. The causes for that almost certainly aren't any one thing. But, if I had to point to a singular problem that limited this team's ceiling it was probably the "loss" of Mitchell. I won't suggest that he was an instant savior. It's more that this team was seriously thin up front. In the end we asked too much of Ratliffe, Saffy, and Steeeeeve. It's a reasonable bet that Mitchell would have rebounded and allowed us to retain some matchup flexibility.
The ugly part of this season was how much this team's focus waned based on shooting. The Nebraska game was probably the quintessential example, and to a lesser extent Texas. (The Horns were playing so well at the time.) That sort of thing really is not what you'd expect from a Fastest 40(TM) team. Last night was more carbon copy than microcosm. It was a repeat of nearly every other recent loss. When our shots go down bodies get active on defense and on the glass. When shots don't drop we go flat. That strikes me as a maturity and leadership problem. What disappoints me most is that, really, other than Denmon and Bowers, no one on the team is a good enough shooter to be a sometime defender and rebounder--especially when we know they can defend and rebound to compensate for poor shooting.
I'm still excited about this group long-term. I'm hopeful about Otto Porter coming to Columbia. I'm also hopeful that our returners get in the gym and go back to work on being a better Tiger this summer. I work with college students every day and I've learned a few things over that time. With rare exceptions they all want to learn and get better. Sometimes--which is to say, often--you have to stand by with them while they make their mistakes. Some have to first learn how to do things the wrong way before the right way makes any sense.