Monthly Archives: January 2014

WANE: We didn’t watch all the games. Or even any.

WANE regroups despite a lot of distractions during a three-day weekend. My parents were in town and Spencer just had to jump on the Forty Niner bandwagon and absorb all the energy an NFC Championship Game brings to a metropolitan. It was also absolutely gorgeous in the Bay Area so a bunch of mid-day hoops was going to be tough. I did catch the end of Oregon State-Oregon which was…well, we talk about. Listen:

 

The triumphant return of the table of contents:

0:00 – Completely unprepared

0:19 – The Confession begins – Segways and hangovers

1:43 – Actual first reference of Pac-12 basketball…then a return to Segways

3:19 – Adam makes a remarkable pun using ‘segway’ and Spence talks about the abuse of his own body

4:07 – A return to basketball!

4:37 – We begin discussing the 1-4 Oregon Ducks and there’s a Nate-Rob reference. But one and four…

5:58 – First reference of Arizona. As in the Arizona Wildcats. Maybe you’ve heard of them? We thought it was their most complete game of the year. And more on that game

6:59 – Spencer references seven Wildcats in double figure for the second time in one minute

8:01 – JAHISAHLL

8:35 – Onto the Arizona-Colorado rivalry and a brief look in to gambling. But not really. We talk a lot about Askia Booker again and I don’t think we even reference Josh Scott which is probably a disservice to Arizona fans because many eyes should be on him for Thursday’s contest. But Booker’s weekend…

12:31 – A transition into the Colorado-ASU game and how those two teams really match up in an interesting way.

13:13 – PAGING ROGER GOODELL: CONCUSSION REFERENCE

14:20 – Abruptly Spencer brings Utah into the conversation and we VERY passively move into prediction mode. Who should be more successful in their trip to the desert?

17:48 – And so begins a conversation about travel theory. Who would you rather play and when? And segues into What is the toughest road trip in the conference?

19:16 – Spencer makes like a dictionary. Seriously he makes a Webster-like reference about Stanford. How fitting.

20:49 – An all too long discussion about the liquor laws and where to acquire that vice when visiting the state of Utah.

22:07 – Traveling to play Washington isn’t all too bad. But Washington State you might have to go to Moscow. Idaho of course. And another liquor law issue arises.

24:19 – Obligatory reference of the road trips we haven’t discussed.

24:39 – While talking about how tough traveling through the Apple State might be we then still declare it the easiest road trip.

25:50 – Just listen to this series of communications out of Spencer’s mouth

26:30 – Another gambling reference-ish, with regards to Arizona and Cal as the leaders of the Pac

26:53 – Computer! My computer makes an appearance!

28:33 – Adam makes a pun involving Cal

30:46 – Tangent: NCAA Ski and Water Polo championships. University of the Pacific makes it’s WANE debut.

31:43 – One last thing that Spencer wants to discuss: The Stanford Cardinal.

32:56 – Prolonged goodbye with Dr. King references, a thank you to presumed listeners, Spencer gets a fact egregiously wrong, roommate Time is mentioned but not heard, I call myself an Adult (ha!), and a salute to Chasson Randle. Also a hopefully NOT empty promise.

Utah Earns Signature Win

I can’t dive into too much hyperbole because it was just one weekend. But I’m really impressed with the Utah Utes. They’re not on the tournament bubble but they might – might – have a chance to have their name at least discussed inside the tournament war room. But not going to dive into hyperbole. OK, maybe some:

Was Utah’s 74-69 win over UCLA on Saturday the Utes’ biggest win of the Larry K tenure?

I’m not sure if that question even really means anything but looking back at his three years in SLC he’s got a few good ones under his belt. They knocked off #19 Oregon last season and eliminated Cal from last year’s Pac-12 tournament. They also held court against CU a season ago and blew BYU out this season. But this win, against a ranked UCLA squad that is…well…UCLA, comes as the greatest Krystko-win at Utah.

Firstly, it was UCLA. The school of Wooden-lore and 11 national titles and everything else that is the powder blue. As a reminder of that lore, I almost got swallowed into the 40th Anniversary of Notre Dame ending the 88 game win streak documentary, but then I realized that it was half Digger Phelps and that my mom was waiting for Pops and I at a restaurant down the street. I digress.

Utah didn’t win this game as the little team that could. It wasn’t like last year’s P12 tourney with the ninth seeded Utes battling into the third round. No, this was a 13-4 team with the belief that they can play with anyone and so they did.

I present the game’s win probability chart courtesy of KenPom:

Utah-UCLA Win Probability
Utah was the expected victor from the first half’s 8-minute mark on. That’s 28 minutes of gameplay in which Utah was the statistical favorite. They subsequently advance their record to 14-4, further validating for themselves that they are to be taken seriously.

