Much like Soundgarden, I’ve been away for too long. After meeting so many readers at Brad’s/RiRa’s (and thank you to all of you for the hospitality, can’t even tell you how much that meant to me!) I figured now is as good a time as any to make a comeback. The team is 7-2 and, more importantly, we’re about to have our full roster back. The wait is over – Sidiki Johnson, Kris Dunn, and Vincent Council are finally here!
Okay, so depending on the source Vincent Council may not be back for Colgate, but if not Colgate then soon. Very soon. And there’s a lot to consider with three major talents such as these taking the court for the Friars. After a semester of literally no depth at times, we’re going to add a ton. What’s this all mean for the Friars? Like couples therapy, let’s talk about it!
Going Deep!: For the first time in a long time we’re finally going to have talent not only on the floor, but on the bench. This is what the Friars have been waiting for, and come Big East play the depth is going to be imperative in order to continue to be competitive. But pure talent is equally important, if not secondary, to how the roster is managed. Basketball is very similar to chess in this way. Both players have an equal number of pieces. Both players have pieces that can do certain things, and can’t do certain things. And, assuming they’re worth anything as a chess player, both players understand that how you play the pieces against your opponent is just as important as having them on the board.
As far as I’m concerned this is where Ed Cooley is absolutely magnificent as a coach. He knows what his players can and can’t do, and more importantly he knows what they’re capable of. What does this mean for depth, you might ask? Well, for starters it means Cooley is going to have more pieces at his disposal, so not only will Cooley have the usual options of playing a player if they’re hot, benching them if they’re cold; he’ll be able to better exploit the weaknesses of the opponent much more efficiently.
Conversely, it means that players who aren’t ready to shoulder certain responsibilities won’t have to step up as quickly; a prime example being Josh Fortune having to play the point because there isn’t anybody else. This not only frees up players to focus on what they’re good at in the game, it allows the team to be stronger overall. Work on the stuff you’re struggling with in practice -that’s what practice is there for. In the game, your focus should be contributing what you’re great at in order to help the team win. Much like in chess, you won’t be successful trying to move your Bishop vertically or horizontally (for those that don’t know chess, go look up why that is), and with the added depth we won’t have to try and force a player to go out of position like that. Talent is one thing, but the fact is Cooley knows how to play his pieces to win, and that’s why this is so important to have the players returning.
The Power of One: This is strictly speaking on Sidiki Johnson’s debut as a Friar, and the frontcourt as well. Mainly, how much more does one player add? As of right now the frontcourt mainly consists of LaDontae Henton and Kadeem Batts, with a guest star of Brice Kofane. Kofane, however, doesn’t play much and still has a lot of untapped potential to add to the frontcourt, so it’s been mainly the LaDontae Henton and Kadeem Batts show.
There’s two general thoughts that come to mind when thinking about Johnson playing his first game. The first is “who’s minutes are getting cut” and the second is “will Batts and/or Henton continue to produce on the level they’re at now with an additional player?” The answer in my mind to these questions are “nobodies if it’s not necessary” and “yes.” Here’s why:
Remember what I said like three seconds ago about chess and playing roles? Well Batts and Johnson will both have critical roles to play, and their skill sets working in tandem will be nothing short of incredible. Sidiki will be doing a lot of what we’ve seen Batts doing – rebounding, post moves, playing the post, and so forth. This frees up Batts on offense to find breathing room around the paint and put in the mid-range daggers he’s shown he has, as well as covering more areas for second chance opportunities on offense. Likewise, having an able and skilled body like Kadeem can pull the defense away from Johnson long enough to get feeds to him in the post and give him more offensive opportunities, as well as provide support on defense. As for Henton? This allows him to move into the three while helping create mismatches at the four with Kadeem. Three great players all creating success for one another.
So now, the depth doesn’t just become “we have a center, we have a backup center, etc…” it’s “we have versatile players that can handle multiple responsibilities at multiple positions.” And who’s the strategist that’s going to make this magic happen? Ed Cooley.
