Monthly Archives: December 2013

My Response to a Letter to an Editor

The following was passed to me late last week. It’s a photo of a letter to the editor of the Arizona Daily Star. The opinion of one, perhaps more, but here it is:

Letter to the Editor

I respect opinions. I sincerely do. I want to hear yours so feel free to comment on the matter. I don’t completely intend for my response to be snarky though it became such. Maybe I’m a blinded homer. Maybe I just understand good business. I’m not picking fights here I just don’t see… whatever, here’s my opinion on the matter:

Dear Freed the Snowbird,

I appreciate you sharing your opinion on the presence of Olson in and around Tucson. You’re correct in recognizing that he brought Arizona to national recognition. That actually includes the 1997 National Title. You probably know this considering your cavalier citation of his marital history. Good for you. How quickly we forget his beloved late-wife, Bobbi. You know, the one the floor is named after. But you probably know all of this. I’m really sorry to hear that you’re tired of him.

And wouldn’t it be great to say hello to Sean? Fantastic young coach. You only have that chance because of Lute Olson. Sean Miller would be the first to tell you that. You’ve been here seven years so you’re probably familiar with Miller’s effusive speak on Olson and the history of the program he inherited. Speaking of your seven years, that’s all the time you’ve spent here. You are a self-proclaimed snowbird. You are, by definition, a fair-weather fan. So all of this makes a lot more sense. I hope you’re enjoying your winters here. I imagine you won’t soon tire of 79 degree Decembers.

And deification? Please, we can address this two-fold: 1) Arizona Basketball is a $15M+ business and it’s target audience looks a lot like Olson. Peak at the lower bowl of McKale. 2) Having a 79-year old man do the robot seems far from godlike and looks a lot more like a Credit Union having some fun…WITH THE MOST RECOGNIZABLE FACE IN TUCSON!

There’s a reason photos of leaders past line the walls of everything from the White House to the Rotary Club: We can’t get to where we’re going unless we know where we came from. I respect your opinion, Freed, but there’s a correlation between Olson’s presence and that tiny little number you see next to “Arizona” everywhere.

If that’s too much for you to handle, I hear there’s some fair-weather in Tampa, right next to Dickie V at the Hooters.



How Entertaining was the Non-Conference Season?

That was a fun non-conference slate.

I had considered writing a review of it as the timing seems impeccable. We could walk our way through all those games played against everyone not under Larry’s leadership. It would afford us an opportunity to revisit Askia’s big shot, Washington’s ineptitude, the Wright-Loveridge show, Stanford’s roller coaster, numero uno, Dana Altman and Joseph Young, Jahii Carson, trips to Michigan, and the interesting fact that Oregon State has played games in Maryland, Chicago, and Honolulu otherwise known as places Barack Obama has lived.

But we kinda just covered that so… If there’s anything else you want to cover, just @pachoopsab me.

That said, and this week excluded, it really was an exciting non-conference slate. The conference seems to be as good and deep as it’s been in forever. There have been good games up and down and all across the country. And as I was conjuring what to write during this slow week when no one is playing anyone of intrigue and I’m in Mexico for the twenty-third consecutive family New Years, I was reminded of a conversation about the success (or otherwise) of the new rules. Yes, I’m going to fill your holiday breaks with a discussion of officiating. Well only sort of.

Because just a few weeks ago the NCAA dropped their first bit of data on how their rule changes have affected the game. For a refresher on what they changed up, read this. And for the NCAA’s analysis, read this or allow me to synopsize:

  • Basketball is better because of us

That’s about what the NCAA had to say about that. Like any good corporation they’ve pat themselves on the back for their job well done. I don’t mean that facetiously but if you’re going to tell everyone you’re doing X, Y, and Z to make A, B, and C better, your release on the matter will support that end-goal. You’re also going to tell the story that it’s working. As you may have noticed, the NCAA opens with:

Behold the new world of college basketball…

Well alrighty then, Cristobolo Columbus. Next they’re going to tell us they invented the Internet. Alas, picking on the NCAA is a touch passé. Really all the NCAA has done is push data at us to suggest the game has opened up. They are not wrong. Here’s what they’ve said:

  • PPG: 67.5 –> 73.81
  • FG%: 43.30 –> 44.71
  • TOpg: 13.30 –> 12.75
  • 2 more fouls per game, 5 more FTs, 3 more made FT

They warned us from the get-go that there would be more whistles and now they’re satisfied with this analysis and are “encouraged” by the direction they’ve sent the game. Nice.

But you know there are more smart guys out there studying this. I’m just absorbing it but read Kevin Pauga’s KPI Trend Analysis. He brings the analysis to a per possession basis and finds similar results. And, of course, more. The key takeaways from his thoughts are that possessions per game have increased, a by-product of more fouls and thus shorter possessions (17.99 à 17.20) as well as fewer turnovers. With steals and turnovers down, the conclusion is that they’ve now become fouls. The end result of this is an increase in scoring which is a conclusion in its own right. The question, however, becomes whether or not that indeed creates a more entertaining game?

Or is that even the question at all?

As you read through many of these analyses, “improvement” and “entertainment” get thrown around quite a bit. But how much can you quantify entertainment? The assertion has been that the NCAA has positively affected the game in such a way that it is more entertaining to us.

But is that right? Are these the elements that we find most intriguing? I suppose what I’m most directly getting at is I’m not sure the score of the game is what I find most appealing. I grew up watching Lute Olson teams beat ASU 127-99 and that was just as fun as last season’s 73-58 win. What’s more, I grew to appreciate what Tony Bennett did at Washington State. He began a paradigm shift in a conference of run-n-fun. He made a Goliath of Pullman’s David. The average Tony Bennett team was playing with just under 60 possessions per game. Olson was closer to a thousand. What Bennett achieved was wizardry and he still managed to do it in a conference long perceived as soft. The forty-five-feet-from-the-basket touch foul is nothing new to Pac-10 fans.

Meanwhile, as Bennett and Howland were constructing a philosophical shift in Pac-12 basketball, Lorenzo Romar was experiencing his most successful three years of basketball with about 72 possessions per contest. The Dawgs were good and fun. And different than the Cougs and Bruins.

