Saturday, January 30, 2010

Instant Reaction

Yes, I write more when my teams win. And what an incredible sleight of games today.

First, Duke fans cannot enjoy the Verizon Center. They’ve lost their last two trips at Georgetown, they lost to West Virginia there in the 2008 NCAA tournament, and they nearly lost to Belmont there in the first round of the 2008 NCAA tournament.
-If you think Georgetown’s shooting was off the charts, it was. But in the last two home games against Seton Hall and Rutgers, it was equally good. Georgetown’s eFG% the last three home games is 76.1%, 71.3%, and today 78.3%.
-Georgetown mainly got it done by forcing turnovers. I could almost hear Jay Bilas saying, “You have to be strong with the ball.” (He said it later on ESPN game night.)
-Besides the lay-ups off turnovers, late in the second half Georgetown ran the same cut to the basket for a lay-up three plays in a row and Duke had no answer.
-Jerrelle Benimon is occasionally out of position. I remember him getting shoved in the back in a recent game when he wasn’t sliding over to cover the right man. But he gave the Hoyas big minutes today with Julian Vaughn in early foul trouble. And he was playing so confidently, JT3 seemed hesitant to put Vaughn back in.
-I can’t describe how satisfying it is to see your team beat Duke. For all the complaints about Georgetown playing in an NBA arena, they all get thrown out when you get a big time atmosphere like today. No matter what you want to say about politics, it is always fun to have someone in the house. Be it Judge Samuel Alito at the Seton Hall game or the President and Vice President at this game. Georgetown seemed like the place to be today in college basketball.

How many Kansas and Kansas St. players were banged up at the end of that game? From heads hitting the floor to Sherron Collins back giving out, ouch.
-I completely agree that it was dumb of Kansas St. not to foul at the end of the game. You can’t depend on a 5 second difference between shot clock and game clock unless you play in the NBA and a time-out will give you the ball in the front court.
-Random thing I noticed, Kansas committed a 10 second backcourt violation with 1:21 to go in overtime, but it wasn’t called. Kansas was called for an offensive foul later in the possession, so it probably didn’t matter. But I wonder if you broke down every game on DVR, how often the refs miss that call.
-There’s no word to describe all the lane violations. Kansas St. kept trying to jump early and they got caught.

So Kansas St.’s lifetime streak of non-excellence against Kansas continues. And that’s why you have to salute what Baylor did against Texas. Baylor earned its first regular season win against Texas since 1998.
-I can’t do Baylor’s upset win justice. Baylor center Epke Udoh couldn’t make a basket then makes three in OT. Texas guard J’Covan Brown gets a critical steal that seemed to put the game away, but misses a free throw. Texas forwad Damian James gets a critical steal when his team seems out of it, but fouls out of the game. Baylor Freshman AJ Walton practically throws the ball away by getting trapped in bad spots, but misses one FG and one FT in a 14 point performance. This was just an incredible game.

I already have two regrets about my Pulse column from this morning.
-First, Indiana might officially move to the John Chaney division if they keep this up. But as an Illinois fan, I’ll take a buzzer-beating win under any circumstances. Demetri McCamey was on fire with his assists in the first half, and he hit the game-winning floater tonight. Very satisfying.

-Second, Rutgers must have used my morning column as motivation as they went out and beat Notre Dame tonight. Two non-keys and one real key:
-The announcers said it was Tory Jackson’s birthday. He fouled out in a loss to Rutgers. That sucks.
-The referees spent about 10 minutes getting the shot clock right on two possessions late in the game. I still hate instant replay.
-Hamady Ndiaye could play for any team in the country. The shot-blocking monster in the paint was simply Luke Harangody’s kryptonite tonight. He constantly harassed Harangody out of his comfort zone. But in the final minutes, with Rutgers nursing a two point lead, Harandgody once again took the ball to the basket. And that’s when Ndiaye had arguably his most athletic and exciting rejection of the season. But that block didn’t quite seal the deal. Rutgers missed a free throw that would have made it a two possession game. But on the free throw miss, Ndiaye out-leaped Harangody for the ball and gave Rutgers a chance for more free throws. Ndiaye was the difference tonight. And besides his great play, he was the emotional leader in the upset. He had a smile that you could build a team around.

The Pulse, Part 1

I don’t care about “rankings”. I haven’t looked at the polls yet this year. But I do care about the pulse of each team. So I’m going to rank that for most BCS teams. (Sorry Pac-10 fans. When you are 8th in the RPI, 6th in the Pomeroy Rankings, and I never stay up to watch your games, you don’t make the cut.) Thus this is the 63 non-Pac-10 BCS edition of the Pulse. Finally, this is Part 1 of 2, focusing on the 32 teams with the worst records. Part 2 has yet to be written, so you might have to wait awhile to see the best teams.

The numerical ranking is the Pomeroy ranking through Friday, January 29th. The conference record is listed in parentheses.

Jerry Wainwright Division – Team fails, coach praised

When Jerry Wainwright was fired, I read about twelve columns about how good a coach he was. And I agree that terminating him mid-season was wrong. But sometimes hopeless situations happen to good people.

144. Iowa (2-6) – When your best players transfer every year, you can’t compete on a consistent basis. I was listening to a game recently and I heard the announcer say, “Todd Lickliter is pleased that he has his type of players now.” That’s not a compliment sir. For Lickliter’s sake, please tell me you made it up.

122. Arkansas (2-3) – John Pelphrey’s previous residences have not been kind to him this season. Not only did his team lose by 31 at Kentucky where he was a player, his team lost by 13 to South Alabama, where he was recently head coach. South Alabama is below 200 in the Pomeroy Rankings meaning that double-digit loss was one of the worst losses by a BCS team this season. Luckily Pelphrey only lost by 5 to Florida where he was a former assistant.

92. Nebraska (0-5) – An amusing storyline in an otherwise lost season: How long until Christian Standhardinger causes Doc Sadler to lose his remaining hair? The Munich Germany product became eligible at mid-season and had two decent games, followed by a horrendous 1-7 performance that got him benched. But he bounced back with 14 against Colorado. And on a team devoid of consistent post players, he seems like a decent option if he can stay efficient. Sadler has already been forced to bench the 6’8” Quincy Hankins-Cole for taking too many bad shots, so shot selection is key for Standhardinger.

81. Iowa St. (0-4) – Shot selection is never an issue at Iowa St. where Greg McDermott had adopted the, “I’ll let you shoot as much as you want” policy. If that helps with recruiting, that might be good. And against weaker competition, it seems to work. Iowa St. got a number of double digit wins against teams ranked below 100. But I don’t see that strategy working in Big 12 play. I see a team whose Pomeroy ranking is inflated by the aforementioned double-digit wins, and whose best win on the season is at Nebraska. The Pomeroy rating is wrong – this is a dreadful team.

Why are most of the worst teams in the nation concentrated in the Midwest and Sun Belt? Could it be Northern Iowa and Memphis taking all the key reserves? While Iowa, Iowa St., and Nebraska are struggling, Northern Iowa is 18-2. And while Arkansas is struggling, Memphis is a consistent NCAA contender.

Billy Gillispie Division – Team fails, coach heckled

On the flip side of the likeable Wainwright division is the Billy Gillispie division. These are the teams that under-achieve and the coach gets thrown under the bus.

179. Rutgers (0-8) – JR Inman recently went online and shredded his former coach for mismanaging the team. Of course, Inman would have had more of a case for playing time as a senior if his offensive rating wasn’t 85.8. I’ve heard some people throw out excuses about how Rutgers is undermanned this year. But Rutgers has some elite recruits, and they probably had more elite recruits on the team last year than any team in the last decade. They still couldn’t win. I also hear Rutgers doesn’t have the depth of other Big East schools. But who was deep coming into the Big East this year? The Big East had the lowest returning minutes of any BCS conference in the nation. For Rutgers to not be competing at the 5 to 7 conference win level is not strictly about talent. This is an underachieving team and now that Gregory Echenique has left, the future isn’t bright.

120. Auburn (1-5) – That stats are admittedly more uncertain about individual defensive performance. But is it fair to say that without Korvotney Barber, Auburn has given up on playing defense? At 6’7”, Barber led the team in blocks last year and he gave the team a defensive identity. Now that he has graduated, Auburn has fallen from a defensive efficiency of 91.9 to 100.8. Combined with a slightly worse offense and Auburn is a legitimately horrible team. And since this is Jeff Lebo’s sixth year with the team, if the fans aren’t calling for his head now, they just don’t care about basketball at Auburn.

83. Texas Tech (2-4) – Get ready for the negative stories to start to surface at Texas Tech. Based on the absurd early season AP ranking, the way Pat Knight got this job, and the number of Junior College transfers to touch this program, it won’t be long until people start screaming for Pat Knight’s head. And based on the Red Raider’s fast tempo and limited defensive resistance, there might not be a more fun team to see on your team’s schedule right now.

