*Here are some thoughts on the plight of the Chico State Wildcat men’s basketball team from 35 thousand feet as I fly to Houston with the Chico State baseball team to Houston*
The news emerging from the Division West Region NCAA Men’s Basketball committee on Wednesday afternoon had to send a jolt of energy to the Chico State men’s basketball team.
The first regional ranking has the Wildcats sitting at number five in the West Region with the top eight teams going to the NCAA Tournament in three weeks.
The news had to be thrilling for a Wildcats team that has dropped three in a row and four of their last six. With losses over the last 11 days to Sonoma, San Francisco State and Cal State San Marcos the Wildcats were left to wonder whether their early season success would be over-looked, but as we like to emphasize, your post-season fate rests on your body of work and not entirely on “what have you done lately?”
For a team that was averaging nearly 78 points a game, the Wildcat offense has come to a stand-still during their skid. During the recent downturn it’s not as if the Cats are playing a bunch of also-rans. Sonoma State has the best Division II defense in the country and their match-up zone that put the clamps on Chico is “hell on wheels.” The Seawolves held Chico to a season-low 50 points in a 16-point win.
San Francisco State has interior size, perimeter athleticism and followed their game-plan perfectly in holding Chico to 51 points 10 days ago. The biggest surprise in the down-turn was Chico’s sub-par performance against the Cougars of San Marcos. At Acker Gym and after a great week of practice the Wildcats were held to 58 points in a heart-breaking loss against a team they put 80 points on in early December. It was Chico’s first loss at home in 13 games this year.
It is no surprise what is giving Chico State trouble right now. The match-up zone. The offense was cruising until Greg Kamanksy’s Cal Poly Pomona Broncos put the clamps on Chico’s offense in late January at Kellogg Gym. After the game Kamansky told me, “that’s best our zone has been all year.” Well, the rest of the CCAA has taken notice and employed their different versions of a defense that has suddenly put the skids on the free-flowing, ball is a blur Chico State offense.
The Wildcats have been known to carve up the zone, but inexplicably their flow has come to a stand-still against the zone over the last several weeks. Chico State head coach detests when the ball “sticks” in a players hands. By “sticking” he means when the ball is held by the offensive player, player just holds it as movement and cohesive play stops. There has been too much sticking. Too many times yours truly says, (Chico State player) is “surveying the scene.” When Chico attacks the teeth of the zone, they are either driving right into the heart of a double or triple team, make an ill-advised pass or take a bad shot. The synchronicity of the Wildcat offense is dis-jointed and has frustrated them as a group.
Clink was at wit’s end after last Saturday’s loss calling his teams’ offense “putrid.”
There is a silver lining to this slide. Last year the Wildcats lost steam after a 22-3 start and capturing their second straight CCAA title and could not recapture the magic dropping their final three games of the season including their NCAA Tournament opener against UC San Diego. Almost the entire squad that saw their season end so unceremoniously last year is on this squad and they will do whatever they need to do to prevent a repeat of last year.
Coming into the season the professed goal of many of the Wildcats I spoke with was not winning a 3rd straight CCAA title, but it was to go into the post-season playing their best basketball. With two weeks left in the regular season the regular season CCAA title may have come and gone, but the hopes of playing their best basketball still sits there like the ultimate carrot on a rope.
This team is too good and too veteran to let this little down-turn define their season. It will take more than talking about how good they are though. This team has to come together, maybe have some tough internal conversations, look themselves in the mirror and figure out what kind of team they want to be. I know they can do it, their rabid supporters know they can do it. Now we wait for them to figure it out.
Photo courtesy of Chico State Wildcats at http://www.chicowildcats.com