I’m not criticizing the NCAA’s work. They recognized an opportunity to improve their product and they acted accordingly. I think their analysis is somewhat limited to suggest that things are better essentially because they made it so. I’m particularly drawn to the glaring omission of 2012-13 game duration data. This season’s games are clocking in at 1 hour and 54 minutes. With no context, I have nary a clue as to what that means. Is that long or short? The same? This is important to me because I’m a busy guy. For example, baseball has lost its sparkle. I’m no longer 16-year-old Adam absorbing 4-hour marathon games of roided out homeruns and 98mph sliders. 29-year-old Adam rarely takes four hours to watch that diminished and poorly marketed product*.

*unless it is October in which case I most certainly will make the time

Consequently, I don’t want to watch guys shoot free throws for two-and-a-half hours. I’m all for opening up the game and I’ll gladly watch Jordan Adams get buckets; but if things trend towards November’s Seton Hall-Niagra tilt, in which 102 FTs were taken, count me bored.

The point here is that entertainment is subjective. We’ve been presented the right measures but – with a Pac-12 focus – the players are just better. Sometimes it’s just that simple. Jorge Gutierrez, or the equivalent, will not be the conference POY. Or even First-Team All-Ten-Man-Conference Team. Come March, that thing is going to resemble a draft board. The NCAA is making strides – they’ve told us as much – but I’d also like to give credit to the ones playing the games.

And now we’ve arrived at the really fun part. The section of the season where it doesn’t matter whether the final score is 99-92 with gazillion FTs taken or 14-8 with eight concussions. It’s storyline time and that’s the real entertainment. Because you shouldn’t fool yourself: You love drama.

Do you realize Andy Enfield now must out-tempo Steve Alford? As in he has to do it on a basketball court and not with his mouth? That Johnny Dawkins is coaching for his career the same way Ken Bone, Craig Robinson and maybe even Lorenzo Romar are? That Spencer Dinwiddie is going to prove – or otherwise – that he and his Buffs are the cream rising to the top?

That’s entertainment to me. When Utah knocks someone off or a court is rushed by giddy students. That’s a good game. Those slack jawed moments of howdidthathappen; holy shit, if you will.

It was a fun non-conference slate. And it’s about to get better.

The Perception of Kaleb Tarczewski: A Poll

There was a comment left for our AZ rebounding piece that alluded to Kaleb Tarczewski being a soft player. It was evidently the perception of a Duke fan and subsequently got me thinking more about the perception of playing soft.

So I wrote all about it for my weekly column, Marching to Vegas, on Rush the Court.

Beyond that link you’ll find that there are a lot of numbers that suggest Kaleb is not soft but that perhaps there are some other bigs in the conference that are “soft.” Ultimately softness is a subjective title and I respect opinions. I think I dispel some of the rumors around Josh Scott as well. And I look at the Wear family.

My thoughts on the matter is he’s received a somewhat bad reputation because he has the bad habit of dropping the ball too low. This has allowed opponents to strip him more easily and when the ball goes flailing out of bounds as opposed to violently through the hoop, the perception is that Tarc might be soft. I think the fact he leads the Wildcats in free throw rate begins to suggest otherwise. But you tell me.

I want to gather a little more on this. I need to know what the general perception of this big boy is because I’ve heard the gamut of opinion on the matter. Let me know:

What is the perception of Kaleb Tarczewski's game?

View Results

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The Pac-12 Year in HOLY S***!!! (Copying Grantland)

If you’re not familiar with Grantland’s Year in Holy S***!!!, familiarize now. In a swift Bart ride back to my house I was taken out of the stat holes of KenPom and hoop-math and reminded that SPORTS! Watch that Steph Curry highlight reel and tell me you don’t get goosebumps as he drops trey on the Nuggets, turning to their bench before net.

Alas, this is a Pac-12 blog and holy shit happens here, too. We’re about to dive into it. But to further preface this reactionary and sudden expulsion of disbelief; before unveiling the moments that had as out of our chairs, jaws gaping, eyes wide, SMHing all over; prior to that, I’d just like to say that these are the things that have us coming back. Fandom, for better or worse or otherwise, allows us to get lost. Why we stand and shout. Holy shit. Bravo.

Here are a handful of those times from Brad, Ben, Matt, Jason, and me in no particular order.

The McKale Monitor Mishap

Jason of– The Monitors at McKale moment game started late for me.  I was in the car in a part of Colorado that severely tested KOA’s claim of “3 countries/38 states” motto.  When I arrived at my destination, not exactly civilization, but a place that does have DirecTV, (luckily the game was on ESPN) I turned on the TV and my first “Holy Shit” moment occurred.  CU was up, by double digits, in McKale, “Holy Shit indeed”.  Over the remaining 15 minutes of the game, the rest of my party arrived, the beers and wine were flowing and then the FT’s started clanking, oh those FT’s. When Mark Lyons made his second free throw with 10 seconds left, I stood up and I didn’t sit down for several minutes.  Sabatino Chen ended up with the ball in his hands with 3.5 seconds left, it wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t designed, it was….. BANKED, but it did go in.  There were high fives and then a “wait a minute, they’re reviewing it”.  It was good, it was definitely good was being echoed throughout the room.  Then it began, the slow walk toward the TV, the room was hushed, the volume was cranked and everybody was gathered around a 52 inch high-definition TV.

Screen Shot 2013-12-18 at 10.02.27 PM

Win probability.

Over and over we watched, angle after angle, hands now ON the TV, “no-it’s out right there, it’s good, the red light isn’t on yet”.  Then it happened……”HOLY SHIT” they called it no good.  F-bombs were dropped; BS’s thrown around and the air had been let out of the room.  I don’t remember the last 5 minutes of the game, all I know was that CU lost, but I will never forget that “HOLY SHIT” moment and that I was in the middle of nowhere, with high-definition TV while the refs  standing courtside were stuck with the standard-definition variety

Adam – I’d watched as my Wildcats made a furious comeback from the most three pointers the Buffaloes would hit in a single game all season. Well, it was going to be the most until Chen happened. Head down dribbling out the clock he heaved it up and you know the rest. I was here with friends and had conceded Arizona’s loss. We watched all of the angles and I even broke things down for my houseguests exactly how, if I were one of the officials, I’d bury my head in the monitor, confirm the call with field goal arms and bolt off the McKale floor. I bolted out of my living room to demonstrate. But when I returned, the officials were waving the whole damn thing off and…HOLY SHIT. Hey, Cats win and Mark Lyons doesn’t give a rats ass about how nice Sabatino’s hair is.

