Category Archives: Arizona

Where They Affect the Game: TJ McConnell

It should be obvious that this is going to center around the rim. It’s my favorite. But what sets TJ McConnell apart from the other guys we’ve discussed (Anderson and Wright), is that we”ll wind up talking about the guys around him. After all, he’s got an NBA front court to dish to.

And dish he does. McConnell is fourth in the conference in assist rate and third in assists per game. Further, and I apologize for being unable to contextualize, he’s collecting these dimes just 27.6% of the time in transition. That’s the lowest number (aside from Justin Cobbs) amongst Pac-12 point guards that I glanced at. This is a significant number because no matter how often you want to get in transition, the majority of your offense is going to come in a half court setting. As the offense’s facilitator and someone collecting as many assists as he does, McConnell’s ability to facilitate offense for his friends is impressive. It’s a tribute to his understanding and execution of the team’s principles and the talented pieces around him.

When crunching all of the rim success numbers, it was McConnell that lead the conference (amongst the players I studied) in success at the rim:

Player % poss resulting in rim score % poss resulting in play at rim Success % at Rim
TJ McConnell 44.25 49.84 88.79
Nick Johnson 28.04 32.18 87.13
Delon Wright 50.65 61.23 82.71
Kyle Anderson 33.57 41.64 80.63
CJ Wilcox 21.80 27.25 80.00
Pe’Shon Howard 38.34 48.54 78.99
Nigel Williams-Goss 26.17 35.09 74.59
Askia Booker 29.00 38.95 74.45
Justin Cobbs 29.93 40.62 73.68
Brett Comer (2013) 51.18 72.47 70.63
Roberto Nelson 26.96 40.43 66.67
Chasson Randle 20.96 33.14 63.25
Jahii Carson 24.86 40.06 62.05

Nearly 90% of McConnell’s possessions at the rim are successful. He was making the third most assists at the rim per game (2.72) despite having the fewest possessions (8.59) per game. Aside from the ridiculous Delon Wright, McConnell accounted for the highest percentage of rim scores. I love that. Kaleb Tarczewski, Aaron Gordon, and every other Wildcat loves that. Arizona, in fact, is second in the nation in FG% at the rim (74.1%). They don’t take the most shots there (31.6% of the offense is good for 300th in the nation) but when they do, they’re making it:

See what I mean? The word facilitate means to “make something easier” and so it appears TJ McConnell makes scoring easier for his sometimes scoring inept team.

Now look at Arizona’s last two offensive explosions. In those two games, McConnell has assisted 16 times and turned the ball over just once. The above tells us that his team easily scored when he passed them the ball. The turnovers suggest the other team isn’t getting an opportunity to easily score, forcing teams into a half court setting against the Wildcats in which they have the second best non-transition defensive eFG%. Good luck. In a moment of inspiration and wanting-to-copy-cat-a-great-mind, I saw Luke Winn’s power rankings in which he notes Fred VanVleet’s protection services. He notes VanVleet’s propensity to not turn the ball over and a few wildly impressive 5 game stretches (most notably a 30:1 A:T ratio in late December to early Jan). Wichita State’s facilitator protects the ball and dishes to his playmakers and they haven’t lost. Which – for a Pac-12 blogger – begs the question: Do TJ McConnell and other Pac-12 points offer similar protective services?Assisters

This is a pretty interesting graph in that everyone seems to have taken a pretty significant dip as they began to face off against one another in conference play. Look at the downward trend beginning right around games 10-13.

And then there’s McConnell. The lead man at Point Guard U with a violent uptick as we head into the game’s most critical month. Is it a sign of things to come? As that’s a rolling five game average, it would suggest so.

In the meantime:

WANE: Echoing Through the Rockies

Spencer and I are going to Boulder. It’s our second annual appearance there and we will be breaking bread and beverage with Ben Burrows and Jason G upon arrival. How fun is that? So fun that we had them on WANE to discuss. These two are Colorado connoisseurs and flex that Buff muscle at Rumblin Buff and All Buffs. I even flex my own Buff for the latter. But enough physiology puns and full apologies for the echoes.

