The University of Northern Iowa Panthers avenged their home court loss Sunday night, and beat the Bears in front of close to 10,000 fans at JQH Arena. ‘The defending Valley champs shut down the Bears in the second half, allowing MSU to shoot just 20% from the field. The loss now gives the Bears a 17-4 record and snaps a 19-game winning streak.
Now it’s time to have fun with those cheesy sports cliches we all loathe: “the Bears have all the parts, they just need to put it all together”, “the Bears have the look of a tournament team”, “the Bears need to play fundemental basketball”. Okay now that’s over with (don’t ever let me do that again…) let me explain why this team is capable of “big boy” basketball, and why they aren’t playing to their potential.
What we know:
-Kyle Weems is a play maker.
-Will Creekmore gets points in the paint.
-Adam Leonard can shoot the open 3-ball.
-Nafis Ricks and Jermaine Mallett can penetrate and make plays off high post screens.
What we don’t know:
-Why can’t other scorers (i.e. Ricks, Mallett, Leonard) step-up when Weems or Creekmore go cold.
-Why the Bears continue to “play down” to lesser competition.
-Why Coach Cuonzo Martin continues to play Mallett and Leonard 35 minutes a game.
but most of all…
-Why are teams able to penetrate the Bears defense so easily?
And that’s where the Bears need to focus on now. I’ve noticed this flaw for weeks now and had the assumption it would surely be fixed. It’s not. It’s evident with every opponent which should show how badly this issue must get fixed. If the Bears want to live and die by the 3-point shot, so be it. They can out shoot any team in the Valley beyond the arc. But the trouble with this lifestyle comes when you’re losing and your only hope is to shoot 3-pointer after 3-pointer. (All of this relates to the Bears’ penetrable defense, I promise.) The Bears defense is orchestrated in such a way to not let the opponent get mid-range to short-range shots. It begs the opponent to shoot the three, if they dare. But when teams are able to get past the guards and drive the lane, the defense becomes ineffective. Sunday night’s loss is an example of this: the Panthers were able to drive the lane and make some baskets, the Bears fell behind, fell in love with the three, and only shot 1-7 beyond the arc in the 2nd half. Until they tighten up their loose defense and play like the team that’s “destined” to take MSU back to the NCAA Tournament, they will continue to struggle with every team they play. This team has everything you want to make a post-season run (minus depth: see the Bears depth issues here) but the Bears must show dominance and separation from Valley foes in order to prepare for their potential tournament horizon.