Some of you might be thinking, “Isn’t it time we read about a new head coach at Washington?” And your feelings would be valid (they’re always valid here, guys). He’s coached four progressively worse teams, had character (Robert Upshaw) and transfer/departure issues (Nigel Williams-Goss, Jernard Jarreau), has seen a steady decline in attendance, and hasn’t recruited at nearly the level he once did (ya know, like NBA players). That opening question is valid. But Lorenzo Romar is still the head coach at Washington. And this season he’s bringing…optimism? We have to be future thinking but Romar has a Top-10 class on campus right now, and another lined up for next season. You can’t tell me that anyone other than Lorenzo Romar would have Markelle Fultz – a Top-10 recruit – committing to move to Washington from Maryland. He’s a summer commit to the class of 2016. That is rare. Arizona only just got their first 2016 commitment. And Romar swooped him from Kentucky, Arizona and Louisville. In a day and age when CBB rosters are fluid, when roster management is a year-in-year-out endeavor, Romar appears to have set himself up for some annualized success. Something he hasn’t had in nearly half a decade.
We were a three pointer by a struggling if not disinterested first teamer from having the 10, 11, and 12 seeds advance. That’s contrary to the norm. The least tightly contested game featured the two most closely ranked teams. That’s contrary to the norm. Dan Kingma had nine points. That’s contrary to the norm. Of course we didn’t come to Vegas expecting chalk or things to go precisely according to plan (although I did remember to bring my ID to the airport for this trip. Big win.).
So what was Day 1 like? Maybe we call it a practice run? The MGM Grand Arena wasn’t quite bubbling to the top but – and this needs to be said – the PA guy called 4 games with unwavering enthusiasm. And he’ll be back at it again for Day 2. As for the basketball?
Oregon perhaps took a little wind out of Utah’s sail and Larry K said that now is the time for less talk and more action. So Spencer and I talk about all of the Pac-12’s forthcoming action including Arizona’s trip to what should be a raucous Muss (but hopefully not inappropriately so). Perhaps it goes without saying that – one week from March – we delve into Bubble Watch and all of the OPPORTUNITY! for the Pac’s bubble squad of UCLA, Oregon, and Stanford.
WANE (and on SoundCloud)
In New York they postponed two basketball games due to weather. As a reminder, basketball is played indoors, presumably a weather protected sport. In Brooklyn, they’re not playing indoor basketball because of weather. Meanwhile, I spent my Sunday at the beach. I went to Cal and Stanford in jeans and a shirt. A light jacket was in tow and today I’m lightly sunburnt, sunkissed if you will (don’t tell my dermatologist brother). So while the Pac-12 is maybe only getting three teams in this year’s dance (although I do discuss Oregon State’s chances below, HBD Tink), the Conference of Champions wins. Because while winning isn’t everything, neither is winter.
12) CALIFORNIA (-1)
They’ve won fewer games than the year prior for three consecutive years. The recruiting has gone stagnant; they literally had no 2012 class. Last season was the worst defense (104.5 Drtg) that LoRo has ever put on a court. The program’s struggles are quantifiable if not palpable. Average attendance at Hec Ed since 2011 has grossly declined: 9650, 8785, 7937, 6582. It’s fair to say the seat is warming. But I see a light from within this tunnel. Look at this year’s roster. It’s not soon to wow you but it’s balanced and youthful and projects. And then you note that Washington already has commitments from four 4-star recruits in 2015 and one 5-star in 2016. Encouragingly, two of those ‘I-do’s’ have come from local kids. I see a light. But for this season, I think we’re still in the tunnel.
Why I Love Them:
Between Roberto Nelson and CJ Wilcox, these tremendous seniors have weathered the worst Pac-12 storm we’ve ever seen. And that’s on a coast that rarely experiences bad storms. Across their four years, they’ve been a part of some awful conference play. Yet here they are now, on the cusp of being two of the best players in a conference possibly sending 7 teams into the Dance.
And do you realize that neither of these two would make a normal first team all-conference team? Normal would suggest a five-man squad which the Pac-12 doesn’t do so they’ve got a Pac-12 chance at first team. But these guys aren’t even top-5! Sure, neither plays on a particularly dangerous squad so they fly under the radar, ignored pretty regularly despite terrific individual numbers. I get that wins are the most important stat; but that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate an individual’s efforts to try to win.
