Broken finger. Tentative comeback. Game-ending sprain. Season-ending ACL. Poof. And like that he was gone. The loss of our top rebounding force feels palpable, and while it's not something to be easily dismissed it is something that needs to be put into perspective.
This breakdown does not, unfortunately, lend itself to bullet points. Though if I had access to "cardinal bullets" I might reconsider.
The issues are not necessarily complex, but neither are they as easy as "without Rock we're in trouble." It would be over simplistic to say that we've played some of our best basketball without Buckles. And it's not really his absence that I want to focus on just now. It's more about how he has looked since he rejoined the team on the floor. And I think we can all agree that throwing the word "rusty" around has not been overstating the case. In the handful of games Rock has been back in the lineup he hasn't looked very impressive offensively. He's made some silly mistakes and short of the bump we get from his boards he hasn't been a game changer. Of course we are now coming off a game against the best rebounding team (in the Conference? Nation? Universe?) where the numbers look remarkably balanced even with Buckles on the bench. Like everything else in basketball, good rebounding is a team effort. Boxing out, good decision making, aggressive effort all go in to helping the ball roll our way. If the Cards can work together to overcome the loss of Buckles' rebounding prowess then it's a wash. Otherwise his missed chippies and 8 footers are exactly the same as SVT's missed chippies and crappy hands.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that the upside is the same, clearly the potential of Rock to come alive offensively is something we'll miss. But we haven't been living in a season where that potential has been achieved and we've fared well against the strongest teams in the country. And not to be dismissive of his ability, but March is no time to force shots in an effort to "find your rhythm." Either you are in a rhythm or on the cusp of it, or you are better off not wasting possessions trying to bring it around. I'm rose-coloring this to say: Yes, Rock may have found his groove and elevated us to a new plateau, but more likely he would have continued to struggle offensively. With Rock there were unknowns, without Rock we know exactly what our cards are (no pun) which makes it easier to decide how to play them.
I love Buckles and after the UK game I was pretty sure our season was going to be much less successful for his injury. But now I'm at ease with the reality that this team can coalesce around whatever game plan gets tossed its way. We'll miss a little depth, but in the end the tools are there to get boards, to score points, to lock down opponents and win games. No one started this season saying "with Rock we're an elite 8 team, without him we're not in the tourney."
In fact even pie-eyed optimists (a group to which my membership is on auto-renewal) thought the card's would get into the tourney with an 8 seed and get bounced in the 2nd round at best. Those more prone to keeping their feet on the ground were poo-pooing the idea of a tournament bid with or without Rock.
Yet here we are. No Rock, but probably a 4 seed (if not better) and at least the hope that we can make it out of the first weekend and into the 16. We'll miss Buckles, but this season has always turned on teamwork and chemistry. Nothing has changed that.
>>> Not sure how many NBA fans we have here, but as a Magic fan I've gotten to see a lot of E5 since the big trade brought him to Orlando. Earl is getting to see a surprising amount of action and he's responded very well. A little more slowly on the offensive side, but defensively he's been tremendous (which the magic need). Physically he's grown out of skinny kid into huge man. He stands next to Dwight Howard quite a bit and surprisingly doesn't look small by comparison. We'll get to see him a lot in the post season I think. E5 might grow up to be the most successful Cardinal in the NBA in a generation. Sorry Cisco, it DOES matter where you land.
>>> While I love surfing around reading piles of accolades about the Cards, I also think there is a great benefit to being under the radar (just as long as the selection committee has us on theirs). Beating Pitt would have had a completely different trajectory if male cheerleader didn't rah rah his way into infamy. Everyone's focused on the circus clown, no one's looking at the dangerous beast prowling around. Best way to win is when they don't see you coming. Also it's hard for guys to get high off their own press if they aren't swimming in media praise.
>>>Have we ever lost a white out? I remember beating GTown in the first one, I remember beating 'Cuse last year. Someone help me out.
>>>I dropped in to Lunardi's chat yesterday and was surprised how many of the questions were aimed at UofL's seeding/prospects. But I shouldn't have been. Bouncing around SBNation to other teams' pages and other teams' open threads, I have noticed that Card Chron is among the top in terms of comments and fan posts. An active community like this is due partially to rabid fans and partially to a moderator who "gets" what sort of content those fans want and (in this day and age) what tone they want to hear in its delivery. I hate to say it (my newspaper roots run deep) but I've stopped going to the CJ because they give me so much less than Mike does, and the community of fans they try to foster seems in general less savvy about the game, more prone to snap judgments and it is much harder to find the interesting comments that help us understand the game and the team we love. So thanks Mike (and gang). It is a remarkable job you've done building something genuinely entertaining and newsworthy. Aside from the gnome. That guy blows.