For anyone who saw this game, a "good win" might not be the first thing that came to mind. If you will bear with me for a moment, from a different perspective, I think my title makes good sense.
Last week, I asked if the loss at Tulsa was a "good loss." I compared it to the loss the '04 Final Four Cowboys suffered against BYU, and asked whether it would be the same kind of catalyst for this year’s team. Today, on the heels of a close (and ugly) victory on the road against Stanford, I want to ask a similar question.
What is the anatomy of a good win?
The old adage of course is "a W is a W." You hear things similar to this all the time, and the word coming off of many a Cowboy fan’s tongue today is "I'm just glad we got out of there with a win."
However, I want to argue that, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, sometimes the ugly wins are the ones that help you the most down the road.
Consider last year's team.
Coach Ford's first year at the helm found the Pokes eating a steady diet of ugly wins for the first half of the season. Against Siena, the Pokes had 17 turnovers, were out-rebounded by one of the few teams on earth with a smaller lineup than them, and let an 18 point lead dwindle to one with eight minutes left in the game.
The game ended up being a nail biter, with Siena pulling within three points and a mere 40 seconds to go. Only after that did the Cowboys pull away.
The ugly wins didn't stop when conference games started. On the road against Nebraska, the Pokes turned the ball over 18 times and had to win in overtime after scoring under 70 points in regulation. Against Texas Tech, an Eaton-led surge put the Cowboys on top in the final seconds of the game, after the Pokes had dug themselves a 16 point hole at home.
Each of these games went a long way in establishing that team’s character. It provided a furnace for the team to forge a character of mental toughness.
It was this ability to plow ahead when the going got ugly that served them so well in the 71-70 victory over the No. 6 ranked Sooners in the Big XII tournament. With that win, they proved their worth to the NCAA selection committee, and the streak of being uninvited to the big dance ended later that week.
Fast forward to last night's game. 71-70 against a team with four losses and a below 100 RPI may not sound that inspiring. If your definition of a "good win" is reserved strictly for blow outs of inferior competition and W's against superior talent, then last night was definitely not a good night.
My contention is that there are more nuances to evaluating wins and losses.
First of all, don't totally sleep on Stanford. They may not be the best draw of the Big XII-Pac 10 Hardwood Series, but they did take Mr. Wall and his Kentucky teammates to overtime, something no one else has done. They may not be great, but they are not absolutely terrible.
Next, don't under estimate the jetlag phenomenon. A good portion of Okies were getting ready for bed when the game finally finished…the first half (around 11ish)! Just like in pro-football, any win by an East coast team that picks up a W in the Pacific Time Zone can be chalked up as a good game no matter how they got it done (the Raiders are living on this phenomenon at the moment).
When we get into the actual performance of the game, remember that this team is still incredibly young. Leadership has been an issue in many of the articles written about this team, and any game on the road relies on leaders taking the reins on behalf of the newbies. The general consensus is we have not figured this leadership deal out quite yet.
If this year’s team was a seasoned team, blowing a 15-point lead would be very disheartening. It would be one thing to get off to a slow start, but to roll through three quarters like the Pokes did, only to lose focus down the stretch would be very bad news.
Experienced teams know better. If a KU team let something like that happen, questions would have to be asked about such an experience laden team letting down its guard.
With this year's Pokes though, a breakdown in focus was in the cards. At some point, teams with leadership issues and who are still feeling out their identity will break down their intensity, and begin to look fuzzy.
Remember: before this game, the Pokes have either won or lost all their games save one by double digit points. This is the first game of the season where such a monumental collapse occurred.
Experiencing such a meltdown in itself is an important learning experience for a young team. Coach Ford will have a lot to harp on, and a lot to point out, from this very teachable moment. For a young team to experience such a meltdown, and then gather their wit to win the thing anyway, demonstrates a toughness that is encouraging to see so early in the season.
Additionally, the Pokes were hampered by early foul trouble that seriously altered their game plan.
Within four minutes of the start of the game, both Moses and Penn where on the bench with two fouls. The Cowboys were forced to play small on and off for the rest of the game. This fact may have aided to the high turnover count for the game (17), but impressively, the Pokes still narrowly won the rebounding battle, pulling down 33 boards.
Furthermore, while Anderson scored 28 points, he was virtually silent with six minutes left in the game after an injury hobbled him (either cramps or a twisted ankle, I have heard both things reported). The fact that Muonelo, who can be inconsistent, stepped up and scored 18 second half points in his place was another good sign.
Granted, there were things that were quite terrible about this game, such as scoring only four points in the final five minutes. Missing the front end of a one-and-one in the final seconds of the game is a killer. 25 fouls is horrendous, and accumulating four fewer assists than turnovers is abysmal. Eliminate any one of these problem areas, and the Pokes coast to a victory.
When it comes down to it though, a road victory on the west coast by a young team is a good win. A win by a young team when their leading scorer is hobbled and their big men have been on the bench for vast portions of the game is really quite impressive. A win by a young team still searching for a leader and identity that doesn't allow a 15-point comeback by the home team rattle their nerves is a win I will take at this point.
This win wasn't pretty. On the contrary, it was as ugly as they come. Still, forgive me if this seems overly optimistic, this 71-10 victory was a good win.