Certainly their fans do. To date, the Utes are second in the conference in per game attendance (9711) as well as second in the conference in total attendance (145,658). Sure the latter of those numbers is slightly inflated by their fifteen total home games (most in conference). But the fact of the matter is people are coming to watch this team play. This program develop.

Like I said, I don’t see this as a tournament bound basketball team but I can’t yet rule that out. For example: They’ve jumped into KenPom’s top-50 and have contests against Colorado (x2), Arizona (x2), UCLA, and Cal remaining. Which is to say they still have opportunities to bolster that light resume. Am I pining to a possible Utah audience? Absolutely, but what is there, if not hope, amongst fans?

Saturday was a resounding victory for the Utes. The signature win of the Larry Krystkowiak era. Which is to say it wasn’t a fluke, the aforementioned chart suggests it was expected almost wire-to-wire. I’ll try to mute the hyperbole, and Hoyos Revenge will help us remember that Utah tried to give that one away, but that wasn’t just your average win. It was UCLA on the heels of a rough road trip. The Utes, as an emerging program, asserted themselves as an arriving program.

Because sometimes arriving doesn’t necessarily mean landing on the moon and planting your flag.

Sometimes it’s enough to just say that someday you can.

Week 3 Pac-12 Hoops Review

It was a tough weekend for the Huskies, not necessarily Seattle, but I might have found an answer to the Huskies’ front court woes. Below, pictured on the left, is a seven foot post with 360-range and a max speed of 12.5mph. Even two years of eligibility remaining. He could remedy some Dawg issues:

photo-15Indeed, that is what I spent my Saturday doing at my dad’s request and bless his heart he enjoyed every second of that Segway tour through Golden Gate Park. I didn’t necessarily want to go – and he’d be quick to tell you I fought it – but in the end I enjoyed myself. In being convinced to go, I was as defenseless as the Oregon Ducks to his paternal request. And so I rode through that park in single filed glory on the warmest day of 2014 and thus the most crowded day in GG Park. But the Segway is interesting. It’s built to be balanced. You can’t move too far forward or too far back. You can’t rock the proverbial boat as she only leans left and right. She won’t let you go too fast but also won’t ever let you be completely still. She’s ultimately engineered to move forward. And forward we shall.

Leader in the Clubhouse: Once again we could easily call this one to the number one team in the AP, Coaches, Sagarin, KenPom, and Titus rankings. But the Arizona Wildcats are best suited to just being good and not wildly discussed. I could be wrong (I am just look at the text logs between me and everyone I grew up with). So the California Golden Bears will be our clubhouse leader. They’re hotter than a [insert simile]. That aforementioned balance? They’ve got it. Yeah, they’re like a damn Segway those Cal Bears, balanced and moving forward. They’ve got seven players with a greater than 19% shot percentage. No other Pac-12 team has more than four. Everyone’s getting theirs and they’re riding that to a 5-0 conference record with an average margin of victory of lots (14.4 points). I wrote about Richard Solomon last week and could write similarly about Justin Cobbs. This team might not wow you that much (Segway) but they’re going to keep moving forward. Shout out here to the Utah Utes – home sweep – but 3-3 just won’t cut it for a clubhouse leader.

Biggest Loser: It’d be easy to say that the team I noted as having the most to lose this weekend (the Washington Huskies) is our biggest loser. After all they lost both their games and put up what seemed to be little fight. The Huskies certainly came back down to earth and indeed lost the sweet momentum they’d previously gained. But in my estimation it’s hard to call anyone but the Oregon Ducks the biggest losers this weekend. They’ve dropped four straight in conference and continue to yield well more than a point per possession in each of those losses. If their offense isn’t going to carry them through, they’ll need some stops. WHO’S GOING TO DO IT? On the Segway, while momentum will drive you forward, there’s a built in mechanism to force your weight backward, the emergency stop. Sure we’ve used the analogy of forward movement as a good thing to this point but sometimes we move forward and it’s only because that’s the direction of our momentum. Right now, Oregon needs the emergency mechanism. Yes, emergency is a big word but something must kick in to break this negative momentum.

What We Learned: A lot about the toughness of Askia Booker. I needed a place to effuse about this kid and what he’s done in the wake of Spencer Dinwiddie’s injury. He’s been a lightning bolt of criticism and I’ve defended him all over the place. In that linked piece I said, “He’s the hero Colorado deserves and the hero it needs right now.” Those words hold truer than ever as he assumes a whole new roll in Boulder. So how’d he fair in his first weekend as the man? Against UCLA he dropped 21 points on 7-11 shooting. In a word: efficient. Then, against USC he goes for 13 points on 3-5 shooting and takes 6 free throws. In a word: Dinwiddie-esque. And that’s with me neglecting to mention he assisted a season-high six assists. The hero they need.

In Defense Of: Me! Actually I can’t really do it. This is moderately inexcusable. Indefensible, really, which is to say Oregonian:

Brutal, Adam. I mean, that call was almost as bad as taking a Segway tour (love ya, pops!).

