Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Day After: Cornell 89, BU 59

One lineup shuffle, one embarrassing loss and one powerful quote later and this is where the Boston University men's basketball team stands.

[For those of you who haven't yet read the quote, here it is: "I don't have a lot of answers right now," BU coach Dennis Wolff said after Monday's 89-59 loss to Cornell. "We are at a crossroads and we are going to either fight our way out of it or we're going to be exposed as somewhat of a phony team. And that's going to be determined by the way we handle the next few days."]

To begin the game, Carlos Strong started for the first time this season in the place of a fully healthy John Holland, who started all 10 games prior to Monday's loss. Wolff said the shuffle was due to terrible practices the team had for a week following its loss to the University of Delaware (70-68), and given Holland's practice history, it's not unfathomable to expect Wolff to have made this move at some point this year. Holland will no doubt need to prove himself in practice (as well as games, now, as he's had two pretty bad ones in a row) before he regains his starting spot.

But Holland wasn't the problem Monday night. At least not the only problem, as the entire team appeared flat from the start and got literally flattened as a result as Cornell had four dunks before the first media timeout. Again, we find ourselves talking about why this team lacks the grit, hustle and determination Wolff was searching for following a loss to Marshall University (84-80). It's become an all-too common theme when discussing a veteran team picked to win the conference for a second-straight year. It shouldn't be an issue. But it is, and it's unclear who's to blame.

Are the players truly void of a strong passion to win? With leaders like Tyler Morris and Matt Wolff on the team, that's very hard to believe, especially after the effort the entire team gave against Notre Dame, which was one of its best in three years. Does the coaching staff not know how to properly excite (for lack of a better word) the team prior to games? Or are the Terriers simply an anomaly -- a team that can look fabulous one night (like they did in wins against Northeastern and Harvard) and terrible the next (like they did against Cornell and Delaware). If that's the case, it's going to make conference play quite interesting.

Part of being a veteran group, however, is knowing how to fight through these types of losses and to respond to Wolff's words. If the players want to prove that they're not a "phony" team, then they must come to practice with the proper attitude. When a coach says after a game he "kind of expected" the beating was coming, things aren't going well internally. Wolff presented the challenge to his players and coaching staff and the result will become clear as winter turns to spring.

All that being said, the loss to Cornell doesn't mark the end of the world, and certainly not the end of the season. Before you condemn the Terriers, just remember how awful things appeared to be last season before BU made a prolific push to the postseason, winning nine of its last 12 games. It's early. It's very early. And while the defeat is certainly a low point through 11 games thus far, problems have plenty of time to be solved. It does mean that, perhaps, there are more problems with this team than was initially thought, but that's going to be the case with any team that's on a three-game losing streak.

What's important for the Terriers right now is to keep a level head and not let this loss (and Wolff's comments) impact them negatively if they wish to remain a conference power. Every team in the conference is going to experience a loss where nothing goes right and where it's not prepared. The key is how well that team rebounds from the blowout and how well it keeps mentally focused on achieving its preseason goals (which were set very high).

No doubt, practice prior to BU's final non-conference game on Jan. 2 is going to be brutal, and if the Terriers answer the call, it's all but guaranteed (due to a bevy of extremely talented players) things won't look or feel as gloomy as they do right now.

-- Jeff Pelage's play: The freshman forward logged a career-high 19 minutes and recorded career highs in points (8) and rebounds (8). It also appeared he wasn't coughing nearly as much as he usually does in practice (albeit that was on observed on a grainy Internet feed), but if Pelage can continue to give BU those kinds of minutes it will change the look of the Terriers' interior defense for the better.
-- Timing: Far better to have this type of loss occur in non-conference play than during the America East schedule, or even worse, the America East tournament.

-- Defensive rebounding: The Terriers were killed on the defensive glass by a margin of 31-13. Matt Wolff didn't have a defensive rebound as Cornell's Jeff Foote simply had free range of the interior.
-- John Holland's shooting: For the second-consecutive game (after lighting it up against Notre Dame), Holland struggled from the field. He shot just 2-of-11 and, combined with the loss to Delaware, is 5-of-19 in his last two contests. Not only that, but he was bounced from the staring lineup for the first time this year. BU will need him to get his act together quickly if it hopes to end its losing streak.

Cornell sends reeling Terriers to third-straight loss
Ithaca Journal story & live updates
Big Red's big men stand tall
Photo gallery (Ithaca Journal)

No comments: