As the men’s basketball team struggled to hold off CSU Dominguez Hills in an exhibition win a few weeks ago, I could practically hear the message boards ramping up. Like clockwork, the panic mongers began to question Head Coach Bob Williams and his staff. To the outside eye, a four-point victory over an unknown program looked bad, but what most people didn’t know was that in the post-game press conference, senior guard Alex Harris and junior forward Chris Devine literally laughed off the idea of worrying about an exhibition game. They knew how to separate myth from reality, and after a weekend of watching the Gauchos participate in the Basketball Travelers Classic at Stanford, so do I.
The Myth: The new pressure defense won’t work.
The Reality: Guess what? After one weekend, it’s already working like a charm. In three games at Stanford, the Gauchos forced 66 turnovers, and the total likely would have been much higher if the referees hadn’t decided to blow their whistles like they were frat guys on Halloween. UCSB is dictating the pace of games, and turning turnovers into easy transition buckets, a must for a team that struggled to score at times last season. Plus, the fast pace makes the games far more fun to watch, which is important at a school where fans would rather play beer pong than go to a basketball game.
The Myth: The Gauchos don’t have the depth to play at such a fast pace.
The Reality: Everybody knew that UCSB would go at least eight-deep, but the surprising early contributions from sophomore guard Paul Roemer and junior forward Beau Gibb of “Beau Gibb’s Player Diary” have given Coach Williams a bench that will be a weapon once conference games start. Despite the fact that they play at a frenetic pace, the Gauchos never look tired, and they were by far the fresher team in the second halves of victories over Northwestern State and Harvard. The depth has also allowed Williams to make mass substitutions at times, which brings us to the next myth.
The Myth: UCSB will use a hockey-style substitution pattern.
The Reality: This was by far the most interesting aspect of the exhibition game, and surprisingly it has actually carried over a little into the regular season. Because of the team’s depth, Coach Williams is able to bring on three, four, or even five new players at a time without skipping a beat. Even if this system stops eventually, its fun to watch for the time being as few things are more entertaining than watching five tall guys try to squeeze themselves into that space by the scorer’s table.
The Myth: Harris won’t possibly be able to match his output from last season.
The Reality: Although he spent the summer working on other aspects of his game, Harris has already flashed the trademark quickness and shooting touch that allowed him to lead the conference in scoring with 21.1 points per game last season. All you need to know is that Stanford Head Coach Trent Johnson thought his team did an “exceptional job” of controlling Harris, even though the senior guard finished with 18 points. If he keeps this up – and there’s no reason to believe he won’t – Harris will continue his barrage on the school record books, while giving himself a legitimate shot at hearing his name called in next summer’s NBA Draft.
The Myth: Geraldo Rivera has the best mustache around.
The Reality: With apologies to Rivera, Tom Selleck, Borat and Super Mario, there isn’t a more impressive mustache out there these days than that of senior forward Nedim Pajevic. If the rest of this column doesn’t get you excited about tomorrow night’s home opener, you should at least show up to support the ‘stache.