This is an unusual season at Portland. Since coach Eric Reveno arrived for the 2006-07 season, the Pilots have improved dramatically. In each of his first two seasons, they won 9 games. As his recruits matured, the win totals went to 19, 21 and 20 in the past three seasons, respectively.
It's been pretty clear to Portland fans that, if you give Reveno a couple of years with his recruits, you can expect them to become top players as upperclassmen. That's why this season's 3-6 start has not been met with a catastrophic reaction from Pilot Nation. Rev has earned some time to develop his guys, and I have faith that's what will happen.
Though there's hope for the future, it still hasn't been easy to watch the Pilots this season. The losses have gone the way you'd expect for a team short on experience. The Pilots compete evenly with their opponent, but eventually hit a cold stretch where they have trouble executing, defending, keeping the ball, etc. It leads to a big run by the opponent that turns the game from a close-fought battle into a blowout. These are quality opponents, too, as the Pilots currently have the 33rd-toughest schedule in the nation according to BBState.
I hoped the trend would be reversed Saturday against the visiting Ohio Bobcats. Portland had been on a road trip, and it has been pretty good at home in the Reveno era. Ohio was 6-1 coming into the game and an early contender in the MAC, but I thought the Pilots could give them a good contest.
They did -- for the first half and part of the second. Ultimately, the empty possessions and freshman mistakes eventually added up, and Ohio pulled away. The 72-54 final seemed a little harsh for the Pilots, but the Bobcats certainly were the better team. Portland couldn't stop Ohio's guards, led by D.J. Cooper, who put up a triple-double. The number of options the Bobcats had reminded me of the Pilot teams of the past two or three seasons, where any one of several players could score from the inside or outside. As a Pilots fan, the main feeling I had after the game was frustration. Portland closed within a possession or two a number of times but just couldn't get the stop or the basket it needed (or it just committed a bad turnover). Had Ohio shot the ball a little better, the game would have been put away even earlier than it was.
The highlights of the evening for me were the fact that it was Mascot Night -- and the dunks that two of the Teletubbies mentioned in Brandon Sparks' recap of an earlier game threw down in the halftime mascot game. When you know this is probably not going to be a year in which your team will win a lot, it's sometimes hard to find much more.
I've been following the Pilots since about 1994, and this is the first season like this that I've been through. Reveno is the third coach I've seen in my time as a Pilot fan. There was a WCC championship and NCAA trip in 1996, but the Pilots hadn't done anything else until Reveno's arrival. In the previous two coaching eras, it was hard to see what the plan was for the team. With Reveno, I know this season is going to be rough, but there will be a payoff in seasons to come. Guys like Kevin Bailey, Tim Douglas and Ryan Nicholas are players you can build a team around, but they lack experience. Better times are ahead if the team keeps doing what it's doing and "gets better every day," as Reveno is fond of saying on Twitter.
Sometimes as a fan, though, as a famous blogger's favorite musician will tell you, the waiting is the hardest part.
OHIO 72, at PORTLAND 54 12/10/2011
OHIO 7-1 (0-0) -- D. Cooper 6-15 2-3 14; N. Kellogg 2-7 2-2 8; J. Smith 5-6 1-1 11; R. Keely 2-4 1-3 5; R. Johnson 4-7 1-2 10; I. Baltic 3-7 0-0 6; W. Offutt 4-8 2-4 12; T. Hall 2-6 0-0 4; S. Taylor 0-4 2-2 2; T. Goard 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 28-65 11-17 72. PORTLAND 3-7 (0-0) -- K. Bailey 4-10 4-4 13; T. van der Mars 2-8 0-2 4; T. Douglas 2-5 3-3 8; R. Nicholas 5-7 3-4 13; T. Riley 4-10 0-0 10; D. Cason 0-6 0-0 0; D. Rodgers 0-2 0-0 0; N. Mitrovic 1-3 1-3 4; J. Bailey 1-1 0-0 2; D. Carr 0-0 0-0 0; E. Waterford 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-52 11-16 54.
Three-point goals: OHIO 5-20 (W. Offutt 2-3; I. Baltic 0-1; D. Cooper 0-3; T. Hall 0-2; R. Johnson 1-3; N. Kellogg 2-6; S. Taylor 0-2), PORT 5-19 (N. Mitrovic 1-2; T. Riley 2-7; T. Douglas 1-2; D. Rodgers 0-1; K. Bailey 1-5; D. Cason 0-2); Rebounds: OHIO 40 (D. Cooper 10), PORT 26 (R. Nicholas 6); Assists: OHIO 18 (D. Cooper 10), PORT 13 (K. Bailey 5); Total Fouls -- OHIO 17, PORT 14; Fouled Out: OHIO-None; PORT-R. Nicholas.