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.
In 2012, Ben Howland landed the best recruiting class in the nation. His program had been floundering but that year he amassed what appeared to be his most talented Westwood team in awhile. One of the concerns, however, was that this team wouldn’t have the traditional Howland characteristics of toughness and defense. These traits have been both quantified and qualified but as a reminder, up until 2012, Howland teams were averaging a 65.8 adjusted tempo (this includes two Pitt seasons) and relentless defense. Until 2012 – and excluding the 2005 anomaly of a 70 AdjT – Howland rarely wavered off of that pace. The variance across tempos, again excluding the 2007 anomaly, was just 1.43. Variance, as a reminder, is a calculation of how far a set of numbers is spread out. It allows us to recognize how fickle a quantified act can be. A smaller number suggests a pretty consistent set of data. A bigger number, conversely, alerts us to a dataset with a great amount of fluctuation.
Howland’s 2012 Bruins would play to a 69.2 adjusted tempo, 5% greater than his average career tempo (including 2005). He significantly deviated from how he’d previously been successful. Three days after the season ended, Ben Howland was fired.
Why Look at This?
I understand that there are a lot of factors that come into a firing. The 2012 Bruins actually won the conference title. They earned a six-seed in the NCAA tournament. Howland was fired nevertheless. While that maybe isn’t directly correlated to adjusted tempo, it would seem that a consistent pace might be a good indicator of prolonged success. A coach presumably gets his job (particularly in the Pac-12) because he has amassed success. He’s probably good at coaching a style he’s become an expert in and gets his players to buy into that style, that system.
Howland’s career tempo variance (including 2005) is 3.9. Need context? Me too. So I found the career variance for every active coach in the Pac-12:
This suggests that Howland was about the median amongst current Pac-12 coaches. Of course none of these men have been fired, so it seems there isn’t a great deal to take away from this regarding the understanding of whether varying from one’s career tempo foretells anything about job security.
The above data will come into play as we monitor the 2014-15 season. Will Krystokowiak begin to normalize as his plan comes into effect? He’s had so little talent at times in Utah that he probably hasn’t been able to dictate tempo. The rest of the Pac dictated Utah’s pace. I predict this season will look a lot more like what a K team wants to be. Will Sendek continue to push the gas pedal? He’s notably played both sides of the continuum. Thus high variance. What’s Ernie’s plan? More to come.
The hypothesis is that greatly deviating from one’s established norm is indicative of a hot seat (if not an already fired man). A desperate times call for desperate measures type theory. So I developed a list of fired Pac-12 coaches and some other notable leads who were relieved of their duties. Here’s what I found:
|Coach||Variance||% dev. In fired year|
|Ben Braun||4.5||5.1* / 3.3**|
|Mike Davis||4.5||3.8^ / 4.9^^|
- Average Variance: 5.8
- Average % Change in final season vs. average season: 4.5%
- *Fired at Cal, **Fired at Rice
- ^Fired at IU, ^^Fired at UAB
The major variance culprits were Ken Bone and Seth Greenberg. Each of their last teams played greater than 6% differently (based on AdjT) than their respective career averages. In both cases it was the coach’s slowest team.
Ben Braun significantly deviated from his average tempo, 66, prior to being fired, too. But what I found interesting here was that in each of his final seasons, he tried both extremes: 69.5 in his last season at Cal was the fastest team he’s ever coached, 63.9 at Rice was the second slowest. Mike Davis tried the same extremes in his final campaigns in Bloomington and Birmingham, respectively. Desperate times, desperate measures.
I’d like to reiterate that this is far from an exact science. I’ve already cited Ben Howland’s fastest season, 2005. It was his first dance with UCLA before reverting to his norm and rattling off three straight Final Fours. Clearly, he was not fired after losing to Texas Tech in the 2005 tournament.
The Big-ish Takeaway
But this is an interesting exercise in understanding what makes a given coach good at what he does. So often we’re thrown coach speak about ‘staying the course’ and ‘respecting the process,’ practices I don’t disagree with. It’s therefore interesting to me the times these guys do deviate from what seems to be their course; the paths that made them successful to this point. So while I’m not necessarily saying that a change of pace is indicative of a coach’s impending fall from grace, I do think it can be a telling sign.
Which might draw our attention to the warmer seats in this year’s conference, namely Lorenzo Romar. For the record, I think his job is relatively secure. He’s garnered enough good juju to weather the storm he’s in. But three straight seasons of decreasing win totals isn’t exactly deserving a vote of confidence. He’s had one of the higher degrees of tempo variance amongst current Pac-12 coaches (7.58) and had never coached a Washington team to a sub-70 tempo until…the last three seasons when we’ve seen the bottom begin to fall out. Two seasons ago was the slowest UW team he’s ever coached (65.7). He survived that turn and KenPom actually projects the Huskies at a 70.5 AdjT this season. Further, he’s got the forthcoming recruiting classes and so I reiterate, Romar has banked some good merit in the Athletic Department. He’s coached an NCAA one-seed. But if he’d never had that success, it’s easy to imagine his slowest team and their 17-15 record earning him a pink slip.
