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CGB Roundtable: Was Coach Mike Montgomery Out-Coached By Kevin O'Neill?

It's that way to Margaritaville!
It's that way to Margaritaville!

Kodiak: Hey guys. A few people have brought up this topic, so I thought it would be interesting as a round table discussion. Did Mike Montgomery get out-coached by Kevin O'Neill in Cal's loss to 'sc? Please show your work.

TwistnHook: This is a great question, Kodiak. I think it might be helpful for our readers to further define "out-coached." It is such a vague term and so many people will come from so many different angles in defining it.

What do you think a basketball coaches in game responsibilities are, such that O'Neill allegedly succeeded where Montgomery failed?

Kodiak: Here are a few thoughts on coaching responsibilities that might contribute to a game's success/failure:

Offensive game plan:
Which sets are we going to run? Are we going to focus on getting it inside first or running a more perimeter-based motion? Are we specifically calling plays for Jorge (high screen and roll) or Crabbe to get them going? What tempo are we trying to establish? Halfcourt? Or push it in transition?

Defensive game plan: Man or zone. Match-ups and assignments. Are we doubling any of their players(like Vucevic)? Are the doubles immediate or do we wait for him to put it on the floor? Who is coming as the double teamer - big on big, wing, or guard? Are we rotating who does the double team? How are we defending the post - high, side, or behind? How are we playing screens - do we fight through, switch, or go behind them?

In-game adjustments:
All of the above...but with changes based on how the other team is playing us and how the game is proceeding. Clock and time-out management.

Norcalnick: Having not seen the game I can't offer my opinion. But I'm guessing you're wondering about PaulThomas's post-game comment:

Won't say this often, but Montgomery got completely outcoached today. This loss is basically on him. Why Smith was not switched defensively off of Jones, who repeatedly left him in the dust, and onto Simmons, who is no threat to score (except apparently at the end of a half…), is something only he can explain.
Meanwhile, Jio Fontan was guarded by Gutierrez, and pretty much hung around twiddling his thumbs while Jones dissected the defense.

When you have a non-scorer on the floor, position is irrelevant. Just put your worst defender on him and don’t worry about it. Crabbe has the height to bother Smith and Fontan, and Gutierrez clearly needed to be on Jones. I don’t know if that literally decided the game, because USC was making shots that they normally don’t make and Cal was missing shots that they normally make, but it took what might otherwise have been a close game and turned it into a blowout. So, boo to that.

I think it's a fair complaint. Jones did the same thing to Cal in the 2nd half at Haas, so it's not like we're not aware of what he's capable of. If it kept happening I'd have to think that Jorge should have been switched over.
Kodiak: Well, having watched the replay, here's the problem. When Vucevic went out, they played Stephenson, Simmons, Smith, Fontan, and Jones. We matched up with Stephenson/MSF, Simmons/Kamp, Crabbe/Smith leaving Jorge and Smith to cover Fontan and Jones. I saw us switch up more than once, but neither Jorge nor Smith could check Jones. (or Fontan for that matter) Also, you have to remember that Jorge was in foul trouble for most of the 1st half. He picked up his 2nd midway through and then his 3rd before the end of the half. No way he's able to play his customary defense with 2 fouls.

I think that's why Monty put in Murray for Smith at about the 12 min mark. Murray is probably our best athlete at guard. Unfortunately, he's still raw and Jones lit him up two. (got him on a hesitation and pivot move for an open layup) So, what is Monty supposed to do? Switch to zone? Yep. Tried that. Still couldn't stop their dribble penetration, but also gave up open 3's. Not sure what the right coaching move is from there. I think that Jorge's fouls were really what started the whole chain reaction. Jorge in foul trouble = can't put Jorge on Jone = Kamp/MSF/Solomon get into foul trouble having to help out on dribble penetration. Jorge's first foul was a bad one (fouling a jumpshooter on a fadeaway), 2nd was being too aggressive (going for a steal) and third was questionable, but ill-advised considering that he already had two.(offensive) Hard to put that on the coaching.

