The Pac-12 Player of the Year hasn’t won the Pac-12 Tournament since 2008 (Kevin Love). Was the Ducks’ loss Saturday night a foregone conclusion? If so, the tournament committee made it relatively clear that the loss of Chris Boucher – and perhaps not to the Wildcats – would determine their fate. Their fate, of course, is off to the Midwest as the #3 seed out there.
Are we about to see stability in an Oregon roster? As we preview college basketball teams, all we have to base prognostications upon are returning players. If you’ve paid any attention to Oregon, they’ve been the butt of every transfer-centric joke the past 3-4 years. When you gain the reputation as TransferU in modern college basketball, that’s saying something. Now returning minutes has rarely proven to mean much regarding future success. But it’s also rarely hurt anyone, either. So I repeat, are we about to see what a consistent Oregon roster is or can do?
Why I love them
If the Ducks are going to rattle off late season wins for the second consecutive year, why not just carry on the seasonal parallels? That, of course, would mean they’d carry on into the second round and give Wisconsin one helluva run for their money? The Ducks held as large as a 14-point lead in that one. But let’s not be revisionist. Now is the time for Joseph Young to bid us adieu with his continued performances. To wow us and impress us and gain some slow motion time during One Shining Moment. I’m not saying Oregon is going to win the tournament, but rather that Young is the kind of player that makes plays you dogpile for.
I knew this episode was going to be cut off. College basketball’s closing minutes aren’t just exhaustively long they’re post-game DVR destructive. I went 36-hours off the grid and was welcomed to technology with this fair warning:
@pachoopsab Another reason “the drive” should be on off nights, recording last 10 mins of the USC/WSU game, something I never wanted to do
— JG (@jgisland) March 1, 2015
Alas, I quickly understood. While The Drive is grand entertainment it’s also a propaganda agent. And if half the episode is going to feature a team coached by former friend of the Networks, Ernie Kent, why not put him on extended viewing? Forget behind-the-scenes, let’s just get WSU max screen time. Basically it seems that Kent muscled Oregon out of The Drive so that I now have 3 minutes and 36 seconds of Washington State Cougar road winning basketball on my DVR and 15-minutes behind the scenes of his program. Continue reading
Oregon lost to Michigan on Monday night as I continued to pretend that the ‘random’ program on level 15 of the LifeCycle would suffice for a workout. And while you’re maybe not impressed with my workout regimen, I was impressed with Oregon in the battle of Nike vs. Adidas; the battle of Yellows.
Let’s talk about why. Continue reading
I’m not sure whether or not to post this preview. Day by day it becomes increasingly difficult to follow what’s going on around this program. One day it’s Jaquan Lyle – the prized recruit and presumed starting PG – being removed from the online roster. The next day it’s two more arrests and ‘internal discipline” (Dana’s words). And then Lyle’s back in the mix, attending the IMG Academy, with an open opportunity to rejoin the Ducks in January. None of which notes the transgressions of last March and the subsequent muddled timeline of who knew what and when but that ultimately resulted in the dismissal of Damyean Dotson, Dominic Artis, and Brandon Austin. So there’s all that and Dana has to deal with the third largest (amongst 133 major conference teams) roster turnover in the land. The latter has been a common theme during the Altman era and two-straight NCAA tournaments suggest he can handle that. But the peripheral stuff? The school president resigned. This is a serious and brand new distraction. An issue. But you’ve got Joe Young!
Why I Love Them:
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.
But 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:
I’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:
- Hit a relatively uncontested two point jumper that teams are doing at a relatively high level, OR
- 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.
Defense 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?
We prognosticated and assumed and ran with things that coaches or scouts told us before the season started. That’s well and good but now’s the time to begin the accountability train. Let’s take a look at a few thoughts I (we?) want to keep an eye on as the season progresses and what we’re learning about them.
Arizona in transition –
All the pre-season long we’ve glowed about Arizona’s need and ability to get out into transition. That they’d struggle from distance but that the team’s true strength came in the form of defensive length and versatility which would lead to easy transition buckets. #LOBPUEBLO. So I took to hoop-math.com, paid the more-than-worth-it-$15 subscription to discover that Arizona ranks 117th in % of total FGA in transition. That seemed low. They’re getting just 21% of their shots in transition. The Cats are, however, pretty damn efficient at these buckets, dropping a 73.4% eFG (16th in the nation). #LOBPUEBLO. Anecdotally, Arizona sure seemed to get into transition last night against Fairleigh Dickinson in the most lopsided Wildcat win since Arizona’s coach had white hair – and was a good. Against FDU, the Wildcats took 26.5% of their shots (18) in transition, or slightly above the D-1 average. NOTE: This is not cause for concern. It’s just a notice that perhaps Arizona’s strength isn’t necessarily in transition. Or it isn’t their happy place or primary means of points. Whatever the case, Arizona seems to be effectively using its size, taking just 22% of their shots from beyond the arc and have the 14th best offensive rebounding percentage.