We could ask Ken Bone about it. He’s now an assistant at Montana after coaching Washington State to a 10-21 record at the second slowest pace he’s ever coached. They were 6.2% slower than the average Ken Bone team. It’s also worth noting here (with reverence to Romar’s 2014 Huskies) that last season was a historically fast paced season. Examine this KPI spreadsheet for more. Scoring was up at to a four-year high. Rules changes behooved the fast and I looked into it, too. Which is all to say that Bone likely was playing at an even slower pace than what was calculated. Rules changes helped his offense. Just as it did Romar and any other coach flirting with a style change last year. Of course, these trends suggest that speeding up your offense, forcing the defense to make a play and thus more likely to commit a foul (FTA/game was up 13% vs. 2013). Alas, that’s not the strategic changes these men chose to make. It may have cost Ken Bone his job.
Of course Bone also had the highest variance of any coach studied, perhaps giving merit to the idea that it’s really tough to get talent to Pullman. And which also begs the question of whether or not there is a correlation between winning and tempo variance (we’ll examine that next and take into consideration the rules changes with their affect on tempo).
It can’t go overstated that this is not an exact science. A slowing or accelerated tempo doesn’t necessarily mean the axe is coming. But it just might be the Blue Mountains on a Coors Light: an indicator that a shitty beer is trying just a little harder to be less bad.
(I still enjoy a tailgating with a CL).
When I tiredly opened the Twitter app on my phone while awaiting a train that was seven minutes away, the first news I saw was that Craig Robinson had been let go. It took a second to process, such are Monday mornings, but as that sunk in, all I could think was, “Now what?”
Bob De Carolis oozed confidence just a handful of weeks ago in noting that his coach would return. He listed everything Craig had accomplished that the previous five coaches following Ralph Miller had not pulled off. Now many of these accomplishments are meek (Oregon State had four wins against top-50 and six against top-100 NCAA basketball programs this past season, including wins over two teams that advanced to the Sweet 16), and none included an NCAA tournament visit. But Robinson had bested them all. Oregon State’s best coach in more than twenty years. And now he now joins them as a former Beaver.
While “now what” was my first thought, reactions to the news were the immediate response. To address:
1) Why is Craig Robinson being fired?
Aside from the aforementioned vote of confidence from his boss (you paying attention to this possible future candidates?) we can rationalize why Robinson was fired as the trajectory of his program was less than promising. He was about to lead a team that had very little talent. Everyone of note was leaving and the program’s win totals over his six years reads like this: 18, 14, 10, 21! 14, 16. The Beavers were going to be very bad in 2014-15, competing with that 2011 ten-win squad as worst Robinson team in Corvallis. This is an unfortunate scenario for a seventh year coach. The why fire him question is kind of easy to answer despite some of his semi-unprecedented success in Corvallis.
2) Why is he being fired now?
The quick answers here suggest money was in play. Robinson was owed $4M and will make that $4M whether or not he coaches in Corvallis. Someone with lots of money perhaps wanted Robinson out and made it a possibility for the athletic program to oust the First Coach. They accomplished this either by subsidizing the buyout or threatening to subsidize nothing. Money talks and this maybe wasn’t a possibility when schools normally fire their under-performing coach in – say – March. Because it’s May now and so….
3) But seriously, why now?
It’s May, every coaching gig has been inquired about, filled or rejected, recruiting is picking up, and everyone is leaving Eugene. You’re offering a job that most closely resembles a rusted ’93 Taurus that also needs a new transmission. And brakes. And a rear window. And probably three new wheels. Gone are the Beavers’ five leading contributors and they might only have a mitten to cover it up (that’s a joke noting that Gary Payton’s son – Gary “The Mitten” Payton II – will be starting at OSU this fall). From Drew:
Wow that Oregon State program is a mess right now. Why would someone want to coach there? Cupboards not just empty, cupboards missing.
— Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) May 5, 2014
The cupboard is bare, it’s non-existent and there isn’t even an appointment with the carpenter to build a new one. But taking over a talented roster is something only Steve Alford, Tubby Smith, and Bill Self got to do (sure there are others but that’s this moment’s #HotSportsTake). In moving coaching jobs, it’s not exactly a pre-requisite. A foundation for success, however, that’s a different story. Craig Robinson was sub-.500 and is the best coach the school’s had since they employed the second best Miller the conference has ever seen [winky face emoji]. In summary: they’re offering a bad role to a thin market.
The reactionary phase is satiated but we’re now back to my initial reaction: Now what?
Well Bob De Carolis lied to us in his press conference noting that he had “no candidates in mind.” Puh-lease. The third point above alludes completely and totally to the idea that there is someone lined up. At least that’s what I want to believe. And if there isn’t paperwork on someone’s desk that would make them the next coach inside Gill, then I have to ask, “BUT SERIOUSLY WHY NOW?” To not have a solid candidate lined up when working this far outside the realm of normal hiring cycles suggests ineptitude within an athletic department that seems to be pretty adept (solid football program, a top ranked baseball team, Women’s hoops danced, 2012-13 gymnastics conference champs).
