I'm taking K-State's loss to Florida on Saturday pretty hard, and postpone sleep while thinking what-if. What if Dennis Clemente had one more year of eligibility, how great would the Wildcats be?
I haven't been sold on this team since watching them play. I bought into the preseason hype, but they looked good (not great) against Virginia Tech, ditto against Gonzaga. Then they looked shitty against Duke. Didn't watch'em again during their string of second-tier victories before the Florida game, but game reviews painted their accomplishments as pedestrian. People bemoan the rebounding and grittiness advantage that was on greater display last year, but I look more closely at what Pullen has done.
The point guard just isn't scoring points like he used to. His shooting percentage has been downright atrocious, with games such as 1/12 against Duke, 5/17 against Loyola Chicago, and 2/11 against Washington. He's getting more steals and rebounds while committing fewer personal fouls this season, but just doesn't look as good as last year. Why? The answer lies somewhere over in Israel.
I believe Clemente was that instrumental to K-State's success last year. The NBA didn't want him because he simply couldn't provide that killer scoring threat - instead, he was an enabler. He was quick, had excellent vision, and created. This is what great guards do, and without that, Pullen is having a hard time transitioning into his new role.
We could also call this the CJ Effect, because it happened first and is much starker in every respect. CJ Lee's last year at Michigan, he wiggled into a starting role, earned a first-round upset, and almost beat out Blake Griffin's Sooners for a Sweet Sixteen birth. CJ didn't put up 20-point games. Didn't have to. He brought that leadership, vision, intangible blend that makes wins. Everyone in the Ford School agreed; the difference between 2008-09's Big 10 wins and 2009-10's let down was the lack of an enabler. And the Ford School knows - we almost won a game in intramurals (we're impartial AND know the game).
End of the day, K-State lost a lot more that 16 points/game when Clemente left. Even if you disregard what he did on the defensive end (which was a lot), his presence allowed Pullen to thrive. Now he's struggling. And that's got me a little nervous headed into conference play. Yes, we need our bigs to man up - but we need a creator even more.
The measure of a players greatness shouldn't be measured by his scorecard, but what his team accomplishes. Unless he's a runner. Then it's just what he accomplishes.
(Growing my Pullen Beard in 2009)