The non-conference slate is about to get really heavy tonight. With multiple top-25s in action against other top-25s and Utah playing their most significant Non-Con game since before Harry Dunn was Will McAvoy, I wanted to know how any of it might matter.
The study, without further adieu, was to see whether or not there was any truth to the adage that a strong non-conference schedule prepares teams for March. Often we revere teams that “challenge themselves” outside of conference play. But is there any merit to doing it? Does playing a really good team in November help me beat them in March? Continue reading
- 9 exits on America’s football highway – If you’re anything like me you like the stories of everything you cant’ see. It’s not even the behind the scenes stuff but rather everything that has created everything that makes whatever we see before us relevant. There’s a reason something is important. It’s not just because it’s happening. Wright captures that here. It’s football.
- What I did this summer – Above any essay or anything you read about today’s tip off, this might be the most important. I got a message from our own @spencerbsmith that he bought his first KenPom subscription Wednesday night. The timing of such was perfect. It came on the heels of a twitter trolling in which it was once again brought to my attention that some people just don’t get that the premise of Ken’s work. Anyhow, here’s how he’s made his site better. I appreciate it.
- Keep Moving – I’ve often been asked, “Adam, you love basketball so much and you seem to know it. You’ve even coach it! Why don’t you pursue coaching?” Because of this life. I couldn’t handle it. It’s why I have so much respect for the guys that do. This is above and beyond their jam. They are basketball coaches and relationship builders and they can make or break your program.
It’s one of my favorite and most comprehensive college basketball websites. NROPP takes a qualitative and quantitative approach to analyzing and commenting on the game and you can’t ask for much else. On the daily – or as possible – the site drops a preview of the day’s games. Here is what he had to say about Colorado and then where it got me thinking:
Pac 12: Colorado’s got some injury issues, so on paper the 7-4 conference record looks pretty good. But when you take out the altitude, the only positive is a victory over Washington State (188) that came by 1 in OT on the road. Other road losses come at Washington (112), Arizona (1), and Arizona State (34) – and all those losses were by double digits. Five of the final seven come on the road, four against top 50 teams, and the other against USC which has been playing better as of late, but doesn’t really show because they’ve played the toughest conference schedule of practically anyone in the country to date. Colorado’s in a really, really, really difficult spot moving forward.
First of all, he’s absolutely right. Colorado does have a difficult road ahead of themselves and are riding a three game home winning streak in part due to competition. I love the analysis because it factors both quantitative (their remaining schedule is five, sevenths on the road including four against top 50 teams) and the qualitative (injuries, 7-4 is inflated). I can’t and won’t make an argument against this.
But I’m a fan. Undoubtedly NROPP is a fan too but I also appreciate seeing that Colorado has overcome some demons to win their last three. You can’t tell me Colorado had seemingly every reason to roll over and die in the face of Brandon Taylor’s overtime inducing three pointer? Xavier Johnson has played at an all league level during this win streak. Have the Buffs needed every bit of it? Absolutely. But the overarching point in my estimation is that he’s done it when he had a multitude of excuses not to.
When this blurb was passed to me, I was watching the tale end of Justin Cobbs beating another team late. This time it was the Washington State Cougars who are the worst team in the Pac-12 but you know what? Cal won. Stanford didn’t. And look at the win probability graphs side by side:
Both squads had ample opportunities to accomplish the opposite result but that’s not how things manifested. Both were expected to win for the overwhelming majority of their respective games but, as stated: Cal won, Stanford didn’t.
At this time of year, in a removed-from-qualitative-and-quantitative-analysis-state, that’s all that matters. NROPP and any other smart site or person would be wise to think that beating WSU in overtime or dropping one to UW late suggests the Bay teams’ processes are flawed. Cal won but didn’t look good doing it and demonstrated further defensive ineptitude. I mean, who allows Washington State to score 1.19 ppp? Well, only Lamar who allowed the Cougs 1.20 ppp and who are 3-20 and rank 346th out of 351 teams per KenPom. That basically means the sixth worst team in the country is the only team to defend the Cougars less than Cal did on Wednesday night.
Meanwhile, Stanford managed just four points in the final 4:23 (3-9 from the field including FTs) against the Pac’s ninth best defense. They couldn’t close (Cal could) and it cost them not only a game to Washington but – more than likely – an NCAA bid. Process – as sites like NROPP, KenPom, and even PacHoops will tell you – matters. But filling the left column matters more.
We can’t really put a value on momentum. There isn’t a confidence quotient. I’m unable to muster many stats that tell you how how hard it is to beat Justin Cobbs.
So the cards may be stacked against Colorado tonight, while they conversely were stacked in Stanford’s favor. But there’s a reason we play. We play to win the game.
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 –
Over the weekend the Arizona Wildcats took Texas Tech behind the woodshed and beat them. It’s the same treatment, to date, they’ve been giving to the nation’s 294th toughest schedule.