YouTuber: Just one person on our tour did anything remotely close to this and I’m proud to say it was neither me nor Pops.

On the Oregon Ducks’ Lack of Defense

For some time now I’ve speculated about the Oregon Ducks’ defense. I’ve had my concerns about it but I was having a difficult time picking on a team that was 13-0. I also couldn’t pinpoint the issue. If any at all. Perhaps I need to up my criticism game? But since winning their lucky thirteenth, the Ducks have stopped exactly no one from scoring.

Without the advantage of having watched a ton of Oregon basketball and with the advantages of having a social life and a highly analytical mind (which behooves me in sports and torments me in dating), I’ve come to the following conclusion about Oregon’s defense: they’re the perfect storm of bad. I’ll explain.

On Dana Altman’s roster, there are just a shade under two million guards. Loyd, Artis, Joseph, Calliste, and Dotson make up one of the most formidable back courts I’ve ever heard of. Offensively that is. Otherwise they’re a group contributing to the nation’s 152nd best defense. My assumption has been that the guards aren’t carrying their weight considering four of their top five players in terms of %min are guards. So I don’t think they’ve done their light front court any favors.

I’ll begin anecdotally and tell you that, certainly in their conference games, this perimeter group hasn’t done much to limit dribble penetration. It’s what my Buffalo friends told me. My Cal friends told me it had to do with an inability to protect the paint. Even my Oregon compatriots confirmed.

Porous perimeter defense theory confirmed anecdotally? Check.

Jim-Halpert-Sarcastic-Fist-PumpBut anecdotal tales of a perimeter defense lost at sea aren’t going to cut it here. This is PacHoops and while I talk to some of the most brilliant and trusted minds in Conference of Champion theory – seriously, my g-chat windows are to Pac-12 thought what Cafe Trieste was to the Beatniks – we need more than perception. This is some Ginsberg, Kerouac shit.

Let me begin by saying we’re going to go ahead and agree and assume that Oregon’s front court is already not the best defensively. They’re undersized and undermanned with Mike Moser (6’8″) and Richard Amardi (6’8″) getting the lion’s share of big man tick. Size doesn’t dictate defensive prowess but sometimes being the 11th worst defensive rebounding team in the conference (and 230th worst in the nation) while combining to commit more than 11 fouls per forty minutes can support that assumption. Ben Carter was expected to have a bit more impact but he sold his shoes and so he’s just now getting to lace them back up. Let’s move on.

Here is what Oregon’s defense breaks down to:

Oregon's DI’ll get this started with the jump shooting defenses and leave the rim stuff for later. The rim stuff is my favorite so we’ll call it dessert. The shooting D is slightly below average. The yellow indicates they allow an average amount of twos and threes as well as an average 3FG% against (158). That’s fine. Average defense masked by a superior offense can get things done. But that’s only on threes which is generally not the most exciting defense to discuss because, as KenPom explains, sometimes taking a three is like playing the lottery. Thus, three point defense becomes an interesting point of defensive philosophy. For the Ducks it seems to be a shot they’ll let opponents take a comfortable amount of, letting them gamble a little but not a lot.

So with regards to my porous perimeter theory, I’m left to see that against that very average number of two-point jumpers, teams are hitting a very un-average percentage of them. Opponents are shooting 37.3% in the two-point jumper range and that ranks 251st in ‘Murica. To me, and in an effort to support my theory, this suggests that the already undersized and undermanned front court is being confronted with the defensive challenge of stopping dribbling guards. To stop the same guys who’ve just blown past a Duck guard and who are now able to do one of two things:

  1. Hit a relatively uncontested two point jumper that teams are doing at a relatively high level, OR
  2. Getting to the rim!

Oregon is allowing 39% of shots against them to come at the rim which ranks 205th in the nation and 11th in the Pac-12. Now this doesn’t necessarily mean they do a poor job of defending the rim so we can cite their opponents’ FG% at the rim. This is 59.1%, 186th in the nation and 9th in the conference. Those powers combined – high percentage of shots at the rim and high percentage being made – and you have the perfect storm of bad defense. Penetration leads to easy jumpers or a shot at the rim.

Furthermore – and this might be the toughest part of it all – the Ducks are allowing the 226th highest free throw rate in the nation meaning – and this is a very loose description – opponents are getting to the line on about 43.1% of their possessions. This of course isn’t taking into account all of the factors that define a game’s possessions but it’s how I’ve chosen to explain FT rate in this context. It gives us an idea not a fact, chill out.

But why it further contributes to this poor Duck defense is that Oregon is playing with the 18th most possessions per game in the nation. Ipso facto, Duck opponents are getting more possessions too and if they’re getting fouled on those – or easily to the rim – then they’re going to score more points. More points = bad defense.

Porous perimeter defense theory confirmed quantifiably ? Meh.