 

The Table:

0:55: A few too many mentions of cream rising

2:10: Let’s get the Arizona @ ASU loss out of the way

5:00: Don’t be fooled, both games in Boulder weekend are sexy

6:00: Bigger game this weekend for Colorado, ASU or UA?

8:04 Anyone here a regular Percy Allen of the Seattle Times reader? No? Ok, well…..

8:45: A debate of who should have the #1 Power Ranking spot.

10:00: philosophical debate of what a “power ranking” is. Conclusion: Tinder.

13:20: Big-X backing up his big talk

16:30: We talk post-Dinwiddie Colorado basketball

24:20: Podcast remote location Power Rankings

26:15: Spencer makes an unintentional back handed complement. Apologies to all those offended.

27:30: Anyone got a ticket for Saturday

27:40: Don’t let the Coors product line fool you, Colorado is NOT the “Keystone State”. Recreation ensues in Colo.

The Valentine State’s Valentines Day

On this day of St. Valentine I have neither brilliance or wit for you. I’m simply going to rampage through bullet points of facts surrounding tonight’s Arizona- Arizona State game. Hooray love because I espouse lots of it in the subsequent bullets (a fitting organizational tool for such a game):

  • 95/110, 98/115 – These are the offensive efficiency numbers for Carrick Felix and Jermaine Marshall in their season without then with Jahii Carson
  • 2/14/1912 – Arizona becomes a state! The belief is that the name Arizona was derived from the O’odaham name alĭ ṣonak which meant “little spring.” This subsequently was Major League Baseball’s rationale for moving Spring Training to the Valentine State.
  • 36%/4.6/4.3/0/3 – That is Jordan Bachynski’s FG%, ppg, rpg, apg, and bpg against Kaleb Tarczewski. His normal numbers in the last two seasons? 59%, 10.7ppg, 7.2rpg, 0.3apg, 3.8bpg. Kaleb might own somebody?
  • Local Talent – Both Nick Johnson and Jahii Carson are from Phoenix. They grew up playing there together. They’ve faced off just once in Tempe. Johnson scored 19 points, Carson scored 22, and the Wildcats won by 17.
  • +55 – Point differential in Arizona’s favor across the last three Territorial Cup games
  • 2-7 – Herb Sendek’s record against Arizona since Sean Miller became the coach in Tucson
  • 13 vs 9 – ASU has more all-time tournament wins (13) than Arizona has Sweet-16 wins (9).
  • This

guys

#1 Arizona Wins at Maples: How and Why

Dwight Powell’s six-foot-ten-inch frame had just taken the ball baseline for a reverse layup in a fashion few other six-foot-ten-inch men can do. The score was tied with less than one minute remaining. Crunch time, as it were, and Maples Pavilion had the acoustics of Y2K. Tiger Woods wasn’t there but Andre Iguodala was. Johnny Dawkins was more this, than this.

And if you haven’t been paying attention, here’s a quick breakdown of what Arizona does really well, their brand:

  • Defensive eFG% – #1 in the nation
  • Defensive efficiency – #2 in the nation
  • Offensive rebound % – #11 in the nation
  • Nick Johnson

These are the things that Arizona does so well and what they’ve ridden to an unblemished mark. Knock them off of these pillars and you have a good chance to win. Here is what Stanford did up until the game’s 9:58 point (more on that later, or rather, everything on that later):

  • 46% shooting – would’ve been third highest against AZ this season – to the 9:58 mark
  • 38% free throw rate and more stats that suggest Arizona’s defensive efficiency was threatened but it’s a wildly complex stat so I can’t really provide you context. Know that no other team has out-rebounded Arizona this season and Stanford did.
  • 2 offensive boards. That’s how many Stanford allowed Arizona to get up until the 9:58 mark. Arizona averages 13/game. The Cardinal’s work was roughly the equivalent of just one Belieber passing out at a Bieber show.
  • 9 points for Nick Johnson. He averages 17.

As I’ve often said before, Arizona does a phenomenal job of disregarding an opponent and playing their own brand of basketball. A brand defined by the former set of bullet points and a brand not being upheld as evidence of the latter set. Kudos Stanford on their first 30 minutes and 2 seconds of work.

