- Titus’s Top 12 NCAA Power Rankings: Want Heartbreak? Play Arizona - Forget that. Want heartbreak? Root for Arizona. Outside of that, I think this is the first time two Pac-12 teams are in the Titus rankings. UCLA might’ve squeaked in at some point last year but definitively Utah is in there now. And now you’ve got to read Titus’ Utah blurb.
- Pac-12 Burning Questions: Favorite Newcomer? – Over at the RTC microsite, we answered questions about our favorite newcomers. I think this is going to spark a bigger profile of Gary Payton II. Nevertheless, gotta read this thing for Danna’s bit on Poeltl.
- CONGRATS, SOUL BRO! - I’ve never taken one of these classes, specifically, but I have been in this situation. You might have, too. Luc captures the scene perfectly. And uncomfortably.
When a Pac-12 school schedules a game against the Kansas Jayhawks, I’m going to pay attention. But, because I’m the preeminent Pac-12 blogger, I need some help. I can’t know this conference and, say, the Valley. So I brought the questions to Brian Goodman, the lead writer for Rush The Court’s Big 12 microsite. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.
Questions and answers:
Kentucky made Kansas look really, really small and lots of other things. But Kansas isn’t actually that team. They’re quite good, right? What does this team do that makes them elite?
You might not love it when your girlfriend, best friend, or really anyone around you over-plans. When they’ve buttoned up the schedule with everything dotted and crossed and you don’t have to do a thing but show up. It can sort of ruin the adventure. Larry Krystkowiak is not an adventurer. He took over this Utah program with a plan, a vision, for how he would build it up. He stuck to that plan and it’s now expected to pay off. Which is, of course, all a part of his plan. Look at the scheduling since he took over. The Utes played teams nicknamed the GeoDucks and a religious school out of San Diego which should be taken about as seriously as Hogwarts. We ripped them for their SoS while Larry K just stayed the course. And then last year happened and heads turned. Larry K has a plan, you guys. He scheduled the GeoDucks because that’s what his team could bear. Now? This year he’s taking his team to San Diego State, BYU, Las Vegas and Kansas. Delon Wright might be the best player in America if you listen to this guy and they have a crop of incoming kids that are not only good but local; a sign of sustainable and forthcoming success. And it’s all a part of the plan.
Why I Love Them:
First off a big thanks to Rush The Court for the opportunity, again, to attend Pac-12 Media Day. Appreciate getting to go and their trust in me to cover the event.
For me, Media Day is about the experience. Larry Scott noted as much in his opening remarks, that it’s an opportunity for the student-athletes to do something they don’t necessarily always get to do. For Brandon Ashley, it was the chance to come home and answer to his mom. She asked the last question of the Power Forward, confirming that he was taking his vitamins and that he was ready for the season. You should’ve seen how Brandon beamed, smiled, and got embarrassed all at the same time. I call it 2015’s first shining moment. Continue reading
Tomorrow, for the third straight year, I will be attending the Pac-12’s Basketball Media Day. Can’t wait. In all honesty, it’s a little boring. I love the opportunity to go but there are platitudes abound. More gets said by the Guilty Remnant.
The fun part is reading between the lines. Like knowing Andy Enfield ripped UCLA and hearing him have to then praise UCLA. Or listening to Bob Dibler discuss Ed Rush and trips to Cancun. Basically, nothing will be said tomorrow that shocks us.
But what if it didn’t play out that way?
I’ve scripted the questions I’d like to ask and provided what I think coaches will respond with and what I wish they’d respond with. Continue reading
- Looking for a shot – And here I find myself torn. Recruiting is beast of equal parts science, self-awareness, and bullshit. You’ve got to fill your program with the pieces that will most benefit your program, your style (that’s the science and self-awareness). The bullshit is everything else. I don’t really need to go into it. So what of a kid like this? Is he worth the risk? What kind of a shot does he deserve? If he doesn’t fit your system, don’t take this risk. If you don’t project him out to be successful, you’re not going to help him be successful. But success is relative. Someone’s going to give Ruggles a shot to make shots. I just hope they believe in what they’re doing. Continue reading
It wouldn’t be the preeminent Pac-12 basketball blog if we didn’t get a chance to examine every post season team’s fortunes. Here we get two NIT previews and a CBI preview that digresses into commentary on Andy Enfield.