Halpert ShrugDefense is so difficult to quantify and it’s really tough to pinpoint a single weakness without watching all of their games, breaking down tape. I’m not going to watch all of their games. And I won’t soon tell you Oregon is a good defensive team. We’ve gone pretty extensively into a few reasons why they struggle. Areas in which they can and need to improve.

I can say that Oregon is an average defensive team. Their defensive efficiency ranks just a few tenths of a point above average (103.3 vs. 104.1) and prior to entering Pac-12 play, Oregon had played a very average schedule. Their non-conference strength of schedule ranked 211th. Average opposition + average defense + elite offense = 13-0. Note that the Ducks’ three conference losses are to 3 of the 4 highest KenPom rated teams they’ve played. It’s why the Duck SOS was on my Fourteen Things to Watch list (#5).

This isn’t a Duck death certificate. As good friend and Duck fan Matt told me, “Altman’s defense is a process, not a formula.” I love this concept and believe he’s right. There were going to be growing pains with such turnover and Altman should be applauded for what he’s done. A season ago he was coaching a top-10 defense and a season later he’s coaching a top-10 offense. He’s done both successfully. Their current slide perhaps supports the adage that defense wins championships. The Ducks, after all, did win the 2013 Pac-12 Tournament.

The best part about defense, however, is it can often be a simple test of fortitude. Sometimes you can just choose to be a better defender. With Arsalan Kazemi not soon to walk into Matt Knight, I wonder what direction these Ducks will take?

WANE: The Mayor Takes Leave

Spencer and I rekindled WANE and – on the air – declare to record weekly. In this return episode, we talk a lot about Colorado as their bad news filled the news cycles and why Josh Scott needs all the touches. Spencer (not Dinwiddie) discusses his love for the now blown-out-by-Cal-Huskies and we probably get some statistics wrong. There’s an awkward pause in there for effect; not for lack of organization. It’s worth a listen because it’s great. I diatribe briefly about Utah. Seriously amazing stuff.

 

Now that you’ve maybe clicked on the audio I’ll apologize for two things:

  1. We recorded during/before Wednesday’s games
  2. Not enough time – technical difficulties – to post this AND get you a sweet chronological table of contents. My bad

Cal Doing Big things with Improved Richard

The Golden Bears of Cal have jumped out to a 4-0 conference record. Three of those wins are on the road and I love road victories. I also love getting swept up in momentum and the promise of what could be despite a slight sample set. Hey, getting lost in the moment is part of being a fan. Beautiful, right?

But there might be something bigger than just a moment or momentum to what these Bears are doing. It might be worth thinking about it because:

Alas, we could have a full conversation about Gottlieb but that not the point although I think he did have a point with regards to their team.

I love Cal’s lineup and I said as much in October. Veterans, youth, big, small, shooters, bangers, these Bears have pieces that can do some of everything. The only question was would they show up? Namely, would Richard Solomon please stand up? He has.

Solomon has the eighth highest DR% in the nation – an increase of more than eight percentage points from last season. He’s improved his eFG% by more than 20% (48.1% to 58%). And he’s decreased the number of fouls he commits extrapolated across 40 minutes by 27% (5.2 down to 3.8). As I’ve said before, the immediacy of graduation can be a confidence stimulator.

And if tempo-free isn’t your thing, Solomon is averaging a double-double each night on the court (12/10) which naturally are both career-highs. And speaking of double-doubles, he’s recorded six of them this season. In 79 career games prior to this year’s 15 games, he recorded just two. To pile on, he’s doubled the number of basketballs he steals per game.

I also see it as no coincidence that amongst Cal’s four losses, Solomon didn’t play in two of them and in the other two he posted his worst and third worst ORtg games. Did I mention he’s improved his ORtg by 8%? Dick Solo is doing work.

Richard Solomon Tommy BoyFurthermore, if you’ve paid attention to the blog, you’d know I have something of a crush on hoop-math.com. It’s where I got to learn about things like:

  • Does [player] really hit that many jumpers?
  • What does “protecting the rim” really mean?
  • Where do babies come from?
  • How does [team] beat [team]? Or vice versa?
  • How do I appear as cool as Bond, popular as Gosling, and get JLaw’s attention?

Very important site that allows me to create awesome charts that my friend Jamie hates and others seem to like (tangent). What I mostly love about hoop-math is that it allows us to understand the obvious. More succinctly, it confirms our hypotheses that things like “taking more shots at the rim will increase your offensive efficiency.” Which is indeed a theory of mine and one of the first things I check when examining a player or team’s improvement or otherwise.

Well to this point we’ve discussed the gross improvement of a certain Cal Golden Center to which I present Exhibit Solomon:

Richard SolomonFirst, and to be honest, I’m still refining my Excel game so bear with me as our X-axis is devoid context (it’s last three seasons). Secondly, notice the correlation between Solomon’s shots at the rim (yellow) and that same season’s ORtg (navy). When he’s around the basket he’s more effective. Solomon is putting up the highest offensive rating of his career (apologies that hoop-math doesn’t go beyond the 2011-12 season) while putting up the most shots he’s ever taken at the rim.

