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Playing Time

A good amount of time during yesterday’s media availability was spent talking about playing time and whether specific players earned more of it based on their performance Friday night against Bucknell. Coach Gary Williams has said many times over the past few weeks that during these early season games, we can expect to see numerous combinations of players on the court at one time as he attempts to determine who works best with one another and which rotations best suit the makeup of this year’s squad.

For example, Williams lauded the play of senior forward Dave Neal after the game Friday night, saying he performed the best of all the team’s post players. Neal came off the bench late in the first half and made a considerable impact in the second half. He totaled 16 minutes, scoring six points and grabbing six rebounds. However, there are some factors outside of Neal’s control that work against him in his quest for more time on the court.

“Dave knows what we try to do,” Williams said. “He’s been here four years. Even though he’s been hurt, he’s been here. I think he knows how to get open in the offense. He knows how to play position defense, things like that, which it takes a while to learn that. It’s just with Dave out there we’re a little small, if we play Dave at the five. And you know, I don’t worry about numbers like the players do. The players always want to play one down. If I’m a five, I wanna play the four, and so on down. Dave earned some playing time, especially with the way he played that last game.”

Williams & Co. hopes that eventually Braxton Dupree will emerge into the team’s go-to post presence. That day, however, has not yet come. Dupree did not seem comfortable out on the court Friday night, which may have been due in part to it being opening night. Though, it also may have been due in part to misplaced focus.

“I think he shouldn’t put emphasis on scoring,” Williams said. “That’s the least of my worries. In other words, he should be concerned with getting every rebound that comes off the rim and about defending his position in there and making us tougher inside. And if he can do that, that’s fine. If he scores two points but does all those other things, that’s what we need cause we can score. We’re going to score points; it’s just you have to stop the other team inside and you have to rebound.”

Williams is confident his team can score points without a dominating inside presence because of the team’s apparent depth of perimeter players. The two names Williams most frequently mentions when the topic of improved players arises are sophomore guards Cliff Tucker and Adrian Bowie. Tucker started on Friday and may do so again tonight, though Williams would not confirm that yesterday. Bowie has demonstrated a more accurate shot than he possessed last season and may end up being the first player off the bench on most nights.

But a player who might end up with a more vital role than either of those two is Sean Mosley. The freshman guard played well enough during the first few weeks of fall practice to be play with the starters during scrimmages and other team drills. But then Mosley suffered a low ankle sprain on Oct. 31 and was forced to miss a week of practice – as well as sit out the team’s scrimmage at Temple and its exhibition game against Northwood – while recovering. Mosley admitted he was not at full health Friday night and estimated his ankle was at 95 percent yesterday. Williams believes Mosley’s ankle has gotten stronger and expects him to play a significant role this season.

“He’s going to play quite a bit; he really knows the game,” Williams said. “He knows where the ball should go. He picks things up quickly. He’s a very quick learner. You know, when you’re a freshman, everything is new with what we do, and he picked it up really quick. He’s come into a situation where Adrian Bowie and Cliff Tucker have gotten better at the same time as he’s come in. And those two guys worked hard for that, so, you know, part of my job is to get the guys on the court that are playing at very high level and not worry about who’s out there in terms of positioning.”

In that last line, Williams was referencing the fact that his team may play smaller lineups that include four – or even five – guards this season. On Friday, Tucker and Landon Milbourne were listed as forwards in the starting lineup, though neither has the traditional size of a post player.

Williams said he is comfortable coaching a smaller lineup and that he has done so several times before in his career. This year’s offense might not look like the typical inside-out flex scheme for which Williams became known, but Williams said he’s okay with that.

“I think you adjust over the years,” Williams said. “Sometimes you don’t even know you adjust, you know? You just do it because it’s what you got out there and you play for that.”

By Steve Yanda  |  November 18, 2008; 1:47 PM ET
Categories:  Men's basketball  
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