The pace of play in Westwood and Tempe –
Steve Alford’s Bruins have jumped out to a blistering 72.8 possessions per game. That’s 57th best in the nation and the fastest UCLA team since Bruins Nation on the Alford hiring. For further context, only Howland’s last team outpaced the rest of the nation; playing 3.6 more possessions than the average D-1 team. Every other Howland season played below the D-1 average pace including his best team, 2008, which operated at 65.6 vs. 67. We all knew he was slow and many complained that Alford was too despite a UCLA coaching hunt for a “different style.” Thus far – and I’m acutely aware of the infancy of this season – Steve’s baby blue baby bears are burnin’ the floor and Kyle Anderson is comfortable at the point.
Meanwhile, in the land of Herb, he’s been talking about picking up the pace since he had back-to-back seasons without reaching the teens in wins. Last season was really the beginning of it but did you know the Sun Devils were only average in the tempo department? The 2013 D-1 average was 65.9 while the Herbivores got 65.8 possessions. But improvement – increased pace in this case – is relative to the Herb system, right? Let’s look. In his previous six Tempe seasons, the Sen Devils put up an average tempo of 61.9. In 2013 they jumped that number by 6% to get to the Jahii-led, blistering tempo of 65.8. That’s significant and this year they’ve upped the anti to 71.2 possessions. Perhaps Herb’s 3-12-24 is working?
Assimilation of the transfer Duck –
Oregon took a selfie on Tuesday afternoon and it unfortunately did not involve a cheerleader. Sorry to disappoint but evidently you can sell yourself for autographs but not your free tees.
No the disappoint lay in the action of two projected starters for the Ducks who sold team apparel. Domninc Artis and Ben Carter did their best Terrell Pryor and Dana Altman did his worst Jim Tressel (didn’t lie, self-reported) and the University of Oregon had to be the centerpiece of NCAA compliance – again – during a week in which they’re doubly starring on ESPN. Between Thursday’s football game and Friday’s South Korea game, the Ducks are all over the worldwide leader.
And this news ain’t helping. Certainly not on the heels of sanctions for the football team and certainly not on the heels of the Joseph Young news. The latter was reason for gross optimism surrounding UO hoops. Tuesday’s news, however, serves to dampen some of that excitement. But not too much.
I love college basketball and one of the reasons I love it is because it allows teams to grow and develop. Get a little hot, a little cold, time your runs and that’s a season. But ask this very Duck program what one loss meant to their 2012 football season.
Artis and Carter won’t play and my biggest concern for the Ducks isn’t that they’ll drop the Georgetown game or even a lesser non-conference game (the apparel sellers project to miss about 9 games). Those are all nice contests to win and Oregon would be expected to win with these two. No my concern isn’t on the wins or losses column so much as it is on the minutes played column for Carter. Here’s a guy many folks are very high on and are expecting big things from – his coach likely not withstanding – who played only a handful of minutes last season. He recorded just 10.4 minutes per contest with an introductory 13% usage rate. Ben Carter didn’t contribute a ton last year.
But we’ve been expecting him to significantly contribute to a revamped Duck front court (HI, MIKE MOSER) and the only way he’s going to improve is by recording more court time. To increase his usage and minutes played because that’s how you get better at things. 10,000 hours isn’t a joke and it isn’t achieved during self imposed suspensions.
Oregon is going to weather this storm but perhaps at the cost of Ben Carter’s development. They’ll replace Artis with reigning Pac-12 Tournament MVP, Johnathan Loyd. How many teams can say that? But the effects of this suspension could have ripple effects as the games grow in magnitude after the calendar turns over into Pac-12 season.
In his stead, the Duck front court will turn to guys like Waverly Austin and transfer Richard Amardi. True, they’re no more experienced than Carter, but he was the one projected to start and the one who many felt would solidify an already outstanding lineup.
I guess we’ll just have to wait.