The timing of this would seem to be an opportunity for De Carolis to either look brilliant or otherwise. 1) Awkwardly fire your coach to bring in [insert sexy hire here which could turn out to be Ben Howland which would be a monster hire at a school like OSU and might also demonstrate just how tarnished the Howland brand is in the wake of his departure from UCLA but we can probably dedicate an entire post to just that and cut out this run on sentence]. Or, 2) awkwardly fire your coach to bring in an elongated coaching hunt, an underwhelming name, and probably some serious heat.
The future of OSU basketball weighs in the De Carolis balances of decision making. And while part of that future is already written – the Beavs are going to suck next year – it’s the AD’s job to think big picture.
What is Bob De Carolis thinking?
Personal Note: I’m bummed to see Craig Robinson leave the conference. I defended his position when he was first retained because I thought he was, if nothing else, OSU’s best option. That’s the basketball side and while I don’t have particularly close access to these personalities, in my few opportunities, Robinson was a charming, thoughtful, funny guy. At Pac-12 Media Day I asked him about how his defense had improved by prefacing it with a comment on Barrack. He laughed, answered, and then coached the conference’s worst defense. But you laugh at my jokes and I think you’re good people. Good luck, Craig. You’ll probably do just fine.
If I’m ever given the opportunity to accept an award with a microphone and an audience, may I please have the charisma, confidence and composure to pull off a “hashtag suck it.” Bravo, Cate Blanchett. Anyhow, we’ve got one of twelve seeds locked up for Vegas and I’m getting the itch to go. Is there a chance we get the Hollywood elite to pass the hat for PacHoops?
Leader in the Clubhouse: A few teams made some nice statements with regards to the big tournament and seeding for the littler tournament but the Arizona Wildcats became the 2014 Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Champions. It is the school’s twenty-sixth conference championship and the fist of three nets the team set out to cut. They’ve also sealed the conference title in sizzling hot fashion. The points per possession differentials across their last three games: .19, .41, .41. They’re destroying people as their defense is the best in the country and they’ve rediscovered their athletic ways on the break. In their last three games, the Wildcats have taken 25.5% of their shots in transition. Their season average has been 21.1% (171st in the country). We wondered how this team would adjust to life without Brandon Ashley and there you have it. Faster, similarly defensive, and hotter than a pistol in the game’s most important month.
Now with regards to how this section has played out through other portions of the season, I feel it necessary to note that Oregon achieved a road sweep this weekend. I don’t care, not in the least, that Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams didn’t play. Oregon needs to stockpile wins at a point in the year when those opportunities are becoming sparse. Additionally, after a tough ski trip, the Sun Devils bounced back and destroyed the Bay schools. Big weekend for them to get back on track.
Biggest Loser: I was tuned into both the Oscar’s and the UCLA-OSU game because who isn’t into drama? I was loosely preparing to anoint the Bruins the biggest loser should they absorb a home sweep. Alas, that was never the case so this week’s biggest loser is, right here in my backyard…THE BAY AREA SCHOOLS! Sure winning on the road is tough but neither team even bothered to show up. They were collectively outscored by 71 points, an average 17.8 points. The Arizona schools shot 50.2% from the field this weekend which – for those of you short on math – means they made more shots than they missed. With both Stanford and Cal looking to bolster their resumes, they didn’t.
What We Learned: I already mentioned it – Arizona’s transition offense – but let’s re-discuss this. After Ashley went down and the Wildcats dropped two of four and nearly another pair to Oregon and Utah, they seemed to be the dead elite walking. And then something clicked and they showed us all just how good they can be again and it looks like this:
In Defense Of: Steve Alford’s temper
Steve Alford said he was so angry with UCLA’s first-half effort, he shed his jacket in the locker room. Didn’t throw it. Laid it on a chair.
— Jack Wang (@thejackwang) March 3, 2014
The YouTuber: I. Hate. L. G.
Since 1985, either UCLA or Arizona has won 21 of the 28 conference titles. That’s 75% of the championships. That’s domination. That’s a rivalry. The bastions of Pac Hoops and there have been some ball games, some players, and some heat. We could play word association but I don’t’ want to watch Wildcat reactions to Gadzuric, Kapono, or Mata-Real.
I do, however, want to know more about these new look Bruins. Do we even call them that? Whatever they are, they’re Steve Alford’s baby blues now and he has two sons on the team and that’s kinda cool. And their point guard leads their team in rebounding by a per game margin of 3…so yeah, I want to learn. Enter: Go Joe Bruin, the internet’s most reasonable, insightful, and complete UCLA site. It’s different than the other kids. And their witty twitter handle. I asked, he answered. The game is at 6pm Thursday on ESPN. The rivalry rages on.