76. NC State (2-5) – How did NC State beat Duke by 14? It was by far Duke’s worst defensive performance of the year. And it was NC State’s best offensive performance other than Holy Cross. In other words, it was a statistical fluke.

Skip Prosser Division – Hope is on the Way

As a head coach you have to sell your fans on something. Either you sell them wins or you sell them hope. I thought of naming this division after former Indiana coach Mike Davis. That’s because all I remember from those Indiana ACC challenge games is Indiana getting blown out and Dick Vitale clamoring how Indiana had a really good recruiting class. “Hope is on the way!” But then I decided not to use any active coaches when naming these divisions. And what coach gets fired while effectively selling hope? This led me to Skip Prosser who died suddenly while leaving Wake Forest with an incredible recruiting class.

191. DePaul (1-7) – DePaul fans can at least hope for a new coach, but this is not an attractive job for many good coaches. Chicago is an easy city to travel to, making it hard for a local program to retain players. And I concur that the stadium is terrible. Yes, Illinois beat Arizona there in a memorable Elite Eight game, but the impossible parking, impossible driving to the stadium, impossible movement between sections, and cold dark feel to the building left me with no warm feelings towards the place.

182. LSU (0-6) – This year is off the charts horrible. But LSU has a good recruiting class for next year and Trent Johnson was successful at Stanford, so there’s still hope. But what would really bother me as an LSU fan is watching this year’s Top 100 recruit, Aaron Dotson fail this dramatically. Dotson is an incredible 6 for 38 or 15.8% on threes this year and that’s brought his personal efficiency down to 73.9.

135. Indiana (3-4) – To show how bitter I am about Minnesota losing at Indiana I link to Minnesota’s game-by-game performance on The Indiana loss was Minnesota’s worst defensive performance of the year, and Indiana’s best offensive performance other than Bryant and NC Central. In other words, just like NC State’s win over Duke, this was a statistical fluke. Were the Indiana fans wrong to rush the court in that game? Yes, and I mocked some Indiana fans about the incident. But I do understand it to some degree. Indiana has relied on hard work to stay in games, but in crunch time, every team works hard. In crunch time, talent takes over. And in crunch time, Indiana has folded like a rented accordion. Finally in overtime, Indiana didn’t just out-work Minnesota, they out-executed the Gophers too. Verdell Jones became a crunch-time playmaker and that was a significant sign of progress. That was worth celebrating. But not by rushing the court.

87. South Florida (3-5) – I know he was off to a hot start this year, and I know South Florida doesn’t have a lot of depth, but I wonder if the Bulls aren’t better off without Gus Gilchrist in the lineup. Last year Gilchrist took a lot of shots, but had an efficiency rating of only 87.6. This year South Florida is still not a good team, but they are finding a way to hang with some mid-level teams, and by not wasting possessions, they’ve managed to pull out overtime victories over Providence and Seton Hall. As with UConn when Jerome Dyson was injured a few years ago, that doesn’t mean you don’t want Gilchrist back. South Florida can use another big body. But if they told Gilchrist to take a few less shots and let the game come to him while he recuperates, that wouldn’t be a bad thing.

73. Alabama (3-3) – Give Anthony Grant credit for installing some defense. Alabama’s adjusted defensive rating of 92.6 rating is Alabama’s best defense in the seven years for which we have tempo free data.

72. Northwestern (3-5) – Hope in this case is Kevin Coble. But as I noted in the coach columns, Northwestern consistently has terrible eFG% defense under Bill Carmody. The difference was never more apparent then in Northwestern’s four point loss at Minnesota. Every team has a first line option on offense, and in Minnesota that’s three point gunner Blake Hoffarber. Everyone knows you can’t leave Hoffarber open from three point range or he’s almost automatic. And the good teams like Purdue and Michigan St. ensure that he never gets clean looks. But against Northwestern, Hoffarber was wide open on numerous occasions, including the first play of the game. (That first play of the game was particularly mind-boggling. Minnesota didn’t run a screen or anything. For whatever reason, Northwestern simply didn’t bother to walk out and cover Minnesota’s best offensive player.) When you leave your opponent’s primary option wide open, how can you ever make the NCAA tournament?

Tim Welsh Division – Where are these teams going?

Tim Welsh has done color for some Big East games and you can tell he has a fantastic knowledge of X’s and O’s. He practically calls out the plays the offenses are running as they happen. But it takes more to win in college basketball than X’s and O’s. And Tim Welsh earned a reputation as Mr. NIT. At some point, the fans want more. When teams and coaches get stuck in that limbo, where they no longer have hope, but the teams aren’t legitimately terrible, that’s the Tim Welsh division.

95. Colorado (2-4) – I understand Jeff Bzdelik’s goal was to build an efficient, perimeter oriented-team. And Colorado now has the 27th ranked offense in the nation. But the lack of post players is really too much to overcome. Colorado has horrible 2PT FG% defense, fouls way too much, and is the second worst BCS team at getting defensive rebounds. (The only team that is worse at rebounding, South Carolina, at least gets some advantage by sneaking out for fast-break lay-ups.) If this small team was really what Jeff Bzdelik wanted to build, he should have stayed at Air Force.

84. St. John’s (2-6) – Believe it or not, St. John’s has better adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency numbers than last year. And DJ Kennedy has become a real star. But while I thought Anthony Mason’s return would provide a spark, it hasn’t worked yet. The promise this team showed in beating Siena, Temple, and a hard-working Georgia team has disappeared in the grind of Big East play.

71. South Carolina (3-3) – John Gasaway mentioned how South Carolina slowed the game down to beat Kentucky. And overall, the Gamecocks are playing at a much slower pace this season. Their adjusted tempo is down to 71.0 from 73.5 last season. Speed like every factor is selective. Plodding Georgetown will still run when they can get a wide-open lay-up. Meanwhile speedy Syracuse will slow it down when they have a big lead. Thus if South Carolina can learn to use tempo more effectively, they can still be a dangerous team.

57. Miami (1-5) – The Hurricanes sit at 99th in the RPI. What are the odds they still count as a quality win in February? I spent about 10 minutes trying to decide if Miami was in the Jerry Wainwright or Billy Gillispie division, but I couldn’t find any strong opinions on him either way. Miami fans have given up and moved on to football. And then I realized that was wrong. Miami’s team isn’t hopeless. The Pomeroy rating is still 56th. They are still picked to win 5 games. But they are going nowhere fast.

68. Boston College (3-4) – I’ve heard Al Skinner on the John Thompson show here in DC. And by all accounts he is a tremendous coach and leader. Last year Skinner was asked about the wide variation in his team’s play. He responded, “Sometimes it is hard to get kids to play hard all the time.“ That’s the kind of answer that makes me nervous as a fan. A coach needs to know what motivates his players, particularly on the defensive end. And you might think based on my recent coaching posts that Al Skinner is an average defensive coach, but not recently. He hasn’t had a good defensive team since BC left the Big East. In the ACC, Skinner’s defenses have been consistently poor, even adjusting for quality of the opponent. Don’t let the three ACC wins fool you, this Boston College team has beaten Miami twice. And if it wasn’t for those pair of wins, BC would be in the Jerry Wainwright division.

55. Seton Hall (3-5) – Everyone wants to talk about Jeremy Hazell and whether Seton Hall would be better off without his crazy 15 missed-shot games. Of course greater shot selection would be nice, but I don’t think Hazell is changing his ways anytime soon. I think the key story with this team is a little more under the radar. Last year John Garcia was playing through injury, but he was still a key piece on a short Seton Hall team. Last year the 6’9“ Garcia recorded 8 pts, 7 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game while recording an offensive efficiency rating of 109.8. This year injuries have again hampered the big man cutting his minutes and production in half. And in the loss to South Florida Garcia picked up the near million dollar line. (I.e. the box score reads like the millions because he had minutes but no contributions.) Luckily for Garcia, he recorded one block. Herb Pope has been a phenomenal addition in the paint, but he’s at his best as a garbage man, collecting offensive boards. Seton Hall needs more out of Garcia or another post player if they are going to get back to .500 in the Big East.

25. Florida St. (3-3) – Rarely has a team been so predictable based on its defensive excellence. Florida St. is 15-1 when holding opponents below 1 point per possession and 0-4 when they do not.

24. Clemson (3-4) – This doesn’t feel like a traditional Clemson swoon to me. The problem seems to be point guard Demontez Stitt. He was playing injured against Georgia Tech and made some bad decisions late in that game, trying to do more than he was capable of. When I heard he was being asked to sit out and recuperate against Boston College, I thought it was a good decision. But the team played horribly in his absence. If Clemson wins either of those games, this team has a different feel. But Clemson fans get nervous this time of year.