He Touched the Ball x5 and Cancun

Adam – From my Vegas vantage point following the UCLA-Arizona game I had this to tweet which, as you’ll notice, when unreplied, retweeted, or favorited. For shame.

Well then what happened?

AND THAT’S SOME STRAIGHT NOSTRADAMUS ACTION PEOPLE. Anyhow, in our hotel room, we watched that presser another 3-to-fifteen-hundred times because oh my holy shit goodness Sean Miller wasn’t happy. There’s more spice in that presser than an Indian dish. There’s more heat in Miller’s words than a dutch oven under plastic covers. There’s more flame in those eyes than under Ken Bone’s seat. Ask the Pac-12 representative Miller “didn’t” berate but rather who was the closest in proximity as he screamed innocuously down a hallway. And then Goodman’s news broke and maybe this is the true holy shit of it all? We wound up with an officiating scandal that I had to digest in phases. $5k and a trip to Cancun is some watered down Illumanati action. And now replay the presser.

Jahii Drops 40 on The Strip

Adam – Sure it was a career high and sure the Devils needed every one of his double-score scoring output from Carson. That’s undoubtedly some MVP stuff. Carson connected on 16 of his 25 shots inside the Thomas and Mack and that’s a pretty damn efficient 40 points. But wait, there’s holy shit coming. Because the 5’10” Carson made 14 of those 16 shots as layups which basically just says to me that Carson stared down the Rebels and their 7 blocked shots per game to announce to everyone that, “I AM JAHIISUS. I AM SO GREAT THAT I HAVE FORCED HERB SENDEK OF SLOTH PACED OFFENSES TO COMPLETELY BURY THE FOUNDATION OF HIS OFFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY AND THE STYLE IN WHICH HE BUILT HIS CAREER IN ORDER TO KEEP HIS JOB AND LOCAL TALENT. AT LEAST HE CAN NO LONGER LAMENT JAMES HARDEN’S DEPARTURE. I AM JAHIISUS.” And then he beat Marquette in Tempe to secure the first Sun Devil win over a ranked opponent since before Todd Graham was associated with other coaching jobs. Harden, who?

Askia Booker Doesn’t Give a Jayhawk

Ben of – 

If safeties-free, all-balls performances like 17 points as a freshman in the NCAA Tournament, or a sizzling domination of a non-conference run in Charleston as a sophomore didn’t let you in on the secret, let me clue you in: Askia Booker was born to get buckets.  Important buckets.  Season-defining buckets.

So, when Kansas, dominator of all things Colorado Basketball for generations, makes the mistake of getting into a see-saw affair in the snake-pit-that-Tad-built, who else could CU turn to with the game on the line?  Not Josh Scott.  He’s too smooth, too nice.  Not Spencer Dinwiddie.  He’s too conventional, too ‘efficient.’


No, you need insanity.  You need a player with no conscience, no understanding of the stage upon which he steps.  You need, to be brash, a player who does not give a f***.

Askia Booker does not give a f***.  Askia Booker gets buckets.

And so, 80-feet from the basket, with three seconds left on the clock against that team, the under-recruited dynamo from South LA – off-center goatee, and all – was the player in silver getting the ball.

One dribble, two.  Still too far from the hoop.  Better euro-step to cover some ground.  Square up, leap, let fly.

Watch the gif.  Count the fucks given by Booker.  There are none to be found.  After release, he just stands there, as if waiting for the oncoming train of noise.  Waiting for us, the fans, to realize what he has just pulled off.  He was born to hit that shot.  He was born to euro-step into that shot.

Almost four years ago, Colorado was in a similar situation against the hated Jayhawk.  Clock ticking down, tie game, ball in hand, CU had a shot to stun the #1 team in the land in the time-before-Tad.  In that moment, it was Cory Higgins who was called upon.  Higgins, the program’s co-leader in scoring, wasn’t up to the moment, and air-balled his dance with history.  Looking back, it all makes sense.

Booker is everything that Higgins is not.  Higgins was calm, cool, collected.  Indeed, sophisticated.  James Bond in shorts.  Booker is the junkyard dog, barking at everything in sight.    John McClane in Black and Gold.  Higgins may have been more talented, but Booker has the want, the need to hoop.  The balls to steal headlines from future NBA bonus babies.  The grit to walk across broken glass when needed.

I could twist myself in knots talking about how the game, the win, the shot meant something for Colorado, for Booker.  In the end, there’s nothing but the inbounds, the euro-step, and the pure, un-adulterated brashness of Ski and his moment.

Bucket gotten.

Mike Moser Leaves Las Vegas, Does Not Suffer Nic Cage-like Departure

Matt of – Given Oregon’s lack of depth in the front court this season, the addition of a quality player like Mike Moser was definitely a wanted surprise to Duck fans.  Keeping him away from Washington was just an added bonus. Moser brings leadership, talent, and immediate play-ability to a position that was vacated by fan favorite, Arsalan Kazemi. Moser also fits perfectly into Dana Altman’s high-post wheel offense.  His ability to stretch the floor, handle the ball, and pull bigger defenders away from the hoop compliments Oregon’s guard focused offense. To say that Moser joining the Ducks this off season was a Holy Shit moment is putting it lightly.

Just this Dunk

Brad of Portland –  If you were watching that dunk you were like, HOLY-SHIT-KNOCK-KNOCK-WHO’S THERE-BOOOM-SHAKALAKA-F***-YOU-DARREN-SHARPER-HOLD MY DICK! Then you put a hand over your mouth, made a noise like you were watching Kevin Ware shoot a jumper in a regional final, and wept like you saw a double rainbow.

827051630RHJ doesn’t dunk his nigiri in the soy sauce, he slams that shit down so hard he cooks the fish. He is not a role model. Just because he can dunk a basketball does not mean he should raise your kid. Anyone raisin’ that kid is laughing their way to the bank faster than Earl Woods. The rest of us are just wiping our own kid off the Christmas card and sending a photo RHJ posterizing the entire Aggies basketball team instead.