So with Stanford’s effort as our backdrop, let’s look at that final 9:58, the final minutes, and how Arizona played Arizona basketball.

Powell’s bucket was Stanford’s first FG since the 9:58 mark. They were 1-9 during that 8:37 dry spell. They closed the game 1-10. We could include Powell’s two missed free throws in that window, too; but I learned in second grade that if the numerator is zero the answer is zero no matter the denominator. It’s not worth our while to include Powell’s free throws. They made just the herculean, NBA-esque Powell layup and two free throws Arizona intentionally made Chasson Randle shoot.

Defensive eFG%? Check.

Across roughly fifteen possessions, the Cardinal managed just the Powell layup on their sixteenth. Arizona forced two turnovers and had two blocks. They committed just the one foul and allowed just one offensive rebound.

Defensive efficiency? Check.

The play initially wound up in the hands of Brandon Ashley who had previously broke the back of the Wolverines. But he missed; and for all the aforementioned defensive success of the Wildcats, they were not matching it on offense. They were 3-13 in the same 8:37 window of Cardinal ineptitude plus one turnover. From 9:58 to end, Arizona grabbed four offensive boards. And so up went Ashley’s shot with seemingly a 77% chance of missing. It did and the live ball was grabbed by Kaleb Tarczewski.

Offensive rebounding? Check.

Yup, tied and ear splitting, we had a ball game. The giant, Polish, New Hampshite (?) had procured an offensive rebound which Arizona does at an elite level because they miss shots pretty regularly. Darwinism. Out the ball went and Nick Johnson squared up to his fourth three-point shot of the night – a fresh :35 be damned. This shot, like two of the three prior, went in. 58-55, Arizona. Johnson would grab the ensuing rebound on Chasson Randle’s eleventh miss of the night (Johnson, while we’re on it, guarded Randle the whole game and forced him into 3-15 shooting, 20%. Randle’s average game is 6.0-12.5, 48%). He’d sink two more free throws (we’re ignoring the one-and-one front he missed because I have a narrative to fill), head to the lockers with 16 points (game high), 5 boards, 4 assists (game high), zero turnovers, Arizona’s final 7 points, and get love from gold medalist, Iguodala. Arizona wins.

Nick Johnson? Check.

Q & A with Colorado Buffaloes. No Reviews.

The Colorado Buffaloes will be returning to the unfriendly confines of the McKale Center. They haven’t been there since last January when Sabatino’s perfect hair hit an imperfect buzzer beater. And that’s the last of our monitor mentions (not). But ultimately that just adds to the lore of this budding rivalry. Did you know that the average score – since both were Pac-12 teams – is 69-66, Arizona? They’ve split all six meetings. This, is a rivalry whether you want to admit it or not.

And therefore I go to the enemy – once again – to gain insights into the program that plays its games in a Keg and encourages its fans to blackout. Here is the roll call:

  • Jason Gilligan – Here is your new barometer for statistical analysis. I don’t write anything about an advanced stat before running it past JG (contributes to All Buffs)
  • James Lucas – Admin at All Buffs and resident oil connoisseur. But oil is irrelevant to the fact that he is, first and foremost, a Colorado Basketball fan (aka, football didn’t lure him into the black and gold). Not a lot of those.
  • Ben Burrows – Author, editor, brilliant mind behind Rumblin’ Buff – The Rumblings of Deranged Buffalo. He knows all about Buffs and Beer.

I always appreciate these guys’ insights and know you will, too. What’s more, I can’t wait to absorb the 2/22 tilt in Boulder with these guys. While my family and some of my best friends go to my ex-girlfriends’ wedding, I’ll be in The Keg.

Just try, give me something, about Spencer Dinwiddie and then we’ll drop it because otherwise it’s detrimental.

Jason: I miss him and I hope I never see him in a CU uniform again.  I hope he gets healthy quickly, gets drafted in the first round and fulfills his childhood dream of playing in the NBA.