John Chaney Division – Overlooked Excellence

John Chaney’s Temple teams challenged themselves with the toughest non-conference scheduling in the country. And that gave them the mental and physical toughness to take on anyone late in the season. Yes, they’d have a middling .500 record, but if you weren’t legitimately good, you’d get beat every time. And while none of these teams really live up to the John Chaney name, they are all surprisingly good in some facet of their game.

89. Providence (4-4) – The Friars returned just 3 players and brought in 10 new scholarship players. (Mostly freshman but a few players that red-shirted last season.) None of these players was a consensus top 100 recruit, so a 4-4 start indeed qualifies this team as over-achievers. But in the Basketball Prospectus Book, I argued most player improvements are minimal over time. For Providence to compete in the future, some of the newcomers needed to step on the court and be stars right away. Just like Purdue who welcomed Robbie Hummel and E’Twaun Moore three years ago and has stayed at the same high level since then, Providence needed its freshman to be efficient and effective from the beginning. And to some degree, they’ve been just that. Vincent Council and Bilal Dixon have been solid, while red-shirt Jamine Peterson has become one of the best rebounders and scorers in the conference. But Providence’s horrible defense remains a real problem. Despite the chaos and high tempo, they continue to force no turnovers, and with limited size, they aren’t defending the paint very well either. This team remains a group of over-achievers, but if the defense doesn’t come around, it won’t last.

88. Georgia (1-4) – “I do not want to play them.” That’s pretty much what many SEC fans are thinking right now. Georgia is the worst of all worlds. They have terrible numbers, so they can’t help you. But they are playing well, so they can hurt you. Mark Fox inherited a team that didn’t know how to win and they showed it early. They lost to Wofford and barely beat teams like Jacksonville St. But a funny thing happened along the way. This team has learned how to compete. They were tied at Kentucky late in the game, lost to Ole Miss by 4, Mississippi St. by 3, and they crushed a hard-working Tennessee team by 15. A 15 point loss to Florida early this week ruins the trend, but this is still clearly a team that no one wants to face right now.

21. Baylor (2-3) – The national media has picked up on the story, so I’m loathe to mention it again. But there’s no doubt that Ekpe Udoh has made Baylor a better team. Udoh’s block rate (5th best nationally) and rebounding have made all the difference for this team. Baylor’s adjusted defense of 92.0 is the best under Scott Drew by a long shot. In seven years, the previous best was 97.8. Now Udoh’s interior presence wasn’t helpful in a loss to perimeter-oriented Colorado, so there are still some issues with this team. But with Kansas and Kansas State out of the way, according to this team should be favored in every game the rest of the season, except Texas.

Dave Odom Division – Poor close game performance or just unlucky?

Everyone in this division is at the bottom of Pomeroy’s luck ranking. It was hard to find an example of an unlucky coach to name this division after. Every coach has some lucky and some unlucky seasons. In 30 years, Dave Odom was probably lucky several times. But Odom’s 2008 South Carolina team was severely unlucky (losing to NC State by 2, George Mason by 1, NC Asheville by 3, Florida by 2, Vanderbilt by 1, Florida by 3, and Tennessee by 2 in the SEC tournament). And that season confirmed that it was indeed time for Odom to step away from the game. When your get whisked into retirement by a string of close losses, that’s good enough to get the division moniker.

109. Penn St. (0-8) – Everyone knows Talor Battle is going to have the ball in his hands in a close game, and every team has at least one good defensive guard that seems able to shut him down. What Penn St. needs is a second fiddle, a second dominant option, to win some of these tight games. Yes David Jackson has been solid, but he needs Talor Battle to get him the ball to do well. Penn St. needs a second playmaker, and freshman Tim Frazier isn’t ready yet.

26. Minnesota (4-4) – As Seth Davis echoes, the Gophers have been unlucky off-the-court, not just on-the-court. But at a certain point you have to accept the off-the-court stuff and move on with the player you have. Minnesota had more depth than anyone in the Big Ten and even without three significant contributors, they still have a solid ten man rotation.

But the on-the-court stuff losses still haunt me. In particular, I still have visions of Michigan St.’s Kalin Lucas hitting a pull-up three to finish off last Saturday’s comeback win. In college basketball, there are basically four types of three pointers.

1. Kick-out from the paint.
2. Catch and shoot coming out of a screen.
3. Duck behind another offensive player. (As when a defender goes under a screen.)
4. Pull-up jumper off the dribble.

The first option is by far the easiest, since that’s how most players practice with one coach standing under the basket, and sending the ball out. College players frequently practice the second and third options, so these are comfortable shots. But the fourth option is only prevalent in the NBA. I can think of the rare college player who will execute a three off the dribble. And Kalin Lucas did it in crunch time to beat Minnesota.

Two factors made Lucas’ decision a good one, (and I’m not just talking about the fact that it went in). First, the defender was sagging off Lucas, expecting a drive. Second, Lucas was standing at the top of the circle, which is the easiest three to make. (If you ever see a team’s Center make a three, it is almost always from this spot.) So Lucas made a smart, if surprising decision. And what else would you expect from the defending Big Ten Player of the year.

62. Michigan (3-5) – Michigan St. had a hand in putting both Michigan and Minnesota on this list. I completely agree with Luke Winn who said that Kalin Lucas picked the wrong week to be a hero. Lucas drove to the basket to beat Michigan. Why the difference in shot selection between the Minnesota and Michigan games? I think it had to do with game-time intelligence. Lucas was willing to take the three in a tie game against Minnesota. But trailing by one, he knew he needed to force the action against Michigan.

19. Marquette (3-5) – Trailing Villanova by 22, they cut the lead and eventually lost by 2. Trailing Syracuse by 16, they cut the lead and eventually lost by 5. Has there ever been a team with a higher three-point percentage when desperate and trailing by double digits? You can say the team doesn’t handle pressure situations well, and that’s why they lost to West Virginia, Villanova the first time, and DePaul. But then why do they shoot so well when they are desperate? This team needs to play with that desperate feeling from the start of the game.

Bob Knight Division – Living off past glory

91. Oklahoma (3-3) – If you can figure this team out, please let me know. They beat Oklahoma St. in a game where the efficiency ratings were 79.9 and 73.4. But they also lost to Houston in a game where the efficiency ratings were 132.5 and 123.2. My gut tells me they aren’t as bad as people make them out to be, but there’s no doubt you don’t know which team is going to show up on a given night.

44. North Carolina (2-3) – When I listen to ESPN, I’m convinced that Larry Drew is having a terrible season. But there he sits behind Evan Turner with the 2nd best assist rate among BCS players. But I get it. In 2009, North Carolina did not score under 1 point per possession a single time. This year, the offense has scored below 1 point per possession 4 times, including most of the big televised losses. That’s the key. Larry Drew at his best is not significantly worse than Ty Lawson, but right now Drew and North Carolina are much less consistent. But if those amazing passes in the lane tell me anything, they tell me Larry Drew is still on his way to being a great player.

39. Connecticut (3-4) – I thought UConn might challenge for the Big East title this year, but the lack of a bench has been particularly stunning. Players like Jamal Coombs-McDaniel and Ater Majok have been huge disappointments. Only Northwestern, Notre Dame, and Georgetown are in the same league in terms of minimal bench minutes as Connecticut. But there’s a key difference with those teams. Those teams rely on execution of a precision attack. They don’t rely as much on athleticism. UConn is known for amazing fast-court baskets, above-the-rim dunks, and insane blocks that require a lot of energy. And when UConn doesn’t have depth, it really hurts.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Coaches Part #4

My initial impression was that running the Four Factors for defense was not going to be as fun. After all, good defense is good defense. Would the best coaches really have different styles? It turns out they do.

First, there’s a set of coaches who depend significantly on forcing turnovers. These are mostly full court pressure teams. See Mike Anderson (1st in turnovers forced), Oliver Purnell (2nd), Bruce Pearl (5th), and Tubby Smith (12th), ect.

Then there are still other coaches who force turnovers by playing quirky 1-3-1 zone defense like Bill Carmody (6th) and John Beilein (16th). The importance of turnovers to Northwestern often gets lost when you look at the turnover totals. But in their slow-paced games, every turnover is critical, and their high forced turnover rate keeps a horrible interior defense at a respectable level.

I’m most amazed by the coaches that force turnovers in a half-court, less chaotic situation, i.e. Matt Painter (4th), and Doc Sadler (8th). Painter’s teams play some of the best pressure man-to-man defense in the country, but when I mention how good Nebraska is at forcing turnovers, most people give me a funny look. Nebraska doesn’t use full court pressure all the time, but they will occasionally. They don’t trap in the half-court, but they will occasionally. And they haven’t had a particularly tall team, so they often need to draw charges to keep people out of the paint. Perhaps the secret has simply been having guards with quick hands and quick feet. Regardless, turnovers forced remain a Sadler secret.

