Last night against Washington was my first exposure to the '09 'Hawks, though my ESPN-deuce shorted out for the first 15 minutes of it. What I saw, from the 6:30 mark of the 1st half on, was more than encouraging:
1. Cole is ready to break out as a star. He didn't look like a guy who'd been warming the bench only last season.
2. Sherron has become a supremely confident quarterback. Like Obama, he is putting to rest all questions about being "ready to lead."
3. The supporting cast looks none too shabby. Morningstar, Taylor, and the twins -- esp. Marcus -- all showed me something last night. And Conner T. got his stroke back.
4. The Self formula lives on with different personnel. The zone is not necessarily a welcome innovation, but shooting 50% while holding the opponent to 29% -- those are numbers worthy of last year's team.
Now, a few caveats:
1. This was a home game, with friendly refs, against a team that couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. Is our defense really that good, or are the Huskies just that incompetent? Syracuse tonight will be a better gauge.
2. Outside shooting could be a big question mark. Cole and Sherron need to be able to kick it out when the double-teams come, but we were 2 for 9 from 3-point range; Morningstar and Reed were 0-fer. (The line has been moved back this year, which could theoretically help us if it makes the inside game that much more important; but still, we're in a bit of a hole if we can't nail the open 3.)
3. Rebounding was obviously an issue. That's typically the first thing to suffer when you go to a zone, and we were playing against maybe the best rebounder in the nation in Brockman. So let's reserve judgment on that one.
4. The Twins, as advertised, have talent but low hoops IQ -- remind me a little of C.J. Giles. They combined for half of our 10 turnovers. As sidekicks to Aldrich, they can be very dangerous; hopefully he stays healthy and they won't have to be load-bearers.
We haven't done predictions yet, because I had absolutely no sense of this team until last night. Maybe after this tourney we can do some late handicapping.