The not in tournaments:
#2 California Golden Bears
Opening Remarks: I was inside a raucous Haas Pavilion as Justin Cobbs drifted into the left corner, towards the baseline and Kaleb Tarczewski rolled with him. Cobbs elevated, the seven-footer elevated, and the shot was purely released. Cobbs wound up a heap on the ground, the fans wound up a mess on the court, and the Bears wound up in the NIT. That’s not how the story was supposed to end but that’s how it did. The inconsistencies caught up with them and they closed the season losing eight of their final twelve. That’s not a dancing tune and this is a frustrating NIT bid. In 2012 I watched as Kyle Fogg – an Arizona senior I saw grow, develop, and grind into an first-teamer – accepted a bid into the NIT. He handled it by scoring just 5 points on 2-5 shooting inside the McKale Center. He lost, his final game as a Wildcat, to Bucknell. In Tucson. The point here is that Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon have tasted sweet tournament success. They danced each of the past two years and are just a year removed from giving Syracuse all they could handle. And now they’ve drawn a home game against Utah Valley, KenPom’s 198th best team, on the same floor that they beat an undefeated and #1 ranked Arizona team. It’s a different stage.
First Opponent: So you’ve heard of Utah Valley
So yeah, that happened. They also don’t shoot the ball and are going to make an effort to score inside the arc with the 333rd slowest offense in the nation. This offense is actually pretty impressive considering they take such a deliberate amount of time and conjure the 13th best A/FG ratio in the country. This suggests that their patience pays off. But not that much. They’re still the 209th most efficient offense. Cal should roll and throw zero basketballs at anyone in doing such.
Stories: The NIT committee doesn’t have the same undisclosed and denied sense of drama that the NCAA committee has. I mean, what do you want me to tell you? There was some sort of sick conservatism joke being played on Cal within their quad? They play a school from Utah with a potential second round game against Arkansas or Indiana State? I don’t suspect that to be the case but I also don’t see the Bears staying very long in this tournament. That’s not an indictment on their talents, but rather a recognition that they’ve already the filet, they don’t want the chuck.
- Win the National Invitational. They’re still good enough to make a run like that.
- Out before first tip on Wednesday
#5 Utah Utes
Opening Remarks: Whereas an NIT invite was a let down for Cal, Utah has been on a different trajectory. No one has asked Utah to do anything except join the Pac-12 since 2009. Pardon, they went to the Sun Bowl, but I think we’re walking in stride here. It hasn’t been the sexiest three seasons in the Conference of Champs for the Utes. So garnering this invite was a big deal no matter how illegal what Arizona did to them is in Utah. Now, did I think they’d be a higher seed? Yes. Did I think they’d get to host a game? Yes. Neither is happening for the Utes. But sometimes, when you haven’t really demonstrated a track record of success (in recent history! I know all about Utah as the 11th winningest program) you don’t get treated preferentially. So, they’ll travel to win this thing.
First Opponent: Utah will return to the Bay Area to face the St. Mary’s Gaels. The first thing I want to note is that the last time they traveled to the Bay (2 weeks ago) they beat Cal for their second road win (big accomplishment) and gave everything they had for 39 minutes and 30 seconds to Stanford. Mal-execution cost them the Bay sweep but the overarching sentiment here is that the Utes set a precedence for A) Winning on the road which they had not done all season, and B) Winning in the Bay area. Moraga, CA is just 13 miles from Berkeley. This is familiar territory for the Utes particularly considering they’re basically playing a slightly better version of Washington State: slow as a turtle, threes like preschool. Of course WSU beat Utah which is seemingly inexcusable and perhaps an aberration. That weekend sweep in Washington were the Utah’s only losses to non-tournament teams. Enough revisionism. You knew I wasn’t going to get through a Utah bit without mentioning shots at the rim, right? St. Mary’s allows the 214th highest percentage of shots at the rim (38.8%). Hello, Delon.
Stories: The tale here is that Utah is in the post-season. Here is a program trajectory graph I created used highly advance statistical models to understand what Larry Krystkowiak is trying to do:
Oh, that’s just wins you say? Well I’ve long said it’s my favorite statistic and it doesn’t lie very often. Utah is headed in the right direction, a post-season invite is proof of it. A five seed in the NIT is proof they hadn’t been in the right direction. But that’s what March is for. Prove somebody wrong.
- Second Round – Look, they’ve had problems traveling. So going from the Bay, back to SLC, to Minnesota doesn’t exactly sound like an auspicious position to be beating the tournament’s #1 seed.
- First Round – Lose to what’s a pretty decent little SMC team.
#1 Oregon State
Opening Remarks: The Beavers are going to pay $35k to host their first round game. Is this basically the plot premise of Her? This is their fourth time in the CBI. They won it in 2009 and lost in the semifinals to Washington State in 2011. All of these stats I had to look up because I really don’t know anything about the CBI and it will probably remain that way. I’ll peripherally keep an eye on the Beavs but this could be the extent of it. My eyes are on North Texas.