Richard Solomon was going to be a big reason Cal did whatever they were going to do this season.

And thus far he’s been big.

 

 

Week 3 Pac-12 Hoops Preview

Well for the first time in awhile the medical news out of Colorado had nothing to do with marijuana. Which isn’t good but it’s what filled the headlines when we weren’t watching Aaron Gordon dunk things behind his head. Twice. Moving forward of course, this is a big weekend. Scroll up and down the schedule and I challenge you to find a game that doesn’t  have significant long term effects. Maybe that’s hyperbole but I find genuine intrigue to every game this weekend. Making this a great weekend for my parents to come to town and my dad to schedule a Segway Tour (I can’t currently confirm this but it’s heavily rumored. I’ll keep you posted). The weekend:

GotW: We must ignore, to an extent, a top-25 match up. As noted in previous previews, a top-25 tilt is a big deal in the Pac-12 of late because there just haven’t been many. Like actually hooking up with someone via Tinder, it’s rare. But similarly to that app, we’re going to have to swipe #25 UCLA @ #21 Colorado to the left in favor of a night on the town with Washington at California. This one doesn’t have particular national implications but it’s a Wednesday night contest featuring the league’s two most surprising stars. The Dawgs have played fantastic through four games with a solid split in the desert. Meanwhile, Monty’s road warriors are 3-0 with nary a game atop the giant bear. And where this diddy spices up aside from the standings implications, is in the contrast of styles. Or, perhaps more succinctly said, what Washington can’t do. They have almost no interior game. The percentage of shots they take at the rim (30.9%) ranks 315th in the nation. The ball does not go into the lane when Washington has it. Often, they let CJ rain. LET CJ RAIN. But these front court issues aren’t exclusive to the offensive side of the ball. Teams shoot the third highest FG% at the rim against Washington 🙁 That’s 72.1% shooting which, in lay terms, is not-missing-much-percent. All of that said, Richard Solomon will be an obvious key here for the Bears as he’s a game changing big man and Justin Cobbs gets crazy buckets at the rim for a PG or anyone for that matter. Kid gets more than 30% of his offense there. This isn’t the game of the week we deserve. It’s not even the game of the week we need. But it’s the game of the week we’ve got so LET CJ RAIN. (read on for more about Washington as this preview somehow became commandeered by Dawg stats)

Game to Avoid: Scrolling through this week’s Pac-12 schedule like I told you I already did lead me to not one game I wasn’t interested in. This is probably why I’m the world’s preeminent Pac-12 hoops blogger but that’s a different story. Here’s where I net out: Oregon @ Oregon St. First I love this game because no one knows what you’re going to get out of Oregon State or a rivalry game. This is the Civil War on the hard court. Anything can happen and if you know what I mean by anything can happen then what the hell are we going to do with a 1-4 Oregon squad? Alas, this becomes a game to avoid because of geography. That’s a strange proposition considering I declared my love for this game based on the geography of its participants. I’m thinking bigger picture here, guys. You see, Oregon is uniquely located between the states of Washington and California. More specifically it’s located between Seattle and San Francisco. And even more specifically it’s located between the Seahawks and the Forty Niners. See where I’m at now? The population center is Portland which is just stone’s throw from Seattle and probably defines much of the State’s Hawk allegiance. Nonetheless, all across the Beaver State there is a vested interest in the NFC Championship that kicks off at 3:30. If you’re going to avoid the 5pm Civil War, this iteration would be the one to skip. Besides, the Ducks’ defense isn’t about to stop you.

Something to Prove: It’s the Colorado Buffaloes. Here’s a team that has developed a reputation for playing  emotionally over the past two years – winning the big game, losing to the lesser travel partner. But they find themselves now with their greatest and easily most emotional challenge yet. The loss of Spencer Dinwiddie is a major blow. One any team would struggle to absorb but a challenge nonetheless. And then they found out, just hours later, that Tre’Shaun Fletcher would miss the next 6-8 weeks with a knee injury of his own. Shit on shit on shit. But this cannot define the Buffaloes. It is a challenge they must rise to and accept. They’ll need to make adjustments – you don’t replace a Spencer Dinwiddie overnight – but there are enough talented players here to carry on. They’ve been dealt a tough hand, I want to see how they respond.

Something to Lose: It’s a surprising 3-1 but not as if they’ve used a herculean effort to get here. They haven’t necessarily blacked out from the field (aprox same FG% in four conference games as their overall FG%, 46% vs. 45%). Their ORtg has taken a near ten point dive so they’re technically less effective on offense. But for these Washington Huskies, their in conference defense ranks second amongst the Conference of Champions. Context? It’s more than ten points per 100 possessions better than their overall defensive efficiency (92.3 vs. 103.5). It’s a similar drop to that of their offensive efficiency (noted above). And so I ask: Who are these Dawgs? Are they the effective offense of their non-conference slate with a porous defense or the inverse they’ve shown us through four conference games? What do they have to lose, you might ask? Sweet momentum and their winning identity, of course. The Dawgs are riding high but a tough trip to the Bay could derail the Dawgs and normalize this trend. Or it could not.

