When one compares the current squad to last year's team, the immediate reaction is to say that Rob Kurz's departure hurt more than we thought it would. That is absolutely true. However, I would draw different conclusions from the loss of Kurz than many.
First of all, there is (as always) a desire to place some kind of subjective label to this season. Are we "better" than last year? Certainly not, as neither the record nor the statistics bear that out. Of course the immediate assumption, therefore, is that we most be worse. I don't necessarily agree with that sentiment. Stay with me for a second as I try to explain.
Last year's team would not have finished third in the current Big East structure. The league is vastly improved from top to bottom. Last season, we only faced five ranked teams a total of six times in conference play and just one was in the top ten (a 19 point loss to Georgetown). This year, we have already played four top ten opponents (at the time of the game), with three on the way. It's fair to guess that a lineup with Kurz would have had similar trouble.
With a additional year of development, Luke Harangody has added 4.6 points and 2.7 rebounds a game. He has forced more shots this season, but the jumper seems much more polished. No longer is he getting shut down to 15 or fewer points (as he was five times last year). While he snuck up on some teams last year, Harangody has developed into such a fine player that he can find ways to succeed even with a target on his back (as the reigning Big East Player of the Year).
If we're not worse (due to Harangody playing above the level of last season) and we're not better (due to Kurz's departure), what are we? Far more inconsistent. Without Kurz's steady 7 rebound a game production, our second chances are almost all gone, putting an emphasis on steady outside shooting. As seen the past two games, a hot night by Ryan Ayers would have made the difference between beating a top 10 team at home and snapping your winning streak.
Kurz brought a steady dose of double digit scoring as our third option on offense and a rock in the middle with a guaranteed few rebounds per game. While our upside is higher this season, it has become apparent that we are destined to wildly vary from a top ten offense capable of beating anyone to the kind of squad that struggles against St. John's on a nightly basis.
To win in basketball, you can have an All-American to lead your team (Harangody), a deadeye shooter to help out with the offensive balance (McAlarney), and a flashy point guard to run the show (Jackson), but the role players end up determining the fate of the season. Kurz was our rock last year and went unappreciated. Zeller and Ayers have shown the inability to provide a similar kind of security with consistent scoring and rebounding. To get the season back on track, we need to find that guy who can hold us in check, whether it is Luke Zeller becoming a decent post player in the waning moments of his career or the emergence of a guy like Ty Nash. Someone has to step up and be a consistent force.