When we received the official news that Nerlens Noel was out for the rest of the season, we expected to miss his defensive presence much more than his offensive presence, reasoning that his ten-ish points per game could easily be made up with Archie’s hundred+ shot attempts per game, an extra three or two from Wiltjer and Mays, maybe an autolob from Willie every now and again. His defensive presence, shot alterations, and blocks on blocks on blocks would be what we missed the most- not to mention his ever-present hustle.
Today’s game proved that unfortunately, both sides of the court will be incredibly difficult for the Cats to succeed on without Noel. The Cats were held to only 58 points (26 in the first half), while allowing a Tennessee team that has struggled offensively all season (scoring 74 points over TWO CONSECUTIVE GAMES in November and December) to shoot 57% from the field and 100% from three-point range while scoring 88 points- their highest point total of the season. Meanwhile, the Cats shot 35% from the field and 40% from three-point range for less than sixty points. Obviously, we’d love to see the Cats put together a complete game, but which side needs to be addressed first?
Personally, I’m inclined to say I’d rather see us get into our offensive flow first. All season we’ve thought that this team would force turnovers and score points in transition, but we’ve yet to see that actually happen in a game. Willie is incredibly raw on offense, but he hustles on the other end of the court to make up for it. Mays has been shooting well from three-point range lately, as has Kyle, but anytime Archie lowers his head and drives, those jumpers are negated. Ryan Harrow has completely disappeared from the offensive side of the court- not something you want to see from your formerly starting point guard, and they can only go to Jarrod so many times. If the Cats are running as many sprints as Cal says they are, the effects of Camp Cal should let us run with any team in the country to the point where we could simply outscore teams without worrying about the liabilities the WBA give us on defense. Today Cauley-Stein, Goodwin, Poythress, and Harrow combined for 13 points on 5-19 shooting (h/t Kyle Tucker) and ten turnovers. We’re not going to win games with those statistics. Plus, hitting our offensive Dougie would result in the team actually having fun on the court, something I’ve been sorely missing most of this season.
That said, our glaringly obvious need to play with fight and heart would be more easily translated on defense, and that’s worth more than any wins or losses the rest of the season. Which do you all think needs to be the first thing addressed in practice on Monday?