James: There are no words for how bad I feel for that kid. Well, not in English. They may have one in German, but the loose translation of it to English is “fastidious burrow”.

Ben: There are no words, at least ones worth putting to paper, that can adequately describe my feelings when I saw Spencer Dinwiddie collapse in Seattle.  I was stunned into numbness.  It struck me to my very core.  Surely, much of that is borne out of, what you termed, the ‘selfish joy’ of getting to watch the young man ply his trade on the hardwood, but it goes deeper than that. I feel for him.  It’s genuine heartbreak.  With the understanding that Dinwiddie is an honestly good kid who worked extremely hard to get where he is today, to see him reduced to tears for playing the game he loves… it’s hard to comprehend. With the diagnosis now official, at least there’s finally some direction to the story.  Spencer is done for the year, and, now after a successful surgery, will be able to focus on his recovery.  As with all things in life, the narrative doesn’t end, it just transforms.  He will be back, and we will all get to share in that ‘selfish joy’ once again, whether here or in the NBA.

Most important player: Askia Booker, Josh Scott, other?

Jason: Booker, CU needs Booker to play well to win; he has the ability to shoot CU out of games.  Scott is clearly the best player on the team right now, but Ski is more important in my opinion because of the way he can negatively impact the game.

James: Gotta be Ski. Josh is our best player now, but Ski is the heart of the team. And watching him the last two games has been incredible. Re-enforces the belief that some had that a lot of his “wildness” on the court was due to the fact that he had Spencer to keep it calm. Now that Spencer’s gone and Ski runs the team, he’s been an efficiency machine. As Ski goes, so go the Buffs. Meanwhile, Josh just dropped another 19 & 8.

Ben: Tough one. Both are vital to the Buffs without Dinwiddie, and both have stepped up in his absence (Scott – 39 points, 16 rebounds last weekend; Booker – 34/8/8; combined – 61% from the field).  Both are team leaders, and a quiet night from either severely limits Colorado’s ceiling. In reality, the answer is Scott, if only because there are few players in the conference that can actually guard him.  He demands a double-team on the block, which opens up opportunities for others, and his 15-18 foot jumpers make him a very difficult assignment. Askia’s transition into a more efficient player will be very important, but the offense (and, to an extent, defense) now runs through Jelly. It must be said, however, that they can’t do it alone.  Just look at last Thursday’s game against UCLA.  The pair had a fantastic game (40 points combined), but CU rarely threatened in the second half.  The culprit was the 16 point, 13 turnover, 22% shooting effort from the rest of the roster.  Whether it be Xavier Johnson, Jaron Hopkins, or the rare assertive offensive night from Wes Gordon, someone else has to contribute for CU to compete.

Last season, when Colorado was outdueling Arizona, they shot exceptionally well from deep. This season the Buffs once again aren’t the greatest three point shooting team (31% ranking 287th nationally, 11th in the conference). Are there any deep threats or does Colorado really just need to cross its fingers when it’s time for bombs away?

Jason: Booker is always a threat to shoot a lot, but not necessarily to make them, but CU’s got to hope for the best, there are no “shooters” on this team.  It is interesting though that CU took 15% more than their average amount of shots from mid-range against USC; maybe they were just prepping for Arizona, because Arizona limits shots at the rim and from 3 and makes opponents shoot mid-range jumpers.

James: Do we count Beau Gamble who’s lighting teams up at a 40% clip? No? OK. Then no, we don’t have anyone and it’s prayer time. There’s always the hope that Ski gets hot from behind the arc, but we’re not going to be a bombs away squad.

