I decided to take a few weeks to write this as it's better to reflect with time. Having said that, THE TIME IS NOW!
I'm going to break this down in 2 groups: Non-Conference and Conference
Things looked good early... started off 6-0 (winning the 2K Sports Classic), lost on a buzzer beater @ Cincinnati, and everyone was feeling good about the shorthanded team. We head home for what we think is an easy thumping of Dayton... didn't work out as planned. Surprising loss, but wrote it off to the hangover in Cincy.
We knew going to VCU was going to be tough, but no one thought we'd get run out of the building. We did. Next up, @ Texas Tech. We dominate most of the game, but somehow let them get within a basket late before holding them off. I have to admit this game (a win no less) is where I started wondering if this team was NCAAT quality.
Get back home to supposedly beat up on 2 weak opponents in Mercer and Tulane... lost them both. I'm still trying to figure out how that happened. What started promising at 6-1 is now 7-5. As we all know by now our NCAAT hopes were pretty much over by the end of December unless we crushed the SEC schedule.
1st half of the season grade: D
It is inexcusable to lose 3 home games against far inferior opponents.
We open up at Missouri and most expect to be dominated... we play them tough before wilting late in the 2nd half (which turns out to be our MO the rest of the season). After that, we run off 4 in a row including a thrashing of Mi$$i$$ippi $tate in $tarkville and a win over the defending national champs Kentucky.
The next 4 games probably brought out the gambit of emotions for any diehard fan... the controversial loss @ UTK (choked the lead away late, didn't get the call when Lacey was fouled with the last shot), surviving Arkansas, winning @ Vandy for the 1st time since GHWB was POTUS, and then the terrible loss @ the Barn where basketball was set back 50 years. We come off that loss to win our next 4 (against mostly weak competition, but have a hard time putting them away).
Our last 5 games defined what we were... with a good chance to get into the NCAAT by going 4-1 we choke @ LSU, get revenge vs Auburn, and come up short @ UF and Ole Miss. We almost went 1-4 if not for a 2/3rd court shot by Trevor Releford to beat UGA.
2nd half of the season grade: B-
Going 12-6 would normally be awesome, but when you look closer at the schedule we went 1-3 vs the top 5 teams and 4-5 vs the top 8 in the conference.
Overall season grade: C
It is pretty inexcusable to be down to 8 scholarship players (at its worst) in year 4. I have read that Engstrom might've been the difference in the season. Let's be honest here... while I like Carl, losing him for the season should NOT have been catastrophic.
When I look at the program overall under Anthony Grant I don't feel we are destined for great (or even better than mediocre) things. 1st year was a feeling out process in which I thought we made stride. 2nd year was better than anyone expected (despite going 0fer in St Thomas... which myself and DJC were there to witness). Last season despite making the NCAAT was a letdown IMO as we were a preseason top 20 team (that once we fell out we didn't return), and this past season was again a disappointment.
For the most part I have been really good about keeping my personal opinions off the board and simply 'report' on events, but this season I couldn't hold back anymore. I don't think we are trending positive as a program. We are not in the abyss of the Hobbs years or the last 2 of Gottfried, but I don't get the warm and fuzzies going into next season... I feel a plateau.
Saying that, Grant is here at least another 2 seasons as his recent extension (if I read it correctly) has a $1.5 million buyout until the end of the 2014-15 season (then it drops to $500K or so).
So what does Grant need next season to keep the seat from getting hot? I say one of the following:
- End the season ranked in the top 25
- Win the SEC outright
- Win the SEC Tournament
- If none of the above then a surprise run to the Sweet 16 as a lower seed