If history tells us anything, an early season loss to Cal State Stanislaus means the Chico State Wildcats will be going to the NCAA Tournament. No, I am not kidding. For the last two seasons the Chico State men's basketball program suffered what SEEMED like debilitating losses to Cal State Stanislaus. After those losses, one could cue the teeth-gnashing and order the Maalox for the rest of the season. But, lo' and behold Greg Clink, his staff and team would not be deterred and would find a way to figure it out and move past frustrating early season losses in .
Last night's loss to the Warriors is quite similar to the early season losses the Cats have had against Stanislaus the last couple of years. Two seasons ago, the Wildcats were trying to figure out what type of team they were. They headed to Turlock in December of 2011, lost 79-77 and went an abysmal 7-of-37 from three point range. Questions circulated in the Wildcat hallways the next day, "who are these guys ? Where is the post production ? Why can't they defend ? Why do guys who keep missing, keep shooting?" Well, the Cats would learn from that early December loss and would eventually hoist the CCAA banner in March. They figured it out.
Last year Chico would lose to Stanislaus at home because they couldn't defend Warrior point guard Sam Marcus. Almost a year to the day when the Wildcats couldn't make a three, this time they couldn't defend the diminutive 5'9 Marcus. He torched the Wildcats defense for 22 points including the game-winning lay-up uncontested at the buzzer to beat Chico 66-64 at Acker Gym. Again, the questions, "what's up with their defense ? Where were the help-side defender's ? Why this ? Why that ?" Well, three weeks later they would destroy the Marcus led Warriors by 40 in Turlock. And, from February 8th to March 8th the Wildcats would win 9 straight games and earn their second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. They figured it out.
Early season losses are simply that, an early season loss. Its not a trend, its not a harbinger of things to come. Its a loss that good teams can learn from. While Head Coach Greg Clink doesn't want to suffer through a loss to emphasize a point, the big "L" will certainly make it easier for Clink to teach his team what they need to do to be great.
Some observations from Saturday night's loss. First and foremost, when you miss 10 free throws in a game you lose by two in overtime, you really have no one to blame but yourselves. The Cats were 2-of-5 from the stripe in the first half and 11-of-18 in the second half. But, the second-half misses were made even tougher considering they came during a time when Chico had made a run and had a chance to extend the lead. Simply put, you shoot 63 percent from the line, you will not win close games.
The Wildcats can not give up 20 offensive rebounds and expect to win CCAA games. This statistic was indicative of the Warriors domination in the paint. Their size and talent in the paint is much better than we have seen from them in the past. Division I transfer and 6'9 center Marcus Bell is the real deal. He decimated the Cats with a 28 point and 14 rebound performance. But, we have seen Chico State teams face such daunting tasks before and they have held their own. To borrow a line, Jason Conrad is not walking through that door. Chico State's three headed monster in the paint of Jordan Barton, Nate Appel and Chris Magalotti will need to stay on the floor and avoid foul trouble. Easier said than done with the new officiating rules, but important none-the-less. Its contingent upon these guys to accept the challenge night in and night out and not allow sometimes bigger and more athletic posts to own the glass.
Chico shot it well from the perimeter. And, with Coach Clink's free flowing style the players in the system are given a tremendous amount of freedom. As the season progresses we usually see the Wildcats better understand that there needs to be some balance to their offense. Post players need touches and you can't fall in love with the three point shot at the expense of taking the ball to the basket and getting to the foul line. Last night I thought Stanislaus had a better grasp early in the game of how the game was being officiated. They couldn't make any shots, yet they took a nine-point lead into the locker room at the break. Why ? Because they saw that "any" contact when taking the ball to the basket was being whistled. At times, Chico was content or settled instead of attacking the big Stanislaus posts and getting to the stripe. This recognition will be fixed, it always does in this Chico State system.
So, there should be no panic with the Chico State faithful. The Wildcats showed glimpses of greatness, but also showed us there is much work to be done. You know when its time to worry ? When you play a perfect game on November 16th, then its time to worry.