First Opponent: This tournament puts a new spin on the phrase “cost of winning” as advancing means OSU will pay $50k to host the quarters; $75k to host the semis. Whatever the case, the Beavers have drawn Radford who has the 329th best defense in the nation. Oregon State has the 49th best offense. Plus, it’s Radford and what I really want to do is mix in a Tim Floyd wakes up in El Paso reference because UTEP is in the CBI and USC isn’t. But Andy Enfield is still waking up in Los Angeles and so is Isaac Hamilton (albeit UCLA not USC).
- Tournament champions. They’re one of just two high major teams, they’ve won it before, and they’re a senior laden squad. Probably should win it.
I submitted the following to the Rush the Court Pac-12 Microsite for conference awards. The conference released theirs as voted on by smarter men – the coaches – than I. Let me tell you, picking these sorts of things is tough. Do you realize how stacked the Pac-12 backcourts are? Damyean Dotson, Jason Calliste, DaVonte Lacy, TJ McConnell, etc. aren’t even noted here. Alas, this was my ballot. Then, if you bear with me to the end of the post, I was passed along my preseason All-Conference picks. How’d I do?
All-Conference Teams/POY: A list of the top 15 players which was used to calculate the first, second, and third teams. I listed Johnson first as he is my Pac-12 Player of the Year.
- Nick Johnson (POY)
- Kyle Anderson
- Delon Wright
- CJ Wilcox
- Aaron Gordon
- Jordan Adams
- Jahii Carson
- Justin Cobbs
- Joseph Young
- Chasson Randle
- Josh Scott
- Byron Wesley
- Dwight Powell
- Mike Moser
- Jordan Bachynski
COY: Sean Miller – Big hat tip here to Tad Boyle and Larry Krystkowiak with a mention of Herb Sendek and Steve Alford. Tad kept his team together in the face of a terrible injury and Utah was the most competitive 8-10 we’ve seen in a long time. Herb finished third so he gets noted and I continue to be impressed with Alford’s adjustment to the cards he was dealt (he created a transition monster which is like no other team he’s coached). But Miller wins my COY because, well, for most of the season the Wildcats were the best team in the country, they’ve continued to play fantastic defense (best in the country and easily the best in the conference), and he’s reinvented his offense following the loss of Brandon Ashley for the season.
Newcomer of Year: Delon Wright – Maybe my favorite player in the league but in all likelihood he’s my second favorite (I see you Nickie J). Now the reasons I chose to Johnson for POY was because he was the lead for his team. Delon Wright can do that, too. He’s a jump shot away from being unstoppable. He effects the game on both sides of the ball and is a huge reason for Utah’s first 20-win season in forever.
All-Freshman Team/FOY: Naturally, Aaron Gordon is my FOY.
- Aaron Grodon (FOY)
- Nigel Williams-Goss
- Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
- Zach LaVine
- Bryce Alford
All-Defensive Team/DPOY: Johnson gets my vote for dPOY as well.
- Nick Johnson (dPOY)
- Aaron Gordon
- Josh Huestis
- Jordan Bachynski
- Delon Wright
Sixth-Man: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – It made sense for him to move into the starting lineup until it made more sense for him to continue to come off the bench.
Most Improved: DaVonte Lacy – What this guy did in 2013-14 goes overlooked because of an injury at the beginning of conference play and who he plays for. But the junior improved in nearly every offensive category. A glance:
Favorite Player of the Year. A player who didn’t get votes for any of the other positions but, for whatever reason, ya just really think he’s great. My pick:
Askia Booker – He isn’t the best player on this team. He’s neither the most efficient (Dinwiddie), effective (Scott), or dynamic (Johnson). But he just might be the most important player for the Colorado Buffaloes. Despite all of those things other players are, Booker still leads the team in usage for two consecutive seasons. He frustrates you because of this but it comes with a confidence and swagger that Colorado needs. Booker has been on campus for three years now and Colorado will now have gone to three consecutive NCAA tournaments. Furthermore – and this probably sealed it as my favorite – he’s adjusted his game since Spencer Dinwiddie went down with injury. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Booker is the hero Colorado deserves and needs.
Pre-Season Picks - These are the picks I made and submitted to the All Buffs team. I like the make up of my first team. That group collectively had about a second team performance, however. If I’m playing GM, I still like that team a lot so long as my coach doesn’t relegate Powell to point-forward duties. No facilitating. Just banging.
