It's been almost 2 months since the end of the season, and my notes have been on the desk since then. Life & business have delayed this summary, but I did intend to post about a month after the season. I feel like a little time away gives me better perspective on the season that was. Note that this is an effort to capture my thoughts on the season that was, NOT the events since the last game or the changes afoot for next season. That's for another day.
So once again, with sincere apologies to Sergio Leone, here is my 2009-10 Zips Mens Basketball Season Retrospect:
- Playing on Saturday for the MAC Title. Again. The outcome on Saturday night wasn't what any of us hoped for, that's certain. On the other hand, for me, it will NEVER get old to be @ the Q on Saturday night watching the Zips play for the conference title and NCAA birth. After 6 years of not even seeing the Zips on the weekend, we've now had 4 straight finals appearances. The team doesn't know any different, it's become a habit and routine to play on Saturday. Now it needs to become a routine to win on Saturday. But no matter how you slice it, the Zips put themselves in the position of playing 40 minutes for a league championship. That's good.
- Improvement in regular season consistency. Finished with 3rd seed (2nd in non-division format). Even the 2009 Championship team didn't win the East. Far from it, they ended up with a quarterfinal game. This season, the team was a little more consistent during the regular season, avoided losing streaks and racked up a nice 12-4 conference slate within a 24-11 overall record. It was a good regular season performance. Perhaps they never really caught their stride and got on a big roll like last season, but they did grind out a 12-4 season.
- The defense & rebounding, at times? This was the best rebounding team on the court during KD's era thus far. Solidly top half defensive team. Generally speaking, the Zips were able to drive the tempo of games and keep teams under control defensively. The primary weakness remains perimeter on the ball defense (exposed by the lost of Linhart perhaps), and that hurt the Zips late. But the team buy in to defense first remained strong. They guarded the perimeter well, and rebounded extremely well. The defense and rebounding were good enough for this team to defend its conference title.
- McNees was clutch for the team: All season long, Steve McNees played off his primary position, and stepped forward to help the team. Where on the floor leadership was needed, Steve played a capable point guard, taking care of the ball extremely well. A season similar to Dials' senior season, Steve stepped into the role that the Zips needed him to fill. At the end of the season, he was clutch on several occasions. Is there a Zips player that has had a better go of it at the Q, ever? I'm not sure there is. Thanks for another You-Tube moment Steve .. and that voicemail I still have saved on my cell was priceless also. It's been debated in these parts to death whether or not Steve should be the PG, but I'm of the opinion that KD didn't really have a better option, and Steve put the team before himself. I'm looking forward to another season of Steve. Hopefully he'll be able to get his shot more often, but I'm sure whatever KD asks of him, McNees will gamely step up and give his best.
- Conyers. Conyers! CONYERS! : Most of you know I've been on the Conyers bandwagon a long time. I've been called a Conyers apologist .. whatever. For a few years I think I was driving the wagon by myself. With one exception being my son. The boy has come aware of hoops watching Jimmy. He still doesn't quite get that Jimmy's done as a Zip. Six years ago, Joe Jakubick told me that Conyers would be the most athletic Zips hoopster the day he set foot on campus. Probably true. Certainly he passed the eyball test the first time we saw him. I think that it took a while for Jimmy to find his groove & regular role. The year off hurt him, and he overlapped Nate Linhart role wise. It's safe to say that Jimmy made the most of his senior year. After being called out by strong Zips fans, Conyers destroyed all expectations anyone had for his senior year. He stepped into the 3 man role early in the year and made it his own. Differently than Linhart, he had more of a post game than outside. But he rebounded extremely well and scored better than most of expected. His perseverance and hard work really showed and paid off. He's another in the long line of guys that make me like Zips hoops better than the BCS hoops I saw in school. It will take a herculean effort by a future player to unseat Conyers as my favorite Zips hoopster of all time. Thanks for the effort and hustle Jimmy! My boy and I will miss having you on the Zips.
- Playing to the level of the competition: The Zips had a habit of playing to the level of their competition at times. The APSU and EMU home games are an example. In both games, it seemed the Zips would be able to dust their opponents whenever they wanted to. And it's almost like they got in thier own way, preventing what might have been a bankable win. This was sometimes linked to offensive dwells more than defensive breakdowns. The offense sometimes didn't get rolling, and that allowed some teams back in games. APSU and EMU were the best examples of struggling to grab defeat from victory.