Let’s start with what Steve Alford’s preferred film room temperature is…?
It depends on a lot of things. Actually, it doesn’t. I bet he watches film cold. Freezingn. Cold.
I grew to appreciate LD2 a ton last year and his leadership and skill was a huge part of their success. In turn, that led many to wonder how the Kyle Anderson point guard experiment would go. Fourteen games deep, it looks to be going quite well. Tell us about how he makes UCLA better?
People were pining for Anderson to take over ball-handling duties last year and so it took a lot of time for fans to warm up to Larry Drew. They did warm up to him, but the expectation was that Anderson would be running the offense, coach be damned.
Well it happened, and I gotta say, overall, it works for me. He’s got pretty remarkable vision, is really damn smooth, and is really unselfish. He’s got his issues and sometimes I think he tries to do too much. The 2.27 AST/TO ratio isn’t bad, though, so maybe I’m just being picky.
Most importantly (and perhaps most surprising) has been his improved scoring skills. He’s got quite a few moves down low and we both know he’s pretty deadly I’m the mid-range game. I think what’s really scary is he can knock down threes when he’s got the open look, and that’s a part of his game that I haven’t really seen. He doesn’t do it often (confirmed by his only taking 24 three-pointers over the past 14 games) but I think it adds a dimension to his game that already makes him one of the best do-it-all point forwards I’ve ever seen.
Of course, there’s his rebounding abilities, but I have a million more questions to get to.
All of that said about Slow-Mo…how awesome is Jordan Adams?
Adams is awesome. He’s been awesome. He’s struggled at times – and he had an uncharacteristic shooting slump not too long ago that he shook off rather quickly – but he’s a stud.
I don’t know if UCLA has a better shooter than Adams. He’s a deadeye from there. He can stroke it with a hand in his face, off balance, in transition, on a boat, in a train, all that jazz. He’s gotten better in nearly every statistical category because he’s gotten *that* much better.
A little input from the fan base at large – a lot of fans felt he should’ve been UCLA’s first option on offense somewhere close to halfway through the season, and I think that makes sense. His production outmatched Shabazz Muhammad’s on a per-minute basis, and I’m sure he’d be getting so much more recognition now if that had been the case.
Another reason I love this matchup is that stylistically, the UCLA offense is built to beat the Arizona defense. The Bruins are terrific from mid-range and used that to torch AZ last season (3-0). This year, the Bruins are more effectively getting to the rim (LOVE YA J.ADAMS!!!!) but are still shooting the 5th best FG% from 2pt range. Meanwhile, Arizona’s third rated KenPom defense is built to force 2pt jumpers: 54.5% of shots against leads the nation and teams shooting just 32.5%. Immovable object, unstoppable force. What makes the UCLA mid-range game so effective, if not lethal?
As much as I talk trash about the Mildcats, you’re right – UCLA has all the match-ups necessary to beat Arizona, and not just once, but, oh I don’t know, three times in a season.
That’s not because Arizona sucks, but really, it’s because they’re willing to give up the most inefficient shot in the game, and that just happens to be an annoying strong-suit of UCLA’s. (Although I guess you could argue the most efficient shot in the game is an open one.)
Adams is a lock to drain those open jumpers, and we know Kyle can drill ‘em, too. The Wears — when they’re picking-and-popping, a weapon that has disappeared since LDII left the team — can drain them. And now you’ve got Zach LaVine, another shooter, albeit one who is partial to threes and dunks, and Bryce Alford, who’s quickly coming to his own as a shooter and floor general.
Of course, as much as UCLA was cool with taking those mid-range jumpers, it kinda feels like this team’s tempo dictates more of its offense than it did last year. I don’t believe they’re much faster than Howland’s squad last year, but they definitely attack the basket in transition more frequently than their 2012-13 counterparts.
So yeah, to answer your question, the personnel makes the mid-range game lethal. It’s not as emphasized as it was last year and again, i think that’s largely because LDII was so quick to penetrate on pick-and-pops, but I do think Alford should specifically vitalizes that aspect of UCLA’s game against lengthy, athletic Arizona.
He did touch the ball.
He didn’t. I think we should ask Sean Miller what he thinks though, so long as we tape it.
The two-point jumper is one weapon, but UCLA also thrives in transition (11th highest % of their offense there). Meanwhile – and I’m about to expose this immovable/unstoppable theme – Arizona allows just the 9th highest percentage of offense in transition. How are the Bruins getting out into transition so much? How cool are Zach LaVine dunks?
I didn’t know about Arizona’s transition defense but I could’ve guessed that. They’ve done a good job against teams who want to get out on the break.
I think the one thing that people haven’t noticed about UCLA’s success in transition is the gambles they take to get out on the break, primarily on defense. UCLA is a bit ridiculous at forcing turnovers (note that they’ve got 150 steals through 14 games; that’s third in the country), and we know what happens when the perimeter guys can force turnovers.
