The Weather Moose:
So things are not the best right now. I was feeling OK about the Pack until about mid December. They were 8-1 heading into Wofford after having just annihilated Charleston Southern. Then they lay an egg. And I fired off an email to you. But they beat Tennessee!
And now in the last three games (West Virginia, Louisiana Tech, Cincinnati), they've looked awful. They were basically pantsed by each team to start, managing to stumble into a victory against La. Tech. Before this stretch, they'd shown some marked improvement on defense with the offense needing to catch up. Now neither one are in good shape.
And Gottfried is publicly calling out his guys. They're sitting, once again, on the way outside looking in at the NCAA tournament. This has all the makings of a season that's going to get away from this group unless a miracle happens.
What do you think?
So, yeah, things have gone downhill considerably since we last spoke. All that optimism I had for this team, even after the Wofford loss, has been sort of washed a way in a sea of turnovers and poor decision making.
Outside of one 20 minute stretch, the Pack has been outscored 198-153 over its last three games. Fortunately they had that one great 20 minute stretch or they'd be staring at a three game losing streak against some pretty unspectacular competition (WVU aside). You could make an argument that these last 10 days have been the worst stretch of basketball the Pack has played under Gottfried considering the level of competition involved.
I hesitate to say its getting away from this group, but certainly they have a lot to figure out. The defense has sort of collapsed, in some ways however that's been the fault of the offense which has decided to just hand the ball away and give the opposition easy baskets. Gottfried's defensive philosophy walks a fine line as it is, and giving up just 4-5 open lay-ups a game moves the needle from 'passably mediocre' to 'you can't win like this'.
As much as Gottfried managed to figure out last year and build around Warren, this year it seems like he has his toughest job ever. He has a collection of talent capable of being good but there are just some major holes I'm not sure he can fill - some sort of offensive post presence being the major one. Theoretically they can learn how to properly break a press (this is probably a thing they should actually practice though because if they practiced it leading up to Cincy it certainly didn't show). Theoretically they can get back to the defense they played in November and early December.
But its all very hypothetical at this point. It could also turn into a 'lost' season very quickly, as you said. And the schedule, well, yeah.... dammit. Let's just focus on Pitt for now, which is like Cincinnati a winnable game on paper that the Pack really really needs to win.
Dammit is a good summation of the path forward. The Pitt game is one of the ACC contests that is probably coin flip game that State needs. Well, they need every game now, really. They very likely need to go 10-8/11-7 in conference and then win a few in the tourney to even have a place in the bubble discussion.
Specifically, Pitt has had its share of issues this season, too. I watched their game against San Diego State (ugly gross) and parts of the St. Bonaventure game. They're a lot like State with meh defense and fairly efficient offense. The one difference is they're a lot slower, which will be incredibly aggravating by the time the Virginia game is over. Just in time for the Duke game to look and feel like it's being played at warp speed.
Unfortunately for State, they've been shooting themselves in the foot, turning the ball over and giving these slower teams extra possessions. Can they fix this in time for Pitt? Probably not and it'll likely end up being another frustrating game to watch.
I know a lot of your optimism for this team was built on Gott's record of development throughout the year, but is that possible with this group? He seemed as dejected as I've seen him in the last four years last night. I don't know how much of that was theatrics to try and wake this group up or genuine despair.
I was both surprised and glad to see Gottfried sort of go off in the post game. It's super rare, I can't remember another time where he was this visibly angry with how his team played. So, that's good that he's recognizing there are real issues and trying to light some sort of fire. But yeah having to get to this place is also obviously bad. To address your last point, its probably both - I don't think he saw that coming at all from his team so its a disappointment/motivational tactic rolled into one. I do think it comes from genuine confusion/anger/frustration, but he has enough time before he gets to the media to compose himself and decide what approach to take if he wanted to vent or go with his usual cool and collected routine.
And yes, Pitt has been oddly similar to State this year. Usually they build around a fairly solid defense but its been pretty Wolfpackesque so far this year and its had to rely on its offense to win games. That's had mixed results, with a bad loss to Hawaii and some close calls at home recently to decidedly mediocre competition. They'll also be going on the road for the first time in nearly a month, which might play to the Pack's favor.
All of this is sort of irrelevant if the Pack comes and repeats all the same mistakes of the last three game, though. So how about let's hold on to the ball and maybe get Turner and Lacey some decent shots that would be great.
As for your last question - yes its possible that he turns this group around. We are hovering around the halfway point of the season, and while they've dug themselves a hole the last few weeks there's plenty of time to dig out. This year seems more likely than previous years to sort of get away from Gottfried, but had you asked me the same question last year at this time I'd have given the same answer. In other words, I know nothing.
But that's certainly not going to stop me from predicting this Pitt game. I say the Pack figures it out and wins 73-65. I WILL RIDE THIS OPTIMISM TRAIN ALL THE WAY OFF THE CLIFF.
To be totally honest with you, I more or less bailed on this team during the Louisiana Tech game. So there's absolutely no way in this world I'm going to let any sort of optimism creep in for the remainder of the season. I'm just here for the laughs, baby, and this group is going to provide a hell of a lot of them.
I've got the first 'players only' meeting occurring after the team gets railroaded by Duke before the UNC game at home. BUT YOU KEEP TOOTING THAT DOOM TRAIN'S HORN.
Pitt wins, 71-62