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Did HCFM Get Outcoached?

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A week ago in my immediate reactions to K-State's painful season-ending loss (not that there's another kind), I posited that HCFM was outcoached by the indomitable and cringe-inducing Bo Ryan*. I also said I would go more in depth later. Well, it's later than I was hoping, but since there's nothing resembling a competitive basketball game happening right now, I'm going to try to type out some of the thoughts that have been running through my head and hope that at least a few people still care.

*For those of you who haven't read my older stuff, you may not know how much I hate the slow, defensive, and low-scoring style the Big Ten is known for more than anything else in college basketball, or at least anything outside of the state of North Carolina. I could write an entire post on why that is, but let's just leave it at that.

As far as I can tell, Wisconsin (largely because of Bo Ryan) epitomizes that style more than any other team (if I actually watched Penn State basketball I might disagree) so I hate Bo Ryan in the same way I hate Derek Jeter because he epitomizes the Yankees. At the same time, I understand that both Jeter and Ryan are very good at what they do and it works, so I have to give them a begrudging respect. It's a tough relationship.

I'll begin by saying that my knee-jerk reaction after that game was to think, "Wow, Jacob Pullen was way better than Jordan Taylor or anyone else tonight, but somehow K-State still lost. Since Pullen's teammates are unarguably not considerably worse talent-wise than their mostly white, farm-boy counterparts, it must have been HCFM's fault." Even at the time, I realized that was grossly unfair, but it did make it easier to rationalize some of my other thoughts.

If you're still interested, check out what will probably end up being a lot more after the jump.

Coming into the game, I was quite concerned that K-State's style and temperament just didn't match up well to that of Wisconsin. We all saw what happened three years ago when the methodical, efficient Badgers met the K-State team with the immensely talented but uncontrollable Michael Beasley, the unpredictable Bill Walker, a young and very raw Pullen and some other guys who weren't really important.

The duo of Beasley/Walker didn't have a lot in common with K-State's two most dangerous scorers from this season, Pullen/Curtis Kelly. But one attribute they did share was a noticeable lack of discipline on offense.

Now before you go off on me in the comments, let me say that I don't mean this in a bad way. If Pullen and Kelly were more disciplined offensively, they might not taken some of the wild shots and they certainly wouldn't have commit as many turnovers. But they also wouldn't produce so many of the spectacular plays that we came to love from them during their K-State careers.

Would you trade those for eliminating some of the errors that resulted from that style? Me neither. Would you rather have had a point guard that might have passed to a wide open Will Spradling (who set a terrible screen and had yet to make a field goal) on the game's final play? I didn't think so.

But back to the original point. Wisconsin's no-nonsense defense and shortening of the game generally magnify those undisciplined mistakes. That's why I was worried coming in.

As it turned out, though, Pullen was phenomenal, and even Kelly was good for a half. Wisconsin had no answer for Pullen, but Ryan was clever enough to realize that he really didn't want to give any of the capable Kansas State shooters a chance to get going by putting too much of a defensive focus on Pullen.

I really would have liked to see HCFM try to run Rodney McGruder or Spradling, or even Martavious Irving or Nick Russell off of some more screens on the perimeter. It would have been nice to pound the ball inside a little earlier to Jamar Samuels, or let Jordan Henriquez-Roberts have the paint to himself when he was being guarded by guys at least six inches shorter than he was.

I realize it's unfair to isolate just one play in the game so feel free to take this with a grain of salt, but at one point KSU ran Shane Southwell off a double-screen at the free-throw line. What exactly is he going to do with that? See the passing lanes a little clearer for an instant?

He never looked like he wanted the jump shot, and as a result I believe he caught the ball just on the other side of the screen and Wisconsin blew up the play. If that's a three-point shooter, he could have at the very least drawn one of the big men out to him and set up some space for the screeners.

On the other side of the argument, though, HCFM had a lot of things working against him that were out of his control.

It's not his fault that McGruder airballed the only two shots he took, or that Spradling looked almost afraid to run the offense. I think to blame HCFM for anything that went wrong in the final minute would be ludicrous.

But he still did make some crucial decisions that made huge impacts in the game. Since Pullen's typical intense defense was suddenly a foul, K-State's use of Pullen was changed dramatically. The decision to take him off Taylor defensively worked far better than I could have ever imagined thanks to some great defense by Spradling and McGruder Russell, as well as (let's be honest) an off night by Wisconsin's best player.*

*For the first two times I can ever remember, I actually couldn't turn away from two Wisconsin regular season basketball games this season. The first was the game at the Kohl Center vs. #1 Ohio State, and the second was some 5-10 minutes of an otherwise boring game against Indiana.

 In the first, Taylor seemingly came back from at least 15 down in the second half by himself, making threes, layups, or dishing assists for wide-open threes. Then vs. IU, he was absolutely mesmerizing as he scored 17 straight points for Wisconsin and absolutely couldn't miss anything and shot whenever he wanted. The kid is good.

Unfortunately, the decision to take Pullen off the point offensively, and out of the game for a full eight minutes didn't quite work out as well. I don't believe that he needed rest for fatigue reasons, and the way the game was going it just seemed foolish to keep him on the bench in the second half without a fourth foul. He is a disciplined and intelligent defender, so I think it was worth the risk.

In the second half, other than the Pullen adjustments and a more concerted effort to get the ball inside to Samuels, K-State didn't really seem to do much different. The rest of the backcourt remained virtually useless, as evidenced by the fact that no one besides Pullen made a free throw.

Ryan's team kept the court spread and made K-State's big men look silly at times trying to guard the perimeter, and the intense pressure from KSU gave up more than a couple easy looks while forcing 5 turnovers. They also clearly took the approach of attacking the basket, getting more athletic defenders in the air, and forcing fouls.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that K-State should have backed off the pressure considering the penalties Wisconsin made the Wildcats pay for overplaying, the fouls being called, and the way the Badgers shoot free throws. You can't suddenly ask your team to play different from how it's been playing all year. But it might have been interesting to see the team at least back up its defense to perhaps reduce the risk a little, since there was virtually no reward all game long for pressure more than a few feet beyond the three-point line.

At the end of the day (and I wish I could watch the game again, but sadly I do not have the appropriate resources), I don't think HCFM did a lot of things wrong and I don't think he deserves the lion's share of the blame. Wisconsin played a great game, and Ryan is an excellent coach with the kind of philosophy that will probably always give a Frank Martin-coached team problems.

But even with the inherent disadvantages, I think HCFM did get slightly outcoached by Ryan. He's certainly not the first to suffer that fate, and it's nothing to be ashamed of. I'm sure some of you, perhaps a majority of you will disagree with me, and I'll do my best to be open to your arguments. Hopefully, it will be a learning experience for everyone.

One other thing I'd like to add about that game is that I'm a little frustrated about one man being left completely off the hook for K-State's loss. That would be Reggie Miller. I don't care what he did after the game, after Pullen's first free throw with 11 seconds left, he said (I paraphrase), "No way he misses this. He's clutch and superhuman tonight." We were all thinking it, Reggie, but for the love of God, don't say it out loud! Maybe he was just taking out on Pullen some of those old frustrations that he still harbors towards basketball players from Chicago.