The YouTuber: Slight deviation from our traditional final segment but it’s a pretty long GIF so it shall fly. Enjoy, it’s called “picking up chicks at the gym” and it’s really weird:

VdfKTH8

Week 2 Pac-12 Hoops Review

I had a joke all lined up. I subtle jab to get our review going and remind everyone it’s just sports. But then Spencer Dinwiddie’s knee moved in a manner that would break his heart – and ours – and I didn’t feel like joking anymore. Because on the tail end of that bench, in Spencer’s red eyes, was a tragic reminder of why this is our favorite game. Sure basketball is grand but the collegiate version calls to us because we know what we have is brief – four years at best – and then it’s over. On to the next crop of kids wearing familiar colors and left to tell tales of the old days with delusions of grandeur. So when that brevity is cut further short by the body’s failures – sudden and unforgiving – it sucks. We selfishly lose out on the joy of watching our team be the best version of itself in their tiny window for success in that iteration. And then there’s the kid. The one who’d worked his ass off to get into the school, to get into the lineup, to get into the lore of this sport. The one with a mom. Maybe it is just sports but that’s not what breaks your heart about Dinwiddie’s tumble. It’s not that we won’t see him jump, pass, or shoot. It’s that he doesn’t get to.

Leader in the Clubhouse: Arizona remains the number one team in the nation and unblemished on their record. They are the definitive leader. But let’s talk about someone else this week namely the California Golden Bears. Here’s a team everyone except Doug Gottlieb has slept on and perhaps rightfully so. They then lose Jabari Bird and Ricky Kreklow heading into conference play where their first three games are on the road. So naturally they win all three of them. They are tres-and-oh and Justin Cobbs is the man. He’s scoring 19.3 conference points per game, grabbing 4.6 conference boards, and assisting on 8.3 conference baskets for his teammates. And one of those teammates is Richard Solomon who is playing like a man possessed by his seniority. This is his last hurrah and so he’s grabbing all of the rebounds (8th best DR%) and making all of the baskets (56.2% eFG up from 48.1% last year). In case basketball is new to you, when you have a point guard and a center playing well, you have a recipe for success. And Mike Montgomery has a degree from Hogwarts.

Biggest Loser: You can’t drop home games. I mean you can, it’s competition and so anything can happen but if you’re trying to win things like the conference you can’t lose at home. And winning on the road is really important because it’s really hard. Those red letters on the left link to an article I wrote about this very subject. We judge teams based on where they win or lose. I’m judging Oregon. They have not defended their homecourt or anyone for that matter. The points per possession they’ve given up in conference: .89, 1.28, 1.19, 1.21. They have little problems getting the buckets (7th best offense per ORtg) but if they’re going to be taken seriously on a national if not conference level, they’re going to have to start getting some stops.

What We Learned: Well not a whole lot more about Stanford who split their Oregon trip the way few teams will (lose in Corvallis, win in Eugene). Of course if this team’s season long improvement play (what they were going to do differently this year vs. last as told to me by Johnny Dawkins) was to think about the year differently, I’m curious what’s on their mind. They’ve started conference play 1-2 for the second straight year and have almost an identical 15 game record as last season (10-5 now vs. 9-6 then). Not so different as their ORtg and DRtg are also almost identical to the past, too. They’d also mentioned being mentally tougher (part of thinking differently) and thus winning close games. Well that’s kinda working as they squeaked out wins by 2 points at each of UConn and Oregon. Maybe we start a new segment in here that’s just called WHAT DOES THE STANFORD SAY? and then I just write or link to whatever I want and it’s wildly unpredictable and completely upsetting but you’re attracted to that instability by some unintelligible force that keeps telling you that they’ll change. Did I just describe my ex-girlfriend?

In Defense Of: I’ve been all over Utah lately and how interesting what they’re doing has been. What have they done? Well lost 3 of 4 conference games. That doesn’t sound all that interesting but perhaps lost amongst the excitement of their 11-1 start and their thrilling loss to Oregon is that the Utes never really were there. That’s to see, I wasn’t annointing them title contenders or March dancers but rather noting their marked improvement, their progress and the promise of what could be. They’re definitively not there yet. But like previously noted, winning on the road is difficult. Utah took to Oregon and left with two black eyes. But their eyes are blackened because they were in a fight, not because they got their asses whooped. They’ve now lost by a combined seven points and have held a second half lead in every one of their conference games. There’s a measurement on KenPom that looks at luck because sometimes you can’t win them all. I wrote about it with regards to Utah last year. Basically, the Utes are the 345th unluckiest team in the nation right now (see: Dotson, Damyean). They’re 1-3 but that doesn’t yet mean they’re bad. Utes, defended.

