Sunday, March 7, 2010

Dear Vanderbilt Fans, Give A.J. A Break, He's Not the Problem

I continue to be amazed at how down on A.J. Ogilvy Vanderbilt fans appear to be these days. While I will acknowledge that I too can get frustrated with the 6'11 Aussie, I think he is unfairly scape-goated whenever the Commodores struggle (let alone lose).

There was nothing pretty about yesterday's 77-73 loss to South Carolina, a team that had lost 6 straight heading into Memorial yesterday. Vanderbilt played pretty lethargic early, and then got complacent when they extended the lead to 10 with 12:21 to play. The Commodores, like myself and the rest of the Memorial faithful thought the game was over. Clearly, it wasn't. From that point on, South Carolina out-scored Vanderbilt 34-20 including a 16-0 stretch where the Gamecocks turned a 57-48 deficit into a 64-57 lead (see Jeff Lockridge's piece in today's Tennessean for a blow-by-blow).

Fans, including Anonymous 5:04pm, seem to think that: "the biggest momentum changer was when AJ tried to finesse an uncontested layup from point blank range." Was it a big play? Perhaps. The score was 57-53 Vanderbilt when A.J. missed the shot (admittedly, a shot he really does have to make). Downey came down, hit another 3 (his second in 22 seconds), and the Cocks were now down 1. Stallings called a 30-second time out trying to calm his squad, no longer content to wait for the looming media time-out to save them. Then what happened? Jeffery Taylor missed a lay-up (one of two he missed during USC's 16-0 run), Walker committed a foul, and the Gamecocks took the lead at the free throw line. Darshawn took a TERRIBLE SHOT that consisted of him basically putting his head down and dribbling into the lane, out of control, before attempting a shot you'd be remiss to see in street ball. Oh yeah, then he turned it over.

So why is A.J.'s missed lay-up such a travesty, while Jeffery and Darshawn's misses and generally selfish play during this stretch (what I suspect CKS was referring to in his post-game) go unnoticed? Habit. Commodore fans are so used to being pissed at A.J. that it becomes reflexive to blame him when things do bad. The only problem: he's not the problem.

A.J. only played 21 minutes yesterday. That's too few. He only attempted 8 shots (1 in the last 10 minutes). That is WAY too few. Stallings sat him after he picked up (what appears to be, lately) his obligatory technical foul for getting into it with the opposition. That foul was dumb because it forced Stallings to sit him for a few minutes, and gave him his 3rd personal of the game. A.J. picking up his technical at the 15:36 mark, after which Kevin Stallings sat the big Aussie. He did not return until 9:28 seconds. Vanderbilt was up 8 when he exited the game, and up 8 when he re-entered. Am I the only who who thinks we might not have extended the lead had Ogilvy been slapped on the wrist and put back in the game at the under 13 mark?

As far as I'm concerned, CKS sat him too long. When South Carolina was going on their run, the best way to stop it was dumping the ball inside and getting to the free throw line. The best way to do that, is by putting the ball in A.J.'s hands. You can't do that if he's riding the pine.

Ogilvy's line yesterday was familiar: 5-8 shooting, 5-6 from the free throw line, 7 rebounds. The anomaly? 25.7 minutes in conference play only played 21 minutes. A.J. was 3-4 from the field and 2-2 from the line in the second half. He only had 1 personal foul, making his 10 minutes shocking. In the second half, A.J. attempted only 4 shots, while going to the line 4 times. You can't tell me this team wouldn't have been better off yesterday if A.J. took double that number of shots, which would likely have led to double the number of free throws he attempted.

A.J. was 2-3 in the first 4 minutes of the second half, yet he only attempted one more shot the rest of the way. 1 shot in 16 minutes? Does that seem like a recipe for success to you? I'll acknowledge that A.J. doesn't always do a great job of fighting for possession and calling for the ball. But as Papa O'Shea observed during our post-mortem of yesterday's loss, his teammates don't always give him the ball when he's open. It's a two-way street.

Jermaine Beal and Jeffery Taylor have played great this year, and John Jenkins is showing now what we suspected all along: the kid is a game-changer. But Vanderbilt is an infinitely better team, especially on the offensive end, with the offense running through the A.J. in the post. The more touches he gets, ultimately, the more dynamic the offense is.

It might be convenient to argue, but I've got news for you: A.J. isn't the problem. On the other hand, but he might very well be the key to this team living up to his full potential now that March is here.

I look forward to your comments telling me why I'm wrong.


Anonymous said...

Shocked people are laying this one at AJs feet, yeah he missed a gimme that we could have used but he was the only one even trying in the second half when he finally came back off the bench, his energy was what keyed our comeback. Definitely thought Beal's all to predictable missed attempt to answer Downey's three in a 3pt game without even looking to run offense was a much bigger killer. what is AJ supposed to do if no one even looks inside?

Anchor of Gold said...

AJ is a stud. He is top 5 in the country in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. Nobody sacrifices their body more for the benefit of the team than AJ. Nobody. No, he doesn't finish them all...but when you're attacked physically by the other team the way he is, there's no way you're going to make them all.

Bottom line: AJ has given us 3 years of basketball and is in a position to end up as the Commodore career leading scorer. He's been the other team's defensive focus since the start of conference play in his freshman season, yet he still manages to lead the Commodores in scoring most nights despite double and triple teams on the inside and cheapshots the refs sometimes miss.