Larry Drew Two’s Icy Veins Meet Icy Shabazz
Adam – LD2’s season in and of itself was a giant surprise. He was the rock his coach couldn’t quite be and the his prima dona wing wouldn’t be. For all the heat he’d taken in leaving Carolina across 12-13 Drew was a leader and it was fun to watch. And then to see those who we cheer for and appreciate succeed is great! So as Drew took that pass and slashed through the lane and hit a fading, elbow jumper to sink the Dawgs and maintaining their spot atop the conference – the conference they’d go on to win – I was impressed and jaw dropped. Holy shit as it were.
But in that gif you’ll notice the sulking shoulders of a neon shoed gentlemen. He’s left handed and was no where near a position to necessarily get a basketball with a waning clock and whining attitude. And yes I just said “whining attititude” which is the same crap my dad would drop on the Blue Rhinos – my 11-and-under baseball team.  Whiny attitude is a phrase reserved for juveniles but that’s about what not getting the ball when you want the ball equates to. It was the moment that perhaps personified everything that we didn’t know but felt UCLA’s season would become. Holy shit did he really just big league his own team off an icy cold buzzer beater? He did, and now it’s Steve Alford’s team (which was a holy shit in and of itself).
Two Teams AND Two Numbers
Adam – With two, citations of the number two, this. But when Oregon visited Pauley on Saturday January 19, 2013 it was the first Pac-12 Conference game featuring two ranked opponents since March 2009. What two words come to mind here? Holy and shit. Four years it took to get to this place and it was 21 vs. 24? And the road team won? Man oh man had this conference hit rock bottom. There would be just one more contest between ranked opponents that season (see: Ball, He Touched the)
What did we miss (lots no doubt)?

Wildcats Grabbing Boards and Missing Layups: OR% and Putbacks

The Arizona Wildcats are a very good rebounding team.

I’ve lauded it and you’ve heard about it and pretty soon teams across the Pac-12 are going to experience that front court. It’s big and strong and imposing. Their offense is deliberately run to utilize that strength. Arizona is taking 74% of their shots from inside the arc. A significant change from last season’s 62.5%.

And back to the original point, they rebound the hell out of the basketball. They limit opponents to the the twelfth fewest offensive boards (meaning they clean the defensive glass) and grab offensive boards like corporate cookies out of a holiday gift basket. It’s December 18, you know what I’m talking about.

And who doesn’t love offensive boards (I’m impartial to the corporate cookies)? I mean, I often cite them as amongst the most frustrating plays in sports (along with the four pitch walk, double fault, and seven-ten split) but that just shows how incredible they are for the benefactor. Benefit and you love it. They are an extra possession that often results in easy buckets. Hooray easy buckets!

But Arizona isn’t making it easy on themselves.

Or maybe I didn’t say that right. They’re doing their darndest to make things easy on themselves, grabbing 43.3% of the shots they miss, but that’s where the ease stops. Anecdotally, we watched as the Wildcats missed seemingly countless second chance layups inside the Crisler Center as Michigan built their first-half-and-beyond lead:

The ‘Cats were getting the looks they presumably wanted but weren’t hitting. The same seemed to be happening a week prior against UNLV and so analysis seemed necessary. I’m all for perception being reality but if you have the data to back it up then you have a problem. Or at least a story. I like stories.

So I set out to tell the story of Arizona’s putback offense. Trusty hoop-math was consulted but Jeff doesn’t rank teams by their putting back abilities. So I headed over to KenPom and sorted for the top-10 OR% teams and then back to hoop-math for their accompanying eFG% on putbacks. The raw data:

OR% Putback eFG%
Kentucky 46.1 67.6
Arizona 43.3 43.1
Baylor 43.2 55.3
St. Bonaventure 43.1 47.2
Tennessee 43 59.6
UAB 42.8 41.8
Indiana 42.5 60
Quinnipiac 41.7 60.5
Pitt 41.7 52
SMC 41.4 37.9

Now let me say this first: This is incomplete research. Or rather I could’ve dove deeper and drawn up the numbers for 351 teams to better understand the trends around offensive rebounds and putbacks but PacHoops has a limited time, financial, and give-a-shit-about-Alcorn-State’s-offensive-fingerprint budget so I settled on ten. My apologies dataheads.

So per this sheet, the average top-10 OR% team has an eFG% of 52.2%. Arizona joins this group as the the third worst amongst the O-boarders in this eFG category: 43.1%. That’s bad. What’s more is the Wildcats are an average team at getting to the free throw line (rank 151 in the nation) to suggest they’re not even converting these extra attempts into free tosses. Look at Kentucky: they’re converting their extra possessions into quick buckets (67.6% eFG shooting is good) and they’re second in the nation in FTRate (62.9%).

So what could all of this mean for Arizona? I have a few thoughts.

First, Arizona takes a very low percentage of three pointers. Just 26.2% of their offense is from deep. Because of such, teams are less inclined to defend against that shot and could fill the lane. As Wildcats aren’t spending much time on the perimeter, they’re moving into the lane where they’re taking the bulk of their offense and grabbing anything they miss (we’ve covered that). So if the defense isn’t focused on defending the three and is filling the lane, Arizona, as a superior rebounding team, is obtaining their rebounds amongst more congestion than the average offensive rebound. These clusterboards would then lead to more contested putbacks which tend to be more difficult shots to hit, in effect lowering the team’s eFG% on putbacks.

Not the case.

This was quickly disproved by finding that just about each of those top-10 teams – whether hitting at a high putback clip or otherwise – was shooting a pretty low percentage of threes (average: 26.65% 3PA). Arizona was in the lower half of distance chuckers but it seems moot nonetheless. I understand that I’m dealing with a light sample set here, but this seemed to significantly suggest that Arizona might simply be missing putbacks.



The second thought was to explore that Arizona is simply a fantastic rebounding team and not fantastic at the subsequent plays. Firstly, there’s no denying this team their distinction as great rebounders. They’re second in the nation in rebounding margin at +14.2 and everything else I’ve already said (#2 OR%, #12 defensive OR%). But if they’re missing all these putbacks, maybe they’re just diluting their offensive rebound numbers? This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but Arizona had 11 putback attempts against Michigan and the Wildcats made one. They had 17 offensive boards for the game. It’s strange considering this team has a top-50 eFG and doesn’t even shoot that many threes (key component of that equation).