And it’s not like UCLA is a rebounding team – this has to be the worst team in terms of rebounding I have ever seen in my life, and statistically, I’m pretty close to being right!
If Arizona really wants to stop UCLA’s uptempo offense? Take care of the ball.
All-time favorite Bruin?
All-time favorite Bruin: Darren Collison, and honorable mention to unconventional one-and-done Larry Drew II.
All-time favorite Wildcat? I know you have one. Ed O’Bannon and Darren Collison are tied for my favorite Bruins.
I like Steve Kerr. As a player, a commentator, and as a friend. (I’m not his friend yet but it’s definitely happening.)
Wear family. I don’t know what else you want me to say — they’re a frustrating duo that plays their asses off. I’d probably love them if they could rebound.
And talk to me about the Bruins’ frontcourt. I’ve been underwhelmed and we’ve tweeted about as much. Talk about it because it’s Arizona’s strength:
You’ve been underwhelmed? Your expectations for UCLA’s front court may have been a tad unreasonable.
They’re pretty bad. Really bad, even, as long as we don’t include Kyle Anderson. In fact, he leads the team in rebounding and rebounding percentage — he’s a perimeter player.
Parker comes in as a close second in rebounding rate, but the Wear twins are well below every starter and nearly every rotation player.
I mean, they just don’t have the fundamentals down. Positioning, hands, etc. They’re rather ‘soft’ and don’t necessarily do well when grinding down low with other bigs.
Is that a key to this game though? I don’t think so. UCLA is annoyingly content with huge rebounding disparities and they even win convincingly in spite of them. They’ll beat good teams without rebounding (see: Arizona, 0-3), and I find that shocking.
When the rebounding is even, it’s almost a surefire UCLA win because they just don’t do it on a regular basis. When they’re getting boards, they create opportunities in transition and they also stop the opposing team from earning second chance shots.
But it doesn’t happen often. I don’t need stats to tell you that, and no, I’m not too lazy to look them up!
The Bruins have settled into a zone for much of their defensive season and this question is two-fold: 1) How does that make you feel? 2) Which zone has it been, primarily, and do you think it’s effective?
One of the narratives surrounding Ben Howland’s downfall was his stubbornness on defense. He kept saying his teams weren’t athletic enough to compete but he refused to play zone. We know zone defenses can mask a lot of deficiencies, and UCLA’s lack of athleticism is a deficiency that the zone can ease.
That said, too much zone, and teams adjust. The well-coached teams dismantle it within a couple of possessions, sending a ball-handler to shoot those gaps on the perimeter and make the defense collapse with penetration.
Alford doesn’t always allow that to happen – he’s been good about switching up his defenses to throw different looks at opponents. Aside from a basic man defense and and a 2-3 zone, he’s totally willing to roll with a 3-2 zone, and he’s just as willing to play ultra-aggressive man defense in both the half-court and full-court. It depends on the situation.
So why does UCLA suck so bad defensively on paper? Well part of it is that UCLA just isn’t athletic, especially down low. That’s where Arizona can and should abuse UCLA, and they should do it with reckless abandon. They should crash the offensive boards because those kill the Bruins, and they should just plop in the paint and penetrate and do all that.
Which Wildcat are you most concerned with?
I’m most concerned with the bigs. They’re really talented, really long, and really good. The points in the paint margin is going to be brutal.
Enough funny business: Tell me what happens Thursday?
Arizona wins. I question whether UCLA can exploit the mid-range game, and that’s because the pick-and-pops aren’t there like they were. If they can’t, Arizona is going to murder them inside.
Plus UCLA hasnt beaten a good team. Conference games are different, but still.
If UCLA wins? You’ll never hear the end of it. Ever.
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 -
We’re all getting to know UCLA right now. Will they play fast? Well? With a point guard? Recruit well? Collapse? Thrive? With Steve Alford at the helm, I’m fascinated. And it’s not so much an Alford thing as it is a UCLA thing. Alas, he’s in charge and he’s only going to be successful if he’s allowed to be his own man. He had that at New Mexico whereas at Iowa, it seemed he was still that hot shot Indiana kid, biding his time to take the lead chair in Bloomington. He never quite got it going there. But now he has no other chairs to fill. This is it. Steve Alford has reached the pinnacle of college basketball coaching – by way of job title – and it’s one of the most unique jobs around. The nameplate in his office drips with history and the expectations of a pyramid that he must uphold. A glorious set of standards but not necessarily Steve’s. Step one is surely to respect that history and embrace himself. Prepare yourself for me to opine on this a lot in the coming months.
