Talking to USI basketball coach Rodney Watson can be revealing or concealing. It just depends on what he wants to talk about when you ask him questions. But he seemed to open up when I pointed out on Friday — the day after the Eagles’ 92-67 dismantling by No. 4 Indianapolis — that his USI team has been wildly inconsistent this season.
“I think … it really comes down to matchups both on offense and defense,” he said. “Look at our games and especially our league play. Nearly every team in our league is different.” But there are teams the Eagles play well against, one of them being Indianapolis. Until Thursday night, USI had won four straight against the Greyhounds. In fact, USI handed them their last loss (UIndy has since won 10 in a row).
So what happened Thursday night? “We just didn’t match up with their intensity,” said Watson. “They stole 17 points off transition (fast break) in the first half against us. We were too often the eighth, ninth and 10th man down the floor on the defensive end. That’s the part that can’t happen.”
The other problem for USI was poor shooting, the result of not running the team’s half-court offense properly. That means the Eagles weren’t getting the ball inside enough to leading scorer and rebounder Aaron Nelson or, when he was double- and triple-teamed, getting the ball to the open shooters. “We weren’t making shots, so we never could get in a half-court game,” said Watson. “We have to have a half-court game.”
Think about that for a moment. USI used to be known as a run-and-gun team, one that tried to push the ball as quickly as possible up and down the court. Now it’s game is better suited to working for the best shot. Sure, it can still run, and it’s still quick. But most of that effort takes place in the half court instead of the full court.
My suggestion, for what little it’s worth: Run more. Opponents have been finding ways to close off USI’s half-court openings for the past couple of years no matter how talented its players. Open up the game just a tad more and, suddenly, the opposition will have something else to deal with. And why not press more, trap more, force your players to be more active on defense? Orlando Rutledge has admitted how his offense gets much, much better when he’s playing active defense; in fact, his highest point totals this season have come when he’s been shutting down an opposing team’s star player. Of course, it’s easier said than done. First you have to have the players willing to play that hard on defense ALL THE TIME. And the only way it will work is if they do that, and I’m not sure how you make that happen. Anyway, it’s an idea.