A short trip on the bullet train/Michael Bleach
To pay homage to sports writers of yesteryear, we are kicking this column old school and breaking down Michigan Tech athletics bullet-point style.
Because who doesn’t love a good notes column?
And yes, there is a fine line between completely failing to write one cohesive piece, and having so many topics to address for an 800-word space, that only bullet points can do the trick.
You, dear reader, can be the judge.
The Michigan Tech men’s basketball team is going to win a lot of games this year. A lot.
Specific predictions are a fool’s game, but the Huskies will be contending in February to defend their GLIAC North title and make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament, that much I can stake my reputation on.
The reason is simple.
They can shoot the ball.
College basketball can be funny sometimes.
For all the attention paid to athleticism and toughness, man-to-man or zone, pressure or help, big or small, the sport is still almost entirely decided by one factor.
Can you shoot the ball?
It is the most important skill in hoops – by far – yet it still seems underrated once armchair analysis starts flying around.
Sharp shooting opens up a wealth of options offensively. Brick laying builds a road to nowhere and sagging help defense.
It is fun to examine the details and specifics of winning (or losing) strategy – heck, most of my chosen career is based on just that – but it all stems from the same source. You have to be able to shoot the ball.
For Tech’s only loss this year, the 93-83 defeat to Walsh Saturday, coach Kevin Luke will be spending a lot of time harping on the 93 points given up (and rightly so).
But I can’t help but notice that the Huskies scored 83 of their own, giving them four straight games of crossing the 80-point mark, despite playing at one of the slowest tempos in the country.
Ben Stelzer said after the game that they weren’t going to win many games giving up 90-plus. This is true. Conversely though, Tech won’t lose many scoring 80-plus themselves.
The numbers are sparkling, with Tech converting on 51 percent from the field, 45 percent from three and 86 percent from the free throw line.
It remains to be seen where this Tech squad falls on the spectrum from good to great to classic.
But with Austin Armga, Stelzer and Alex Culy on the perimeter, good is the baseline.
The range of responsibilities required for coaches amazes me.
To be successful, they have to be good strategists, good recruiters, handle the media, handle fundraising and – I don’t think I am overstating this – be well-versed in the subtle inner workings of the human mind.
It is the final responsibility there that is testing Mel Pearson right now.
Junior forward and captain Blake Pietila is in the worst offensive slump of his career.
He has one goal in 17 games. He has not registered a point in the last seven.
It came to a head Saturday in the 2-2 tie to Bemidji State when Pietila completely missed the net on two golden opportunities that could have won the Huskies the game late in the third period or in overtime.
Pietila’s body language – slamming his stick, shouting, immediately looking for a green shirt to check and vent frustration on – spoke louder than any stat I can give you.
So now Pearson has the challenge of pulling the junior back from the brink.
Does he sit him for a game? Does he drop him to the third or fourth line? Does he skate with him after practice for more shooting drills? Does he artificially pump up each accomplishment? Show video of past success?
I have no idea.
Talking with Pearson after Saturday’s game, he was leaning towards one of the simplest options.
Pietila is immensely talented. That talent, should, eventually rise to the surface.
Instead of trying to play mind games, Pearson is trusting Pietila to right himself on his own.
Armga’s brilliance for Tech this year has been one of the great joys of my basketball-viewing life to watch.
His unconventional approach sets him apart from other scorers, and he is playing with such a high level of confidence that anything seems possible. Fadeaway, 15-foot, and-one bank shot? Saw it on Thursday.
But while Armga’s arsenal makes each men’s game a treat, the best basketball I have seen this season came in the first half of the women’s win over Walsh Saturday.
Defensively, it was a masterpiece. A virtuoso performance.
Dribble-penetration was cut off early. Shooters were harried and hassled at all points on the court. Only three offensive rebounds were allowed.
Walsh’s offensive numbers – 6-of-26 shooting, just two made threes and nine turnovers – are damning, but don’t tell nearly the full story.
There was a distinct level of frustration on the Cavaliers side as the Huskies denied anything easy, and then denied everything hard. Walsh was left with no options and no chance.
That the game disintegrated in the second half will leave coach Kim Cameron nettled, but the first 20 minutes were basketball nerdvana.
Michael Bleach can be reached at mbleach @mininggazette.com. Follow him on twitter @michaelbleach.