Yes, these ‘Cats have played no one. Their “toughest” game to date was arguably that Red Raiders squad and they were 4-0 against the worst schedule in the country. In and of itself, Arizona’s woeful schedule is a conversation. But these opponents were pieced together by design, a component of the rebuilding Sean Miller had to do when he inherited a near disaster of a program. In the coming years, there will be marquee games littering the November and December slate before embarking upon an increasingly competitive Pac-12 season.
Whilst on this cake walk, the Arizona dialogue has not been able to evolve much beyond speculation and hype. The freshmen are good, Nick Johnson has improved, Solomon Hill is doing his thing. Pretty much nothing new.
And so now I’m starting to see people harping on Mark Lyons’ struggles. This is trolling. This is hunting for a conversation. It’s straight Limbaugh, Cowherd, Bayless – creating controversy out of thin air. I read about it in the Arizona Daily Wildcat and the Arizona Daily Star. To this I say NIET! No struggling. Struggling to me would mean bad things are happening and I don’t see much negative in the cardinal and navy jersey number two. Now to be fair, each of these pieces have elements of praise for Lyons’ performance but I question what the barometer is. If Josiah Turner set the Arizona PG bar, Lyons is a legend. If Damon Stoudamire set it, well, Lyons has some work to do. Alas, to say the senior has struggled is far from realistic.
Has he turned the ball over? Absolutely. His turnover rate is hovering just below 30% and that’s not good and I’m not going to dwell there.
Because did you know Mark Lyons has the 69th highest effective field goal percentage in the nation? The number itself is 63.8%. Remember Derrick Williams and how we lauded his efficiency? Williams’ eFG% was 65%. How’s that for efficient company? And so while Lyons has been inefficient taking care of the ball, when he does hang on to it, he’s doing good things. Efficiency is a mark of how well you repeatedly do something. I’ll argue Mark Lyons is an efficient winner.
It’s been no secret that he can score and is it really a requirement that a point guard lead the nation in assists? I don’t think so. I think he’s supposed to facilitate the offense. Arizona is the eighth best offensive team in the country (as determined by KenPom’s AdjO). To that point, Arizona on the whole is bigger than its parts. As a team, the Wildcats assist on 65% of their made field goals. If passing is what you want, you’re getting it. Maybe not from Lyons as much you’d like but then it simply becomes a semantics conversation. True point guard, two guard, slasher, combo guard; call him whatever you want. I’m going to call him good.
These are some gaudy numbers I’ve thrown out here in an argument that is really in its infancy. Arizona could open a trendy, chic pastry shop called Walk with all the cupcakes they’ve got. The sample set is minimal and can really only be used to begin letting us examine trends. To that, I’ll say its fair to notice Lyons’ turnovers.
But to say he’s struggling is an overstatement and undeserving.
The college basketball interwebs have been blowing up with stat geek info and opinion polls lately. Amongst it all, and as tons of prognosticators have divulged their thoughts on teams and conferences and players, Ken Pomeroy’s ever-fascinating 2011-12 ratings were released.
Kentucky debuted at number one, closely followed by Ohio State and North Carolina. His mathematically based ratings didn’t deviate greatly from the eye-ball – and oft criticized – rankings of the ESPN/USA Today or the AP. The Pac-12 doesn’t rate so high with KP. Cal and Arizona are the highest rated teams at 36 and 37, respectively. Comparatively, the major polls have Arizona (over) ranked at 16 and Cal (appropriately) at 24. UCLA, who is in both polls as a top-20 team, rates as Pomeroy’s 46th best team which is where I would begin to disagree. But that’s the beauty of it.
In his blog post where Pomeroy explains his math, he writes, “I’d encourage you to Google college basketball ratings or even try the opinion polls for something that is more your style.” He shoes you away if you don’t care which is refreshing in a day and age where sabermetrics attempt to mute any and all arguments (as Jason Whitlock ranted).
Now allow me to be clear, especially after linking a Whitlock tirade: I don’t think Ken Pomeroy is ruining college basketball. I love what his numbers bring. They’re thought provoking, insightful, and add depth to the national conversation. His stance isn’t elitist. He’s a fan.
So on the verge of the season’s first tip-off, with Pomeroy and others projecting the season’s outcome – anointing Kentucky or UNC the national champion without making a single shot – I’m reminded why the games are played.
They’re played for big moments, bitter defeats, and Gus (see what I did there?). For this, this, and this. Not to mention this. They play because the ball may bounce any which way and for that we watch. We need to watch.
Pomeroy and all other season projections are fun and all but god damn the games are great. I could YouTube you to death with moments past – here’s just another – but now we’re on the verge of making a whole new highlight reel of moments.
So we can go ahead and rank the teams however we think, factor, or feel; no matter how you slice it, it’s Game Time.