There is a lot to unpack about this season, and I've been so busy over the last few days--thankfully--that I haven't had time to fully process that it's all over and OH GOD IT'S ALL OVER. Anyway, woth posed a good discussion-worthy question the other day in the thread of sadness, so I tried piecing together some initial thoughts based on the whole what-went-wrong deal. Many of these issues you guys have already brought up in past threads.
Obviously, this team didn't defend at a high level very often. It's hard not to think now that we underestimated the impact of trading three upperclassmen for three freshmen. DeShawn Painter's departure put more pressure on Leslie and Howell to avoid foul trouble. Tyler Lewis got better as the year progressed but he was getting beaten easily by mid-major guards during the first half of the season. T.J. Warren had a tendency to get lost, and his defensive rebounding left a lot to be desired. As the third forward, Painter would have been a better shot blocker and defensive rebounder than Warren, which would have helped this team considerably. State's 2FG% defense and DR% both declined this season.
C.J. Williams gave us some good perimeter defense last year, and it's just a tough situation when you have two freshmen and Scott Wood to defend the opponents' secondary guards. I don't question the effort of any of them; this team simply wasn't constructed in a way that would allow it to play great defense. Howell is a tough guy to move in the low blocks but he couldn't do much to affect shots because of his modest leaping ability. Leslie was essentially the inverse of Howell, athletic enough to alter shots or send them hurtling out of bounds, but not strong enough to keep true power forwards out of good scoring position.
The bottom line is that the veteran core of this team was constructed by Sidney Lowe and his staff, and I think the players developed some bad habits that they never managed to get rid of***. But Mark Gottfried has never been known for strong defenses, either, and that was a factor as well. We saw fundamental issues game after game, which speaks to coaching, which speaks to a young bench, and which speaks to a lack of vocal leadership and basic communication at that end of the floor.
The guys acknowledged this much mid-season--they had a tendency to get down on themselves when things went bad, their body language reflected that, and there was nobody out there to pick them up. Rodney Purvis' youthful enthusiasm could only go so far. Too often guys would follow a mistake by hanging their heads, and when that happened, bad situations could snowball. They also showed great resiliency in some games, which makes the overall assessment a bit more complicated.
I guess the general sense I have about State's defensive performance is that it was a combination of a suboptimal collection of skill sets and mediocre coaching. I don't believe as some do that external or off-court issues hurt the team's performance in 2013, but then again, I'm no program insider. (Note to program insiders: call me.)
(***That being said, credit is due to Lowe for building the foundation for a fantastic offense.)