Why I love them: The mid-range game is a dying art and understandably so. It’s the longest distance from the basket with the lowest reward (2 points). That’s high risk, low reward. There are defenses designed (like the packline at Arizona) to force teams into shooting mostly in this area. Last year, the Wildcats forced 39% of shots from that range. UCLA, meanwhile, took 44% of their shots in that range (compared to 29% at the rim and 24% beyond the arc). Subsequently the Bruins swept the Wildcats in three games. MATH! And the man I want to highlight here is Jordan Adams. He’s a terrific talent that got lost behind Shabazz and his very similar game. Did you know Adams made zero post-season lists? I mean, honorable mention all-freshmen, sure, but damn. Welcome back Pac? He’s one of seven returning Pac players to score 15ppg last year. He’s going to score in bunches and greatly utilize that 2-pt jump shot. Last year he took 40% of his shots from there and made them at a 45% clip – the highest rate of any contributing Bruin (only Josh Smith, yes that guy, and Tony Parker had higher FG% there). Now it’s worth noting here that there was a regime change in Westwood – I’m not sure if you noticed – and so one might wonder if that will have an effect on the Bruins’ style of play. The short answer is: duh. However, with regards to what we’ve been discussing here, we can peak at New Mexico’s shot distribution. In 2012-13 the Lobos took about 36% of their shots from 2pt jumper-town. Alford offenses are generally deliberate and predicated on set plays, getting a shooter – say, Jordan Adams? – an open jump shot. Conclusive? Hardly, but if you’re touting a team who’s primary ball handler is likely to be a 6’9″ bad three point shooter and that has the Wear family, I imagine there will continue to be jumpers abound in Westwood.
Why I hate them: Kyle Anderson is a very talented basketball player. That’s not why I hate the Bruins, mind you. Kyle’s so talented that this is his final season at UCLA. It’s yet to be determined if he can be the primary ball handler – as I think he’ll need to be – for a highly competitive basketball team but that doesn’t really concern me. Kyle Anderson at the 1 is a defensive liability and defense is the cornerstone of Steve Alford teams. He’s never coached a team who’s AdjD didn’t rank in the top-100. He’s also never coached a team without a direction in its name to the sweet sixteen (Southwest Missouri State, 1999 S16). No one is soon to call Jordan Adams a stopper. Same with the Wear family (who by the way are remarkably solid basketball players with roles escalated beyond what they’re equipped to produce). Norman Powell is a great athlete and might be their best defensive player but ultimately, I’m not certain this group of Bruins can play the excellent defense that’s going to be asked of them.
Stat you need to know:
Percent increase in AdjT between Steve Alford’s last 11 seasons (67.11) as compared to Ben Howland’s last 11 seasons (66.22). Personally, I think style of play is overrated. One of my favorite hoops fans has little to no problem annually cheering his Badgers to 24 wins on about 60 possessions/game. Winning is all that matters. I’ll judge Steve’s left column.
And so year one of the Alford experiment gets underway. Coach Alford was not the guy many of us wanted, (that would be Stevens, Donovan, Pitino, Shaka, etc.) but he’s the coach we’ve got, and so we support him. I especially like his hiring of assistant coach Ed Schilling, who previously ran Adidas Nations and has great credibility as a clinician. I could also see Alford being a guy the players get up for, which is something we sorely lacked in the last few years of the Howland regime.
We’ve got solid depth on the wings, but the questions this season hinge on who will be running the point and who will separate themselves down low. For my money, I hope we see Kyle Anderson as the primary ball handler, with Wanaah Bail and Tony Parker getting meaningful minutes over the same old Wears. Be ready for quick and loud cries of nepotism should the young Bryce Alford get too many minutes at the point without stunning success.
I think the overall athleticism of this team is improved from last year, especially if my hopes for the post come to fruition. Alford is not the stubborn gruff Howland was, so I expect to see more zone on the defensive side of the ball. I love the athletic upside of freshman combo guard Zach Lavine, and I think this could be the year things finally click for Norman Powell. I don’t know exactly where to set my expectations for this year, and that may set up for a pleasant surprise as the season unfolds.
“Steve Alford fails in an epic fashion in the recruiting trail in his first year by striking out with all key point guard recruits in his first year at UCLA, possibly making him a damaged good for rest of his time in Westwood.” – Bruins Nation
Outlook: By no stretch do I dislike this team. I’m not sold on their top asset, defense, but I love Jordan Adams and while Kyle Anderson may be porous on the defensive end, he’s a matchup nightmare offensively and has no bones exploiting that: “Some games I’m going to be asked to score the ball more or go inside and rebound more. And I’m willing to.” As I’ve stated ad nauseum, I love seniors, and David and Travis will be hometown seniors. Their long and unique collegiate journey is coming to an end. How will they be remembered? They won’t soon be remembered as Bruin legends but they’re damn fine ball players. I imagine the Bruins to be one of six Pac-12 teams dancing in March.
There’s been significant “year ago” dialogue surrounding Shabazz Muhammad over the past few weeks. After all, it was just a year ago that Ben Howland and the UCLA Bruins were being vaunted for signing the “future #1 draft pick.” He was lauded as a physical specimen. A man amongst boys who could score from beyond and above the rim.
And then the Las Vegas native – with a season in Westwood under his belt – was deemed “overrated.” He fell on draft boards and was considered to be a disappointment at draft combines.
With his stock bottoming out, he was not invited to the coveted green room.