- Jordan Adams
- Jahii Carson
- Spencer Dinwiddie
- Mike Moser
- Dwight Powell
Conference Standings: This is why I love baseball. Two-of-twelve success is only a three game slump. Not a complete disaster.
- Oregon (UCLA)
- Colorado (ASU)
- UCLA (Cal)
- Cal (Colorado)
- ASU (Oregon)
- Washington (Utah)
- Oregon State (Washington)
- Utah (Oregon State)
- USC (WSU)
- WSU (USC)
Last night was as March as games not broadcast on CBS get. Every game saw a tie or lead change in the final five minutes (if not the final two minutes) and EVERY SINGLE ROAD TEAM WON. I’m not going to data mine to see if there has been a three pronged road sweep on a single night this Pac-12 season. But considering there have been only 44 road wins across 100 Pac-12 games, I don’t think we’ve seen it. Welcome to March.
Arizona @ Oregon State
I don’t know if this was a trap game or what it projected to be but I do know that there are some damn fine ball players on that Oregon State roster. They have size all over and Roberto Nelson is a scorer. Unfortunately, this was my mom’s analysis of the game, “It looked like one team had a plan and the other didn’t.” Well guess who won? Arizona did and was fortunate to do such if you’re asking their coach. He cited the Wildcats’ inability to rebound and so I present to you the expected rebounding numbers and the actuals and subsequently how Oregon State stayed in that game:
Colorado @ Stanford
If we break the game into quarters, the Colorado Buffaloes have been outscored by 45 points in the third quarter during conference play this season. That’s an average of about 2.7 points per game and worse on the road: -3.5 points, -25 collectively. Conversely, the Stanford Cardinal come out of the half and are plus 21. It’s a theme worth diving deeper into at another time but here is how last night’s battle for a bid played out:
In what appears to be that critical third quarter, the Buffs managed to play things even, maintain their lead, and subsequently close the game. Oh, and this was critical at 2:01
DWIGHT CHARGES WITH FOUR FOULS OVER JOSH SCOTT WITH FOUR FOULS. THAT WAS LIKE TWO LIONS FIGHTING FOR A GAZELLE
— Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) March 6, 2014
Utah @ California
Numbers don’t lie:
Delon Wright will not win the Pac-12 Player of the Year award. His team is too far down the standings, his stats not quite adding up to those of a few others. But he’s most certainly in the conversation. He’s terrific – as I’m about to explain – and the conversation that I want to have regarding his POY candidacy is less _OY and more VP. As in valuable player.
What I like so much about Wright is – shocker from this blog – his ability to create shots at the rim. I examined Kyle Anderson’s ability to do such only to discover that Delon Wright is ridiculously good at it. My opening context will center around gross numbers. Wright has made 119 shots at the rim. Here’s the context:
Wright has gotten 20 more baskets at the rim than any other player in the conference. Including Aaron Gordon. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not positive if this is a true top 12 but it’s twelve names that I thought we would all agree were getting shots at the rim. This group averages about 56% of their shots at the rim and the D-1 average is 38.3%. Interestingly enough, for the vaunted frontcourt of Huestis, Powell, Brown and Nastic, not one Stanford Cardinal makes that list.
Revisiting the data from our Anderson study, Wright creates a shot at the rim on 62% of his possessions. That’s easily the best amongst the players I studied and easily contributes to the Utes’ gaudy 71.6% FG shooting at the rim (4th in the country) and 55.2% from inside the arc (9th in the country). Even more impressively, Wright gets half of his rim attempts in non-transition offense. By comparison, Jahii Carson gets just 35.1% of his rim shots in non-transition scenarios suggesting Wright just may be the better shot creator. Only 18.6% of his non-transition rim buckets are assisted (Carson’s is 28.6%). Is this a good thing? I’d assume so considering Utah has a propensity for late offense. They have the 266th longest possessions in America (18.8 seconds).
Now as a trained scientist, or at least someone with a degree in Human Biology, I’m aware of variables within an investigation. You want just one and so it’s difficult for me to validate Wright’s impact by comparing to last year’s Utes. After all, the current Utes played only 40% of 2013’s minutes. And that was a team that ranked 213th in 2pt FG%. Variables be damned, it’s happening.
So enter Delon Wright and now the 2014 Utes rank ninth in the country in 2pt FG%. They’re 25th in eFG% and I can’t rank it but their true shot percentage is 9% better than the D-1 average. Like I said, there are multiple variables, but the Utes’ offense is vastly improved from inside the arc and amongst their six top contributors, Wright is the only newbie. Perhaps there is only one variable.
Wright isn’t about to win the Pac-12’s POY award, but it just might be such that he’s the most valuable.