But the Bo Ryan secret is simply defensive rebounding. (And when I eventually get to the coaching trees in a few days, you’ll be reminded that Tony Bennett coached under Ryan at Wisconsin after Bennett’s father retired. So perhaps it is no shock that Bennett’s teams have been the second best defensive rebounding teams in the nation.) Every year we ask how a Bo Ryan team can be so good without the most talented players, but possessions are the key. By giving their opponents less second chance looks, by out-working them for rebounds, Bo Ryan’s teams can play at an elite level without a slew of McDonald’s All-Americans.

Also, it has been well-established that there is a trade-off between crashing the boards and getting out in transition. And you see that some of the fastest paced teams in the nation are the worst defensive rebounding teams. Mike Anderson (72nd), Darrin Horn (66th), and Keno Davis (64th) come to mind. Zone defense is also typically horrible at getting defensive rebounds. Bill Carmody (70th), John Beilein (69th), and Jim Boeheim (67th) confirm that.

Finally, is it a good thing if your team doesn’t commit any fouls? I think sometimes you need to foul or your opponent is getting off too easy. And that’s exactly what John Calipari and Rick Pitino’s teams do. They foul at an above average rate, but they make sure their opponents don’t get clean shots or find a rhythm offensively. But that’s where Jim Calhoun (and lately Rick Stansbury) are unique animals. By having their teams go for blocks and avoiding fouls, they can keep their opponents eFG% low while not sending their opponent to the line.

But as with offense, the bottom line remains eFG%. Why are Ed DeChellis and Bill Carmody constantly scratching to stay out of the cellar in the Big Ten? They give up too many open looks to their opponents. Why are Bill Self and John Calipari at the top of their games? It isn’t because Kansas and Kentucky have great traditions. It isn’t because Kansas and Kentucky have the most talent, though that helps. The reason they are so successful is that year after year, their teams force tougher shots. Their teams have the 2nd and 3rd lowest eFG% defense on average over the last 7 years. And if your opponents have to take tougher shots, you always have a chance.

The next table shows the key information as at
eFG% is FG% but it gives 3 / 2 weight to made 3’s.
TO% is the percentage of turnovers forced.
OFFREB% is the percentage of offensive rebounds allowed.
FTA/FGA is the rate at which the other team is fouled.
RK represents the rank out of 72 active BCS coaches for each category.
YRS represents the number of years of tempo free data available for the coach at multiple schools.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Coaches Part #3

Today I continue to average the tempo free performances of active BCS coaches over the last seven years. Again, context is important. Is Jamie Dixon really an excellent coach of offensive rebounding, or did he just happen to recruit one of the greatest college rebounders of all time in DeJuan Blair? But with that caveat, I think we can still learn a lot from these numbers.

No one has been better able to put his players in a position to make shots than Billy Donovan whose teams have averaged an eFG% of 55.2% over the last seven years. But Donovan’s teams have not been dominant in any of the other factors. There are plusses and minuses to the eFG% strategy. On the plus side, eFG% is consistently the best predictor of overall offense. You can lose the rebounding battle, the FT battle, and the TO battle, but if you make your shots you can still win. So give Donovan credit for teaching players to take good shots. But even a good shooting team can have off nights. And by depending less on the other factors, Billy Donovan’s teams can often appear inconsistent.

John Thompson III’s teams also have an extremely high eFG%, but here you can see where style of play matters. Thompson is willing to incur more turnovers in order to get cuts and open lay-ups near the basket. So while his teams shoot almost as well as Donovan’s they do so at the expense of being a high turnover team.

On the flip side, Bo Ryan and Bobby Gonzalez’s teams might not always get the best shot, but by never turning it over, they stay in the hunt. Interestingly, they do it in a different way. While Bo Ryan’s teams will patiently wait for an opening and take a tough shot at the end of the shot clock if no opportunity presents itself, Bobby Gonzalez’s teams will often take the first halfway decent look to avoid the turnover.

Furthermore, while it is true that eFG% is the most important factor, the second most important factor is probably offensive rebounding. Jeff Bzdelik’s teams have shot well, but he hasn’t had a good offense because his teams have been horrendous at getting second chances.

On the flip side, Frank Martin has made his offensive living, by having good offensive rebounding teams. And this isn’t just a Michael Beasley effect. His teams have had good rebounding wings and guards since Beasley departed.

Frank Martin and Jim Calhoun have also used that rebound aggression to get more free throw attempts. But the bigger surprise is the number of free throws Sean Miller’s teams have earned. He’s traditionally done it with wing players like CJ Anderson at Xavier. And this year is no exception. Few people have noticed Arizona freshman Derrick Williams because the Pac-10 is so down this year, but Williams is a perfect fit for what Miller is trying to do in Arizona. Williams has the second highest free throw rate in the country among BCS players.

In fact there are a number of new BCS coaches who rely heavily on the whistle. Pat Knight, Dino Gaudio, and Craig Robinson excel at getting their teams to the line.

Perhaps they can tell Bruce Weber. Free throw attempts remain his team’s biggest offensive weakness. Other good coaches with clear weaknesses include Thad Matta whose Perimeter Oriented attack doesn’t get enough rebounds, Tom Izzo whose turnover rate remains a frequent trouble spot, and Bob Huggins whose teams miss too many shots.

The next table shows the key information as at
eFG% is FG% but it gives 3 / 2 weight to made 3’s.
TO% is the percentage of possessions lost to turnovers.
OFFREB% is the percentage of offensive rebounds pulled down.
FTA/FGA is the rate at which free throws are drawn.
RK represents the rank out of 72 active BCS coaches for each category.
YRS represents the number of years of tempo free data available for the coach at multiple schools.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Coaches Part #2

There are now 72 active BCS coaches for which we have tempo free data. (I exclude DePaul interim head coach Tracy Webster.) For many of these coaches we have seven years of data at one or more schools. Let’s look at the average pace over those years. (Note that I give full weight to this season even though the season is not complete. The 2010 numbers are through Friday, January 22nd.)

Keno Davis' teams really stand out as quick when you realize his first year at Drake was exceptionally slow. And Pat Knight is really trying to challenge for the crown as fastest coach in the nation. But that title belongs to Roy Williams. And when you have the better team in most games, more possessions is definitely a good thing.

On the other hand, when you are struggling with talent defections, slow is the only way to stay competitive. And Todd Lickliter’s teams play at an excruciatingly slow pace. In his case, this is more than just an Iowa effect. His teams were slow even before he took over at Iowa. And Georgetown and Northwestern, with their modified Princeton offenses aren’t much quicker.

When it comes to offensive and defensive efficiency, it is easy to say that this is the true measure of a coach’s ability. But that isn’t necessarily fair. Consider that many of these coaches spent time developing a mid-major or in the case of Tom Crean at Indiana, inheriting a team with no returning players.

But I do want to include every school where coaches have been. And in the case of John Calipari, it doesn’t matter that six of those years were at a CUSA school. His average efficiency margin over the last seven years is still fourth best in the nation. There’s a reason he got the job at Kentucky. He’s good.

And as you go down the list, you see a lot of the trends I constantly preach on this blog.

-Bill Self’s teams are off the charts defensively, Roy Williams' teams are off the charts offensively, and Mike Krzyzewski’s teams are off the charts on both ends of the floor.

-Never pick Bo Ryan or Jamie Dixon for a sub .500 finish. Even without elite recruits, they consistently have elite efficiency numbers.

-Bruce Weber has shown he can build an elite defense, but not an elite offense.

-Mike Brey has shown he can build an elite offense, but not an elite defense.

-The early signs suggest that Keno Davis has some issues coaching defense. (And after giving up 109 to South Florida, he would agree.)

-Norm Roberts teams have had strong defense (as you would expect from a former Bill Self assistant.) But his team's offenses have been nothing short of horrid.

-Buzz Williams numbers are hurt by a year at New Orleans, but it is clear his short teams do better on offense than defense.

-Craig Robinson’s numbers are hurt by a couple of years at Brown, but I’m still not sure why DePaul would really be interested in him. He’s made progress at Oregon St., but Oregon St. hasn’t quite had a really good team yet.

-Finally, Fred Hill’s Rutgers teams are the only teams not to average 1 point per possession in adjusted offense.

Unrequited Love

Often in life, the things that we cannot have are the things we want most. My parents never took a trip to Disney World when I was younger (citing extremely large mosquitoes in Florida). Having taken one trip there as an adult, I have an unhealthy affection for the place.

And indeed national championships remain the bane of my existence. I haven’t sniffed one since the Twins won in 1991. That might not seem like much, but remember, sports are my life. Why do I care so much? Why am I not a more well-rounded person? The answer is simple. Until I can get that championship, until the Vikings win it all, until my team completes the journey, I can’t stop this. I can’t get over sports.

And so the logical post for this blog tonight was something like this.

And believe me, I’m crushed. Here’s an approximate timeline of tonight:

Vikings fumble before halftime. – Don’t care. The only way the Vikings are winning is by coming from behind in the second half. That’s just the feel of this game.