As stated in the opening, the Wildcats run things deliberately on the offensive end which has essentially allowed them to be effective seemingly everywhere but on these putbacks. I’ve chosen to focus on there mostly because it just seems that Arizona has struggled with them. And now the numbers support such. By no means, however, am I going to argue that Arizona is doing a poor job of really anything. They’re setting themselves up for success and thus far they’ve been quite successful (11-0, #1 ranking, title contenders).

But what we’ve perhaps learned here today is that the Wildcats are leaving points on the board. That the number one team in the nation isn’t converting at a level they could on what tends to be a pretty easy shot to convert. Like my tweet above states, teams can only bank so long on Arizona missing shots from close in.

The good can only get better.



Utah is Playing Hard and is 9-1

For awhile I was hung up on Larry Krystkowiak’s comments from media day in which he called “playing hard” a talent. Sure he’s right and maybe it was just a ton of humble coach speak, but I didn’t love it. I didn’t even like it. But I understood the crux of what he was saying as he doesn’t have an Aaron Gordon, Jordan Adams, Spencer Dinwiddie, or Jahii Carson on his roster.

What he had was another brand new roster and seven new players to integrate around Jordan Loveridge. Who’s a fine player, but perhaps not immediately NBA-bound like the aforementioned. The Pac is talented.

But it’s mid-December and we find ourselves staring at a Utah team with but a single loss and an impressive holding of home court against a pretty good BYU team. That solitary loss was to Boise State on the road and late in the contest. They haven’t played the hardest schedule to be certain (ok, they’ve played the 3rd easiest schedule) so it becomes somewhat difficult to define this team. Are they talented? Are they playing hard? Are they the benefactors of playing Evergreen State, Grand Canyon, and St. Katherine (coming 12/28 to Huntsman)?

So how might we quantify this? Or, perhaps more directly asked, what’s going on?

I want to examine whether the Utes are playing hard. That’s how their coach has said they’re going to win games and without watching every minute of Runnin’ Ute hoop, I don’t really know where to start. And this is perhaps the crux of my issue with Larry K’s comments. Saying your team is good at playing hard doesn’t really mean anything.

In an effort to quantify, however, my initial hypothesis was such that the Utes perhaps are limiting shots at the rim; more effectively playing their defense and not allowing easy shots. As it were, they’re allowing more shots at the rim this season but doing a better job of contesting those. Teams are shooting just 56.7% there against the Utes and that’s well below the 60.9% D-1 average. They hold teams to the 19th lowest eFG% in the nation suggesting indeed these Utes are playing hard on defense. They lead the country in 2pt FG%. But ultimately those are just niceties.

Offensively they’ve got the 8th highest eFG% (58.3%). They shoot 77.7% from the rim and Delon Wright has been fantastic. The guard is taking nearly 70% of his shots at the rim and is making a stupid 83% of those shots(compare that to Jordan Loveridge’s 32% shots at the rim which is a bit mystifying but he still seems to be getting his; handily leading the team in usage) and putting up a talented 16/7/6. He’s been a delightful back court, transfer surprise for K and seems to have really allowed Loveridge to thrive as the primary scoring option all over the court, not just on the blocks. Now I’d love to see Jordan taking fewer threes. He’s a thicky thick body taking 40.8% of his shots from distance and making 31.4% of them. A season ago he was jacking up just 27.7% and making 36.8% of them. I like the latter stats for sustainability reasons; but it’s hard to argue against a guy with a 118.7 ORtg on team with a top-10 eFG. The Utes are doing something right and Loveridge just won Utah’s first ever Pac-12 Player of the Week Award.

But lots is still up in the air. Those are lovely numbers I’ve cited and that’s really about all I’ve done. While Larry K is seemingly quick to say his team isn’t the most talented, I have no qualms in saying they’re more talented than the aforementioned Geoducks, Antelopes, and Fightin’ Firebirds.

Looming large is the first conference game when the Ducks of Oregon come to Huntsman (Thursday, 1/2). This will undoubtedly be the Utes’ first big test and telling of just how “hard” this team plays. Looking at things long term, I’ll be curious to see where this budding program takes its scheduling. First tests shouldn’t come in conference play.

But that’s where we are today: staring at a 9-1 Utes team that I haven’t quite revealed anything about. There’s nothing too shocking in the numbers besides that they’ve beaten up on some cupcakes (to jog your memory it’s the 348th most difficult). But there is no denying that the Utes are 9-1. And when that left column keeps moving, you start to believe its supposed to move.

Here’s to playing hard.

My Trip to Ann Arbor, MI

Standing in the tunnel, just off of the Crisler Center floor outside the locker rooms, Greg Byrne was fulfilling the responsibilities of the coolest job in the world. Glad-handing friends of the program and telling people he didn’t remember that he most certainly remembered them, he stank of charm and victory. When it was my turn to shake the Athletic Director’s hand, I said, “Greg, I really like the sports.” He chuckled and told me he shared those sentiments and carried on through the crowd.

I most certainly do enjoy the sports, I confirmed as much by flying to Ann Arbor for 40 hours of collegiate fun. I also confirmed with the wait staff at Ashley’s on State Street that their establishment was indeed not named for Brandon Ashley who had just scored 18 non-Wolverine points that afternoon. I’m not sure I’m welcome back.

Crisler Center

What was further confirmed in Michigan was that these ‘Cats are deserving of their number one ranking. That they’re equal parts balanced, talented, tough, and fortunate. A special combination that suggests North Texas. They took every possible blow from a talented albeit youthful Wolverine squad and responded. As I’ve noted many times on PacHoops, it isn’t necessarily what you do but how you respond. As Arizona needed a moment – a stop, a basket, a something – they got it. I’ll note my two favorites:

  1. Cuffed by foul trouble and general bouts of ineffectiveness, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was not enjoying his time in Crisler. The new rules were being called to the T and RHJ had tapped a few too many players. Four to be exact. But with Arizona down a deuce and everyone beginning to recognize that the Wolverines might really knock #1 off, Nick Johnson found a streaking Hollis-Jefferson who found his way by a Wolverine, absorbed the harm, and finished. Perhaps it was the two points and/or extra point Brady Hoke couldn’t find but Hollis-Jefferson scored one basket on Saturday and it gave Arizona their first lead since early in the first half.
  2. I was tempted to tell someone – twitter or text or the guys next to me – but I thought the better. I wanted to see things play out, see the mettle of these Wildcats, before I started looking for pieces that might not be so obviously there. Because a season ago it Mark Lyons’ ball. Now I say that knowing it didn’t matter if there were 15 seconds or 15 minutes remaining but for better or worse, Mark and everyone else knew that he was going to be making the play in the moment. We loved him for it. We hated him for it. For my money Lyons was our guy and I liked it. Alas, I refrained from putting my thoughts into the public space. What I was thinking was that Arizona could really use a Lyons-type in these final two minutes. Where was the ball going to go? The Wolverines twice had gone to Nik Stauskas and that makes good sense because he’s good. I suggested Arizona try and steal him back to Tucson. They did not. But with the score standing about equal and the clock sprinting for zeros, where was the ball going to hang out? Arizona had run its offense deliberately for 38 minutes and with sound effectiveness. But could that work in the hectic moments of a monster game? Well what came to be didn’t necessarily surprise but rather should scare the hell out of the rest of everyone. Brandon Ashley took the ball at McGary feigned his way to the right, muscled McGary off, and banked in the Wildcats’ 64th and 65th points. Needing a basket, Arizona went to Brandon Ashley and he made a professional grade basketball play. I said that to the strangers next to me and was later informed by friends that they too immediately called it an NBA move. Now that’s coming from the kid that I’ve long thought whatever you get from him is icing on the cake. That’s not necessarily a knock on Ashley, but more a recognition of the consistent and solid output of Johnson and Gordon. Arizona’s third option became its go to option and he made a play that no other player on the roster could make.

It was a wonderful display of competition performed by the maize and red teams. John Beilein is a fantastic coach and Stauskas can play. I tend to take anything a fan base says about their own with a grain of salt but all of the “Glenn Robinson III is as talented as anyone” talk wasn’t hyperbole. UM fans are right that he could take games over – and he did such in the first half – with a more assertive mentality. McGary isn’t an All-American but Caris LeVert sure could be. The Crisler Center was beautiful and a great place to take in a ball game. It wasn’t the rowdiest place I’ve been but we were there for the wrong sport. I walked away understanding very clearly that we were at a football school. Had the game been next door and played by 11 players a side, 110,000 people would’ve showed up to watch outside through a miserable snow storm. Six total inches of snow fell during my stay. I asked countless locals how we could sneak into that stadium but eventually succumbed to the cold and liquor. We had a town to paint red.

But even with regards to that, we didn’t last long. Waking up at 830am local time (EST) equates to 530am home time (PST) and there just wasn’t enough gas in the tank. Bed was acquired by 11pm and I never made it to the famous Zingerman’s. We did make it, however, to Rick’s Friday night. The place was a riot. It smelled of college and if you don’t know what that means then go buy a 12-pack of cheap beer, cheaper whiskey, and a plastic bottle of vodka. Get some food coloring, seven-up and a colorful looking soda that’s definitely off brand. Do not spend more than $20 on these items and pour them all over the ground with remixed hip hop, your best dance moves, a crumpled one dollar bill, a shred of hope, some invincibility, and none of your maturity. If available, include vomit and sweat in this adulteration. For authenticity. Jump up and down on this in your oldest shoes with a hat on backward and that’s the smell of college. Rick’s was everything I’d been warned of. Who’s coming with me next weekend?

Rick's, Ann Arbor

Enter at your own risk.

Yes we got the full Ann Arbor experience and our team won, too. It was a great weekend and this flight I’m on right now hurts. Most specifically my head but I’ve got an Arizona shirt on and I couldn’t disagree with the man in the bathroom line when he told me “that Sean Miller has got one fine ball club over there.” I couldn’t disagree with him one bit.

Back to that tunnel. With Byrne all smiles and family members giddy to see their game winning sons, we just sort of hovered. Basking in victory and the excitement of it all, we heard a familiar voice from behind us, “Quite a turn out from you Arizona fans. Well done.” Well I like compliments so that’s nice. We turned to thank the voice.

“I’ll see you all in Dallas,” said Jim Nantz.

He might be right. Do they have Rick’s there?

Q&A with Dylan Burkhardt of UMHoops: Wolverine Genius

The forecast is for something called “snow” and I’ve packed little beyond a red shirt. I’m going to Ann Arbor. I’m headed out there to go to the Crisler Center, home of the Michigan Wolverines. Naturally, I needed to learn more of this enemy despite having Ohio State blood in me and RichRod as my coach.

For my education I took to the best,, to learn about this basketball team. First of all, one has to appreciate a site that takes the naming structure of [topic prefix]hoops. It’s brilliant. Furthermore, Dylan Burkhardt has quite the operation over there. Wolverine genius. On WANE I called the site “comprehensive” but learn for yourself. What’s more – and you’ll learn this below – it really is brilliant. Dylan and his crew know this program in and out and by reading it you’re going to learn more about basketball than anything else. It’s a smart website for many reasons, but maybe not necessarily because they asked me questions on how to prepare for Arizona.

UMHoops  –  @UMHOOPS  –  UMHoops FB

A big thanks to Dylan for taking the time. Here’s to seeing you in Ann Arbor. The questions & answers:

I’ve only ever lived in Tucson, San Diego, and San Francisco. What is cold?

Considering the fact that you are going to the game and the forecast is 24 degrees and snowy, you’ll know soon enough. And you probably won’t be nearly as excited once you do.

You’ve seen a season and change of Mitch McGary. He’s a fine ball player who had a sound freshman season. Then the nation got to see him and he blow up like Ohio State’s BCS dreams (but in a good way). He’s subsequently been called a pre-season All-American. Now he’s been a little dinged up to date but: Is McGary AA good?

He has the ability, no question about that. McGary’s stamina isn’t where it needs to be right now after he missed the entire preseason and the first two games of this year with a back injury. John Beilein will tell you that and McGary would agree.

McGary can completely dominate a game with his size, strength and versatility. He was the reason Michigan made the Championship Game last season. They’ve brought him along slowly but he’s averaging just short of a double-double (9.7 points and 8.9 rebounds) and this week is really the first time Michigan has had an opportunity to integrate him into the offense with multiple practices in a row.

