Another tough, floor-stomping, gut-wrenching victory leaves the Hogs 2-0 in conference play, and I'm still not quite sure how we're pulling it off. Steven Hill's got to learn to keep his hands to himself. Gary Ervin might sink game-clinching baskets, but he remains a liability on the floor, prone to handing over the ball every time we reach cruising speed, and short the kind of vision a point guard needs to take this team to the next level. Little Patrick Beverly is our best rebounder. And everybody else still takes way too many shots with a faceful of hand.
But they're putting their bodies on the floor — hustling, hustling, hustling. If Coach Pelphrey asked them to take granny-shots from the half court line, they'd be calling up Big Mama for tips. Darian Townes' stellar, physical play (11-18 off the bench against the Tide) bails Hill out of foul trouble, making good on three years of raw promise. Even when his shot percentage is weak, Sonny Weems sinks baskets like battleships and keeps defenses off-balance with his ever-widening range. And the aforementioned Beverly is all potential, making up for his relatively tempered offensive production by being everywhere all the time.
Writing this thing Monday night, I could go ahead and say we'll trounce the Gamecocks (8-8, 0-2 in conference play) at Bud Walton on Wednesday, but I guarantee we'll play down to the competition. That's been a given with this crew. Whether they maintain their newfound focus and determination is another thing.
You can drag Petrino's name through the dirt, but he'll just hose it down with one of the best genuine recruiting classes in years. De'Anthony Curtis (RB), Jarius Wright (WR), Dennis Johnson (RB), Joe Adams (WR), Tyler Wilson (QB) and some good defensive talent as well look to be close to wrapped up for next year. And expect more top-tier wideout talent to perk their ears once they hear that Ryan Mallett has enrolled on the Hill.
The 6-foot-7-inch, rocket-armed phenom that helped spark Michigan's “new” season will sit out a year to comply with NCAA transfer regulations, but he can't help but have a major impact on perception for the next two seasons. Potential recruits will have to wonder what he knows that ESPN doesn't. Once Petrino makes it to their living room couch, they're as good as sewn up.
Recruiting in Texas and Oklahoma might open up a bit thanks to our newly adventurous scheduling, especially if Petrino can piece together enough of a team next season to do well in Texas. The Longhorns are going to be a much better team next year, but we should be able to put up more of a fight in Jerry Jones' new stadium, which will feel less like hostile territory than a kinfolk's house.
I'm still having a hard time believing somebody didn't snatch up Coach Todd Graham from Tulsa. His staff alone is worth the price of admission. I suppose a few stragglers are still lingering over on the dark side, holding Gus Malzahn's winning percentage and yards-per-game close to their hearts. Playing Tulsa will be a healthy exercise for all involved. Maybe we'll be able to stop worrying over all we lost and start thinking about what we got.