2 minutes left. I totally believe. This is why we got Favre. No one executes the 2 minute drill better.

Vikings are in FG range in a tie game. I think you run, pass, run here. Run to get the clock down so Brees has no chance, play-action pass once to improve your position, and then run to put it in the center of the field. Vikings run twice for no gain. 19 seconds left. And then it happens.

12 men in the huddle. You have got to be kidding me. There have been a million calls that have gone against the Saints in this game. But only the Vikings could do this at this point in the game. This play will live forever in Minnesota sports infamy. I’ll be sitting in a Sports Bar in 2034 and I’ll see some other Vikings fan. He’ll lean over to me prior to a Vikings FG try. “12 men in the huddle”

Favre now throws an interception. I walk into kitchen. My head bangs against the window.

Some weird semi-controversial plays occur. (I.e. the kind of replay challenges and penalties that sports radio fans will dissect for days.) I don’t care.

The Saints are in FG range, but that’s OK. Garrett Hartley can miss. Why not? It will be revenge for Gary Anderson’s miss in the 1998 championship game. But the Saints FG is good. The Vikings lose.

This is the part where Bill Simmons takes a two hour walk with his dog. I have no dog. I write a blog post.

Look, I should be screaming and complaining, but I’m not. I’m proud of the Vikings. I’m happy for the season. I think something changed in 1998 after I had season tickets and saw the 15-1 Vikings lose in the NFC title game. I will probably never believe as much as I did that year. That team set the NFL record for points in a season (which has since been broken.) That team had Randy Moss and Cris Carter and Robert Smith and I believed. And I was wrong. But that loss was so painful, it changed my life. I can’t stop this. I can’t stop sports.

I want to believe

As a sports fan you have to appreciate every win or it just isn’t worth it. Georgetown over Rutgers doesn’t mean much, but it means something. But you also have to have hope. And after the 1998 NFC championship game, it is hard to have hope. Trust me, the sentiment in Minnesota heading into today’s game was not. “Woo-hoo, we’re going to the Super Bowl.” It was, “How are we going to screw this up this time?”

So I thank the Vikings for coming back to beat San Francisco. I thank them for near perfect performances against the Packers. I thank them for beating the Cowboys when everyone said Dallas was better. But I thank them more for letting me believe again. With 2 minutes to go in the NFC championship game, I believed that maybe this was the year.

And I was wrong. And it hurts. But it was still worth it. You have to have hope. But this game was bigger than just that. It was about saying something I never thought I’d write.

I am a fan of Brett Favre. And I don’t blame him. I forgive him.

If you hate Brett Favre, I don’t blame you. He turned his back on his fans and his Packer team. He has a massive ego. And I think at least 70% of the national audience was tuning in to cheer against him. (And if you hate him, how sweet it is. Twice now in the NFC title game, he’s thrown the interception that cost his team the game. You can’t script a more satisfying way for him to go down.)

But there’s also what Tom Jackson said on NFL Primetime. Brett Favre is the image of courage. When he got hit low and he was laid out on that injury cart with his wife looking on in the stands, he should have given up. But he could not quit. He taped it up and he went back in.

And when his WR/RB Percy Harvin fumbled, there was Favre diving for the ball against any sane person’s judgment.

When it was determined that Favre was coming back in the game, the announcers speculated that Favre was inhuman. My wife speculated that he was the Terminator. Seriously, if you are taking a walk some day, a car speeds up next to you, the car door opens and Brett Favre opens it.

“Come with me if you want to live?”

Wouldn’t you just jump in? Would you really question it?

If they took his sock off and you saw wires and metal hanging out, would you have really been surprised? No one plays the QB position that long without missing games. It is just inhuman.

Favre was asked in the post-game press conference if this season was a success. He didn’t hesitate for a second. Yes it was. His goal was to win the Super Bowl. That’s why he came back. But this season was still special.

Brett Favre may have a huge ego. He may have thrown the costly pick. But I started to write it before he said it. If this is the end, Brett Favre is going out on top.

He showed courage. He gave me hope. And in sports, that’s all you can ask for.

Well you know, except a championship.

Moving On

I hope to numb the pain with Georgetown vs Syrcause on Monday, but it isn’t coming close. I started a series on basketball coaches this weekend (see below) to keep my brain thinking about something else. I have a couple more posts on coaches 90% prepped, so we’ll see how the week goes.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Coaching 2010 Part 1

A few years ago I published some coach rankings that basically broke down NCAA tournament wins based on how they were earned: in recruiting, in the regular season by earning a high NCAA seed, and by exceeding seed expectations in the post-season. I still think NCAA tournament wins are the right way to measure coaching success. (And if you look at new hires, NCAA wins are a pretty good predictor of who will get a better job.) But I also feel like the PASE (Performance Against Seed Expectations) concept has been hammered home pretty heavily at this point. If you’ve never seen it, there is some similar discussion in this year’s Basketball Prospectus Book.

This year, I’d like to cover some different ground, but I haven’t been able to find a large chunk of time to do a full analysis. Instead I’m going to start posting some piecemeal facts, starting with a few columns this week.

Can a Big South Coach ever get a BCS gig?

One question that’s been in my head is the progress of Gregg Marshall. I still consider his story the pinnacle of coaching success. He took Winthrop, a Big South school, to the NCAA tournament seven out of nine years. And in his final season he earned an at-large level 11-seed and knocked off Notre Dame. To me, this type of success story should have been met by a job offer to a BCS school. But instead it simply earned Gregg Marshall a shot at the next rung in the ladder. Marshall earned a job at the MVC’s Wichita St. Now after a disappointing couple of seasons, Marshall finally has his team in the hunt for the league championship. Wichita St. is in 2nd place in the Valley and holds a win over first place Northern Iowa.

Marshall earned his job in part because of a chain reaction that sent Billy Gillispie to Kentucky. Gillispie turned a dreadful UTEP team around from 6-24 to 24-8 in two seasons and earned an NCAA bid. Then he quickly moved Texas A&M from an NIT team to a Sweet Sixteen team in three short years. And after five short years, Gillispie was given the head coaching position at Kentucky. As we all know, things didn’t work out so well.

So maybe my fascination with Gregg Marshall is overblown. Coaches need time at each level to develop their craft. And a school like Kentucky needs a coach who can handle more than X’s and O’s. Kentucky needs a coach that can recruit elite talent. Kentucky needs a coach that is media savvy. Could Gregg Marshall have left Winthrop and immediately handled the pressure at a school like Arkansas? Who knows? But the idea that coaches need to spend time at different levels has merit.

But can a small school coach ever get to a big school job? I looked at the 73 active BCS coaches (plugging Tracy Webster in at DePaul for Jerry Wainwright) from 1984-2009. And only one spent any time at a current Big South school. That was Oliver Purnell who is famous for engineering a turnaround at Radford.

Here’s a full breakdown of the former head coaching and assistant coaching jobs held by active BCS coaches during the 64-team era, from 1984-2009:

Atlantic 10 (10): Sean Miller, Travis Ford, Oliver Purnell, Thad Matta, Dino Gaudio, John Beilein, Lorenzo Romar, Al Skinner, John Calipari, Paul Hewitt

MWC (5): Jeff Bzdelik, Buzz Williams, Jay Wright, Ernie Kent, Trent Johnson

MVC (7): Keno Davis, Mark Turgeon, Greg McDermott, Matt Painter, Bruce Weber, Kevin Stallings, Thad Matta

WAC (3): Mark Fox, Trent Johnson, Jamie Dixon

CUSA (12): John Calipari, Doc Sadler, Mike Anderson, Andy Kennedy, Bill Self, Norm Roberts, Billy Donovan, John Pelphrey, Anthony Grant, Trent Johnson, Tubby Smith, Kevin O’Neill

Colonial (11): Anthony Grant, Jeff Capel III, Frank Martin, Jay Wright, Mike Brey, Oliver Purnell, Frank Haith, Rick Barnes, Kevin O’Neill, Tubby Smith, Jim Calhoun

Horizon (5): Todd Lickliter, Bruce Pearl, Scott Drew, Thad Matta, Bo Ryan

WCC (2): Lorenzo Romar, Ernie Kent

MAAC (5): Bobby Gonzalez, Dino Gaudio, Paul Hewitt, John Beilein, Fred Hill

MAC (7): Tracy Webster, Stan Heath, Todd Lickliter, Thad Matta, Herb Sendek, Bob Huggins

Big Sky (4): Ken Bone, Ben Howland, Jamie Dixon, Mike Montgomery

Southern (3): Jeff Lebo, Thad Matta, Frank Haith

Ivy (3): Craig Robinson, John Thompson III, Bill Carmody,

Big West (3) Seth Greenberg, Ben Howland, Jamie Dixon

OVC (8): Mick Cronin, Travis Ford, Keno Davis, Jeff Lebo, Mark Turgeon, Darrin Horn, Matt Painter, Rick Stansbury

Sun Belt (5): Darrin Horn, Buzz Williams, John Pelphrey, Andy Kennedy, Tom Crean

Summit (3): Gregg McDermott, Bill Self, Norm Roberts

Atlantic Sun (3): Ed DeChellis, Anthony Grant, Jeff Lebo

Big South (1): Oliver Purnell

American East (3): Fred Hill, Jeff Bzdelik, Bobby Gonzalez

Southland (2): Buzz Williams, Doc Sadler

Patriot (1): Dino Gaudio

Northeast (1): Fred Hill

MEAC (0)

SWAC (0)

GWC (2): Gregg McDermott, Doc Sadler

I suppose technically Billy Donovan shouldn’t be a former CUSA coach since Marshall wasn’t in CUSA from 1994-1996, but for simplicity I’m listing the past schools in their current conference. I list the conferences in order of 2010 RPI as of Friday, January 22nd. I should have probably listed Division II positions, but it didn’t occur to me when I was looking at bios.

