So this happened and no one really foresaw it. Quickly after losing to Arizona Steve Alford got to campaigning and evidently it worked. An eleven seed suggests they were pretty squarely in the dance according to the committee who said the Bruins passed the “eye test.” I get it. I also get that they’ve played absolutely no one over their final five games suggesting that the committee believes their losing effort to Arizona was eye pleasing enough. This selection has no one happy but you know what? #BackThePac. Because, quite frankly, the Bruins have talented enough players to be tournament disruptive.
- Huskies center Robert Upshaw dismissed from the program for violation of team rules – While this is a significantly damaging blow to Washington’s season, it’s an even rougher hit to Upshaw. There’s no secret surrounding Upshaw’s troubled path to where he is today. But it most certainly seems he’d begun to turn things around and for one of the most high character coaches around:
If Lorenzo Romar is done trying to save you, then you have some serious issues.Robert Upshaw just kicked away his best shot
— Doug Gottlieb (@GottliebShow) January 26, 2015
Yes, I hope the young man figures out whatever he needs to figure out. And when reporting on the matter, I hope we all have a little more discretion:
Washington kicks talented 7-footer Robert Upshaw off the team. Has battled drug issues in the past. — Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) January 26, 2015
- Roberto Saviano: My life under armed guard – Speaking of reporting, this is a fascinating first-hand account of the power of story telling. The life Saviano now leads – whether he chose it or not – is complex. I don’t get a good grasp of how he weighs the good he’s done with its cost. Nevertheless, his life will never be the same at the hope of making the lives of others better. Could you live like that?
- Fixing College Basketball: On Pace of Play and End of Game Scenarios – From Andrew Murawa comes a delightful account of his undelightful experience with the end of a basketball game. To paraphrase: S-L-O-W. Drew takes the measured effort of outlining how he’d improve the game with an admitted deference to brighter minds (of note: Drew knows hoops, he’s being humble). Well it was this piece that inspired my Marching to Vegas column to recount how our precious Pac-12 became a conference of slower pace and the logic behind that. To paraphrase: Damn you Tony Bennett.
The Golden Bears of Cal have jumped out to a 4-0 conference record. Three of those wins are on the road and I love road victories. I also love getting swept up in momentum and the promise of what could be despite a slight sample set. Hey, getting lost in the moment is part of being a fan. Beautiful, right?
But there might be something bigger than just a moment or momentum to what these Bears are doing. It might be worth thinking about it because:
— Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) January 16, 2014
Alas, we could have a full conversation about Gottlieb but that not the point although I think he did have a point with regards to their team.
I love Cal’s lineup and I said as much in October. Veterans, youth, big, small, shooters, bangers, these Bears have pieces that can do some of everything. The only question was would they show up? Namely, would Richard Solomon please stand up? He has.
Solomon has the eighth highest DR% in the nation – an increase of more than eight percentage points from last season. He’s improved his eFG% by more than 20% (48.1% to 58%). And he’s decreased the number of fouls he commits extrapolated across 40 minutes by 27% (5.2 down to 3.8). As I’ve said before, the immediacy of graduation can be a confidence stimulator.
And if tempo-free isn’t your thing, Solomon is averaging a double-double each night on the court (12/10) which naturally are both career-highs. And speaking of double-doubles, he’s recorded six of them this season. In 79 career games prior to this year’s 15 games, he recorded just two. To pile on, he’s doubled the number of basketballs he steals per game.
I also see it as no coincidence that amongst Cal’s four losses, Solomon didn’t play in two of them and in the other two he posted his worst and third worst ORtg games. Did I mention he’s improved his ORtg by 8%? Dick Solo is doing work.
Furthermore, if you’ve paid attention to the blog, you’d know I have something of a crush on hoop-math.com. It’s where I got to learn about things like:
- Does [player] really hit that many jumpers?
- What does “protecting the rim” really mean?
- Where do babies come from?
- How does [team] beat [team]? Or vice versa?
- How do I appear as cool as Bond, popular as Gosling, and get JLaw’s attention?
Very important site that allows me to create awesome charts that my friend Jamie hates and others seem to like (tangent). What I mostly love about hoop-math is that it allows us to understand the obvious. More succinctly, it confirms our hypotheses that things like “taking more shots at the rim will increase your offensive efficiency.” Which is indeed a theory of mine and one of the first things I check when examining a player or team’s improvement or otherwise.
Well to this point we’ve discussed the gross improvement of a certain Cal Golden Center to which I present Exhibit Solomon:
First, and to be honest, I’m still refining my Excel game so bear with me as our X-axis is devoid context (it’s last three seasons). Secondly, notice the correlation between Solomon’s shots at the rim (yellow) and that same season’s ORtg (navy). When he’s around the basket he’s more effective. Solomon is putting up the highest offensive rating of his career (apologies that hoop-math doesn’t go beyond the 2011-12 season) while putting up the most shots he’s ever taken at the rim.
