Thursday, December 16, 2010

Fatal Flaws?

With the caveat that the numbers are still early, and not all schedules are equal, let’s see what fatal flaws we can uncover for various teams while playing around on

Lack of Height

You cannot teach height. But teams cannot play an immobile 7 foot center and expect good things either. Teams have to play their best players. So now that we have a little better idea who is receiving playing time, which teams are lacking size inside? Keep in mind that even though height is not everything, as Ken Pomeroy established long ago, height is a key predictor of a team’s long term defensive performance.

Lack of a single quality big man

No BCS team is shorter in the middle then Oregon, for whom the tallest player on the court if often 6’6” tall. (See EJ Singler and Joevan Catron).

Among BCS contenders, Virginia Tech might be the shortest team in the middle, deploying 6’8” Victor Davilla and a bunch of 6’7” players when he goes to the bench.

Lack of depth in the middle

In terms of BCS depth, Providence probably has the least with only 6’8” Bilal Dixon playing major minutes inside. Based on their strength at guard, Providence's best strategy may be to play a 4-guard lineup.

Among contenders, Purdue has the biggest issues in the middle with only JaJuan Johnson providing reliable minutes inside.

Honorable Mention

Michigan, St. John's, Seton Hall

Also, when Donte Smith and Maurice Jones are on the floor, USC has one of the shortest backcourts in the country. (At least USC has a couple quality big guys.)

No Bench

You can win in the NCAA tournament without depth thanks to the frequent TV timeouts. But over the course of the season, a lack of depth will usually come back to haunt a team. Either foul trouble or injuries can lead to a string of losses.

No BCS team has a shorter bench then Virginia Tech. While starters have played 69% of the minutes for most teams this year, Virginia Tech’s top 5 players have played 84% of the minutes.

Among elite team’s, Kentucky is the team with the least depth. Kentucky’s top 5 play 78% of the team’s minutes.

Honorable Mention

USC’s top 5 play 81% of the minutes. Iowa St.’s top 5 play 79% of the minutes. And Notre Dame’s top 5 play 78% of the minutes, which is nothing new for Mike Brey.


BCS leagues are actually notoriously younger than non-BCS leagues because they get the kind of high school talent that can play right away. But it helps to have some seniors to lean on when the going gets tough.

No BCS team plays a rotation with less experience than Michigan. With no seniors, and a pair of freshman playing key roles, Michigan is as young as it gets.

Among contenders, UConn is the youngest with Kemba Walker leading a cavalcade of underclassman.

Honorable Mention

You might choose the Kentucky Wildcats here. After all, they do play a lineup with three freshman. But Kentucky is not really one of the youngest teams in a BCS league. The other four rotation players, DeAndre Liggins, Darius Miller, Josh Harrelson, and Eloy Vargas are all upperclassman. Memphis, NC State, LSU, Providence, Wake Forest, Auburn, South Carolina, UCLA, and Georgia Tech are all playing younger rotations than the Kentucky Wildcats.

Too Much One-on-One Play

You might not think it matters to share the ball. A team like Kentucky can run the dribble-drive and score one-on-one, right? Well, last year's elite Kentucky team shared the ball quite a bit. Team's that don't share the ball eventually tend to fall apart like last year's South Carolina squad.

No BCS team shares the ball less than Oklahoma St. Keiton Page and Ray Penn get some assists, but neither is a true BCS point guard, and no one else on the team seems to pass the ball at all. Obi Muonelo and James Anderson are sorely missed.

Among national contenders, no one shares the ball less than Kentucky. Brandon Knight is not nearly as talented a passer as John Wall was last year. But there is still a lot of season left for him to develop into more of a distributor.

Honorable Mention

You would think with two very short guards, USC would pass the ball well, but they do not have many assists. This is a combination of the team’s still shaky shooting touch, and the fact that Donte Smith is a scorer, not a distributor at 5’11”.

Too Many Live Ball Give-Aways

Nothing is more crushing than giving up steals, and this flaw becomes even more fatal in conference play.

Three BCS teams are tied with the most steals given up. Baylor, Florida St., and LSU’s opponents each steal the ball 12.0% of the time. To put this in perspective, BYU only turns it over 13.7% of the time in total (including charges and balls lost out of bounds). So Baylor’s live ball turnovers almost exceed all of BYU’s turnovers.

Also keep in mind that Florida St. has the best defensive efficiency rating in the nation. Now imagine how good Florida St.’s defense would be if they were not giving up that many transition opportunities every game.

Poor Free Throw Shooting

How many teams have blown leads and lost games because they could not hit their free throws?

No BCS team has a worse free throw percentage than Kansas St. at 55%. Thank goodness Jacob Pullen is shooting 71% and has taken almost half the team’s free throws or Kansas St. would be even worse.

Honorable Mention

Arizona St. (59%), South Carolina (61%), Georgia (62%), Washington St. (62%), and Minnesota (63%) have all had their problems at the charity stripe.

Inability to Draw Fouls

This is old news for jump-shooting Illinois and Michigan. You can debate whether it is a good long-run strategy or not, but that is what Bruce Weber and John Beilein’s teams seem designed to do.

But no BCS team draws fouls at a lower rate than Alabama. And unlike Michigan and Illinois, Alabama has very little outside shooting. For a team with no shooting touch, Alabama absolutely has to start getting to the line.

The same can be said for offensively challenged Temple where Lavoy Allen and Michael Eric tend to shy away from contact in the post.

Poor Defensive Rebounding

A few years ago John Gasaway wrote about Georgetown's hideous defensive rebounding, and the Hoyas fell apart finishing 7-11 in Big East play.

This year no BCS team has a worse defensive rebounding rate than NC State. Giving up a 47% offensive rebounding rate to Georgetown was bad, but giving up a 44% offensive rebounding rate to Farleigh Dickinson was simply unacceptable, even if forward Tracy Smith is injured.

No contender has had a worse defensive rebounding rate than West Virginia. Giving up a 50% offensive rebound rate to Minnesota was bad, but giving up a 43% offensive rebounding rate to teams like American is simply unacceptable.

Honorable Mention

Texas Tech, DePaul, Oregon St., Memphis,

Bottom Line

There are a lot more flaws I could point out, none more important than a teams shooting ability. Perhaps that is a post for another day.