Avinash: Actually, I don't really remember Brandon Smith getting blown by being the problem. Crabbe and Jorge were checking Jones and Donte Smith for most of the second half. Crabbe was playing them WAY too close and Jorge was being overaggressive, even for him (seriously, USC pump faked shots or just passed as soon as he came to double team). Smith's big problem is offense--people don't respect him enough as a shooter--and handling the ball for 30+ minutes against a good defensive team. Six turnovers from your starting point will kill you every time.

Perimeter defense has sucked this year. Crabbe has played well on offense, but he needs a year to work on defensive fundamentals. He was very iffy all year on that side (not closing out on three point shooters, playing too close on guards allowing them to drive and dish), a common problem for freshmen.

LeonPowe: You may have blocked it out avi, but o clearly remember Brandon smith getting murdered by jones repeatedly.

However, outcoached? I'm not so sure - the foul trouble on Jorge, combined with poor execution by Kamp and MSF (we got the ball inside to our usually reliable big men against their in foul trouble and thin front line and they just outplayed our team) led to the SC win. With coaching all you can do is put your players in position to succeed, I think basketball in game adjustments are mainly overrated. What can you do when SC is getting penetration at will and knocking down 3s AND your best defenders are in serious foul trouble?

CBKWit: I disagree that it was poor execution by these two. They certainly had poor outings, but I think it was due much more to SC's defense than our faults. SC is significantly bigger, longer, and more athletic in the post with Stephenson and Vucejyvihkyjk than we are. Kamp and MSF could not get very many quality looks because of SC's size and strength in the post; if you were fortunate enough to miss the game, you could have figured it out by reading the box score and seeing their low shooting percentage, low number of shots, and high number of shots blocked. It's not surprising that Solomon was our most effective post, since he can match SC's length and athleticism. However, there were a number of times when Solomon tried to take Vuc or Stephenson one on one and couldn't do anything, because they're so much stronger than he is right now.

Avinash: I watched the clips I could find, LeonPowe. I'm sure B. Smith had trouble early on, but Monty DID try and make adjustments. I saw Crabbe and Jorge both getting burned on multiple occasions. We put three bigs on the floor on a couple of occasions to take B. Smith off the floor, and they STILL got dribble penetration or broke the traps or managed to get offensive rebounds off of missed opportunities. Plus our offense collapsed because the three bigs couldn't space the floor well.

The point i'm trying to make is Monty made adjustments. The adjustments failed because the perimeter defense (like it's been all year) was not very good. Like CBKWit said, USC was just well-positioned on many a play, was more athletic than us, made tough shots that we missed, and that was the difference. It's been a fun year, but we were going to hit the wall at some point, and we ran head-on into it on Thursday.

Kodiak: Good points, guys. With regards to Crabbe, he had a tough time with Donte Smith. He started trying to play the guy tight and got driven on. When he backed off a little, Donte Smith pulled up a few feet behind the 3-point line and drained one in his face. Not sure what you do there. I had more of an issue with Jorge running at guys and jumping at shooters. I suppose if you have to point to coaching, we've had issues with closing out on shooters while staying balanced and not getting faked out of position all year. I thought that we did a better job of that later in the year, but the guys got overly excited/aggressive in this last game and forgot their fundamentals.

Atoms posted that he thought Monty got outcoached. Care to explain yourself, atoms? Or, have we convinced you otherwise?

atomsareenough: Well, I suppose you guys have managed to push me back to the fence a bit. I don't have the benefit of watching a replay, but let me try to put together my impressions from watching it live-streamed on the interwebz. I will grant that with Jorge in foul trouble, and with Brandon Smith's limitations, there simply wasn't a whole lot we could do to keep Donte Smith and Mo Jones from wreaking havoc in the driving lanes. Maybe we could have put our long shot-blockers in (Solomon and Bak Bak) and tried to shut down penetration, but overall I'm prepared to concede that there wasn't much we could do. One thing that did bother me was how many easy put-backs Stepheson had. He had 5 offensive boards that must have led to at least 8 points. Our whole team have 5 offensive boards the entire game.

