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Question and Answer Regarding the Pirates Recent Downturn

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The Gonzo Ball writers (yes, additions will be coming to Gonzo Ball soon) will be starting a series titled, 'Question & Answer.'  Very original, we're aware. We will post comments and questions from the comment section / Fan Posts / Fan Shots onto the front page and will answer them to the best of our ability, with our opinion, of course.  Today's submission comes from Gonzo Ball member, sharkman016 who asks:

Im curious what your take is on the team’s recent downturn. I don’t think losing to WVU and Cuse is a shock, but to also drop Temple and VA Tech is now a borderline disaster. Obviously foul shots and Bobbys tinkering with the lineup has been a big part of the problem. Do you think the fans and the media just expected too much too soon? To go from three straight years of no post season play to a NCAA tourney team may have been a stretch. How much of this do you put on Bobby’s shoulders?

Thanks for the question.  First, let's look at the loss to Temple.  When the Pirates played TU, the Owls came into the Prudential Center with the #1 defense in the country.  Before the Owls got blown out by Kansas, they were ranked #18 in the AP and #21 Coaches.  They are a quality basketball team with wins over Villanova and Seton Hall.  They took Georgetown to the wire and handled VT, something the Pirates couldn't do. Sure, they got destroyed by the #1 team in the country, not a big deal, it happens.  Of course, our recent downturn doesn't help TU right now as it did the week they knocked off both 'Nova and SHU, earning national recognition.  Point is, Seton hall lost to a very good basketball team in Temple.  They had the game in control, holding a double digit lead with 13 minutes to play, but they were unable to finish, letting a quality victory slip away.  The loss to Temple won't necessarily hurt them in the fact that it's not a "bad loss," especially if TU continues to play well.  However, if the Pirates have any hopes of making it to a postseason tournament, they will need to string together a few of these wins.  With their out-of-conference schedule over with, the Pirates missed a big opportunity with Temple and only have Cornell on their non-conference resume, which they're hoping will be looked at as a "big win."

You're correct that the losses to Syracuse and West Virginia weren't shocking.  I think what was shocking to many, were how closely the Pirates played both teams.  We had an idea how good this team could be as we watched them run through non-conference opponents, but was the nation ready to give us a chance against the league's elite? Would it have surprised anyone if we lost by 15-20? Don't take this as someone who is trying to make an excuse for this team, as I'm not, I've stated before that I'm not a believer in moral victories, however it can't be denied we played every great team, close.  Which again brings up the fact that this team hasn't been able to close out good teams in tight games, whether that will change in the near future, we can't be sure, but we certainly haven't seen it yet. 

I wouldn't group both the Temple and Virginia Tech losses together as a, "borderline disaster," but Virginia Tech, yes.  It wasn't just a borderline disaster, the game was a disaster.  No disrespect to Virginia Tech, they are a very talented and deep team, however, they were playing without the leading scorer in the ACC in Malcom Delaney.  A freshmen point guard, Erick Green was making his first career start and Seton Hall came into the game, in an absolute must-win situation.  At 9-3, losing three of their last four games, the Pirates had their backs up against the wall, clawing for a win in Cancun to desperately tally one more, "quality," win against Virginia Tech.  They laid a dud, didn't show up prepared and the Hokies, who aren't known for running, beat the Pirates at their own game.  An absolute disaster. 

Foul shots have been a thorn in this team's side all season.  There was the Pope 1-of-10 showing against West Virginia which may have ultimately cost them the game.  However, Pope isn't the sole Pirate who has had trouble at the stripe this season.  Numerous Pirates have struggled shooting critical free throws down the stretch and there isn't a player on the roster who I feel comfortable with shooting FTs at the end of a game.  As a team, they are shooting a dreadful 63% from the line, clearly a number which will need to increase if they have any hope of winning a tight Big East game this year.  It's hard to pin the inconsistency with free throws on Bobby Gonzalez, as I'm sure he has them relentlessly practicing their shooting from the line.  If he isn't, then by all means, the blame falls on his shoulders as there is absolutely no way he should be ignoring this glaring problem.