I wanted to tell each of their stories, how they affect the game. But as I worked harder into their numbers, deeper into their stories, I found some interesting parallels. And some fascinating divergence.
I’d like to begin with the parallels:
I was really excited to see these near identical outputs. The two best players on these two average teams. I mean, even their teams are nearly identical. Washington is 16-13, 8-8 and Oregon State is 15-13, 7-9. I even took a gander at their win shares: Nelson 3.7, Wilcox 4.0. Right on down the line they seem to be pretty similar. Wilcox is 6’5″ 195lbs. Nelson is 6’4″ 198lbs. Same size, same numbers, the big picture suggests they affect the game similarly.
But going a level deeper, we find our divergence.
Simply put, Roberto gets to the rim and CJ prefers not to. If you were paying attention to the chart above, you’d have noticed they were making nearly the identical number of FGs per game (6.2 Wilcox, 6.1 Nelson). Yet, per our graph above, Nelson is taking 18.5% more two-point shots than Wilcox. How are they putting up the same number of points. If you guessed free throws, you were right. Nelson’s free throw rate is double that of Wilcox’s (56.7% vs 26.3%). And so it makes sense.
Like our Delon Wright study, Nelson is the slashing creating type. He differs from Wright in that he connects on 40% of his threes (Wright’s an atrocious 25.6%). But ultimately the two of them, as noted, are slashing and creating. Nelson’s possessions result in a play at the rim more than 40% of the time. It’s inside the paint that Nelson fights to 20.6ppg with just a sparse percentage of his shots being assisted. A little more than a third of Nelson’s shots at the rim are assisted. With Wright as our barometer, Nelson gets a slight more help from his friends. Wright has 29.4% of his rim shots assisted. For continuity’s sake, Wilcox is assisted on 45.3% of his rim buckets. These numbers suggest some self-reliance on the part of Nelson and Wright, the ability to create for oneself.
Not CJ’s strong suit. Wilcox is a phenomenal three point shooter. We noted he makes 40% of his shots from there and takes half his shots from there. That’s a productive output and why he’s 10th in the conference in eFG%. Conversely, Nelson leads the conference in usage (32% good for 21st most in the nation).
Nelson needs the ball in his hands to affect the game. Now obviously so too does CJ, but he ranks just 19th in the conference in usage, the lowest such percentage amongst the conference’s top-10 leading scorers (Wilcox is fifth). He’s a beautifully pure shooter. I’m inclined to note how often CJ’s threes are assisted but it’s actually below the D-1 average (75.3% vs 84.9%). Not exactly fulfilling our CJ-is-team-reliant narritive. But as such a great shooter (career 39.2% shooter as compared to JJ Redick’s 40.2% or Salim Stoudamire’s 45.8% – wait, Salim was that much better than JJ, sigh…) it’s understandable that Wilcox is going to get the green light a little more often than not. Particularly as a senior with two underclassmen guards feeding him. Year-over-year, Wilcox’s percentage of assisted threes has decreased (I see you Abdul).
Ultimately, what each of these players is accomplishing is individually impressive and unique. They’ve arrived at similar destinations taking very different paths.
Neither of these seniors will win the Player of the Year award. But each has been a terrific Pac-12 basketball player, contributing to the resurgence of a conference once mired below mediocrity. It was the laughing stock of college basketball.
Today, while neither of their teams has seen great success, they’ve developed into two of the most dynamic and unique players in the conference. A part of arguably the best guard corps in the nation.
And they are seniors at the ends of their respective paths. I enjoyed watching them and I imagine you did, too. They did great. Good luck.
This was no easy task. Back courts across the Pac-12 are loaded this season and a major reason why the Pac is Back. Thus, not coincidentally, this list most closely resembles how I think the conference will shake out. There are big guards and small guards and quick guards and shooters. Veterans and pups. I’d pit this group against any in the country. Alas, they’re just going to pick on each other like Miami Dolphins.
- Oregon – Sure the Ducks just lost Dominic Artis to entrepreneurship, but they replace him with the 2013 Pac-12 Tournament MVP. Oregon has guard depth as deep as this guy is drunk. Joseph Young (18ppg), Damyean Dotson (11ppg), Jason Calliste (11ppg), Johnathan Loyd (5ppg), Dominic Artis (9ppg). [somewhere Mike Moser smiles].
