Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Our to-date analysis

Utilizing one of our favorite sayings, this one by former PBSer Robert MacNeil, "If you want to make heat on television, that's easy. If you want to make light, that's hard. Let's do the hard part.”

So yes, it's been a roller coaster of a season so far but worth keeping in mind that there has been but a single game that was a flat out defeat (Nebraska).

We've heard and received various concerns: "Man, we gotta make those free throws" and "think, insert name, think" or "where's the killer instinct?"

So let's look at the facts and the factors in trying to determine what if any trends are discernable and leave the strictly visceral for the ubiquitous message boards. .

*** In the 70-62 Spartan victory on the road over South Dakota State, the Jackrabbits made a number of runs but SJSU never lost the lead after the 18-minute mark of the second half.

*** Against Presbyterian, SJSU led from the start to almost the finish, losing a four-point lead with less than two minutes to go on missed free throws and the allowance of a last-second offensive rebound and resulting winning shot in a 47-46 loss.

*** Versus Santa Clara, SJSU enjoyed a six point lead with 5:47 remaining but missed free throws again primarily contributed to the loss.

*** With the San Diego game -- a 56-52 victory -- the foul shooting was adequate but 24 turnovers hurt and the game went back and forth until Justin Graham's heroics won it at the very end.

*** As for the Northern Colorado contest, the Spartans twice enjoyed 17-point leads in the second half, had the score tighten to 71-64 with 4:21 remaining but won by 11 points, 89-78.

*** The USF game was an 82-76 win, one with a shaky seven-minute stretch in the second half. San Jose State led 57-41 with 11:26 remaining but USF twice cut it to three before falling.

*** At St. Mary's, SJSU had a nine-point first half lead with five minutes to go but the Gaels tied it up by halftime. St. Mary's jumped out to an early second half advantage, San Jose State got it to three at one point but Randy Bennett's team surged again and prevailed 87-78.

*** As for Saturday's 66-61 loss to Louisiana Tech, SJSU led by six points at the 10:26 mark of second half but the Bulldogs played the more consistent basketball there on out and won. Bulldog backcourter Jamel Guyton enjoyed one of his top games of this season with 4-5 shooting from three-point range and five assists to one turnover. Yet coming into the game, Guyton was shooting 38% from long distance with a break even assist-to-turnover ratio. Fellow guard James Loe had 27 assists matched with 33 turnovers entering the game yet produced four assists to one miscue. Tech also had an eleven minute period of time without committing a turnover. Kyle Gibson, the best Bulldog player, entered the contest with 44 assists versus 51 turnovers. He finished with three assists and nary an error. Also, SJSU shot just 4-17 from three-point range -- too many while not making enough.

Here's one LA TECH blogger who had been critical of Loe's performance to date: *Who is this player and where is James Loe? Especially in the first half. He hits a three (only the second of the year and he’s a career 20% 3 point shooter). Makes a good decision on a fast break and gets a goal tending call for another basket. Hit a couple of free throws to ice it with six seconds left. And most importantly in 30 minutes he posts a career best 5 to 1 assist/turnover margin."

As Coach Nessman put it, “Louisiana Tech played the final four minutes with more purpose than we did. There were two pivotal sequences in the second half. The first was when we had a six-point lead and Kyle (Gibson) made a number of plays in a row. We took some questionable shots and that got them back to square one. Then, we got a steal around the 3:00 mark and failed to convert. And, we fouled a player 30-feet from the goal who wasn’t involved in the play..."

*** As for last night's 75-73 loss to New Mexico State, here two paragraphs from the game report at the SJSU athletics site. First Coach Nessman: "We've had at least one stretch every game where we seem to lose our focus and just really struggle. It's not a long period, just a two or three minute burst, but against a good team, they're going to take advantage of that. We haven't been able to shake that out of our system completely. It's really a question of engagement and staying focused."

Followed by: "The Spartans' coach probably is referencing a 5.5-minute span early in the second half when San Jose State lost a 46-42 lead and found themselves trailing 57-49 with 13:40 to go. Four of the team's 13 turnovers gave New Mexico State an opportunity to comeback and make the Spartans play catch up the rest of the game."

A 2-12 three-point shooting night hurt as did a couple of times when New Mexico State employed a press.

Ultimately, what does all this mean?

Seriously, who truly knows other than an 0-2 conference record?

To us, it's not one specific thing nor is it a certain consistent element of the game but here's what we can offer:

*** Better free-throw shooting is necessary, throughout the game but especially in the last five minutes.

*** The elimination of unforced turnovers and the limiting of all miscues to 12 or so a game at most is a necessity.

*** Finishing off a wounded prey -- stretching a lead from 10 or 12 points to 20 -- call it a killer instinct if you wish -- needs developing.

*** The wish is for every shot attempt to be a good one but that's not a reality. However, it is a prime goal that every trip down the court in the last five minutes of any game -- make that each half but especially so at the conclusion of a contest -- be a purposeful one. Granted, there will never be zero wasted opportunities but an approach of knowing what qualifies as what should be attempted needs to be simultaneously running through the minds of all five players.

*** We believe this will turn around with time but conference opponents are 13-27 in three-point shooting to SJSU's 6-29. Similarly, WAC opponents are 28-43 in free throw attempts while the Spartans are 20-31.

So there are a myriad of 'contributions' to the 0-2 conference record.

*** Free throw shooting is something that improve-able.

*** Playing with better awareness regarding what to try and when -- situational decison-making -- will reduce errors but ultimately it is up to each individual player to rise to that appropriate level.

*** The same goes for focus and concentration for a full 40 minutes -- a player must do what is needed in order to get himself to that state.

*** The adoption of the mantra "no easy baskets" and then doing what is required to fulfill that.

*** Some opposing players, even some unexpected ones, are having their 'best' games against San Jose State -- we have no solution for this. Is such just an anomaly or a situation that can be reduced or eliminated?

On the plus side, the Spartans are earning more shots per game and also out-boarding conference opponents by six a contest.

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