Last night’s performance brought a lot of words to a lot of people. Some were blown away by the performance on court, others were touched by the support shown for Newtown with the green jerseys. I myself sat in my chair for a moment after the game, processing the night’s performance in my mind like a highlight reel, and could only come up with two words:
The Friars were picked dead last in the Big East this year, essentially everyone writing them off at the time with Dunn injured, Ledo ineligible, and a bench about as deep as a puddle. Cooley has made sure nobody has forgotten that this is what they’re perceived as – putting the projected standings up for his players to see. And, while they haven’t won anything yet, the matchup against Colgate was a step in the direction that Cooley wants to see his team move in.
Time to re-examine this team.
D’s for Dunn: Kris Dunn had 13 assists last night in 27 minutes. Let’s think about that for a minute. That’s a record set in his first game that’s tied with Ricky Tucker, God Shammgod, and Donnie MacGrath for most assists in a single game for a freshman. You know what he gave his performance as a rating last night? D. As in “D’s get degrees” or “man I absolutely blew this test and got a D, but hey it’s a passing grade so pass the bottle!”
Granted he did shoot 3-13 but my God, a D? And that’s just assists and shooting. Let’s not forget that while Dunn was on the court the team played faster, the shooters shot better, and everyone looked more in sync. Not taking anything away from Bryce Cotton but having a point guard running the point makes a hell of a lot of a difference. I doubt Cotton will complain though, it freed him up to drop 21 points and play off ball, where his game thrives. But back to the point at hand, Dunn thinks that record book performance was a D. Maybe playing wise it’s a little higher, we don’t know, but here’s what we do know – Dunn believes he can be that much better. THIS IS THE TYPE OF PLAYER WE’VE ALWAYS WANTED! This is what made the greats so incredible was that they kept believing there was a way to improve their game. With a mentality like Dunn’s he’ll thrive and grow much faster than the players out there who think that their A game is every time they do the minimum.
The Bird-McHale Paradigm: In When the Game was Ours (the story about the rivalry with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson) there was a recount of how Larry Bird and Kevin McHale were different. In the story Kevin McHale had set a scoring record for the Celtics at 56 points with plenty of time left on the clock to keep going. Rather than continue to drive it up, he decided to share the special day and distribute more, getting the team involved. That next wek, Bird would break his teammates record by scoring 60 points and, unlike McHale, decided to go twice as hard after he broke the record for the rest of the game, thus ensuring that his record would stay intact. He was the type of guy who wouldn’t ease off the peddle for anyone, and that record still stands in the Celtics history today.
Ladies and gentlemen, Ed Cooley coaches the way Larry Bird played. Up by almost 40 with a few minutes to play Colgate got an easy layup. Cooley was irate. It didn’t matter how much we were up by, or how little time was left, he wanted to continue to limit as much as possible and win by as much as possible. This is the type of mentality that I personally love, and the the type that will see us to winning ways. It also teaches the players how to close out games by never easing up, despite opponent, score, or time, so when they’re playing a high caliber team they’re already used to shutting out and playing for 40 full minutes.
Sidiki Johnson, a Growing Project: Sidiki’s debut was exciting for fans, and finally gave Cooley depth options in the front court (a luxury we’ve gone without up until now), but overall his performance wasn’t anything to write home about. With 2-6 shooting and 8 rebounds Johnson looked confident but slow. He needs some more time to get in shape and work on his midrange jumper, a shot he took several times in the same fashion that Kadeem Batts will take it but with a far lower success rate. Johnson’s size and banger style of play in the post ensured rebounds and blocks, but he was too quick to throw up the ball on offense and struggled to get back in transition, which Colgate capitalized on several times. Not a bad first game, but still has a lot of room to grow.
Fire and Ice: Bryce Cotton, as mentioned, finally got to play his game. On 7-14 shooting (including 5-11 from three) he led the team in points with 21, and looked confident as hell returning to his old role as a shooting guard. However, Josh Fortune finally had his coming out party and showed us all why he’s the shooter he was advertised to be, going 7-10 on shooting, good for 17 points. Dunn’s return made this possible, and with Council coming soon expect this to become the norm for Fire and Ice.
Walk Hard: What does this mean though? Are we turning a corner or just playing a bad team really well? 79-45 is a great win, but does it mean anything because it’s Colgate? In a word, yes. It’s not about whether or not you win, but how you win. Keno Davis teams beat plenty of crappy teams but failed to actually show there were winning ways in the performances. This has changed, and the mentality and discipline displayed last night was yet another step in the return to prominence. Will we go undefeated in Big East play? No, absolutely not, don’t be stupid. BUT does this mean we’ll surprise? You betcha. A team with talent can win or lose (see: UCLA), but a team that’s learned how to win will be far more successful. This team showed last night, for the first time since I can remember, that they know how to win. That was one of Cooley’s first proclamations when he was hired, and now we’re finally seeing the fruits of that labor. It’s time to reconsider where the Friars were picked, because last place is too low.