- Arizona – You can try and tell me that TJ McConnell hasn’t played at the highest level but I’m not about to knock him for that. I’ve watched mid-major talent the last four years in the Pac-12. I know what good looks like when I see it. He’s joined by the ever improving Nick Johnson with Jordin Mayes backing each of them up. I like these pieces.
- Colorado – Came very close to being second on this list. While Dinwiddie vs. McConnell is not a draw (Mayor wins out), Askia Booker’s propensity to shoot and to pull up and to fire as compared to everything Nick Johnson does….well I’m giving the collective nod to the Cats. But man, Spencer Dinwiddie is good.
- ASU – This might be too low of a ranking for the Devils. Carson is one of the nation’s best and the addition of Jermaine Marshall is an upgrade over the departed Evan Gordon. Did I mention Jahii Carson is good?
- California – Aside from Loyd (who will be filling in for Artis) Cobbs is the first senior to make this list (and I’m not counting Marshall, either). He’s joined by Jabari Bird, a McDonald’s AA who isn’t getting near the love he might deserve because of Commissioner (Aaron) Gordon. But the wildcard here is Ty Wallace who I think could have a monster year for the Bears.
- Washington – I’ve heard mixed reviews on Nigel Williams-Goss and that’s OK. Another burger All-American, he’s an incoming freshman so there’s going to be equal parts question marks and hype. I get it. But CJ Wilcox. CJ Wilcox. CJ Wilcox. Perhaps the best shooter in the conference is now a senior and very well could have the dynamic, distributing PG to get him even more touches in ideal spots. The rules changes should also help to get him even more open looks. BOMBS AWAY. (Andrew Andrews mention)
- UCLA – Their point guard is 6’9″ and goes by the name of slow-mo. That would seem inauspicious but Kyle Anderson is one unique talent. The Bruins are going to miss LD2 but Anderson’s play making and size will make UCLA a tough out. Oh, and that Jordan Adams kid is my favorite.
- Stanford – Last year I was very high on the prospects of Chasson Randle who I loved watching slash into the lane and get buckets. He could shoot it, too. His trajectory plateaued last season and he hit a cold streak from the field (44% from 3FG to 36%). This came inopportunely at the same time as Aaron Bright’s cold spell (44% from 3FG to 32%). So what’s the norm, I ask?
- Oregon State – Roberto Nelson is a fine player who can score with anyone in this conference. It appears, however, that he’s a one man show with Ahmad Starks (who was really high on him anyways?) departed. Challe Barton will get a crack at PG duties and there’s one more thing I want to mention: Malcolm Duvivier. Why you might ask? Because he’s definitively not Andrew Wiggins. But he is a Canadian prep star who reclassified from 2014 to 2013 to play American College Basketball. Ya hoser.
- Washington State – I’m a sucker for veterans – perhaps above talent? No – and the Cougars, for whatever their season will become, feature DaVonte Lacy and Royce Woolridge. These two are nice players for Ken Bone, adding to the guard depth of the conference more than wins for WSU.
- USC – JT Terrell should benefit greatly from Dunk City as he’s an athletic guard who wants to get up and down the floor. Or at least get his shots up. Additionally Pe’Shon Howard is a nice pickup for ball handling duties as Enfield’s offense has a tendency for turnovers.
- Utah – I’m relatively high on Brandon Taylor. I liked his work down the stretch for the Utes but he’s a sophomore guard with little experience leading a team full of even less experience. His learning curve is steep and I wish him luck swimming in the deep end.
Whenever you’re coming out of a bad relationship, there’s always that period of Zombiedom. You’re incapable of completing your own sentences, rattling off an occasional snarl or groan; unmotivated to do anything but perhaps consume ramen, breakfast burritos, or other easily prepared meals; taking to the bottle at times not generally designated for the bottle while destroying the comedy and romance sections of Movies OnDemand.
It is not a Top of the Mountain period.
There were peaks to that relationship, like when you first met in that coffee shop or at the concert of each of your favorite band. When you first kissed or when your overwhelmingly shallow roommate approved of her Facebook pics. Oh there were good times.
But then it didn’t work.