Well, theres nothing to be excited about in these last two victories against UNC-G and Savannah State because it would trigger a total meltdown if anything else occured, but they are wins and thats what we need. About all I expected (or hoped, rather) to see in these two games was some improvement on offense -- be it through scheme and fundamentals or just shooting.
Well we shot a respectable 42% against Savannah and a good 55% today, so thats at least improvement, and we actually scored points and made it close in Tallahassee which I didn't expect (at all, given their defense).
Jerai Grant has turned it up the last two games: 15 points and 6 boards in 19 minutes against Savannah and a double-double today with 19 and 13, to go with 5 blocks. Today's game was mostly about our domination inside and he manhandled Savannah State pretty well. He's not going to have the talent to dominate inside in ACC play, but he is capable of raising his scoring averages a good bit more and being a solid offensive threat this year himself instead of the "other" option inside like last year.
Devin Booker was quite a disappointment, and has been a big one so far this year. Devin has the talent but I think its entirely mental for him. His brother is not here to encourage and push him at times, and I think he misses that. He's uncertain of himself and his abilities, and if he'd let things come to him I think he might shine.
Which brings me to one issue that I complained about with his brother, and with the team in general under Oliver Purnell: mental toughness. After reading Brad Brownell's interview with TI, which I recommend to everyone because its refreshing to hear a coach who doesn't bullshit me with coachspeak, I see he's running into this problem with teaching the team how to really play basketball when you're not running up and down the court constantly. These guys don't have mental toughness.
I think many of the offensive woes we have seen relate to just that issue, and again it was evidenced by letting our feet off the throats of UNC-G, blowing a huge lead, and nearly losing the game. If a team is thinking about what they need to do instead of just doing, it'll show up one way or the other. Thats how it is in football as well. They know how to play defense, since thats all that Purnell taught (apparently) over the last few years, so that has been -- for the most part -- OK thus far. But, if they are worrying on offense about how the coach wants them to pass, or how to properly set a screen, or just getting an open look (in Andre Young's case specifically), then they'll look like hell until they have enough practices under their belts with this system. Perhaps this is what's wrong with Milton Jennings, I don't know.
And that is how I'll evaluate Brownell. We know he just lost two players that he wasn't banking on, and we're stuck playing with 9 guys, some of which shouldn't even play in the ACC. He's not going to get us to the NCAA Tourney this year, in my opinion, just because he has no depth to work with. Duke has done it before with basically 7 guys, but those 7 are way ahead of our 9 in talent. What we need to be looking at in evaluating him fairly this year is in the spacing, setting screens, and other fundamentals that we have not had on offense.
What will tell us if this hypothesis of mine is correct is how they progress as they get further through the season. If they're thinking instead of playing, it'll improve just because they have more minutes and practices under their belts. It may not improve before February, but it will get better.
We will see.