Speaking of making things better, the losses of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. is going to be hard for any program to absorb. But it seems to be – considering expectations – that maybe Glenn Robinson III really misses these guys. You wrote some about it this week but tell us about how his season is going and what you expect of this kid?

Robinson misses Trey Burke – a lot. Probably more than Mitch Mcgary even. Robinson is one of the best finishers in college basketball due to not just his ridiculous athleticism but also his ability to drift into space along the baseline and get out and run in transition. Trey Burke through him dozens of assists last year and he’s not getting as many open looks from freshman point guard Derrick Walton.

Those looks will come in time, but many expected Robinson’s game to blossom without Burke and Hardaway in the lineup. Last year Robinson rarely drove to the hole in isolation situations or ran high pick-and-rolls – he was a finisher not a creator. The hope was that his ability to create offense would take a huge step forward but through nine games it certainly hasn’t. Robinson has a somewhat deferential personality and he just hasn’t taken the next step (yet) this season.

A big part of a Beilein offense is the three-pointer. This season the Wolverines are shooting 40.7% of their shots from out there and connecting on 38.6% of them. Solid work. Now one surefire way to knock off Arizona is to hit from deep. Who do the Cats keep an eye on? Is it just the Stauskas show (58.5% of shots from three, 50% 3FG%, this)?

Michigan is always going to shoot a lot of threes and this year is no exception. This year’s team doesn’t play nearly as efficient offensive basketball as last year’s group (losing the Player of the Year will do that) but they still have plenty of perimeter weapons.

Nik Stauskas is a knock down shooter with significant range. As you mentioned, he’s shooting 50% from long range but the joke among Michigan fans is that Stauskas “isn’t just a shooter”. Announcers love to drop that line and it’s completely true. You have to close out hard on Stauskas and he has the driving ability, size and athleticism to drive to the hole and finish at the rim. Stauskas’s free throw numbers are way up (he’s attempting 69.5 free throws per 100 field goal attempts) and he’s a capable finisher inside as well.

Caris LeVert has improved his jumpshot significantly but is slumping while both of Michigan’s point guards, Derrick Walton and Spike Albrecht, are both capable of knocking down open jumpers. The other guy to watch right now is 6-foot-6 freshman Zak Irvin. Irvin started slow this year but has hit 10 of his last 18 long range shots

Speaking of being a predominantly jump shooting team, the new rules changes. Michigan has a low FTA/FGA ratio 34% (293rd in the nation). They also shoot at the rim just 23% of the time (343rd in the nation). Do you see this becoming an issue or disadvantage with the rules changes and/or as the season progresses?

I’m not sure Michigan needs to get to the line more often. It would be nice but last year’s group was the most efficient offense in the country and ranked 329th in free throw rate.

They do need to do a better job of getting to the rim though because they are lacking some of the easy production that last year’s group got. Michigan’s point guards are much better at driving and kicking rather than driving and finding an option at the basket. Michigan also lost one of the best ball screen players around in Trey Burke and that’s taken away some of the production from the big men as well.

John Beilein isn’t going to make any drastic change in offensive philosophy but when his offense is working well, there are easy baskets at the rim.

Let’s try on a scenario question: Stauskas at the line for two free throws with 0:03 remaining and the Wolverines down a deuce. He sinks the first. Miller calls timeout and in Beilein’s huddle – where we now turn this into a pick your own adventure – does he A) Sink the second FT, take the extra point and send it to OT or B) Intentional miss and O board, go for two and the win?

While I would have gone for two on the football field against Ohio State, the obvious answer here is to make the free throw.

Ok, ok, joking aside, last season the Wolverines were third in the nation in points scored out of a timeout. Was Chris Webber just ahead of his time? (Side note: The footage of him walking down the tunnel after that game is the most heartbreaking stuff. Check out 30 for 30: The Fab Five if you haven’t)

Michigan has been great in dead ball situations again this year and there are very few people that will question John Beilein’s offensive coaching abilities. Even with young teams, Michigan executes out of timeouts, sideline and baseline out of bounds situations.

Ok now seriously, joking aside, in the last twelve months, Arizona has beaten Tommy Amaker once and Steve Fisher twice, how great of a coach is John Beilein? (token link to Bill Frieder v. Lute Olson commercial series)

Beilein is a great story, having worked his way up from Erie Community College to the Final Four last season – always as a head coach. He’s finally started to recruit and develop NBA talent and that’s paying off with a few very strong seasons. Beilein replaced Amaker at Michigan and did what Tommy couldn’t do (make the NCAA tournament) and whole lot more (Final Four, Big Ten Championship).

There’s been so much talk about the rules changes and the increase in Free Throw rate. Beilein teams are good at limiting a team from getting to the FT line, however. Tell me about Michigan as a defensive unit.

Michigan is very good defensively at not being whistled for fouls and ranked first in defensive free throw rate last season and third this year. The one element that has really hurt the Wolverines is the new block-charge guidelines. Michigan doesn’t have many great shot blockers and has relied on the charge quite a bit in recent seasons. The number of charges that the Wolverines have taken is definitely down by a wide margin this season.

Immovable object meet unstoppable force. Arizona’s strength lies in its front court. They get 40.6% of their shots at the rim which is actually a little better than average (38.3%) but they connect at a higher than average FG% (74.3% good for 9th in that nation). Michigan’s defense, meanwhile, limits opponents to just 18.2% of their shots at the rim (2nd best in the country). Explain to me how Michigan accomplishes this and how this “matchup” plays out?

That’s an interesting stat because Michigan isn’t really a great shot-blocking team and its two-point defense is just average. You should notice that Michigan doesn’t defend the looks at the rim very well (allowing 66.3%) and the low ratio may have something to do with the schedule.

Michigan plays a small lineup with Glenn Robinson III at the four position and watching them you wouldn’t necessarily think they would play strong interior defense. I would think interior scoring will be an Arizona advantage but Michigan’s big men have graded out fairly well defensively this year so could surprise.

If I hadn’t made it clear, I’ll be in attendance, what should I do in Ann Arbor? What can I expect from the Crisler Center and my re-living of a true college experience (I went to UCSD  which has zero semblance of school spirit. This is our mascot – Ariel’s dad from The Little Mermaid)? Suggestions? I’ve heard Zingerman’s and Rick’s

Zingerman’s is great but Maize and Blue Deli isn’t very far behind. Rick’s is a great late night spot after a long night of shenanigans but check out Ashley’s if you are interested in trying some different beers. Try to stop at Benny’s for breakfast if you get the chance

What happens Saturday at noon?

