* There is no secret to the 'Cats task Sunday when they visit Purdue and look to snap their four-game losing streak. "We're going to need to score. That's going to be a big key for us," says point Dave Sobolewski, defining it in simplest terms. "We gotta make more baskets to win. We haven't been scoring enough."
* Last Wednesday, at home against Wisconsin, the 'Cats finished with 41 points. "Our offense was stagnant," guard Reggie Hearn would say later. Three days earlier, at home against Illinois, they would also finish with just 41 points. "Our offense was bad the entire night," their coach Bill Carmody commented after that one. But the game before that, in the hostile environs of Ohio State's Value City Arena, they finished with 59 points. Let's investigate.
* In Columbus, in their first game after forward Jared Swopshire went down for the season, the 'Cats hit four of their first five shots, built themselves a little lead and ended the evening shooting 46 percent overall and 42.3 percent on their threes. But against both the Illini and the Badgers, they missed their first six shots, fell into holes they never escaped and ended these games with horrific shooting percentages (25 percent against Illinois, 29.4 percent against Wisconsin). These results are not coincidental.
* Here is why. The 'Cats lack an inside scoring presence, which leaves the opponent's big man free to patrol the paint as a final defense against their back door layups. That, notes Carmody, is just what Badger center Jared Berggren did, and he was free to remain rooted there, he was free to ignore helping on screens since the 'Cats were shooting so poorly. But, he then goes on, "The Purdue center, that's what they did the last time (in a 15-point 'Cat win) and that got them in trouble. He didn't hedge on any screen and we made 'em all. They work together. You get some drives, you get some back door cuts, then they lay off you and you have (an open) shot. They start of playing you loosely, you've got to make some shots. It's very simple."
* It is just that simple, only when it isn't so simple. Guard Alex Marcotullio, thinking back to when Drew Crawford was shut down for the season, explains. "It took us a couple weeks for us to get over the shock that we weren't going to have our leading scorer and one of the best players in the conference," he says here. "But we got over that, won a few games after that, and our confidence level was high again. So we have to do the same thing now with Jared (sidelined). He was a big contributor on both ends of the court, so it's been a big learning curve with him dropping out of the lineup. Both offensively and defensively we've had to make adjustments and put guys in situations they hadn't been in prior to him getting hurt."
"Since Swop went down, we haven't won without Swop," says Sobolewski. "So we need to figure it out. . .and do whatever it takes to win. Be it everybody hits another shot, everybody gets another rebound, defends better. Whatever it is, we need to figure it out and get a win. It's just time to pull one out. It's been awhile."
* In their last win, which came against the Boilermakers back on Feb. 2, the 'Cats finished with 75 points. "Hopefully, that'll give us confidence, knowing that if we go out and play well and run through our stuff, then we'll be OK," Sobolewski says when asked about that afternoon. "We got a lot of back door layups that game. We ran through our stuff hard. We had a lot of back door cuts. We just flowed from one thing to the next and played hard. Regardless of the guys we have, if we do the same thing, we should be OK."
* True. But here is the issue. In their last two games, in those 41-point productions against Illinois and Wisconsin, the 'Cats did not do the same thing, did not run through their stuff with the alacrity needed for it to produce baskets. Yes. They missed shots and maybe a few of them were open. But, more significantly, after each of those performances both 'Carmody and his players bemoaned the lack of rhythm in their offense, noted the lack of consistency in their offensive approach, which is a point we finally raised with Sobolewski. "I wouldn't say it was as bad (against the Badgers) in terms of getting out of our offense," he said here. "We did take some quick shots. They were within the flow of the offense, but we could have gotten better shots if we had held the ball for longer in the clock.
We now wondered if, knowing the urgent need of points, they had to guard against rushing, pressing, trying to score too quick?
"I'd say so," he said. "We've got to focus on making sure that we get a great shot on every possession. We're not getting as many possessions because of the tempo we're trying to play at, so now more than ever we have to make sure we get a good shot every time down the court. Against Wisconsin, we didn't do a good job of that. We took some quick shots, some tough shots. We need to clean that up and make sure we get a great shot every time."
Had human nature taken over, we wondered here, and were the 'Cats trying too hard and so working against themselves?
"I agree that can happen," he said. "We just have to run through our stuff. It's one thing to take a tough shot in the last five, six, seven seconds of the shot clock. But anything earlier that that, we have to make sure it's a perfect one."
So finally, we wondered, have the 'Cats been settling for shots they've been given rather than taking the shots they prefer?
"I'd say so," Dave Sobolewski said.
* And finally, Marcotullio, on the Purdue game: "They always come after you. So you have to really hold onto your guts, and play hard, play tough, and execute your game plan to the fullest."