The tinkering with the lineup has been a huge problem and I can't quite understand what Gonzo is thinking at times.  I've harped on this constantly throughout the season, so I'm going to keep this brief.  Since Big East play began, we've seen 3 different starting lineups.  Starting with West Virginia, Robert Mitchell was suddenly removed from the starting lineup and replaced with Jeff Robinson who was only appearing in his third game as a Pirate.  Mitchell, who has been a crucial asset and extremely dependable the past two seasons only saw 11 minutes off of the bench. The following game, Bobby decided to go with a three guard set, starting Jamel Jackson in an attempt to out-shoot the Syracuse 2-3 zone.  Robert Mitchell, for whatever reason, only saw 3 minutes off of the bench.  This is the same player that dropped 37PTS/24REB in 2 games against Syracuse last season, playing undersized at the power forward posistion.  Why was 3 minutes acceptable when Stix is a proven and dependable commodity? 

Saturday against the Hokies, it was now Keon Lawrence's turn to get a shot at the starting rotation.  Despite starting, Lawrence only saw 13 minutes of action.  What is going on? Is this an audition? A little late for that, in my opinion.  Lawrence and Robinson are both talented players, that should find and earn their way onto the floor just as their teammates have before them.  They are not players that should be thrown into the starting rotation, for what, to prove a point about their pre-season hype? Instead, their abilities would be best utilized coming off of the bench in an attempt to create mismatches.  We saw a consistent starting five (outside of one game that Harvey came off of the bench) lead this team to a 9-1 record, despite not playing the level of competition they have seen the last two weeks.  However, that begs the question, why the change now? Why abandon the consistency that reeled off 8 consecutive wins just because the competition has improved? The issues with the rotation have gone past just the starting five, some of the substitutions and lineups on the floor at any given time have been questionable at best. 

Another glaring problem that lies strictly on Gonzo's shoulders is the poor shot-selection displayed by Jeff Robinson.  Don't get me wrong, he showed promise against Virginia Tech, showing improvement with 7-of-11 shooting from the floor, however I'm specifically talking about the once a night, wild 3PT attempt that leaves Robinson's hands.  I don't know who gave him the idea that a 6'6/230 man of his size should be hoisting threes with regularity, but it was clearly poor advice.  He's taken at least one contested 3PT attempt in each of the games he's played, totaling a 0-for-5 3PT stat sheet through four games.  In Memphis he was 10-of-34 from long distance, so he certainly likes chucking them, just doesn't like making them.  I can understand Robinson getting away with a poor 3PT attempt or two, but seriously 5 attempts and nothing from Gonzo to make him stop? These aren't even clean looks, they're straight-up, awful shots.  Gonzalez has the ability to put an end to this, why it's continuing, I have no idea.  If Gonzalez is attempting to get a message across and Robinson isn't listening, he should be punished with playing time.  Jeff has shown talent, he's a defensive presence and he has a pretty game around the basket, however, that's exactly where it needs to stay.

Discipline.  With gift-wrapping four points for the Hokies by way of technical fouls on Jeremy Hazell and Bobby Gonzalez, discipline, or lack thereof, clearly cost the Pirates a game against the Hokies.  The shove from Hazell was minor, yet it was absolutely unwarranted and it deserved a technical foul.  Just minutes after Gonzalez was warned to stay in the coaches box, he found himself outside of it, picking up another T for the Pirates.  Gonzalez may be a great coach, recruiter and motivator, however, if he continues to hurt his team by his sideline demeanor he is going to unnecessarily cost his team games, in fact, he already has.  It's unfortunate that the lack of discipline he has displayed on the sidelines is now beginning to rub off on his players as well.

In answering your last question, I don't think the fans expected too much too soon, the team is extremely talented and received quality transfers with great basketball backgrounds to mesh with Gonzo's current players.  The mesh hasn't gone exactly as planned, for reasons stated above, however, the talent is there, no question about it.  As far as the media goes, they were never very fond of this team, whether it was the off the court issues, Bobby's extension or the talk of it's non-conference opponents.  For that reason, the lack of respect by the media and the Big East Coaches, I thought the Pirates would play with a chip on their shoulder, in fact, they stated every one of them would be playing with that chip.  For the last two weeks, the chips have surprisingly gone astray, let's hope they find their way back to the shoulders in time for UConn on Wednesday.