It has been a while, hope everyone is doing well.
I remember when the Blue Devils lost an early season game to Stanford (boy did that hurt), but went on to win the National Championship. The guy sitting next to me at that game said he felt that an early season loss actually helps a lot of teams focus, etc. At the time I thought he was trying to make me feel better about the loss, but given the results maybe he was right.
I wouldnt say it helps a team, but i would say it can give them a refocus and the chance to get that killer attitude back
As for the original question, I think it depends on the team. For a team on cruise control, a loss can shake them back into reality to get them to work on things they do wrong. For a focused, well-disciplined, hard-working team, a loss probably isn't very helpful and probably doesn't gain any focus.
It also probably depends on the type of loss. A team that is not that great may have little to gain from a loss if they played to their ability. For example, as some announcer said (paraphrasing), when you have a team with B- talent, what can you really say when they play to B- results? Whereas a team that is really great may benefit from a loss in that they can see where they didn't play to their ability. Conversely, if a team loses a game because of one specific issue (ballhandling, quick shots, or poor perimeter defense), a loss can serve to highlight these things.
So in summary, it just depends. Losses and teams differ greatly in their characteristics, so there isn't a stock answer that is universally true.
I think the most important thing is to play some tough games early in order to get a measure of the team. That of course may lead to losses, but the competition is more important than the won-loss record.
The worst thing you can do in my mind is the old Georgetown approach, where you have a series of November and December games against cupcake teams. Not only does the team develop more slowly, but those games can come back to haunt teams on the bubble in March because they can lower their RPI even if they win going away.
a. Try to win every single game.
b. Try to have the best players on the court at all times (in the context of a rotation scheme that keeps players fresh) -- until, until a game is decided.
c. Try to call the best offensive play and defensive scheme on each single possession.
This is hard work.
Sure, sure. If a team loses a game, the coaches use it as a teaching opportunity or a wake-up call. Are losses good? No! See points a, b,and c above.
Reaction to losses can go further. I heard from an eyewitness -- a Duke grad who was a grad student at UNC -- that on one of Dean Smith's last teams, with more hardheads than usual, he said, "You guys aren't listening to me; I'll sit over here; just coach yourself."
'This response probably makes no sense at all'
The last undefeated NCAA champ was IU in 1976. So, I suppose every NCAA champion since then has had some focusing losses to build on.
Did losing early to Pitt last year help Duke focus in March? Evidently not. Plenty of other examples.
Almost every title-caliber team loses some games early. Playing good teams helps in March. I don't think losing to them does but given the balance in the college game, it's going to happen to pert near everybody.
I think fans mindlessly retrofit whatever happens to a narrative that makes sense to them.
If the 2001 team wins the NCAAs, then we all look at the setbacks (Stanford, @UVA, Maryland at home/Boozer's foot) as necessary obstacles that didn't kill us but made us stronger.
If the 2006 team flames out in the s16, we tell a story about the regular season failures (@FSU, Carolina at home) as early warning signs that the team was worn out and couldn't survive the postseason.
I could give other examples, but you see the point. Fans are irrational and retrofit whatever happens to a narrative that makes life make more sense, irrespective of facts.
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