I think it's safe to say that today's bad news is a punch in the gut for all Zips hoops fans.
It's bad on so many levels .. losing a team MVP / league POY candidate in the stretch run .. seeing Jeremiah lose more time to his knee .. the general struggles of this senior class to find their way to good health for a chance to build further upon last season.
Mostly, I'm disapointed for JWood. The guy is already the best big man ever to play at UA in the D1 era .. there's probably not much debate about that. But for him to work as hard as he has to become the player he is, with his great play down the stretch last season and early this season .. it's heartbreaking for him to have to go through this.
So we all wish him the best .. a speedy return to good health, and hopefully a half a dozen more games in the Blue & Gold of the Zips before it's all said and done.
But in the meantime, where does that leave the Zips?
The short answer? It leaves the Zips needing some of next year's contributors to become contributors .. and FAST.
KD himself has mentioned in his postgames and pressers that he struggles to mix the new guys in .. it takes him a little time to build up trust in the new talent. We've seen that with McNees, Roberts & B. McKnight. But even to a certain extent .. it's happened a bit w/ CMcK also. Some of it is his TO problem .. but sometimes, it appears hard for KD to just put him out there and play him. Even in the past few games, when we were told pregame that Wood & Middleton were to see limited action .. they ended up playing 20-30 minutes. It's hard to go away from what you trust .. especially when they're warriors.
Well .. times change.
Chris McKnight just became one of the top 3 options in the Zips offense .. like it or not. Timing isn't too bad, since he's coming off one of his best performances on Wednesday night. But now the Zips & Chris have to find his offensive game more consistently .. I say "find his game" because it's clear that there's more of a face up component to it than JWood. We can NOT seek to squeeze him into Wood's touches and shots .. it won't work. The Zips have to adapt to what Chris can give the team in the flow of the offense and his skills.
My guess is that BSU is watching tape of Travis tonight .. because that's maybe more representative of the type of attack that Chris brings. There's a sense of deja vu for me here. It's been discussed in our "next season" thread .. but recall back 37 months ago when JWood originally went down against OU with his ACL. In the second half of that game, Travis really stepped up. I think we may have lost that game .. but in the coming weeks & months, Romeo took it upon himself to improve and try and pick up some of the slack on the glass after Wood went down.
Deja vu all over again?
Chris had 18 in the game against WMU when Wood played his last 10 minutes for awhile. There's a bunch of folks out there that think Chris is a program builder .. a key component of continuing the climb to the top of the conference & midmajor ranks. I'm certainly one of them .. and always have been. We don't get Chris to come here without the efforts of Romeo and Dru and Jeremiah. But he might have a bigger upside than all of them IN TIME. I think we're going to see some of that in the next several weeks.
The good thing here is that he's not going to be relied upon for everything. We still have experienced talented players around him in Dials, Linhart & Middleton. Chris isn't going to be the starting point of everything like Wood was earlier .. but I look for him to grow up fast with the increased minutes.
Younger brother Brett and Mike Bardo are now going to HAVE to contribute 15 minutes to the cause consistently. One is an offensive unknown and the other a defensive risk .. but between them, the Zips are going to have to play through the growing pains. I'm comfortable with it .. I think about what else was on the bench 3 seasons ago when Wood went down .. and after Travis, it was pretty thin. We have more options today than last time.
All of us that have discussed the front court next season .. and wrung our hands about the loss of Wood going into November now have nothing to worry about for next year. These guys are going to have lots of game & big game experience coming into next year.
The question is: how well can they step in and fill the gap right here and right now. And how well can KD & staff adapth the offensive flow to the new rotations.
With my blue & gold glasses on, I still see Wood playing at least 4 more games in Zips colors. Now that doesn't require that CMcK lead us to 6 straight wins in his absence. It requires that the young front court players grow up quickly in the next 6 to become solid contributors that when added to JWood @ his return become that alternate post threat we've been looking for all season.
I think we know an at large birth isn't coming the Zips way .. the team needs to improve and prepare for the 2nd week in March @ the Q. Nothing more and nothing less. Get ready to win games at the Q. With some effort and good bounces, hopefully they can maintain the bye .. but that margin is pretty thin. Probably need to be 11-5 to secure a bye to the quarters. That means holding serve at home and picking up 2 roadies .. not impossible.
The future is now. Sieze the day and all that stuff ...