A few things stand out:

-If you want a BCS coaching gig, you are better off being an assistant at a major school than taking a low level Division 1 job. None of the current BCS coaches ever coached in the MEAC or SWAC, and a rare few have worked their way up from the bottom leagues.

-You really have to pull for guys like Buzz Williams, Doc Sadler, and Fred Hill who have worked just about everywhere to reach where they are today.

-The Conference USA jobs don’t seem as attractive as they once did, but CUSA and the Colonial League are still good places to prove yourself. Basically, if I was a coach at a school like Villanova, I would have a clear recommendation for my assistants. If you can get a Colonial job or better, take it. But if your head coaching offers are worse than that, you’ll face a long road to the big time.

-The OVC has had a shocking number of BCS coaches come out of its schools. Maybe the teams have just been in the sweet spot. A good OVC team can pull an NCAA tournament upset.

-Realistically, it is just as much about who you know as what you’ve done. For example, Trent Johnson was an assistant under Mike Montgomery and impressed the Stanford Athletic Director. Then when Montgomery went to the NBA, Johnson got the call and became head coach at Stanford. In a future post, I hope to tackle the topic of coaching trees and those little connections that get coaches jobs. I.e., I’ll tell you how you can connect the dots from Matt Painter to Scott Drew by going through Bill Self. (And it is a crazy path.)

Fast Facts

I don’t know how far I’m going to get on this coaching project, but here are some numbers that should give you some ideas of what I want to do:

Average Efficiency
2003-2004 through 2009-2010.
Top 10
Offense - School
121.1 North Carolina
119.0 Duke
117.7 Kansas
117.4 Florida
117.1 Texas
116.9 Gonzaga
116.6 Arizona
116.5 Pittsburgh
116.4 Michigan St.
116.3 Notre Dame

Top 10
Defense - School
85.9 Kansas
87.4 Duke
87.8 Connecticut
88.0 Louisville
88.2 Memphis
88.2 Wisconsin
89.0 Illinois
89.5 North Carolina
90.3 Pittsburgh
90.4 Clemson

Fast Facts 2

Obsessed fans know that William & Mary’s offense has taken an incredible jump forward this year. Did you know: William & Mary is on pace for the greatest increase in adjusted offensive efficiency on record. (As of Friday, W&M’s adjusted offensive rating is 21.8 points higher than last year.)

The previous biggest increase belonged to Idaho St. whose adjusted offense improved by 17.6 points between the 2004-05 season and the 2005-2006 season. Loyola Marymount is also on pace to break the record this year with an 18.3 point jump in offensive efficiency.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Are All AAU Coaches Slimy?

The NCAA has apparently passed legislation designed to eliminate the situation where a team hires an AAU coach in order to recruit a player. While I view this as a clear positive, (less incentive for slimy people trying to take advantage of high school players), I think it is worth playing the devil’s advocate for a moment. What if banning this practice isn’t a good thing?

People frequently argue that college athletes should be compensated at a higher level for playing popular, revenue generating sports. If you support this possibility, is it wrong to think of paying these same students money when they are in high school? Is it wrong to compensate them at a time when they may not have the same access to training, equipment, a safe environment, or even good nutrition?

Society tends to think that giving money to teenagers isn’t necessarily the best idea. Sometimes it is better if an adult can make decisions that will benefit the athlete in the future. And many people who try to associate with teenage athletes provide these things. They are mentors. They provide access to safe training facilities. They provide free meals for teenagers who might not be able to get dinner every night. They provide advice and guidance about how to train and how to become a better player. And a key reason many people provide these services is because they hope to get a shot at big time college basketball job some day.

In fact, for every “coach” associated with a McDonald’s All-American, there are thousands of coaches doing the same thing for players who will never play in the NBA. Some of this is a sincere commitment to young people, but some of it is also a hope that one kid will eventually be a ticket into something bigger. The dream of getting a hooked-up college gig, doesn’t just lead to benefits for the kids who become stars, it leads a lot of coaches to help kids who don’t pan out too.

Moreover, if any coach is given a college position as a result of associating with the kid, almost certainly the relationship must have been positive for the kid. Or the kid would not have made the “deal” happen. I.e., if someone is just a leach, the kid should be able to let the university know that the job isn’t necessary.

Now, not every “associate” is acting in the recruit’s best interest. And not every kid figures out that there are good influences and bad, and you need to associate with the good people. But my point is simple. Something that removes an incentive to work with and help out young people is not unambiguously good.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The return of observations

Other than a few stat dumps, I’ll admit my posts have been rather limited this year. But if I’m going to start posting more observations, I have to start with the three teams I follow:


Wasn't life better when every game was an unknown? The problem with knowing the numbers is that it can ruin the surprise.

-I knew Seton Hall did not play defense, so I wasn’t surprised to see Georgetown have its best offensive rating of the year on Thursday.
-I knew UConn did not have great margin-of-victory stats. So I wasn’t shocked to see Georgetown come back from down 19. (I was thrilled they completed the comeback, but I was almost sure they’d come back somewhat.)
-I knew Marquette had great margin-of-victory stats. So I wasn’t crushed by Georgetown’s loss to a team lacking quality wins.

Yep, I’d like to thank the numbers for ruining all the suspense this season.

I’d also like to thank myself for predicting that Austin Freeman would shoot more this season, despite Hoya Prospectus accurately noting that players rarely become more aggressive in their careers. Freeman’s shot percentage has increased from 21.7% to 24.5%. I’d also like to point out that I’m completely cheating on this stat, by posting it shortly after Freeman scored 33 points in a game.

On the other hand, I’m completely shocked by how well Julian Vaughn is playing, upping his offensive rating from 88.6 to 102.5. (Again, I’m carefully posting after he just had a great game.) But the truth is, I’ve been amazed by Vaughn all season. Last year one of the things I picked up from being at the games was how totally confused Vaughn was in his first year in the Georgetown system. Vaughn was constantly in the wrong position and Monroe or Summers were constantly directing him where he needed to be. This year, it is like Vaughn is a completely different player. He’s playing with incredible confidence, and his spin move from the three point line to get a lay-up against Seton Hall, was just incredible. And the truth is, I don’t think he’s reached full potential yet. I really think Vaughn has a 25 or 30 point game in him against the right opponent.

What else can I say about attending games? Well, you see, I was in Minnesota for work for much of December. So I didn’t exactly… Blah, blah, blah. Here’s Casual Hoya with some awesome in-arena notes.


As previously noted, I think Minnesota’s Pomeroy ranking is inflated by crushing some bad teams in the non-conference schedule. That was just a deep experienced team picking on some smaller teams. Realistically, I think Minnesota is closer to the 30th best team in the nation than the 16th. I still like this team but my main question is whether a team can really be a Final Four contender playing a full-court pressure defense. As I’ve argued about zone defense, it just seems like the best teams know how to beat the full-court pressure. That’s why last weekend’s win against Ohio St. was so satisfying. Evan Turner was back and playing well. Trust me, Turner was dominating in the first half, and Minnesota still turned him over on about 5 possessions in a row in the second half to break the game open. And to answer my own question: Yes, a pressing team can go deep in March. But Minnesota is going to need some special individual performances to do it. And that’s why Royce White and Trevor Mbawke are missed.

Another thing I’ve been thinking about is how sometimes college basketball needs an impossible in-season goal. You know, the type of game where you look at your shoes and say, "Arggh, we never beat these guys. Can't we just get the breaks to go our way once?!"

Minnesota’s win last year at Wisconsin was so satisfying because Wisconsin is so dominate at home. It really felt like Minnesota accomplished something in that win. It is getting to that point when Minnesota plays at Michigan St. And the quotes from Lawrence Westbrook and Damian Johnson after the loss reflect that. The Seniors thought this was finally going to be the year they won at MSU. But it wasn’t. Someday Minnesota is going to win at Michigan St., and I’m sure it will be all the sweeter for those of us that watched the losses.