- Offensive Flow: If I had to point to a singular area that I look for in next year's team, it would be Offensive Flow. The Zips struggles against perceived lower teams relate to me to the offensive end. When they played to the tempo of other teams, then sometimes they didn't get on a roll. This team never really got on a big roll this season. OU got on one right when it counted, and needed OT to dispatch the Zips. The Zips were right there, but the offensive execution at times handcuffed their ability to put teams away and move from one game to the next building on momentum. Fortunately, this rarely if ever affected team D .. but sometimes the shots didn't fall and the Zips couldn't get on a tear.
- Complacency? - In the summertime, a question discussed here was one of complacency. The team had struggled to break through and win the title, which they did in 2009. The fortunes of 2009-10 really rested on what the players did by themselves in the summer time. Teams & individuals get better in the offseason, and I wondered how much urgency there would be to maintain and continue that improvement. Now while the guys didn't take any big steps back, it seemed like KD was starting over with a new group in the Fall, rather than picking it up where he left it in March of 2009. I have to wonder if the games in the summer were what KD wanted out of the guys. I have no knowledge or inside dirt than anyone slacked off. It just appeared that they were farther away in October than they might have been if they'd had a summer of growth.
- Opportunities gotten away. With 15 seconds left in the game, the Zips had possession and an opportunity to defend their tourney title. They did come up short, perhaps OU took it away more that UA gave it away .. but it was an opportunity lost. A few days later, the Zips had themselves a home postseason game and the real chance to make some noise and play some more basketball against good competition. Execution struggled against UWGB .. and that opportunity was lost. A team comes into the JAR like URI who (at the time) is on a big tear and headed to the rankings .. and the Zips have them near the ropes, but it got away. There were chances this year to move forward from last year, but they just didn't come together for the Zips. Had the right one or 2 of these gone better, this would have been a great season. As it is, I call this a good successful season.
- The finish, particularly the UWGB game. Out of gas or whatever it was, the Zips probably had their most lackluster outing in the CBI game @ the JAR. Certainly it had to be tough to get up for a small tourney game after being one possession away from repeating their appearance in the NCAA tournament. But teams get better in the offseason. I looked at the GB game as another game to see the seniors, who DIDN'T disappoint that day .. and another game for the younger players to play together. At times, it seemed that they didn't have the energy to keep playing. At times it seemed they (collectively) didn't have the desire. It didn't approach the games we'd see near the end of season of bygone eras in Zips hoops (the CMU game in 2000 stands out particularly), but it wasn't pretty.
- That fan of the year guy. The Zips need some better looking fans.
And a few comments more.
- I think it was a nice successful season for the Zips. It wasn't a great season by most estimations. But it was a collection of guys that we could easily get behind, and they posted a 12-4 regular season conference record, won 24 overall, and once again played for the title. That's a good year in my book. The team is in the HABIT of winning now, it takes time to get to this position .. the trick now is to start winning the games that got away this year. And I believe that they will.
- I will look back at this group of players as one of the best collection of guys and talent we've ever watched @ the JAR. It really is a good group to follow. It's easy to bring a little kid around these guys and have him get invested in them. They don't let us down off the court, and they bust their tails on it, while wearing our team's colors. I enjoy rooting for these guys for those reasons. I'm rooting for them to be successful. If they win a title, that's awesome .. but I'm rooting for them to win for them .. not for me. They take the time & put forth the effort to represent our UA, and they do it well. They don't owe me anything. I know they want to win more than we even want them to win .. and I'm enjoying this ride. Thanks for doing it the right way fellas.
- It's been mentioned here that KD awarded me the Fan of the Year award at the banquet last month. I'm utterly flattered and humbled that he would think of me in that manner. There's lots of fans around the Zips that can give more time, more money and more energy to the Zips success than I'm able to. Frankly, I just think it's cool to be able to be around the program and have my kid be around the players. One of the great things about KD's program and the Zips Nation is accessibility. It is a family, and they'll treat you as such if you do the same. So I'm certain I don't deserve any special recognition, but I am thankful and honored by it.
I'm proud of this team. Proud of the effort. Proud to be a fan. Hopeful for bigger and better successes going forward, but this 2009-10 team will go down in my book as one of the better Zips teams I've seen. Thanks to the departing players for all of your efforts as Zips. Thanks for a nice season Zips.