The YouTuber: Have you ever seen so much in 82 seconds?

 

One Final Post on UCLA and Arizona. Victory Edition.

I wanted to know everything about that game so I spent my week scouring the numbers. I knew what UCLA would try to do. I knew what Arizona would try to do. I knew that Pauley Pavilion was going to be loud which Bryce Alford did not:

“I did not know it could get so loud in here. My teammates couldn’t hear me. I couldn’t hear myself. It was crazy.”

The point here is that teams have a definitive fingerprint. They try to do specific things that either demonstrate their strengths or expose an opponent’s weaknesses. When you can exact that strategy, in theory, you stand to be successful. You play your brand of basketball to not let them play theirs. Coaches make money for this stuff. They also get fired.

So Thursday’s game was fascinating as I threw up all over the stats trying to figure out who was going to do what to win. These two teams match up in such a way that it truly was going to boil down to execution. Who could do what they do, just better?

Arizona.

Defensively, as I told you yesterday, the Wildcats force this:

AZ Season DAnd then on Thursday they did this:

AZ UCLA DNot the same graph twice, I swear. Sure, UCLA got a touch more to the rim – a tribute to their very good ability to get in transition and force turnovers – but Arizona played their defensive game. Meaning UCLA did not play their offensive game. Against Arizona, teams are shooting an eFG% of just 40.9% – third best in the nation. UCLA meanwhile  has the ninth best eFG% in the nation (57.1%). I bet you can guess what I’m about to tell you. 43.1%. Some say like a boss. I’ll say like #1. Tomato, tomato (that idiom doesn’t play out so well in print, does it?).

But we already knew defense was Arizona’s bread and butter. That’s their strong suit. It’s their flaunted strength to get you out of your effective strategy. Whatever it may be.

But what would they do on the offensive end? UCLA was going to force Arizona to shoot threes in that zone of theirs and so Arizona went ahead and took half of their shots at the rim. Yes, the Wildcats took 26 of their 52 shots at the cylinder. I could go on – and on, and on – but if a picture’s worth 1000 words, then an Instagram video is worth $1B:

And I’m not really sure of the value of a GIF. But here’s one anyway:

AG DUNK

By the way, full credit to UCLA.

More on UCLA-Arizona: Stats!

Maybe I’m exhausting this game but as I look more and more into it, the game grows and grows in intrigue. I’ve quantified the game to an almost boring extent below but here’s the most interesting stat I’ve discovered amongst all of my research:

Not one Arizona or UCLA fan has told me their team is going to win

And how awesome is that header image? I’m about to yak forever about UCLA taking jump shots and in that picture there are TWO BRUINS TAKING JUMPERS!  Anyhow, chew on all this cud and make your own decision about who wins.

Transition Stuff: This is a part of the game I’m finding increasingly more fascinating. It projects to play out differently than the mid-range jumpers conundrum. That’s the scenario I’ve mistakenly called “unstoppable object vs. immovable force.” This feature of the game best fits that analogy as UCLA does it really well and Arizona stops it really well. See how that works? Here’s how the whole thing looks:

I don't really discuss Norman, but he's an athlete, too

I don’t really discuss Norman, but he’s an athlete, too

UCLA gets 30.8% of their offense in transition. That’s the 11th most in ‘Merica. Additionally, they have the third best steal percentage in the nation (or 11 picks per contest) which  leads to that high transition offense. They have the likes of Zach LaVine whom I will celebrate on these pages below via GIF. He’s a long athletic wing-type who can get into lanes. And jump. I’ve read and listened to and watched the Bruins’ ability to get into places they shouldn’t in order to take basketballs away from people. Jordan Adams snags the third most steals per game amongst all of the basketball players (3.5 per). The Bruins use these take aways to run out and try for easy shots. Amongst the top-25 teams getting out into transition (as per % of shots in), UCLA has the highest FG%. To break it down: steal, run, bucket. It’s pretty simple.

Meanwhile, Arizona allows teams to get into transition on just 17.4% of their possessions That’s the ninth best transition D we’ve seen this season. It’s well noted what a great rebounding team Arizona is and that helps. But here’s another stat suggesting Arizona’s defense is more Cheddar than Swiss: 13.6% of their defensive possessions are forced into the after 30 seconds of shot clock. I struggle to contextualize this as hoop-math doesn’t rank that number nationally, but because I love you guys I’ve looked through the whole Pac-12 (the things I do for us). Arizona forces the second most late possessions (Stanford leads) in the conference. One more stat regarding timing: Arizona forces the longest possessions amongst all D-1 teams. The average possession for a Wildcat opponent is 20.5 seconds per KenPom. Thursday night that number will be tested by UCLA’s seventh swiftest offense (14.6 seconds). I’m telling you guys: unstoppable force:immovable object::UCLA transition O:AZ transition D.