By the way, did anyone catch Raymar Morgan’s block of Blake Hoffarber’s three on Wednesday? Tim Doyle keeps talking about how Hoffarber has the quickest release in the Big Ten, and Morgan’s quick reaction and block, was one of the most amazing plays I’ve seen all season.


Illinois has totally turned around my impression of Notre Dame. I usually pick on the Irish for horrible defense. And I agree that Notre Dame is unlikely to advance deep into the NCAA tournament until they figure the defense out. But Notre Dame is a really fun team to watch. And that’s how Illinois has been for most of the year. With surprisingly good offense, and shockingly poor defense for Bruce Webber, Illinois had turned into a team that was hard not to cheer for, but also hard to believe in.

This inconsistency somehow caused Seth Davis to label Illini fans as apathetic this season. But I thought the response in his mailbag was spot on. Illini fans just don’t know what to expect from their team this year.

And then just when the defense was clearly the problem, a funny thing happened. Add a little Jeffrey Jordan and Bill Cole. Subtract a little Brandon Paul (and watch Mike Davis lose his shot.) And suddenly Illinois has a worse adjusted offense than defense. Puzzling.

But while I think the move to Jordan and Cole has been good in the short term, I think the team still needs to give Brandon Paul a long-run shot to be a star. According to the St. Louis newspaper, in Fall 2003, Bruce Webber wrote the April 2005 Final Four on the blackboard and told the players they were playing for the next season. On a team with no seniors, it was perfect. And with all apologies to lone scholarship senior Dominique Keller, I think Illinois should do the same thing this year. They need to write down April 2, 2011 and play for that date. Let Paul, DJ Richardson, and Tyler Griffey develop, and hope that the sophomore jump makes this an elite team next year.

Of course, even though I’m arguing for more of the struggling Brandon Paul, I’d like to ask a simple question: How come Brandon Paul doesn’t know how to complete a fast-break basket? His attempts after Illinois gets a steal have almost become comical.

Psychic Powers

The other big thing I’m rooting for this year is my Big East predictions. John Gasaway kindly points out that a reasonable prediction for Pitt was a 10-8 mark and NIT bid. I’d like to point out that this was my exact prediction in the BP book, and while 10-8 seems a bit conservative now, I was definitely optimistic relative to most publications. With the number of player losses, and limited big time recruits, most people picked Pitt for a sub .500 finish. Let me just say this. I don’t care who they have on paper. Never pick Wisconsin or Pittsburgh for a sub .500 finish as long as Bo Ryan and Jamie Dixon are coaching.

Also, never pick against Scottie Reynolds. Did you see the drive he had against Louisville late in the game where he seemingly weaved between three players en route to a lay-up? That kind of body control is just ridiculous. But Villanova's Pomeroy ranking isn't as impressive as the poll ranking. Does that bother me? Did I predict it? The BP book is still available at Amazon.

Friday, January 15, 2010

SEC player check, let the Kentucky man-crush continue

There are not many transfers into the Big 12 this year. Even suspended Tennessee guard Melvin Goins was technically a Junior College player last season, although I include him so you can see how inefficient he was at Ball St. two years ago. The only thing to mention is that Vernon Macklin likes the freedom to run at Florida relative to the methodical Georgetown system and his efficiency is up 20 points.

As for the Freshmen, here’s a case where the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Kentucky’s John Wall’s efficiency rate is a solid but not spectacular 114.7. But his play has been spectacular. Obviously the turnovers are dragging him down for now. But turnovers haven’t hurt Wall as much as freshman teammate Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe has posted a 32.7% turnover rate as of this last weekend.

Finishing up Kentucky, I won’t listen to any of this garbage about how DeMarcus Cousins needs to shoot less and let Patterson shoot more because Patterson is off-the-charts efficient. Cousins is a force of nature making 54% of his shots while shooting at a Luke Harangody like rate. Cousins will be in the NBA next year so we need to see him shoot while we can. Oh and did you notice that Cousins is 2nd in the nation in offensive rebounding rate and 3rd in defensive rebounding rate. Wow.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I like Kentucky to win the national title this year. I know this means I have to surrender my tempo-free stats appreciation card. (Sorry, the registration fee was too high anyhow.) And I’m nervous that this puts me in the camp of NBA talent fanatics. But guess what? Calipari knows how to coach defense. Memphis has been in the top 11 in defense the last 4 years. I think Kentucky will get there by the end of the year. That’s right, I’m a stats guy, and I’m saying the numbers to date are garbage. Throw them out. Kentucky is still getting better. And it isn’t that I don’t like Kansas. I think the article this week claiming the Kansas players don’t know their roles is silly. Players aren’t supposed to know their roles at this point in the season. Big 12 players are just establishing their set rotations after evaluating the teams in the non-conference. Kansas will be the favorite, and there are plenty of other teams that can do it. But Cousins’ nation leading rebounding tells me what my eyes tell me. Cousins is a man among boys on a team with a lot more physical talent than anyone in the country.

But enough about Kentucky. I don’t hear much chatter about Vanderbilt Freshman John Jenkins yet. (Well you know, except here.) But his 37 made threes are off the charts for a bench player. Also under the radar is Alabama’s Tony Mitchell who seems to have some great stats: virtually no turnovers, a ton of steals, a ton of blocks, and his efficiency is a product of 63% shooting. Taking awareness of the small sample size, Mitchell is the ultimate sixth man so far.

Florida’s Kenny Boynton may not have the same elite ORtg, but Florida will take his minutes and made shots with Nick Calathes gone. And don’t sleep on Lakeem Jackson of South Carolina. His offensive numbers aren’t great but he’s been a lock down defender. I guess that’s the point I should be emphasizing in these tables, and what I failed to emphasize in the Big 12 table. Minutes are critical. And if someone like Lakeem Jackson is getting major minutes and not posting elite efficiency numbers, there is probably a reason:

1) The team has no depth.
2) The kid has a load of potential, but is still raw.
3) The coach is an idiot.
4) There’s something that the efficiency numbers aren’t telling you.

Some people immediately jump to #3, but I don’t think that’s fair. Coaches are heavily invested in winning. (They need to do it to keep their jobs.) So the idiots don’t last long. I’m big on #4.

As for the Junior College additions, only Arkansas’ Jemal Farmer is getting major minutes. But his biggest skill so far has simply been his ability to get fouled. Hey, a lot of teams can use a guy who takes the ball to the basket.

Scroll down to see all newcomers to the SEC. As I failed to note last week, all numbers are from

Welcome Back

So what’s changed in the SEC so far this year, remembering all the caveats in the Big 12 column about opponent quality?

Earning More Minutes

A lot of players get injured, miss a year, and never come back and play well. That hasn’t been the case with Vanderbilt’s Andre Walker. He may have missed last season, but he’s come back with a vengeance hitting 65% of his shots and being a key defensive force.

Auburn Senior (and former JC transfer) Brendon Knox has been unstoppable this year making 74% of his shots. There’s nothing more glass half full, half empty then a player that develops this late. On the one hand, Auburn fans have to be cursing the fact that Knox will be gone next year, and he should have earned a chance earlier. On the other hand, you have to love the success story of someone who played JC ball, waited his turn, and has finally become a solid SEC post player.

Alabama’s Anthony Brock has incredible splits. He shoots 3’s well, but can’t make a 2 pointer to save his life. (His splits are less surprising when you note that he’s 5’9” tall.) This year he’s taking less 2’s and less shots overall, and his efficiency has received a noticeable bump upward.

Georgia’s Trey Tompkins and Travis (greatest dunk of 2010) Leslie, have been given the green light to shoot even more under new coach Mark Fox, and both have responded to the increased shots with increased efficiency. Give Mark Fox credit for inducing the “sophomore year efficiency leap” in these two, but let’s see if it lasts in SEC play.

More impressively, LSU sophomore Storm Warren has dramatically increased his minutes, increased his number of shots, and increased his efficiency, all at the same time.

What an odd career for South Carolina’s Brandis Raley-Ross. In 2007 he started for South Carolina, but made only 31% of his threes. In 2008, he came off the bench and made 51% of his threes. Back in the strating lineup in 2009, he shot only 31% from down town. And now in 2010, he’s back at 45% made threes. I guess he likes even years.

LSU’s Bo Spencer is going the other way. After an impressive 60 made threes on 40% three point shooting last year, he’s now shooting under 30% and his efficiency has gone in the tank. Meanwhile Florida’s Erving Walker has gotten minutes at the point guard role with Nick Calathes out, but he hasn’t responded well in the role. The former 42% three point shooter with 70 made threes last year can’t seem to buy a basket when someone isn’t setting him up.

Losing Minutes

Ole Miss has gotten a couple players back from injury last year, and the overall depth has improved efficiency across the board. I’m not sure Zach Graham and Terrance Henry are really better this year, but they’ve played well when they’ve been on the floor.

