The storyline about the Washington Huskies' rebounding struggles might seem to be getting old.
But abandoning that in search of a "fresh" storyline is difficult because rebounding is something everybody is focused on working on - it's been the most consistent pattern in their three losses and a particularly significant problem in their 63-62 loss to Texas A&M last Saturday.
"Texas A&M has outrebounded every team they've played against this year," said Huskies Lorenzo Romar after practice on Wednesday. "In the games we've lost we've been outrebounded. We got outrebounded by Eastern Washington. We got outrebounded by St. Martin's...But we're addressing it, we're working on it. But if you know me over the years, a lot of times I will say I'm not going to panic off one game - 'Why is everybody in a panic off one game?'
"But this has been a pattern. So patterns over a period of time have to be addressed. This has been a pattern and we have to address it. We know who our best rebounders are and we probably have to give them more minutes."
Right now, the team's best rebounders both by average and percentage are 7-foot sophomore transfer center Aziz N'Diaye and 6-foot-6 senior forward Justin Holiday. And with N'Diaye's minutes declining lately - despite remaining in the starting lineup that became the rebounding focus for both Romar and the media during the remainder of the 50 minute media session.
However, those who have followed Washington Huskies basketball closely during the Lorenzo Romar era probably already know that aside from the Jon Brockman years, the Huskies have not relied exclusively on post players to rebound - as Romar noted after their 94-72 win against the Portland Pilots, rebounding has often been a team effort for the Huskies during his coaching tenure outside of the Jon Brockman era.
"If we go back pre-Brockman - I think Brockman spoiled us to a point," said Romar, when asked about 5-foot-9 senior guard Isaiah Thomas leading the team with seven rebounds that day. "Other than that our teams where we did really well, five and a half, 5.3 - if you have a number of guys doing that we're fine, even if you don't have that big beast in there that's getting nine, ten a game...So it doesn't have to be a guy going in there getting 12 rebounds. We wouldn't tell him not to do it if they went out and did it, but that doesn't have to be the case - we have to go out there and do it collectively anyway."
And although Thomas' rebounding against Portland was framed as a challenge to the post players, if rebounding is a collective effort then post players aren't necessarily the only focus in changing the Huskies' rebounding fortunes - their perimeter players also share in that responsibility. When looking specifically at the last team before the Brockman era - the 2004-05 team that made it to the Sweet Sixteen - the guards in their perimeter players as a whole contributed a bit more on the defensive rebounding end, which helps to curb the problem of giving up second chance points that they had against TAMU.
So while saying that rebounding is a collective effort certainly includes players like Holiday who is among the team's rebounding leaders, it doesn't exclude Thomas from focusing on carrying the load again.
"Just help when you can," said Thomas when asked about what the staff expects from the guards on the boards. "I mean, especially for long rebounds, us guards, we gotta have 'em. I feel like I'm a good enough rebounder and I can set an example too by getting in there and showing that I'm tough enough to go and rebound."
Of course, the reality is that guard rebounding is not going to solve the Huskies' rebounding problem, even if UW guards can prove they're tough enough to crash the boards - post players will generally get a higher percentage of the boards simply because they're positioned closer to the basket and taller in a game predicated on shooting the ball at a 10 foot rim. Yet that doesn't mean there aren't little changes in mindset among the guards that could help.
"Instead of leaking out, coming back to the ball and helping the bigs rebound," said senior guard Venoy Overton.
Holiday - who only played 15 minutes against TAMU due to foul trouble - echoed Overton's point about perimeter players leaking out, but also noticed little things in the film that he could do better.
"I need to rebound better myself - even though I didn't play, the times I was in there I didn't rebound well," said Holiday. "There was a play where I didn't box out - I need to do that every play. And our whole team needs to understand that. That's mostly what it comes down to."
Following Romar's point about giving more minutes to players who rebound better, this rebounding problem might highlight where they miss a player like now-graduated wing Quincy Pondexter in comparison to last year - Pondexter played 80.4 percent of the team's minutes and got 15 percent of the available defensive rebounds. In filling those minutes on the perimeter this year, they've found plenty offensive efficiency from players like Abdul Gaddy and C.J. Wilcox. However, neither player rebounds as well as Pondexter.
The team's rebounding distribution definitely more closely resembles the 2004-05 team - the previos non-Brockman year before the 2009-10 season - in terms of how the guards in their rotation rebounded, but those perimeter players were also much stronger on the offensive boards; every playing in the 2004-05 rotation except Will Conroy got a significantly higher percentage of offensive rebounds than Abdul Gaddy and Isaiah Thomas and Venoy Overton has only been marginally better than Conroy this season. Bear in mind, those offensive rebounding numbers are in comparison to the entire 2004-05 season, which means two things: 1) those 04-05 numbers are based on strength of schedule that ranked 26th that year, which we can safely say is stronger competition than this year's team has played overall and 2) there's still time to improve.
"Unfortunately we've been in this position before where I've said that same thing - we're in a position to fix it - and I think in the past we were able to fix it," said Romar. "But more than any of those other years though, I feel that this is more in reach to fix. It's not simply because if it were simple, it would be done already. But we could fix this one.
"We can be a functional rebounding team."
And though the guards should not be the focal point of that rebounding effort, they should absolutely be a part of that conversation in addition to watching whether N'Diaye will get more minutes. Given the structure of this team, rebounding has to be a collective effort.
"It's everybody - it's not just the bigs, it's not just the wings - it's everybody as one," said Thomas. "We gotta forget everything else and worry about the things you're not doing too well at."