FTRS loyal reader Joe Hamilton's Chauffeur continued our discussion on GT Basketball a few days ago. Unfortunately I found it too late to move it to the top of the board. The discussion should still be one for us to dissect. For other recent basketball discussion, check out this, this, and finally this.
I started this as a comment, but realized it was way too bloated for the comments section. As background, during my time on campus ('96-'00) I got to witness the low point of the basketball program over the last 25 years. I arrived on campus the year after Stephon Marbury left (so we had no point guard), my sophomore year Dion Glover tore his acl during midnight madness (so we had no shooting guard), and Bobby Cremin's pattern of focusing on getting a few really outstanding players and not worrying about recruiting for depth really bit the program in the butt (we had Matt Harpring and not much else). I witnessed three trips to the NIT (we didn't even make it to New York once!), and then Cremins got forced out after my senior year. With that in mind, I greatly appreciate the job Paul Hewitt has done managing the program since he arrived. While we haven't been consistent, when we've been good we've played a very exciting brand of basketball, and I'm certainly very pleased with the way the team has played this year (I've given him a "Yes" vote in all of the polls).
That said, I can understand why some fans might not be totally pleased with Hewitt's job performance over time. Here's my attempt at playing the devil's advocate. There are three big picture concerns with the program's performance since Hewitt took over. :
1. From a statistical standpoint: we've been lousy on the road particularly in conference games. We're usually pretty tough at home, and win 6 or 7 conference home games, but the difference between NIT and NCAA berths is getting to 8 or 9 conference wins, which means that we need at least 2 conference road wins every year. I didn't have time to look for a breakdown of home/road results during Hewitt's tenure, but the '04 team was the only one I remember with significant road wins (maryland and duke if I remember) and his only squad to post 9 or more conference wins. When you can't win on the road, it puts a lot of pressure on the team to win home games just to keep pace with the middle of the pack. Obviously, basketball is a result oriented activity, but our difficulties in conference road games are really a symptom of the problems caused by the other two criticisms...
2. The offense. From an eyeball standpoint, our offense has looked like a mess for pretty much the entire decade. When we get to end of game situations, there is too much "Just give the ball to Will Bynum/Jarret Jack/Peacock/Insert best ball handler here and have everyone else stand around" for the team to be consistent from year to year (when you've got a really good playmaker, like Bynum in '04, this can work pretty well, but if you've got a freshman still learning the ropes or a guy who is a stand still jump shooter, this is a really bad plan). While the teams that have been good have played really good defense (this years team in particular does a particularly good job of forcing bad shots and getting defensive rebounds), even the good editions of the basketball team have seemed disorganized and prone to throwing up bad three point shots. We've had several good to very good big men this decade (Bosh, Favors, Lawal, Nelson, etc.), but our guards haven't been consistent with getting the ball into the big men. Lawal and Favors put up huge numbers last night, but too many of their points had to come in transition or when grabbing an offensive rebound or loose ball inside. Our strength is our interior players, and our guards need to be taught (a) how to get the ball and (b) how important it is to feed the ball inside (you get more easy shots and get the other team in foul trouble by pounding it inside). Particularly with a player with Peacock's skills (he's got good height and good ball handling ability) it is shameful that we haven't worked out a high-low set with peacock feeding the ball to lawal and favors from the free throw line. The bottom line is that our offense has been way too dependent on having superior athletes with matchups that we can exploit. It's not a strategy that is going to lead to consistent success, particularly when...
3. One-and-dones: We've had way too many guys go pro after playing only one season (to be fair to Hewitt, this problem started under Cremins, and we're not the only program affected) and since Hewitt has taken over we've had Chris Bosh, Thaddeus Young, Javaris Crittenton, and (almost certainly) Favors all leave the program after only one season. Having the guys leave after one year causes several problems. We seem to perpetually have freshmen playing too many minutes. It's not a coincidence that the best teams since Hewitt took over ('01, '04, '05 and '07) have had mostly upper classmen on the floor. Freshmen are going to be more negatively affected by playing on the road, less familiar with the system, and more prone to making poor, undisciplined plays. Because they're 18 or 19 years old, freshmen haven't spent nearly as much time in the weight room, and they aren't as strong as the guys they're going up against. Losing players after one year makes it very difficult to develop depth. How much better would this years team be with Crittenton (who would be a senior) running the point? We could have a five man rotation of Crittenton, Bell, Shumpert, Udofia, and Rice at guard, but I digress.
Any one of those three things, if they happened in a particular year, could be pushed off on the collection of players that happened to be there, or bad luck (injuries, particularly unlucky schedule), but when they go on for a decade, they have to lay at the feet of the person running the program. The fact that the program has been damaged repeatedly by players leaving after one season and the lack of an offense that is coherent, consistent, and takes advantage of our players strengths are a reflection of the coach and his philosophy. In Hewitt's case the philosophy seems to be: (1) when recruiting, worry only about the near term and don't worry about the long term viability of the program and (2) when preparing to play focus only on defense and attempt to win by suffocating our opponents and getting easy baskets in transition.