And then he showed up late. An odd incident I missed while two doors down throwing my laundry into the dryer.
So while I suppose I too was late to the Bazz party, none of this will soon matter. Not his age or his Gucci bags or his plane tickets or whether he’s stoked on Larry Drew’s buckets. On Thursday night, Shabazz Muhammad was drafted 14th overall by the Utah Jazz…and promptly traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Some loved it:
There it is. GREAT pick here by Minnesota. Wolves needed scoring and they got it with Shabazz.
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) June 28, 2013
While others were simply disappointed in the nomenclature:
Mine (and the state of Utah’s) dream of having a player whose name ends in “zz” was nearly realized. But Jazz are shipping Shabazz to Minn.
— Sam Strong (@SamStrong) June 28, 2013
Of course no matter the narrative surrounding his controversial Bruin career and the subsequent fall from NBA general manager grace, Muhammad was always considered a one-year Pac-participant. What he leaves behind in Westwood is a blossoming situation.
The significant scoring void can be filled by sophomore, Jordan Adams, who proved himself a capable scorer, if not star, in Muhammad’s shadow last season. Also returning is the Wear family – formidable lookalikes who Bruin faithful hope can conjure up seasons that don’t quite look like their previous outputs. Kyle Anderson is perhaps the most intriguing returner in that he can do a little bit of everything, capable of creating gross mismatches all over the floor. But he is slow which can be excused if he shaves.
They also bring in some impactful newcomers in wings Zach LaVine and – COACH’S KID ALERT!!! – Bryce Alford.
Speaking of coach, the one tasked with shaping Muhammad’s UCLA career, Ben Howland, no longer holds that role. That task now belongs to Steve Alford, the twelfth lead man in Bruins history.
While it wasn’t the most glamorous hire, met to the moderate-to-mighty chagrin of UCLA faithful, it is a solid hire. He won significantly at his previous stop (New Mexico) and has experience leading a high major program (Head Coach at Iowa) and understands the pressures of being part of a legendary program (played at Indiana for Bob Knight). He was ultimately change for the sake of it but that’s not going to stop him from trying to win with the lineup he’s inherited and the lottery pick he’s lost.
As the previous year would seem to have been a trying one for both the newly drafted Muhammad and the UCLA basketball program each now find themselves in a budding situation, an opportunity to set sail on the seas of change and adventure to discover their new identities in new lands.
(Come on, it’s a UCLA piece, had to go Walton).
Video has been released from inside the officials’ meeting prior to the UCLA-Arizona Pac-12 tournament semifinal game. Footage includes intimidation tactics and the controversial comments made by Ed Rush that were later determined to have been made in jest. This footage is exclusive to PacHoops.
A simple google search of Ed Rush’s name will result in nothing helpful with regards to basketball officiating. As it were, Ed Rush is also the name of a “jungle/techstep/neurofunk” DJ. His top song on Spotify is “Chubhub.”
This is likely not the man to have offered $5k cash or a trip to Cancun for actions against Sean Miller as reported by Jeff Goodman of CBS.
No, the man recently investigated by the Pac-12, Ed T. Rush, is the Head of Officiating for the conference. Per Goodman’s source, he offered these rewards to any official who “rang him up” or “ran him” during the Pac-12 tournament. Him referring to Sean Miller.
Now as this news hit the interwebs, I experience four stages of reaction in coming to my conclusions and feelings on the matter. I’ll walk you through my Monday afternoon:
Stage 1: Knee-jerk
Oh my. OMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMG. Wow. Whoa. Highlight-Control-C-Control-V-Gchat. Control-V-Tweet. Control-V-Personal-Book. Control-V-PacHoops-Book. Text. Text. Text. Text. Zero logical thought. OMGOMGOMGOMG. HEDIDTOUCHTHEBALL.
I assume my actions generated less than 1% of the post’s total view.
Stage 2: What’s this thing say exactly?
So then I read the whole thing. I learned that the Pac-12 “investigated” Head of Officiating, Ed T. Rush, and that an official anonymously made public comments made during this referees’ meeting. What was said was damning of an already poorly regarded officiating base, irresponsible for a man charged with upholding the integrity of sport, and threatened the sanctity of holding competitive athletics in Las Vegas (damn you!). “This,” I thought, “Is remarkably inappropriate and an obviously fireable offense. Ed T. Rush – because I have no beef with the neurofunk DJ – has no business in his current function. He clearly has a vendetta or grudge and an official’s office is no such place for those emotions to fester. What’s worse, what if there was a conspiracy to keep UCLA in the tournament? Emotion is one thing and excusable as human…but a SCANDAL! ARE WE LOOKING AT A SCANDAL?” Those were some of my thoughts.
And I have to imagine many of you shared these feelings and still do. Emotions ran high on the night of that technical – it’s even more well documented than the two points – and officiating has long been a point of contention in the Pac-12. Firing Ed T. Rush was a very rationale first thought. But…
Stage 3: What was this thing really saying?
