Lead By Example
I attend most all of the home games and watch the road games on TV. So even though I did technically watch the Longwood and Rutgers home wins on TV, it feels like this is the first win I've watched on TV in three years. I grumble, I pace around, we lose. Rinse and repeat.
Today, facing our first winless-on-the-road season SINCE 1906, we messed around and got ourselves a road win. Mostly because of the juniors.
Michael Finke: 19 points
Aaron Jordan: 15 points
Leron Black: 14 points
It's funny - I write that "Leron and The Kids" post the other night, pointing out that it's pretty much now a Leron + Freshmen team, and then Finke and Jordan go and do that. Let's break this one down the same way:
Seniors: 3 points
Juniors: 48 points
Sophomores: 12 points
Freshmen: 12 points
Ideally, that's what you want. Good teams go as their upperclassmen go. When their upperclassmen are playing out of their minds like Finke and Jordan played today, everything gets better. Not only in that game, but in a program sense. Older guys lead, and then when the younger guys become the older guys, they lead too.
So take Aaron Jordan and Da'Monte Williams. I think the best case scenario is that these two players battle to be the Glue Guy next season. The "guard goes into the lane and gets the big rebound" guy. The "make the big pass on the back-door cut" guy. The "uses his long arms to get a hand on the entry pass" guy. They battle all season, with Jordan winning out.
And then the next season, Da'Monte is that guy with some freshman guard in the 2019 class pushing for those minutes. And by the time Da'Monte graduates, that guy takes over that role. And so on and so on.
It doesn't have to be as specific as that, but teams that win year after year always seem to go as far as their upperclassmen go. Yes, we add Ayo next year, and he should make a big difference, but I think it's more important that we get big senior performances out of Black, Finke, and Jordan. And then, the next year, big senior performances from Kipper and Te'Jon. And then, the next year, big senior years from Trent, Mark, and Da'Monte. And so on and so on.
Those are the things I think about when I hear discussions about "culture". Get the older guys to buy in, have them set the example, and then the younger guys follow that lead and set the next example. And I think it's pretty clear from the second half of the season that the older guys are slowly stepping into those roles. February was Leron Black Month, and today, when he had a bad game, Michael Finke and Aaron Jordan stepped up and won the game. Finke makes a push and this limits Greg Eboigbodin to six minutes even though Leron was in foul trouble? This is a very good thing.
And so is winning on the road, even if it's just a win over the last place team (not us!). We finished the season tied for 11th in the conference, and I'll be honest - I'm so glad I didn't just type "last place". Three conference overtime losses and a buzzer beater loss at Nebraska - that makes for a stomach-able first season for Brad Underwood. Not great by any means, but given what he inherited, stomach-able.
Now let's make a big leap next year.
+ Today was more of the same "I can see what we will be" as the Purdue game. Really, most of the month of February was that. The loss at Ohio State where we were tied with 3:00 to go. The loss to Purdue where they needed a Herculean effort from their star guard to beat us. The win over Nebraska. Even half of the game at #2 Michigan State where we absolutely looked like we belonged.
The athletes aren't there, the shooters aren't there (still shooting .329 from three for the season, which is bottom 20% nationally), but you can see what it's going to be once those players are in place (and these seven underclassmen grow up). Da'Monte's eight rebounds today in 20 minutes? I feel like we're going to have several "13 rebounds for a GUARD?" in our future. Trent played poorly, Mark Smith missed the game with the flu, Leron was limited to 17 minutes because of foul trouble... and we won by 13 on the road. Yes, Rutgers, but still... you can see what we will be.
+ It was so nice see Michael Finke get back to last year. He's struggled most of the season, and then struggled even more with the concussion, but today he was great. 19 points on 6-10 shooting, 6 boards, no foul trouble, and most importantly - consistency in the lane when Leron was forced to the bench.
Since my eyes are already on next season, a big year from Finke is probably the one thing that could improve this team's chances of a Tournament berth. Ayo adds a lot to the backcourt, but with no frontcourt help on the horizon, it's up to Finke, Kipper, or Eboi to step up. All eyes on you, Michael.
+ Can this team make any BTT noise? I doubt it. Nebraska clinched the 4 seed, which means that if we get past Rutgers or Iowa in the 12/13 game we'd run straight into Michigan. I don't think this team can beat the Michigan team as the Michigan team is currently playing. So... let's get one more win and then start thinking about next year.
Which, if I'm honest - I currently feel pretty good about.