On the other hand, former South Carolina three point gunner Evan Baniulis can’t make a shot and now the senior can’t stay on the floor. And for all of us convinced that there is a sophomore leap in production, there’s always a player like Vanderbilt sophomore Brad Tinsley to ruin that prediction. Tinsley isn’t just missing shots this year, he’s turning the ball over at a high rate.

And you aren’t sure whether to feel good or bad for Kentucky’s Perry Stevenson. On the one hand, he’s going to be part of a pretty special Kentucky team this year. On the other hand, his minutes have fallen by 47%, he doesn’t get to shoot, and somehow he’s been turning the ball over when he does get it in his hands.

Still a Large Role

Meanwhile Kentucky’s Darius Miller has stayed in the rotation, and has simply benefited from all the stars around him. Miller is now shooting 43% on threes, but let’s just say he’s been wide open more than last year. And Arkansas’ Rotnei Clark has definitely taken the sophomore leap in terms of both possessions used and conversions.

Mississippi St. brought back its top eight players in terms of minutes from last year, and no one has benefited more from the continuity than forward Ravern Johnson who has upped his shooting percentage inside and outside the arc and is currently one of the most efficient players in the SEC.

Finally, Florida’s Dan Werner and Alex Tyus are another pair of players missing Calathes. Both are struggling relative to last season.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Who is New, Who is Better, and Who is Worse in the Big 12?

Today I thought I’d look at some of the Big 12 individual player statistics. The concern with looking at these numbers this early in the year is that individual offensive ratings are not adjusted for the quality of opponent. Thus players that played a lot of cupcakes early will look better than expected. And I suspect that many post players look better since they’ve been up against shorter non-conference teams. But let's take a look at what we can learn.

I start with a complete list of all the new players in the Big 12.

-Of the four transfers getting playing time, all are playing well. I read early on how UConn transfer and Kansas State forward Curtis Kelly was going to be a star, and I remain skeptical how he’ll perform in the tough Big 12 after posting mediocre numbers at UConn. (In fact, he nearly fouled out and played just 9 minutes in Saturday’s loss to Missouri.) But Kelly has performed well on the season to date, posting an offensive rating of 109.4. Baylor forward Ekpe Udoh, who didn’t like John Beilein’s system and transferred from Michigan has looked even better, playing 84% of his team’s minutes, posting an offensive rating of 119.1, and posting elite offensive and defensive rebounding rates. Baylor has been a fun, fast, guard-oriented team the last few years, but having a real post presence in Udoh may be key to Baylor’s success this year.

-As for the freshman, the obvious names are getting a lot of minutes and using them well from Xavier Henry to Avery Bradley. But don’t overlook the efficiency of someone like Nebraska’s Eshaunte Jones. The three point gunner is making over 50% of his threes and continuing the perimeter-oriented-tradition in Cornhusker land. And what about Texas wing Jordan Hamilton? He isn’t getting as much playing time on a deep Texas squad, but Hamilton’s combined inside and outside game make him a possible future star for the Longhorns. Finally, Oklahoma may be struggling, but not because its three freshman don’t know how to score. It’s because Oklahoma doesn’t play any defense this season.

-As for the new junior college transfers, Texas Tech’s David Tairu is a pure shooter. Not only has he made about half his three attempts, he’s earned a ton of free throws and made about 80% of them. But no one has been more important to his team’s success than Iowa St.’s Marquis Gilstrap. He’s fit in well in the Iowa St. system which lets the good scorers shoot as much as they want.

Scroll down in the next table to see all the new names. Finally, note that these numbers ignore the mid-season transfers who might make an impact. (Why? Because mid-season transfers don’t have any numbers yet.) But that doesn’t mean they won’t be key down the stretch. In particular, Christian Standhardinger of Nebraska looks like he might play a key role after leading Nebraska in scoring on Saturday.

Getting Better, Worse

Why are Kansas forwards Marcus and Markieff Morris substantially more efficient than last year? Is it the fact that sophomore year is usually the biggest jump in efficiency for players? Is it because of the addition of Xavier Henry and another weapon to double team on Kansas? Is it simply the smaller non-conference opponents allowing the Morris twins to get unimpeded looks at the basket? Who knows? But like many players, they’ve been more efficient so far this year.

Let’s break it down into different categories:

-I start with players earning more playing time. Texas A&M point guard Dash Harris has substantially cut down his turnovers and is earning free throws at an amazing rate this year while earning a 31 point jump in offensive efficiency. Now if only he would make some of those free throws. (Currently under 60%) Harris was expected to mature into the point guard role, but other jumps in efficiency are more uncertain. Is Texas Tech’s D’Walyn Roberts really that much better this year? Or is his high shooting percentage and incredible rebounding for a 6’7” player a function of playing a parade of cupcakes. Like Texas Tech’s “poll” ranking, I need to see more in conference play. Similarly, Oklahoma’s Ryan Wright seemingly couldn’t make a lay-up last year when he posted an 81.1 ORtg. Will his sudden proficiency in the paint and 104.7 ORtg continue? Lance Bowers of Missouri has been feasting on lay-ups this year bringing his ORtg all the way up to 132.2, but that isn’t even much of an increase given how well he shot last year. Bowers is one sophomore starter who should remain efficient in Big 12 play because the Missouri defense should continue to create fast break opportunities.

On the other end of the spectrum, Oklahoma St.’s Marshall Moses and Missorui’s Justin Safford have been given a larger role in the post this year, and both have been inconsistent, watching their ORtgs drop below 100. Both players are shooting at a higher rate when on the floor, so perhaps the increase in volume explains the drop in efficiency.

-Next I look at players earning fewer minutes. This is mostly players on Colorado (which now has more depth), and Kansas (which has unbelievable depth this year.) Colorado players Nate Tomlinson and Austin Dufault are playing substantially better, but they’ve been able to be more selective this year on their three point attempts. When this team gets behind in conference games and has to force some threes, I’m not sure the efficiency will stay there.

Kansas’s Tyrel Reed is a classic example of the Kansas depth. He now barely plays, but has moved his ORtg up to 128.2. Similarly Sherron Collins has really benefited from Xavier Henry’s presence. He’s been able to play less minutes, and by taking about 7% fewer possessions when on the floor, Collins has raised his ORtg over 10 points.

Texas’s Gary Johnson has also been encouraged to take substantially fewer shots, and he’s seen a 20 point jump in his efficiency rating.

But less playing time isn’t always a good thing. Texas guard Justin Mason has struggled enormously and his high turnover rate has not only killed his ORtg this year and dropped him from the starting lineup, it is threatening to drop him from the rotation completely. And let’s not even talk about what happened to Texas Tech’s Robert Lewandowski this year as his ORtg has fallen to an abysmal 70.0.

More worthy of discussion this year is the fact that Kansas center Cole Aldrich has seen the team become more talented around him, and yet Aldrich has actually become less efficient this year.

-Next I look at players whose minutes have stayed high, both last year and this year. Kansas St.’s Jacob Pullen might be benefiting from more talent around him, or the Junior might just be getting better. His 23 point jump in ORtg to 125.0 is a function of a player who has already made 47 threes this year.

I’d also be impressed with Iowa St.’s Craig Brackins 18 point jump in efficiency this year, but I have a feeling he’ll keep shooting until he gets it lower by the end of the year. But Iowa St.’s Lucca Staiger may stay efficient, for the simple reason that no one else on the team lets him shoot.

The real story though might be Texas A&M’s Donald Sloan. He’s shooting more often and making a higher percentage. His ability to move to off-guard at times thanks to Dash Harris’ emergence has made him an even more dangerous offensive weapon. (This by-the-way is exactly what Cincinnati thought would happen with Cashmere Wright allowing Deonta Vaughn to move to off-guard, but Wright hasn’t panned out.)

On the negative side, everyone wants to point fingers at Willie Warren, but he’s using about 10% more possessions this year, and he’s now the focal point of the defense, so I don’t think his numbers are terrible at all. A 10 point drop in efficiency is not a disaster, when Warren has an elite assist rate and when his teammates are all either playing well as freshman, or getting better (as in the case of Tony Crocker.) The problem, as mentioned above, is the Oklahoma defense.

-As for role players, I’m less inclined to read much into changes for these players, since the opponent and time of game matters so significantly. But Kansas St.’s Chris Merriewether was playing terrible, even before he was “bumped” by Frank Martin on Saturday. Perhaps most notable for this group is the fact that Dexter Pittman still only averages 48.3% of his teams minutes. Call it conditioning, call it dumb fouls, but the Senior forward needs to be on the floor for his team to compete for a national title.

-Finally, I list a group of players that have missed time due to injury / suspension, ect. With such a small sample, there isn’t much to say here. Brady Morningstar is good, but he isn’t 151.5 ORtg good.