So hold on, I think I needed to pause. Firing someone is a big deal and while I support just punishment, I’ve also come to learn that reactionary decisions are bad. Without this perspective I might have: No job, a child, debt, a graduate degree, things I can’t talk about because my mom might figure out how to use a computer this week, a piercing, more furniture off the street, JNCOs, an adult goatee, or an ASU fan.
Stepping back I noticed that this was a bullied subordinate attacking a man who “we’re all afraid of” under the conditions of anonymity. Suddenly this screamed of tattle tale and finger pointing. What’s more, who hasn’t suggested something astronomically preposterous in a work meeting? I once listed – from my first kill to the last – who I’d take out should the office ever enter a Hunger Games situation. That, in retrospect, was not my best work. This, in retrospect, is not Ed T. Rush’s best work.
If we’re to take the conference at it’s word, Rush’s comments were “in jest” and that everyone involved understood that these were “not serious offers.” No one wound up $5k richer. Michael Irving – the official who controversially T’d up Miller following this meeting – did not go to Cancun. An off the cuff remark that likely received chuckles was turned into a likely lucrative whistle blowing affair for one disgruntled man in stripes and jumped on by the media (understandably so).
During this stage of reaction I wasn’t excusing Rush’s comments but rather settling into the notion that these were words surrounding an official and an easy story to blow up. This angle also does not point fingers at Jeff Goodman for running with this story. It’s good stuff. But my grain of salt was growing…
Stage 4: My Take
In what was either a small windowless room in the bowels of the MGM Grand Garden Event center or a glorious conference room in the same venue, Ed T. Rush made a remark about one of the coaches that had rode his officials season long. An under-appreciated and intimidated official went to the media with it under the protection of anonymity following what would no doubt appear action stemming from that off-handed remark. The conference called it a joke and had addressed its inappropriate nature with Rush.
That’s the story we know.
The fall out, of course, is where the intrigue lies. Who’s getting fired? What’s the conspiracy? How much money was really exchanged? Did he touch the ball? Can I party with Irving at Señor Frogs?
Again, what we know is that Rush said something he undoubtedly should not have. We also have anecdotal evidence that Rush is a powerful man with capability of bullying people. Mark Cuban once said,
“Ed Rush might have been a great ref, but I wouldn’t hire him to manage a Dairy Queen. His interest is not in the integrity of the game or improving the officiating, he #1 priority of Ed Rush is maintaining power.”
Officiating is both thankless and a grind. These officials are pining for games, overworked, and maybe not always assigned games based on skill but rather preference. The sarcastic commentary of a tyrannical boss, regardless his or her intent, can be interpreted in many ways. As a manager, Rush should have known better than to make such a comment. Stepping out of our basketball bubble – or even our sports bubble – a manager’s role, particularly on the eve of performance, is to coach, empower, and educate. Doubt should not be instilled in the minds of the team, no matter whether it’s sales, dance, bartending, or computer programming. You’re a leader, be better than the surface pettiness.
Back into our hoops bubble, these comments were made in the face of officials tasked with championing the law of sport. Now we do plenty of bitching at these men but we ultimately entrust them with the rules of the game. For the most part, they do a good job and are best appreciated when they are not seen.
Well, Ed T. Rush and Larry Scott, you’ve got the spotlight on them. All eyes.
And you dropped the ball. To dismiss this as a joke and that a couple conversations were had is unfathomably weak. I may be stepping into hyperbole but this is the very sanctity of sport. Rules – as we learned in kindergarten – are to be followed. If doubt creeps into the most basic and truest tenants of the game – that the rules must be followed – how do we trust any results?
It’s now undeniable that the playing field was not level for Arizona (NOTE: THAT GAME WAS NOT LOST ON THAT CALL) regardless of Rush’s intent.
For such, the spirit of competition deserves better than 191 inconsequential words of fluff. No. You nip this thing in the bud and you do not let it grow into the weed it could potentially become. It doesn’t matter what the investigation uncovered, this is bigger than whether Miller deserved a technical or not. This is the accountability of the stripes, the integrity of rules. Whether Irving’s actions were justified or not, Rush had planted this idea in his head. Inception, goes the dynamite. And regardless of Miller’s previous actions, leadership must be above such commentary in professional settings. Miller himself needs to be better than berating a Pac-12 employee in the halls.
So what we have here is a crummy situation. A comment that did not cost Arizona a basketball game (stop Jordan Adams already) but did put an entire conference’s officiating integrity in the limelight. The last thing they possibly needed addressed in the least convincing of manners.
What we needed was to believe that this was not sifting into the outcomes of the games which teams play to win, coaches coach to win, and fans cheer to win. To believe that these efforts are not for naught and that all participants can trust that the outcome was based off of the adherence and upholding of an established set of rules. To believe that when the final horn sounds, one team has prevailed over the other as the better of two competitors. Nothing else.
Following Monday’s Pac-12 statement and inaction, I don’t know if I believe.