Monday, January 11, 2010

Seton Hall - Cincinnati Post Game: Closing Out

Live Bloggin'...Impressions
It is interesting to sit on press row and watch the arena fill up. I like to arrive early as a "fan", sit in the stands and watch the rest of the crowd show up as the players go through their pre-game warmups. How team members interact and work together during the "prep time"; how the fans arrive and interact as they take their seats, can sometimes tell me things about the team and their fans. The Rock's lower bowl was filled to capacity for West Virginia (a bit surprising given the timing -- the day after Christmas) and the weather (Northeast dreary, wet and dark, typical of late December in the New York to Boston Corredore). Indeed, the 12/26 Hall fan-base was out in force, though they seemed somewhat tentative. These were not rowdy New Jersey fans out for what they knew would be a good time, but rather more like seekers. Travelers who themselves were in search of answers to questions. How would the taem do? How did they look? Maybe it was the opponent; maybe it was the games running up to this Big East opening of openings. I don't know, but the post Christmas crowd was strangely quiet for just under 10,000 assembled New Jerseyans.

When I arrived for the Cincinnati game I again looked around for crowd signs. Frankly the signs seemed worse for Saturday's game. The crowd was smaller, fewer turned out (confirmed by the official box score), even though this promised to be the best match-up of the first four/five home games. And boy were they quiet, almost mournful. From the pre-game to the first 10 minutes of the 1st half the loudest crowd responses came for the young fellow who sang the National Anthem (he did do an absolutely terrific job btw), and the announcement that the Jets led the Bengals by a 14-7 score (that came during the 1st timeout of the half). The arena became almost morgue-like as the Bearcats pushed their early lead out to 12 about midway through the 1st half.

The official web site has the wire story and the box score. The breakdown by 4 minute sequences...

Scores by...
1st Period
2nd Period

Through the first eight minutes of the 1st period the Hall went down by eight points (22-14), a slow start problem Coach Gonzalez commented on during his post game press conference. The Pirates however, were not victimized by cold shooting -- they were 6-12 (2-4, 4-8) -- they did not appear to be contesting shots (very well) through that time span. Cincinnati was red hot from the field converting seven of nine FGAs (3-5, 4-4). The turnaround started around the 8:00 minute mark, though it was not obvious from the score (check the margin). Pirate shooting was not necessarily more accurate (they went 3-7 from the field), but they started getting to the line -- 3-3 accuracy from the line not only cut into the margin, but also vested the Hall with a bit of confidence. And the Bearcats took their turn dealing with a cold streak, as they shot 2-9 from the field (both made field goals -- 2s by the way -- were assisted). SHU's scortching 16-4 run to close out the last eight minutes of the 1st half cannot be attributed to suddenly better shot accuracy (they went 5-12 & 0-3, 5-9 over the time period), but rather the fact that they got to the line and converted at a 6-6 clip. Other keys...
1. No turnovers over the span -- the Hall held a 8-0 takeaway-giveaway edge over the last eight minutes, noted several times by Coach Cronin during post game interviews. Coach Cronin, shaking his head indicated that beating the Hall's press had been a point of emphasis in Cincinnati's preparations, but had broken down during this period.
2. An ice cold run by the Bearcats. Cincinnati went 2-7 (note five fewer FGAs than SHU, the product of turnovers), 0-3 and 2-4, with no trips to the line during that eight minutes stretch.

Half-time Adjustments
The Pirates won the crucial 1st four minutes, 13-8 with what was their most accurate four minute sequence of the game, going 5-5 from the field (4-4, 1-1) and 2-2 from the line. Cincinnati's own 3-4 efficiency (along with 2-2 from the line) was negated and overcome by strong performances from Garcia, Pope and Hazell (who chipped in 5 points on 2-2 shooting). Nunu was particularly effective with 2 assists and 2-2 from the line. Cincinnati's last rally was triggered (in part) by Cashmire Wright insertion in to the back court. The pass-first point guard set up field goals by Vaughn and Gates with great passes. Wright really pushed the tempo, getting the ball over mid court to get Cincinnati's offense sets going before the Pirates could get their defense set.

Closing Out
Cashmire Wright changed the dynamic for the Bearcats, putting a much faster team on the court (one that better matched the Pirates?). Over the last eight minutes of the game Wright set the offense with five assists (Vaughn chipped in an assist too) as the Bearcats took 15 FGAs, 10 in the last four minutes, hitting 10-15 (3-7, 7-8) and no FTAs (much to the Pirates' credit). If SHU did not take nearly as many shots, five FGAs over the last eight minutes (why would they, up by 15 at the 8:00 mark, their strategy, entirely appropriate, was to work the shot clock & maximize the time for each of their remaining possessions), they did hit their free throws, going 9-10 from the line as Cincinnati committed 6 "change of possession" fouls in the last four minutes. Credit the Pirates for knowing how to close out the game.

Post Game Comments Coach Gonzalez (a Summary)
1. Coach mentioned the storylines coming into the game -- that the Pirates were struggling and were underdogs for the game. This must have bothered him because he specifically pointed out that the Pirates had taken two of their last three against the Bearcats. The comment has been relayed in a number of outlets, but his tone, earnest though not adament, has not been noted anywhere. He has taken notice of the press treatment.
2. He spoke about closing out games and opponents, in particular making free throws in the last few possessions. He noted with pleasure how Herb Pope was making his FTs.
3. The first half turnaround came up, and Coach Gonzalez credited the press and the turnovers it forced. He was especially happy with the guard play, going out of his way to cite all three of his point guards (Harvey, Lawrence and Theodore). He noted how he liked have two pgs on the court at the same time. Someone asked about Lawrence getting the start over Harvey, and the coach indicated that with the consecutive losses he was looking for a way to change the rhythm of the team and get them to refocus. He was very pleased with Harvey's work and suggested he would most likely start the next game.
4. He talked at length about Jordan Theodore, suggesting the sophomore had played an outstanding game. He called him "the pg of the future...Harvey is now, Lawrence is now and next season, Theodore is the future". He returned to Jordan's effort 3 separate times during the course of the press conference.
5. He was impressed (and very happy) with "how smart" Jeremy Hazell played. He was impressed with Hazell's shot selection and game awareness.

Post Game Coach Cronin Comments (a Summary)
The press room had emptied, most of the reporters left to interview the players in the Hall locker room. I stayed behind to finish comments for the live blog and shut down the machine. When I turned around to leave I realized there were two reporters interviewing someone standing to the side of the first row of chairs. At first I thought Coach Gonzalez had returned to the Press Room, but as I focused I recognized Coach Cronin.
1. He spoke in a low tone, his body language almost shy, quite unilke his demeanor on the court. I was able to hear him barking directions to his Bearcats throughout much of the two halves, even when the crowd was noisy.
2. He mentioned Vaughn's early struggles this season, but noted the junior guard's work ethic had really picked up in practice, and was one of the reasons the team had started strongly. Coach is a believer in the effort in practice reflecting/preparing the team for game situations. He felt Vaughn was really turning it around.
3. Coach Cronin credited the Hall press for forcing Cincinnati turnovers and playing themselves back into the game. He indicated that it frustrated his team because they had prepared for it, but still could not "solve" it during the game. This was a point he returned to several times, that despite preparing for it, the Bearcats could not match the speed. He liked Theodore too, was very impressed with the sophomore's play.
4. Thinks to Big East is too difficult. Clearly he respects the conference (and likes the competitiveness of the programs), but might be a bit weary with the pressure that comes with every game.

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