So what happens? I dunno, but Arizona isn’t GREAT at taking care of the basketball (a pedestrian 106th rating in TO%) so I’m seeing an opportunity for UCLA to do what they do best (stealrunbucket).

Shooting Stuff: I’ve examined this one in many places and to many faces. I’m diving into it one more time because UCLA is like kryptonite. Arizona Superman. No one shoots jumpers anymore. But the Bruins do.

Arizona plays the pack line defense. Their version of it is meant to protect the rim (15.9% of shots there) and close out on threes (29% of shots at a 28.2% FG%). That leaves the two-point jumper; neither an easy layup nor a valuable three-pointer. Teams are forced to take 54.5% of their offense there when they play the Wildcats. UCLA, meanwhile, has the fifth highest FG% on 2pt jumpers (44.7%), shoots very few threes (26.9% of their offense), and has Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams. Let me elaborate on those two and it won’t take long: they make 50% of their 2-pt jumpers. To further synopsize, Arizona forces jump shots, UCLA makes jump shots. WHAT GIVES????

AZ-UCLA MathBut this is where I might want to elaborate with some less quantifiable information. Namely, I can’t explain to you that Kyle Anderson hasn’t been defended by the likes of an Aaron Gordon. He’s a 6’9″ freak athlete capable of guarding any and everything. As uniquely talented as Anderson is on the offensive side of things, Gordon is as unique on the defensive side. He and fellow freshman phenom, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, will pose a challenge of athletic length Anderson has yet to see this year. I’m also keeping an eye on this Jordan Adams character. In last season’s he touched the ball game, Adams destroyed the Wildcats: 6-13 for 24 points including 11 FTs. All in Mark Lyons’ eye because Nick Johnson was busy beheading the Bruins, holding Larry Drew II to zero points and just 4 assists. When Johnson drew the Adams straw a few weeks prior in Pauley it was a different story. Adams was 1-5 for 6 points. Yes, I’ll be keeping an eye on that matchup, too.

What’s more, UCLA is fairly effective at and around the rim. They’re connecting on greater than 65% of their shots rim-side of which 42.8% are taken. Solid stuff, but wait! There’s more! The Bruins have the second fewest percentage of shots blocked. Likely helping them get those buckets. While the Wildcats don’t block a ton of shots, they dismiss the 55th best percentage of shots. Food for Bruin thought.

More but Different Shooting Stuff: Howland talked about his team’s lack of athleticism as the reason for poor defense. He never coached Zach LaVine:

zach-levine-windmill-slam-against-missouri-b
The point here is that perhaps Alford has better embraced the overarching lack of athleticism and will play a zone. And in such a defensive schematic, Alford is willing to let teams shoot the three pointer. Teams are shooting the fifth highest percentage of threes against the Bruins (43.8%). The flip side of the coin – and the long perceived achilles heel of these Wildcats – is that they don’t shoot many threes. There are a few reasons for that:

  1. It’s thought that AZ doesn’t shoot well from deep. Reality is they have the 74th best 3FG% in the nation so they’re really not that bad at all. In fact they’re above average. They shoot the three effectively.
  2. They have a ridiculous front court that allows them to make 78.6% of their shots at the rim. That second best FG% at the rim is reason enough for the Wildcats to take more shots at the rim. To elaborate: 34.8% at the rim vs. just 25.4% from three. If I made more than three-quarters of a certain shot, I’d take mostly those.

But this is where the game gets really interesting. UCLA really doesn’t want to get beat down low. It’s why their entire team spends defensive possessions in the paint. But because Arizona won’t soon succumb to another team’s defensive philosophy, I think Brandon Ashley and Gabe York become the games most important players. Or at least offensively. You know what you’re getting out of Arizona’s backcourt: McConnell and Johnson can keep a team fairly honest from deep. Johnson does a great job slashing and can hit an open three. McConnell has shown he can hit threes (42% career 3 shooter). But he’s cold as ice since moving to Tucson, shooting just 29%. Ultimately, however, McConnell’s role is to just feed the TarAshDonAe monster. That’s why I think York, off the bench, is critical. He can keep a team like UCLA honest – a secret weapon of sorts not unlike what Kenny Kaminski did on Tuesday night for Michigan State. Off the bench, the sharp shooter played 16 minutes and went 3-4 from deep, including the go-ahead-and-never-look-back three in overtime. But York is just icing on the cake, really. He’s no defensive specialist and this game is ultimately going to be won by Arizona’s defense. Will he even see the floor? Ashley, on the other hand and to refocus on offense, is the kind of dynamic post player that can really expose UCLA’s rebounding ineptitude and lack of athleticism. Ever seen a Wear child do this:

Final Thoughts on the Matter: Is it 6pm PST yet?