He is the Aussie Shiek. Without him, we'd be nowhere.

Vandyfan said...

Most of the problem yesterday was coaching. Vanderbilt has to be the worst team in the nation when it comes to trying to inbound the ball from the baseline. We have one inbound play we run, and we turned the ball over 4 times from that yesterday. If not directly, the bad inbound pass led to a turnover because of bad positioning. That is on the coaches. The whole team played lethargic and deflated from the opening tip. Even Memorial was eerily quiet. The issue with AJ is that his numbers do not tell the story. He is a Jr. on a team full of underclassmen and he needs to step up and be a leader. But he has consistently shown that he lacks the ability to do that. In my opinion, the reason fans stay on him is because he sleep walks through games. If he was out there scrapping and playing hard the whole game and these things (like the wide open missed layup that should never have been a layup to begin with it should have been a dunk) I think fans would have a little more grace. He goes through 5-6 minute stretches in both halves of just about every game where he looks disinterested in playing and like he isn't paying attention out on the court. Fans see that, and become agitated about it. I follow him and about 100 other former and current college and pro basketball players on twitter.. and he is the only one.. the ONLY one that never talks about basketball. I don't know him personally, but if I had to guess, I don't think he is really all that interested in basketball. I think he is a big guy, with God given ability and a scholarship. But his heart just isn't in it. If his heart were in it, and he had the attitude of a leader and a motivated hard worker.. he would be unstoppable in the SEC. That's not a knock on him personally.. I'm sure he's a fine kid. He just seems really uninterested and in outer space when out on the court. But to your original point, no.. he is not solely to blame.. it's a team game from the coaches on down. Sorry for the long post.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that people seem to think AJ should be the team leader, last I checked we had a senior PG that was supposed to be doing that, why is it on AJ all of the sudden?

VandyFan said...

I didn't say he should be THE team leader.. I said he is a Jr. on a team full of underclassmen and that he needs to be A leader.

Anonymous said...

Anchor of gold..vandy has won without him on more than one occassion.Beal did a hell of a job handling the ball with three men on him most of the game so don't say that aussie is all that cause he ain't on a good day.

papa oshea said...

for vandy to be successful....the offense[beall or whoever is bringing the ball up] must look for aj inside.
aj needs touches.....
plus vandy is best when they go inside and then kick out.
vandy will go as aj goes.....vandy CANNOT get into the 2nd week of the tourney shooting 3's only.
vandy needs to be physical and "bang" when needed.
vandy has the tools and the ability to get to the 2nd week....and maybe to the final 8.
aj & rebounding is the key.

Anonymous said...

pappa oshea, Beal is the correct spelling and he is the pg and you should know that if you are trully a fan. aj gets plenty of looks from Beal and others but it is up to him to put it in the basket which shouldnt be too difficult with his size advantage. He needs to be more powerful with his presence. He makes too many weak put ins.

Anonymous said...

Sure, there are other problems,Bobby. We are a deep and versatile team that doesn't have a star to take over a game. That is why we need the depth and breadth of our talent. Blame Beal for this, Jenkins and Taylor for that, but they are minor mistakes that the remainder of the team can make up for. This may not be true against powerhouse teams, teams better than us, but it is true against RPI 20+ teams.

HERE'S THE PROBLEM with your argument. Vandy is "an infinitely better team, especially on the offensive end, with the offense through AJ." Absolutely true, but unlikely to happen. Why? Because AJ is too soft, too complecent, too inconsistent, and too emotionally unstable. He is infuriating to watch. Steve was a better contributor than both Big Fez and AJ on Saturday, and that fact highlights AJ's need for improvement.

I hope you;re right about him showing up in the NCAAs. We need him, and thats why he's getting the blame. Maybe if CKS put some blame on him, worked him in practice, quit feeding him positive reinforcement we would have a player. Right now, we have a 7-foot boy.

Anonymous said...

I agree with this article entirely. I thought, even though it didn't necessarily show in the boxscore, that AJ was one of the reasons the Kentucky game at home was so close. I thought for the most part he showed the ability to match Cousins and never once backed down from him on the defensive end. I thought since that Cousins match up, I think AJ has shown some ability to get after it and be the scrappy kind of player we need. The missed layup wasn't good, but other guys missed shots as well. Even Beal takes a lot of ill advised shots that make me cringe. As long as AJ is getting after it on the defensive end and rebounding(which I think he has improved in tremendously) then I'm happy, b/c he'll get his points. Against USC on Saturday he already had 10points early in the first half. Why he sat for so long, I'll have no idea, but I actually like seeing AJ get after it with guys on the other team. One of the reasons people get on him was for being soft, and I think now he's showing that he's not as soft as people claimed.

Anonymous said...

Douglas James Why did you not ask the so called fans to give Beal a break? They have been on him all year oshea, seamus,staminal and others.Beal couldn't buy credit for all that he has done!


DJ is correct, don't blame AJ entirely and while he must accept responsibility for his role in the SC game the fundamental problem is pretty obvoius. There were a lot of self-serving players on the court who were more interested in pushing their own profile than working as a team. These players have a verty inflated view of their own importance. Add to this a Coach who did not come to play and there is your answer.
On a positive note, let's hope the team can get there heads back together and put in a winning performance in the SEC and NCAA finals.