March is a month of change; the weather changes, the landscape changes, and people change. Casual basketball fans suddenly become experts, filling out brackets with feigned precision (and a little help from ESPN). The most fervent of us plan to get sick according to the tournament schedule so we can watch without fear of being discovered by the boss (here’s hoping for a more convincing boss button this year!). But most importantly, teams change in March. Giants fall and Cinderella and her carriage full of clichÃ©s reign. A season’s worth of preparation can be lost in one foul hoop.
I’m not as giddy as I was this time last year. Call it cautious optimism. Sure, the Cats showed a lot of passion and maturity in the second half against Tennessee yesterday; but was it enough to make me forget the flaws they continued to flaunt in the first half? Sort of. It was enough to let me celebrate and laugh at Bruce Pearl yet again. But I’m far from beating my chest with pride and yelling about how awesome we are to anyone who will listen (sound familiar, Terrence?).
This is also the time of year that sportswriters like to trot out words like “gelling” and my personal favorite, “peaking.” Are the Cats peaking right now? We are riding a three game winning streak, each of those wins against a respectable foe. Each win also showed the Cats responding to challenges: against Florida, the veterans stood tall in a dominating performance; against Vanderbilt, the team finally won a close game; and against Tennessee, they finally got a good road win. If that doesn’t build a young team’s confidence, I’m not sure will. The comfy confines of the Georgia Dome won’t hurt either (seriously, if you’re able, call in sick Friday and drive down to Atlanta…I give you permission).
What worries me about this team is their reactions. What happens the next time they’re down five to ten points and Cal doesn’t have time for an angry halftime pep talk? Or when the shots just don’t fall and the fouls accumulate? Brandon Knight has more than proved himself as a leader, but he’ll have to snap to attention much faster in the tournament than he did yesterday. If March Madness inspires anything, it’s a sense of urgency. I just hope these Cats are ready for that call.
So, are the Cats peaking? I’d say they’re on their way, but the bigger question is: how high is their summit?