Anyway, my main complaint was on offense. USC scored 70 points, but that's not an outrageous total. The problem was that we only scored 56. Yeah, sometimes guys just have bad games, and it seems like Kamp, MSF, and Jorge all happened to have an off night at once. Maybe they were due for one. But the striking thing to me was how poor the ball movement was. USC's guys are pretty long and athletic, and they were making a concerted effort to keep their hands in the passing lane, so it felt like our guys had to pretty much come to the ball handler in order to receive a pass. That really hampered our ability to run plays, because it made it a lot easier for USC's defense to sniff out and adjust to what we were doing. I'm not smart enough to say what the answer should have been, but I felt like after the first half when our bigs were getting stuffed or their shots were rimming out, we didn't really know what else to do. We'd try to move the ball around the top of the key, nobody would be open, the shot clock would be winding down, and someone would have to try and make a play on their own. Jorge wasn't making anything, so they were able to key in on Crabbe. The offense just wasn't fluid and it didn't seem like we had a good gameplan, which is frustrating since we'd played the Trojans twice already and should have been pretty familiar with them.

CBKWit: I think both offense and defense were problems, but I think it's pretty easy to forgive our problems on offense. As I said earlier, SC is simply bigger, longer, and more athletic than us at every position. We saw that in the post, as Kamp and MSF could get only a few shots off, and most of those were either blocked or missed due to their high degree of difficulty. We saw it in the perimeter, with SC's guards coming up with a lot of steals.

Rather than looking at this as Monty getting outcoached, I would posit that O'Neil was badly outcoached by Monty in the first two games this year, and this game was a more accurate indication of the talent levels on both teams.

Kodiak: Interesting. So atoms concedes that we did what we could on defense, but feels that we might have been out-coached on offense.

I'm more inclined to agree with CBKWit this game was more representative of a regression to the mean than KO having a sudden burst of inspiration. In his post-game comments, Monty was quoted as saying that he knew his guys got discouraged early when they got blocked at the rim and was encouraging them to continue to take it strong. So, if the coach designs the set, teaches the guys to run the set, watches them run the set, and it results in a big getting the ball near the rim...but the big hesitates and passes it back that a coaching issue? After getting blocked on three consecutive possessions, I saw Harper Kamp pass up shots from the post on more than one occasion. I love MSF and Kamp, but you can't coach height. Both of our guys have had troubles this year when matched up one one one against taller guys with skill and hops. (see UW) If Vucevic/Stephenson can shut down future lottery pick Derrick Williams, and hold their own against Bryan Matthew-Amaning/Nziz Adiaye, is it so surprising that Kamp/MSF would struggle?

CBKWit: No, it's not surprising at all, both of SC's posts are much taller, much longer, and much more athletic (they can actually jump!) than Kamp and MSF. It's a testament to Monty that they were able to play so effectively against SC in the first two games.

Kodiak: Okay, so it sounds like norcalnick and atoms feel that Monty should have or could have done some things differently. They also hat Cal, puppies, freedom, and America. The rest of us think that he did about the best he could with what he had available to him. Any final thoughts?

Ohio Bear: I didn't watch enough of the game to form an opinion. I do find it hard to believe, however, that Monty was "outcoached" in this game because--

1. If the criticism is that we didn't defend the perimeter better, then DUH! As Avinash pointed out, perimeter defense has been our weakness all season long. It's such an obvious weakness that I -- certainly not a basketball expert -- have made the observation on game threads a few times this year.

2. If the criticism is not switching Smith off of Jones, I don't know how that's being "outcoached." Jones has some quicks and is maybe not that great a matchup for Jorge and Crabbe anyway. And from what I've read here, it seems that Monty did try to adjust with different defenders. And let's not forget -- Jones dropped 22 on us at Haas, so maybe we just don't match up well against the guy.

3. I did see that Kamp and Jorge were in foul trouble -- that doesnt help things.

4. I have a hard time believing that USC did something we weren't ready for. This was our third meeting. Monty knows them; O'Neill knows us. There's not a whole lot of scheming going on at this point with conference foes. It's just execution. USC executed and we didn't. And newsflash: they're an all around better basketball team than we are. If we don't hit shots (and we didn't), we're gonna lose.