Needless to say, but I will anyway: We need a win tonight. A sense of urgency is, uuuuum, necessary following a head-scratching, two-game slide capped by last weekend's dud against Ole Miss.
Adam brilliantly breaks it down here, and well -- we're all family here -- makes some uncomfortable observations. We've got advantages, espacially at home, but Bama is no gimme.
Ole Miss proved there are fewer of those than we thought in a much-improved SEC. Overmatched refs and shot clock-challenged, dog-meat 3s off the glass aside, we plain got whipped Saturday night. Say what you will about Andy Kennedy, but he indeed is a good Xs and Os guy, and typically that can befuddle us.
Really, a debt of gratitude is owed the Black Bears, a feisty bunch that seems to feed off the energy of basketball palaces such as Rupp and Bud Walton. They outed us, if it hadn't already been done, as a mediocre defensive team, certainly mediocre at best in the half court.
I'm not suggesting the sky is falling. Far from it. And this is a very likable team. Its effort has never been in doubt. We've just got to start playing smarter on defense. And, well, actually playing defense at times.
But here we sit, after the latest tumble out of the top 25, a 6-seed according to Joe Lunardi. We're nowhere near the bubble, though we could begin to approach it if we don't play defense tonight.
While not panic time, genuine concern is warranted. Given our current NCAA draught, I'll be grateful for even a pseudo-berth in Dayton if that's what it takes. But really, if it comes to that...sigh.
We were so set up for a big run, even with the loss at Tennessee....again with the sigh. We need to win three more road games and win out at home for me to feel comfortable. Secure, anyway.
Some observations heading into week 3 of the SEC schedule, a game "behind schedule" at 2-2:
- Madden still looks out of sync. He's not dribbling off his shin anymore, but we need to see more of the 2013-14 Rashad.
- Beard needs more minutes. Kingsley as well, although not necessarily at the same time as Portis.
- Bobby Portis, love him, indeed does need to work on his half-court D. Ironically, that may be what helps keep him here another year.
- It feels like Bell has upped his game outside of being Al Dillard incarnate. He's more involved. That said, his role is shooting from beyond the arc, and we need more than a streaky-at-best threat from long range.
- If Qualls hasn't monster-dunked by midway through the first half, it seems like he forces a little. Hawgball -- true, unabashed, Nolan Hawgball -- is where he shines and where he feels his rhythm.
- The crowd Saturday night was good. It represented, but simmered, waiting for any kind of spark from the Hogs. At one point in the first half, it literally was ready to explode. The noise level when we forced a shot-clock violation (that wasn't called) down 7 late in the first half was big time.
- Ours is a risk-reward, trapping D, of course, but we've got to stop guards from penetrating and get bodies on the freakin' shooters.
- Not sure how many times we touched the ball in the paint on offense Saturday night, but it wasn't many and certainly not enough.
- Williams and Harris...two bangers that I'm grateful to have on the team. But offensively, if they can't dunk, then they should back out, pass and get ready to rebound. I trust their shots from the elbow; Jacorey especially has a nice little 15-footer, but that's about it, Harris' game-saving bombs in Athens notwithstanding.
- Again, all said, we're in good shape, somehow still. But, obviously, we need to win tonight.
Finally, a few thoughts to close out the 2014 football season...
The CFB world revels in the demise of the SEC this bowl season, the SEC West in particular. But I'm not sure those who haven't experienced SEC football personally in one form or another truly appreciate the grind represented by SEC league play. Let's be honest: We all knew Ole Miss and State were overrated when each occupied the top 5, but we knew they were good.
And in the SEC West this year, despite the bowl record, there wasn't a guaranteed win to be had. Maybe there wasn't a truly elite team in the West as we thought, but I guarantee you there were seven top 25/30 teams, and in any other league, perhaps even seven top 10 teams.
This notion that a 2-5 bowl record for the West negates the 2014 regular season is preposterous. Bowls represent separate, single-game seasons removed from the regular season by as much as six weeks. Boise, for example, can scheme, take advantage of non-motivated or ailing Power 5 teams and cherry pick big wins in those situations.
That's not to say Boise isn't good and hasn't recruited good players who can hang with SEC recruits. But I'd love to see how a team like Boise -- or Oregon, for that matter -- would hold up playing our 2014 schedule. Again, my intent isn't to disrespect those teams. I'm sure Boise, for one, would gladly accept more opportunities to knock off Power 5 teams.
Thinking back on the Texas Bowl, of course I'm still smiling. But as good as we looked, I think we can all agree that UT just doesn't hold the same mystique it used to, if it holds any at all. I wish younger generations could appreciate the mystique that the shorthorns used to wield in the old SWC. It was how we see Bama now, times 10.
Getting back to the here and now, the OC and linebacker hires, as has been noted by several AF commenters, are typical for Bielema: Under the radar but big on ROI. These appear to be in that same vein.
Basketball is finding its footing a little, and it will, but football is full steam ahead.