NCAA Division I Sports
NCAA Division I Sports
Coach Buzz Williams said following the Haunted Hoops scrimmage that he hoped his Golden Eagles would be “whipped, and beaten in every possible way” by the Virginia Cavaliers in the teams' dual scrimmage/workout in Charlottesville on Sunday.
Turns out, that wasn't exactly the case.
With all 11 healthy scholarship players making the trip and taking part, MU for the fourth straight year reaped some major benefits from the closed-door, non-publicized workout that's become vogue among Division I teams as they seek any and every possible advantage prior to the open of the regular season.
MU twice worked out against Kansas State under coach Tom Crean, and last year traveled to Nebraska in Williams' first year as head man. This year, thanks to some connections between Bennett – the former Green Bay legend who, as you'll recall, was pursued by MU in the wake of Crean's exodus to Indiana – Bennett assistant Ritchie McKay and Williams, theGolden Eagles and the Cavaliers squared off on the Virginia campus.
“I think that Coach (Tony) Bennett's done a great job,” said Williams. “They only have two newcomers. They have a returning veteran group, but everything he's teaching them is new. But relative to the way our guys competed, I thought we competed with great intensity. I thought the guys that were on the bench were great teammates, and I thought we had great energy all day.
“There are definitely things that we've got to get more fluid at, which you would anticipate after the first 15 days of practice, but as it relates to our culture and the things that are important to us, I thought our guys were outstanding.”
With five newcomers to Division I on the squad – a storyline that will undoubtedly be repeated numerous times over the course of the season – MU got plenty of value out of the experience both on the court and off, according to Williams.
“I thought it went good,” he said. “The guys had the opportunity to get a feel for the rhythm of playing a road game, all of the things that are involved with that – having a pre-game meal, went over a scouting report, having a shootaround in the conference room of our hotel, being in an opponent's locker room.
“All of those things are healthy considering our roster and the nature of our roster. So I thought it was a great experience.”
The format of the workout was altered this time around, which Williams believes was to both teams' benefit.
“I thought our structure was a lot better this year than last year,” Williams said. “Part of that was some of the lessons we learned from last year. We actually scrimmaged this morning, so we gave our best shot in the actual game situations, and then in the afternoon we did more of the three-down stuff. This morning we played five 10-minute segments, then wiped the score clean at the conclusion of each segment.
“Then this afternoon we played half-court possessions. Five Marquette possessions on offense, flip it, then wipe the score at the end. We did three sets of that. Then we played basically make it-take it ,full-court. It's Virginia's ball, Marquette's on defense in the half-court. If Virginia scores, it's Virginia's ball again, check it up top. If Virginia misses, it's Marquette's ball in transition offense, Virginia in transition defense. If Marquette scores, it's Marquette's ball at the top. If Marquette misses, Virginia is coming down in transition on offense.
“In other words, you keep playing until somebody scores, and it's really good because it allows you to work on your half-court execution both ways – offensively and defensively – and at the same time it gives you an opportunity to better prepare yourself in your transition defense and transition offense. We call it in and out at Marquette in practice – we play it every day, just because you get looks at your half-court stuff and then your full-court stuff both ways. So we played that game to seven, and we played three of those.
Perhaps most important, no one was injured – a major benefit for the Golden Eagles, considering how hard they were hit in the off-season. Sophomore guard Darius Johnson-Odom also saw his participation increase yet again as he continues to recover from a foot injury that's limited him since last month.
“It was a really good day. We ground our guys up,” said Williams. “The priceless thing about doing this is to have an opportunity with so many new guys to see what getting on a plane is like, seeing what getting on a bus is like. I know that sounds so elementary, but it will better prepare us for our road games this year.
“If you're going to play a scrimmage, and forfeit an opportunity to play an exhibition game, you need to get as much out of it as you can. Guys will be off tomorrow, which is how we planned it. But today was a really good day.”
MU will play its lone exhibition game this coming Saturday, Nov. 7, at 1 p.m. against MSOE at the Bradley Center. The Golden Eagles open up the regular season Nov. 13 at 7:30 p.m. against Centenary.