This is a game that Michigan really needs and with a chance to finally play a marquee opponent at home I think the Wolverines take care of business.

Can I buy you a beer?

Of course, I’ll never say no to that offer!

Jordan Adams Makes Layups Not Jumpers

I’ve long felt that Jordan Adams is a tremendous basketball player. And then yesterday afternoon happened.

I was meandering through KenPom, looking at the percentage of minutes played lists. I was curious which players were getting run into the ground by their coaches. This endeavor lead me to the discovery that there are only 3 players taller than 6’6″ on the top-100 of %min played list. Big men can’t run. But back to Adams.

The primary Player Stats page defaults to ORtg and I saw Jordan Adams at the top of it. I didn’t think too much of it as I spend a lot of time around Pac-12 stats and he tends to be at the top of a lot of lists. What’s more, he’s alphabetically inclined to top lists. But as I dug down my %min worm hole, I realized that Jordan Adams was atop the national ORtg list.


My oh my that’s impressive. I’ve said it in many places but Jordan is one of my favorite players in the conference and it came as no major surprise that he led in this category. Last season he put up a highly respectable 114.9 ORtg which out ORtg’d even the great Shabazz Muhammad.

Now quickly let us be clear that he leads in ORtg amongst players with at least 28% of possessions used. Which is to say that he’s the best offender amongst the players making the most offense.

But here’s where things begin to get interesting.

We’ve all raved about Adams’ mid-range game. And it’s good. He built last season’s formidable 114.9 rating by taking 39% of his shots in that range. Like we said, he’s a sound mid-ranger and one would expect that talent to continue into this season. Let’s take a look:


First let’s confirm that in 2012-13 Jordan was a good mid-range shooter. He took 39% of his shots from there and hit 45.1% of them. It was the highest 2pt FG% on the team aside from Josh Smith’s 1-of-2 shooting and Sooren Derboghosian’s 1-of-1. Mid-range, indeed.

But here’s where things get really interesting.

We expected Adams to continue to hit his pull ups and floaters. Knock down jumpers in Alford’s pro-style sets. But look at the size of the red slice in 12-13 versus 13-14. He’s halved the number of two point jumpers he’s taking. A season ago he wow-ed us with 39% mid-range offense and now he’s taken that two-fifths of offense to the rack!!!!

We spent the entire off-season talking about how slashing guards like Carson and Dinwiddie would benefit from rule changes intended to “open the game up.” Well those two continue to do their thing. Not a ton has changed, the rules just supplemented their game.

But what we’re seeing with Jordan Adams is the game actually opening up. Perhaps a step slow last season, he now has the freedom to get past a defender and connect at the rim. His ORtg sky rockets and he gets easy buckets.

Further demonstrating Adams’ transformation and genius is that his FTA/FGA rate has improved by a gaudy 21.9 percentage points (41.5% –> 63.4%). Carson’s is actually down 13.3 points and Dinwiddie is just stupid. Last season he had the 19th best FT rate at 76.7% and he’s now 16th at 102.6%. Holy charity stripe.

What Pac-12 teams must concern themselves with, however, is that while Adams is taking fewer 2-point jumpers – which are traditionally considered a “good shot” for the defense – he’s currently connecting on 52.5% of them. From three he’s upped his FG% to 37% and I suppose it goes without saying but his FG% at the rim is high. How high? He shoots 67% at the rim which leads me to the question:

What can’t Jordan Adams do?

Note: This piece would not be possible without the glorious insights of Go there and have your mind blown.

WANE: The PacHoops Podcast – On the Air at Last

With this we introduce WANE: The PacHoops Podcast. It’s our first and we’ve been discussing getting this thing going for 10-months or 6-weeks depending on whether you ask me (Adam) or Spencer (Spencer). Give it a listen:


And whoa it was easy to produce. Now we’ll make no bones about it: E1S1 – On the Air at Last is raw as sushi but we got it up like grandpa with a blue pill. Like a tent in the rain. Like Askia Booker for the win. Because at PacHoops we don’t let perfection get in the way of done.

Enjoy. Here’s a table of talking points to find the exact insight you want. And by the way, WANE stands for we are not experts. Jam it:

0:00 – 0:38 – Rise Buffalo Nation
1:12-1:18 – Great awkward silence

1:27 – More Buffalo love following Booker’s big shot. Spencer aptly uses the phrase “PROGRAM WIN”

4:53 – Spencer asks what the conference’s top story is and Adam says he takes his homer hat off but then talks about how great #1 Arizona is. It’s also roommate Tim’s first background noise appearance. He’s talking to a friend in Fiji. This is also the segment with a token “UW won the conference but didn’t make the NCAA tournament the Pac-12 was rock bottom” reference. Spencer pumps the Buffs.

6:56 – Randomly a UCLA discussion emerges

9:56 – Transition to Cal and the whereabouts of Richard Solomon

10:08 – Tangent about the internet and the use of “Six Degrees of Schedule Separation” to navigate ESPN.

10:59 – Return to Cal/Richard Solomon

12:15 – Complete tangent on UC-Santa Barbara because we are not experts

13:04 – Attempted smooth transition into UNLV-Arizona

13:41 – Roommate Tim is cited as a reference

16:54 – WARNING: Two Arizona Wildcat fans talking about TJ McConnell

18:32 – Roommate Tim background noise (Fijian phone call)

19:12 – Awkward Stanford/Aaron Bright conversation. Feel bad for the senior missing out on his season.

22:06-17 – Choppy 11 seconds

23:10 – Adam making noises that he thinks describe Stanford

23:31 – Stanford football thanked, segment salvaged

23:48 – Transition to our closing segments the first of which is What does Adam want to talk about. You can hear Roommate Tim on the dishes while Adam talks about his trip to Ann Arbor to see Arizona @ Michigan on Saturday. is referneced. Adam is going to do a Q&A with them this week. Great site!

28:51What does Spencer want to talk about and so we discuss UW needing to get things going

31:11 – We stumble into the finish line like a marathoner.