Richard Solomon was going to be a big reason Cal did whatever they were going to do this season.
And thus far he’s been big.
It’s become the chic pick. Nine of twelve CBS experts have picked it. The President picked it. Gottlieb, Davis, and others made such a selection.
This afternoon, inside Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah, David will be introduced to Goliath. The fans lingering from earlier games and the fans who have arrived early for later games will cheer loudly for David. Amongst all of the 6 vs. 11 and 5 vs. 12 match ups, this is the only one that features power conference vs. mid-major (we can ignore 5 UNLV vs. 12 Cal). And for such, the world thinks the Belmont Bruins will upset the Arizona Wildcats.
They’ll tell you that Arizona yields a tremendous amount of three-pointers; that their perimeter defense has disappeared as they give up those threes at a 36% clip. They’ll remind you that they’ve closed the season with a less than stellar 9-7 record (the same record the 1997 Arizona Wildcats closed their regular season with) including an abysmal loss to USC in which they allowed the Trojans to shoot greater than 60% afield. Undoubtedly someone will bring up Mark Lyons’ shot selection and the lack of depth at the guard position. Someone’s going to call the freshmen a disappointment and yet another will mention that Arizona has not beaten a Bruin this season.
And these “outside the box thinkers?” They’ll cite Ian Clark’s dagger-like precision from deep. Did you know this kid drops threes easier than it is to see through a pair of LuLu Lemon leggings? He connects at a 46% clip from deep and at a 54% clip overall. He’s an efficient scorer: 4th nationally in eFG% at 67% which is a higher eFG% than Derrick Williams’ 65% in 2011. Yes, Ian Clark out-efficients even Arizona’s #23. And as a team, those same thinkers will expand, the Bruins make threes. They shoot 40% of their shots from there and make 38% of them. “How’s that match up with that porous Wildcat perimeter?” they’ll laud. Stylistically, it might appear, Belmont was built to upset these Wildcats.
Not so fast my friend.
These Bruins are small. Their largest contributor is 6’7 240lbs Trevor Noack. Trevor, who basically runs the five for the Bruins, is roughly the same size as Arizona’s starting three, Solomon Hill (6’7” 220lbs). Arizona’s five is 7’ 260lbs. In the business, we call that a mismatch. The Cats, of course, roll out three others bigger than Trevor. They also have Nick Johnson, currently playing the roll of antidote to opposing facilitators. The last two players Johnson has defended (Spencer Dinwiddie and Larry Drew II) combined to shoot just 4-17. No doubt Mr. Clark is eager to meet him. Or the most recent incarnation of Arizona’s defense which has allowed ASU, Colorado, and UCLA to shoot 30% from out there.
What’s more about the three-point conversation is that while Belmont takes 40% of their shots from out there – obviously a significant portion of their offense – the Wildcats limit opponents to just 30% of their offense from deep. The Bruins shoot ’em, the ‘Cats limit them.
And on the reverse side of that coin, the Wildcats are no three-point shooting slouches themselves. They take 38% of their shots from there and make 36% of them. Not. Too. Shabby. Especially considering these Bruins (who do force turnovers at a high rate which can pose a problem for the TO-prone Cats) yield 37% of their opponents’ offense beyond the arc. That, my friends, would seem to play directly into Wildcats paws.
Additionally these Wildcats can rebound whereas Belmont…not so much. They’ve got the 217th best OR% and yield – defensively – the 262nd highest OR%. Arizona, with its size and propensity to board, will have their fill of second chance opportunities. Possessions, my friends, will win basketball games. Especially considering Arizona scores about 1.13 points on each of them (compared to Belmont’s defense which yields about 0.94ppp).
Ultimately, this is nothing more than a chic pick.
Arizona is the better team. They’re bigger, faster, and stronger. Belmont is intriguing and no doubt good, they garnered a better seed than 20% of the dancing Pac. But they’re just that, David. Arizona is Goliath, swatting aside the flung rock intended to drop them (this is more than a metaphor, by the way; Belmont shots are blocked at an 11.5% rate, 34th worst in the country).
None of which, of course, is to dismiss the magnitude of any game in this cherished tournament. No at all. Arizona will be approaching this game with the respect it deserves. The hype, however, has muddled the facts; a fair conclusion when all eyes are on the opportunity to steal a few bucks from one’s cube mate in the office challenge.
But I’d say look elsewhere to steal a win. Not this Arizona team against this Belmont squad. Not in Salt Lake. Not when “my man…he’s never coming back here” is in play. Which is to say one should not underestimate the power of the career finality staring down Parrom, Hill, and Lyons.
Some Goliath will fall today. A David in some arena will sling a rock that strikes him ‘tween the eyes, dropping the bigger opponent in shocking and wild fashion.