When talking to Wauwatosa East boys basketball coach Tim Arndorfer, that dreaded 'hump' word keeps coming up. As in 'We can't get over the hump.'
Going into this week — the Red Raiders hosted West Allis Hale (8-3 overall, 3-1 in the Greater Metro Conference) Jan. 12 and then travel to West Allis Central (4-7, 1-3) — Arndorfer's team has a 4-7 overall record, tying last year's loss total for the entire season already — and they are tied with West Allis Central for sixth place (1-3) in the GMC.
Last week was one from hell for the Red Raiders, as they went 0-3, all on their home court. They started with a 63-61 double overtime loss to Milwaukee Lutheran (8-2) on Jan. 5 and ended the week with a 72-66 loss to Whitnall (9-2) on Jan. 9, both non-conference games. In between, on Jan. 8, they were destroyed by Menomonee Falls (8-3, 2-2) in conference play, 60-41.
That 'hump' the Red Raiders can't get over has cost them a minimum of three victories if you just look at the scores of the defeats to Waunakee (72-64), Milwaukee Lutheran (63-61, 2 OTs) and Whitnall (72-66).
But a closer look would show they were down by 4 points a tthe half in the 63-49 loss to Brookfield Central and they trailed Falls by 3 at halftime before losing by 19.
The only games the 'hump' didn't show up was a 56-36 loss to a very good Onalaska team and a 56-45 loss at Sussex Hamilton in which the Chargers kept them at arms length for most of the game.
'We can't seem to separate from teams,' Arndorfer said. 'Even when get a small lead, we have trouble expanding it.'
So that is five games where if 'they got over the hump' they would be in a different position.
No place like home
Here is a very disappointing and frustrating stat for Arndorfer and Raider fans: they are 1-4 on their home court and 3-3 on visiting or neutral courts this year.
'The three losses at home this week it hard to take,' he said. 'We have a string of four straight home games and you figure you have a nice opportunity to turn it around.'
With Sussex Hamilton, Marquette, Brookfield Central and West Allis Hale all tied for first with a 3-1 record, Arndorfer is trying to stay positive as Tosa East is only two games back with 10 conference games left to play. There is still a lot of time.
'It's a concern. We're not dead yet,' he said. 'Every team has a loss, so we're in striking distance. From a morale standpoint it's frustrating for the players and coaches. Our room for error is very minimal. But we're still in the race.
'We're like the Titanic heading for the iceberg. We have to try and steer the ship and miss it because if we hit it we have to hope that the destruction isn't enough to sink the ship.'
Tosa East is trying to lay a foundation to build on.
'Right now it's beyond wins and losses,' Arndorfer said. 'We are looking for something to build off of. Primarily we are looking for consistency, and the effort that gives us a chance to win. We're battling. But one disappointing loss after another, we're looking really into moral victories. But we have to find something positive to build on the next day in practice.'
There is no way the Red Raiders will be any good without applying what they do best every night — play great defense. That has been the key to most of their successful seasons. When you think of Tosa East basketball, you think of hard-nosed defense, playing in the opponent's face and making sure they work for everything they get.
That has to be there. Defense is hard work and focus. Without it, things will only get worse.
Calling all offense
In the past few years the Red Raiders have had problems shooting the basketball. Thus people are not afraid to play a zone against them. Jai'Vionne Green is probably their best outside shooter, and teams know that. If East is struggling with the 10-to-15-foot jump shot — let alone the 3-pointers — it usually spells disaster.
So it is important to bring some consistency to running their halfcourt offense. If they run their offense correctly, this can help — not cover up — but help their shooting woes.
The fact of the matter is this: The Red Raiders best offense comes from the transition game, which starts with rebounding, deflections or stealing the ball. When they do that and race down court for the fast-break basket, that is when the offense is running on all cylinders.
'We've had some nights where the offense is good and the defense isn't or the other way around,' Arndorfer said. 'We need both things clicking at the same time. With our defense finishing on the other end, it intensifies our efficiency.'
Arndorfer has always talked about senior leadership and how important it is. There are eight seniors on this season's team — team captains Green and Ty Ederesinghe, Najee and Nigel Stewart, D.J. Verser, Cal Rohde, Dan Scallon and Kevin Murphy.
This is their final time to wear the East red and white. They must lead this team, whether through actions on the court or support on the sidelines and at practice.
The Red Raiders have eight juniors on the team, the two most prominent being Blake Kratzer and Dane Mikkelson. Kratzer, a 5-foot, 10-inch guard, has provided instant offense and energy the past few weeks. Mikkelson, a 6-2 guard, brings a solid all-around game to the table.
Arndorfer is looking for the right combination, so any playing time juniors Sam Rutkiewicz, Mark Cole, Luke Lindemann, Linden Carson and Evan Ryser and Elijah Flenorl receive, they have to show their stuff and their playing time will increase.
Ability is there
Before you say 'Maybe this team isn't that good,' Just take a look at who the Red Raiders beat.
They won their opener at Kettle Moraine, 55-41. The Lasers, who are 4-5 overall, are 2-2 in the Classic Eight.
They handed Marquette, the GMC preseason favorite and currently tied for first, a 64-58 loss, the Hilltoppers' only conference defeat to date.
And they defeated Cedarburg, 56-51, in the WYB Classic. the Bulldogs are 10-2 and they lead the North Shore Conference with a 5-0 record.
You don't beat the likes of those teams without talent.
Now is the time the Red Raiders must start getting their act together if they hope to turn their season around. There is still time.