Ben: Ski’s gonna Ski, and, while the erstwhile John McClane of the basketball world has calmed a bit in the wake of Spencer’s injury, he’s always weapons free from beyond the arc. Beyond Booker, however, three-point shooting is significantly less promising and consistent. ‘Big X’ Xavier Johnson is fantastic as a set-shooter, and, if he doesn’t have to move, can lob bombs from the top of the arc with accuracy.  The problem is, he’s fallen in love with moving into his shot as of late, and he isn’t nearly as accurate off the dribble, or even just stepping into his attempt.  As a result, he has lost 12 points off of his percentage from a year ago, making him decidedly less dangerous. I like ‘Little X’ Xavier Talton from range, but the numbers won’t help me.  He’s got a compact, calm, repeatable mechanic that seems destined to become lethal.  To date, however, he isn’t nearly consistent enough (7-32), which is very surprising.  He should be more productive. Freshman (and Arizona local), Jaron Hopkins has made a couple of big shots this season, but is more of the spray-and-pray type.  Sometimes I think he’d be better off closing his eyes when he heaves.  If he’s making threes against you, just shrug your shoulders and move on.

But offense was never necessarily the way Colorado would won this game. Defense, as it were, is the crux of Tad Boyle’s success. Let’s start at the rim (I love analyzing shooting at the rim). Boyle made a point of protecting the rim and you, Jason, broke down Colorado’s rim protection. To note, the Buffs allow just a 51.9% FG% at the rim. Thirty-sixth best in the nation. How does Colorado do this? (NOTE: Arizona has the 3rd highest FG% at the rim: 76.7%)

Jason: CU doesn’t gamble on defense, they don’t deny passing lanes, they don’t deny the post, they just play solid man defense.  So they don’t give up a lot of layups due to lobs into the post nor do they give up a lot of backdoor cuts (I see you Oregon).  Guys are rarely out of position which makes protecting the rim much easier because there are actually guys between the ball and the rim…..

James: We don’t gamble. I wish we were a little more adventurous at times, but Tad has pretty much made it obvious that his plan is to line up against our opponents and say “we think our guys are better on D than yours are on O”.

Ben: Coach Boyle has instilled a paranoia in the team as regards to rim defense.  They’d much rather give up numerous open and semi-open perimeter looks than give up even one layup attempt.  As a result, the pack-line is well defended, and there are few opportunities for easy looks outside of transition. I should also mention that Coach Boyle’s recruiting philosophy plays a large part in this.  He loves the ‘tweener’ athlete build, so if you’re 6-6 with good length and strong defensive habits, expect a call from Coach.  The effect is that almost anyone in black and gold is comfortable defending in the post.  

Tell me about the strengths of this front court. UNLV successfully used their front court strength to get the Wildcats uncomfortable and open some things up for shooters. The Rebels didn’t win but they got damn close. How might the CU collective do similarly?

Jason: I was cautiously optimistic about this game a couple of weeks ago, Arizona really only goes 7 guys deep and Spencer and Scott are two of the best in the Pac12 at drawing fouls and getting to the line.  I think that’s a key to this game, if CU has any shot, they’ve got to get Scott the ball where he can hopefully be efficient and get the Arizona bigs into foul trouble. 

James: We need Josh Scott to go beast mode. If he can get all 9 of your big men in foul trouble, we may have a chance on this one.

Ben: I cannot emphasize how good Josh Scott is becoming. Ask USC, eschewing a double-team of the Colorado Springs native is done at your own peril.  The weight he put on over the offseason has paid off, allowing him to take more shots at the rim (20 points higher than his freshman campaign), and play more of a factor on defense and the boards. Compounding the issue, he’s becoming more comfortable with that 15-18 foot jumper, making him lethal from all areas of the court.  Oh, and he also hits his free throws at a 83% clip.  There’s a reason, after all, that he’s only finished two games with a sub-100 offensive rating this season.  College defenders just don’t see a player of his skill set that often. Wes Gordon compliments him very well. He’s still very raw, but his defense alone makes him a worthwhile addition in the paint.  He’s got hands of stone, but he gets those rocks on plenty of loose balls.  Not much of an offensive piece yet, but he has shown flashes (13 points against Washington). Combined, they play very good defense around the rim, stretch would-be defenders to guard outside of their comfort zone, and rarely foul (both in the national top-500 in fouls called per 40 minutes). If Josh has a monster game, and Wes does his damage without the ball, CU could be alright.

Furthermore, Arizona crushes the offensive glass (9th best nationally). How much of a concern is that for the Buffaloes considering they’re the 4th best defensive rebounding team in the country?