This team is completely different looking from last year’s sweet sixteen team. Which was completely different looking than the previous year’s NIT team. Which was completely different looking from the previous year’s CBI team. Dana Altman must have an advanced degree in change management because that’s all he’s done at Oregon. Most importantly, have you been noticing the Altman-era win column? Allow me: 21, 24, 28. The Altman-era conference finishes? Again, my pleasure: 7, 2, 2. On to 2013-14…
Why I love them: The guards. Artis quickly became a favorite of mine and clearly an integral piece to what the Ducks were trying to accomplish (5-4 without, 24-4 with). I also liked the guy – now a senior – that filled in during Artis’ absence, Johnathan Loyd. And I’m also very much loving this backcourt with Friday’s definitive addition of Houston transfer, Joseph Young. The team swapping junior brings his 124.1/22.7 (ORtg/%poss)…hold up, did I just tell you that Oregon adds the nation’s 26th highest ORtg to their roster? If that doesn’t meant anything to you I’ll synopsize: he’s good at scoring. And I’ll drop some similar ORtgs from last year: Kelly Olynyk, (123.3), Nate Wolters (123.5 – he’s the guy who dropped 53 in a game last year), and Victor Oladipo (122.8). His ORtg would’ve ranked second in the Pac only to Arizona’s Kevin Parrom who dialed in at a far lesser 17% usage rate. You loving this Oregon backcourt yet? I bet, AND I HAVEN’T EVEN MENTIONED DAMYEAN DOTSON. This guy might be my favorite back there. He arrived in Eugene, a late signee to an underwhelming 2012 class beyond the heralded Artis. Dotson swiftly dropped double figures in his first three collegiate games and never quite looked back. It was his efforts on the perimeter – hitting the three ball which Oregon struggled to do – that was integral in guiding Dana’s Ducks to a Pac-12 tournament championship and the sweet sixteen. Dotson hit 17 of his 47 total three pointers during the season’s final six games (P12 and NCAA tourneys). He showed up in the season’s biggest games and I LOVE THAT. Oh, and if it’s 2011-12 Mike Moser taking graduate coursework in Eugene…look out.
Why I hate them: I don’t know them and we tend to fear what we don’t know. Granted, I know my ex-girlfriend and I kind of hate her but I don’t really know anything about these Ducks. Their front court is completely rebuilt, do you know who Ben Carter is? Google his name and you get the website of a potter. As for the hoopster, I’ve been hearing buzz around his name but I’ll wait to see the honey. One Duck confidant called him “Arsalan Junior” which would suggest big things for the kid (see the QUOTABLE for more Carter love). There’s Moser, he’s fantastic, but the same can’t necessarily be said about Waverly Austin. On the transfers-not-named-Moser front, Richard Amardi would seem to bring some heat. Again, unproven so we’ll see. As mentioned and highlighted, this is an overhauled front court missing Arsalan Kazemi, Tony Woods, and EJ Singler. I might even toss Carlos Emery onto that list. Point is: this team isn’t taking a whole new identity, they’re taking a whole new style. I think they’re talented enough to do it but it may take some growing pains.
Stat you need to know:
Three point shooting percentage of Joseph Young who is joining a team that shot just 33% from distance (202nd best in the country) last year. With open arms they welcome a shooter.
Coming off a Sweet Sixteen run, Dana Altman did this off season what Dana Altman does. He reloaded with transfer players, 5th-year seniors and a couple of highly regarded prospects. In the age of one-and-done players in college basketball, Altman isn’t afraid to utilize the same strategy, he just tends to make the 1 year the player’s 5th year in college basketball. Add Mike Moser to the list of Arsalan Kazemi, Olu Ashaolu, Devoe Joseph, and Jay-R Strowbridge. Moser is a huge addition to the front court for a unit that, while talented, is pretty young.
“The frosh got some major burn early, then fell out of favor as the older Ducks took over during their Sweet 16 run. Carter is a former teammate of Shabazz Muhammad at Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas and was very well coached in high school. With Mike Moser as a 4/3 hybrid in the “pinwheel” offense, Carter can play both 5 and 4.” – Doug Gottlieb on Ben Carter’s potential to breakout
Outlook: It’s nice, real nice with the addition of Young. I’m fully sold on what Dana Altman is doing up there that I’m considering wearing pleats, a white button down with green tie, and impeccable hair for Halloween. Sure there’s some concern about the sustainability of this transfer model but let’s ignore that until we see something that doesn’t resemble year over year improvement, deal? Now I’m not about to tout them as a top-10 team a la Gottlieb, but I clearly like this team’s back court and I want to go to South Korea with them (11/8 vs. Georgetown).