The Second Coming: No, not a vague reference to future Friar Brandon Austin’s Twitter handle, more about a mindset we have about a certain freshman. Kris Dunn is, without question, one of the most talented players to put on a Friar uniform ever. Much like Ricky Ledo, his presence at PC alone has gathered as much attention as his abilities on the court. Rightfully so.
Here’s where the concern is: Dunn, in his talent and high upside, is not a perfect player. Sorry, that’s reality. There are a few facets of his game that need work, in particular his outside shooting and (according to some) his basketball IQ. He’s not Derrick Rose. He does, however, possess the potential to become that type of player, and a few things need to happen in order to do that.
First, the coaching staff needs to do it’s role. Having both Andre LaFleur and God Shammgod around is about as much of a godsend as you can ask for (pun intended, lulz). LaFleur will work wonders with Dunn’s game, making him a better player overall and helping raise the basketball IQ for this young point guard. God Shammgod, on the other hand, will be able to make Dunn one of the best ball handlers around. Now, add Cooley’s strategic mindset when Dunn takes the court, and there’s no reason for Dunn not to be successful.
Second, the players around Dunn will be required to help shoulder backcourt responsibilities. That means that Vincent Council (and Brandon Austin next year) will need to help Dunn with handling point guard responsibilities. Outside shooting is a small responsibility to delegate, both this year and next year where there are going to be plenty of shooter options. The IQ aspect, however, is where Council and Austin will play critical roles in helping out Dunn. This will help make Dunn a better player, and prepare him for a life in the NBA one day.
This isn’t to say Dunn is incapable, nor is it to say Dunn isn’t all he’s chalked up to be. He is capable, and he is very much the type of player we’ve been waiting for. This is an understanding that he’s a freshman coming off an injury with certain areas of his game that need work. Expect Dunn to excel, and expect to see him grow this season. Know where to watch for that growth, and his return will promise an even better experience.
The King is Back: “Worst case scenario” was a phrase often used when discussing injuries prior to the start of the season. “Worst case scenario we have an injury and we have no depth.” Welp, four minutes into game one and guess what happened?
Vincent Council hasn’t played more than four minutes this season. To put that in perspective, walk-on Ted Bancroft played 45 minutes in one game. But hey, wait’s over! Council will be back sometime within the next few games, and that means a lot for this team.
Most importantly, it means leadership. I’m not saying there hasn’t been leadership – Bryce Cotton and Kadeem Batts have done a great job with that – but there are points in a game where leadership is needed, and that hasn’t been shown. The Mississippi State game is a prime example. With Cotton off the floor the Friars lost control of the game around them, and allowed a double digit lead to be cut to four. Those of us who witnessed the South Florida game back in 2010 knew exactly how this game could’ve ended up. It didn’t thankfully, but the fact that it was put in that position to begin with is the point. With a disciplined leader that situation doesn’t happen because a leader like Vincent Council takes control of his team and gets them reset on the court.
We know Council is a great passer (you don’t become an assist leader without knowing your shit), and this will facilitate the offense in ways it hasn’t been able to without him. With more options to feed the ball, and freeing up Bryce from ball handling duties, Council will help generate a much stronger offense with his passing game. What I’m eager to see is how this will open up options both in the post and beyond the arc. That works like this: Council has always had a mid range dagger (those 12-15 dribble pull-up jumpers that he can’t seem to miss) which draws the defense on him. Now with Kadeem showing that same shot this means that both Kadeem and Council will draw defensive players on them at the middle. For Council this will likely free up shooters like Cotton and Fortune (probably Dunn too but I’d want to see him live before making that comment) for open three point shots, and for someone like Kadeem this opens up Sidiki or Henton. Film doesn’t lie, teams will know Council and Batts are capable of hitting these shots without mercy, but how does it get handled? If the solution is to give some extra help at the mid court that means it’s a field day. And who’s genius enough to pull those plays together?