Jason:  I want Arizona to crash the boards; this is the only way CU has a chance to pull off something improbable.  CU’s defensive rebounding numbers are largely inflated because teams (USCB, Wyoming and Harvard) didn’t even try to go after offensive boards, instead sending defenders back on defense in order to keep CU out of transition.  If Arizona goes after offensive boards, that means CU’s getting opportunities to get out on the break where they take the 17th most amount of initial FGA’s in transition (34.2%), please go after offensive boards.

James: Big concern. Our defensive numbers are slightly inflated because no one crashes the boards against us because they don’t want us to run. Arizona can crash and still get back. It’s going to be interesting to see how Sean handles this.

Ben: I’ll admit that some of CUs defensive rebounding numbers are skewed by non-conference games against teams who abandoned the glass almost entirely to cut off the Buffs in transition, but the Buffs are a very good rebounding team, even better than they were last season. ‘But, how can that be so,’ you ask, ‘didn’t they have the super-human rebounding machine, Andre Roberson, in ‘12-’13?’  Yes, ‘Dre was a monster with the ball in the air, but his brilliance allowed his teammates to sit back and enjoy the show.  This year, it’s a team effort, and the rate is up about five points, as a result. Certainly, the Wildcats will be a challenge heretofore unseen on the glass.  CU rebounded just fine against Kansas (another strong offensive rebounding team, held them to 8 offensive rebounds), however, giving me hope that the Buffs can continue to hold their own.

Did Askia Booker just take a jump shot? Sorry, I couldn’t tell. Maybe I’ll just check the monitors.

Jason: People lie whey they say “You’re not too bad for an Arizona fan”

James: “Hate” is a strong word. It also applies here.

Ben: You know, I’m honestly over the ‘Chen’ incident.  We got our pound of flesh between the Valentine’s Day Massacre, Ed Rush getting fired, and Askia’s Miracle.  It’s a sexy layer to the rivalry, but that’s all at this point.

What concerns you the most about this Wildcat team?

Jason: Arizona’s defense only allows 16.4% of shots in the half-court to come at the rim, CU takes 40.3% of their shots at the rim in the half-court offense.  As I stated before, CU’s strength isn’t exactly its shooting, if CU can’t get to the rim it could be a very long night.

James: Everything. They’re #1 for a reason.

Ben: Defense. The Buffs can frequently struggle in the halfcourt, and when I see defensive numbers like a 41% eFG and an absurdly-low 18% of shots at the rim, I’m smelling a rough night for Colorado. If the threes don’t fall, and if CU gets nothing in transition, it will be a long night, regardless of what Ski and Josh manage.

And the big one: How does this game play out?

Jason: CU covers the spread and keeps it around 10 points in a game that was never as close as the final score indicates (largely b/c Miller feels sorry that CU’s missing Dinwiddie)

James: When Spencer went down, I said that you can’t really count the next 4 games and that our season starts over on 2/1 against Utah. Too many unknowns, players in roles they aren’t familiar with, uncertainty everywhere. I stand by that. Combine that with the fact that Arizona knows they’re on national TV and I don’t see them letting up. Zona rolls – in a game that will hopefully lay the groundwork for CU to get their revenge on 2/22.

Ben: Wallowing in the despair of the 40 hours between the UCLA and USC games last week, I feared that CU would struggle to crack 45 against the UofA and their vaunted defense. After the sunshine of the USC game cleared my mind of such depressive thoughts, I’ve since re-evaluated. Colorado’s offense isn’t broken, it’s just a re-work in progress.  Sure, playing the #1 team in the land at their place isn’t the best time to further the educational process, but I no longer fear the epicly unwatchable. I still don’t see any chance that Colorado can steal away with a win, but I do expect them to push Arizona for stretches.  The Buffs are their ‘kryptonite,’ after all. In the end, however, CU’s struggles in the half-court, the home crowd, and the still-developing rotation take their toll, and Colorado slips in the second half. UofA 70 – CU 55

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?

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.

Sincerely,

Adam

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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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.

TarczewskiMissing

DOH!

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.

Gordon

Whoops.