JOHNSON CITY, TENN (Dec. 16, 2004) - As the
"You don't panic in mid-December," said Bartow, whose team currently stands at 3-5 on the year. "There's only one team that will make the NCAA Tournament from this league, so we need to stay focused on that and work hard at getting better. By the time you get to January or February, that's when you want to be playing well and winning."
Playing well and winning has not come easy for the Bucs so far this season. Several key injuries, the loss of key inside players from last season, inconsistent play defensively, and a tough early-season schedule - which has included three road games at Division I opponents - have left the Bucs looking for some answers.
"I'm not about making excuses, but the reality is we're practicing with eight players right now because of injuries," Bartow said. "We started the season with 13 and now we have eight, and that definitely makes a difference in our ability to make strides and improve. When you take away players like Jerald Fields, Zakee Wadood and Brad Nuckles, there are some real weaknesses there defensively. When it's time to get stops, we've got holes in the defense.
"The bottom line is we've had a tough early schedule. That doesn't mean I'm satisfied at all. I'm not happy. This is my livelihood. But we've been beaten by some good teams, and we've played at some places on the road where it's hard to win.
With those issues aside, it is important to point out past history when putting the Bucs' current record into perspective. In the past four years - all seasons in which the Bucs captured the SoCon North Division title - the Bucs have posted a record of just 26-19 overall. In fact, the Bucs were 5-6 in 2000-01 and 5-5 in 2002-03 at the end of December. The 2002-03 team went on to play in the NCAA Tournament.
A year ago, a season in which the Bucs were 27-6, the team was 8-4 at the end of December.
Regardless of past history, Bartow and the Bucs are focused on the present, including upcoming road games at Old Dominion,
"The first thing I see is that three of our next four are on the road," Bartow said. "We could play very well and those games will still be hard to win. Last year, we won a lot of those games, but we were a better team a year ago. Even if we're improving this year, we may still not see it because of the road games and the quality teams we'll be playing."
Bartow does know what he wants to see in the next couple of weeks.
"First, I hope we see Brad getting healthier," he said. "Second, we need to make strides defensively - which I think we did against Tennessee Tech. Third, from a rebounding standpoint I don't like what I've been seeing. We need to get better in that area on both ends of the floor. And fourth, we need to get more shots coming from our inside guys and pound it inside more offensively."