Tag Archives: New Mexico

Half the Pac Dances: Previewing It All

Let’s just get this part out of the way: here is a printable bracket. Now how about it? We’re here, March, with half the conference of champions dancing. That’s the most since 2009 (when it was the Pac-10) but let’s not harp on circumstance.

Madness:

#1 Arizona Wildcats

Opening Remarks: For one reason. That’s what I said this season was about in November and that’s what it’s about today. It’s been no secret that this would be Sean Miller’s best team and it has not disappointed. Of course this is the point in the year when it becomes lasting disappointment – the kind that scars and hurts like the pretty girl’s “I have a boyfriend.” But there’s that instance that she says “yes” and so we love this tournament.  After losing to UCLA in the Pac championship game (his third such loss in five years), Miller had this to say:

If we won this championship, it’s about next week. If we lost this championship, it’s about next week.

Next week is now and the selection committee seems to have given Arizona a pretty favorable draw.

First Opponent: First up are the Weber State Wildcats who will try to become the first ever 16-seed to beat a one. SPOILER: They won’t but so much Wildcats. Weber State is a pretty classic profile of the David mold: good at threes (14th best 3FG% in the nation), slow (272d adjusted tempo), and offensively carried by one dude (Davion Berry has near top-50 usage). I probably don’t need to explain why Arizona will win but if you really need one, it’s because Weber State’s best defensive attribute (of which they have few) is that they limit threes. To which the Arizona varietal of Wildcats will kindly oblige, not shoot, and likely dunk. Yes, the Ogden based Wildcats stand little chance but I wish them luck as my boss hails from Ogden. Oh, and I’m far from buying this Oklahoma State hype.

Stories: It remains one of my all-time favorite times as a fan. We were buried deep in the guest bedroom of my parents house. Eight of us surrounding a shitty television by even the standards of a household that didn’t have cable until just a year prior. But it was the television we needed. And with every Wildcat success, a new superstition was born. There was face paint, squatting positions, gestures, noises, assigned seats, reassigned seats, and yelps until we willed Blake Stepp’s gimme out of the hoop and into Luke Walton’s arms. Rick Anderson would later call it the greatest game he had ever played in. Arizona had beaten Gonzaga in thrilling double-overtime fashion. The stage is set, let’s run it back.

Best/Worst:

  • National champions. It’s that or bust.
  • Third round. I’ve been dogging Oklahoma State but any team with a first round point guard in this tournament stands a chance.

#4 UCLA Bruins

Opening Remarks: Well now that the Bruins are a four-seed, me lauding them as a top-15 talented team doesn’t really mean much. The committee’s megaphone is greater than mine and means a lot more. Good work, guys. Further, the Bruins have the deadliest back court in the country. But y’all know this (aside from the Cougars AMIRIGHT?!?). But did you realize that UCLA has never lost a tournament game (of any non-preseason variety) when both that horrifying backcourt has been intact. Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams are undefeated when playing together in tournament games (5-0). This is the champion of the championship we needed and deserved; a nomination that drew some debate on the twitter. The primary argument being big dance success is where the real ‘respect’ is earned. I can’t disagree with that.

First Opponent: I don’t think these Tulsa Golden Hurricanes are version of Danny and the Miracles. Led by Kansas great, Danny Manning, the Golden Hurricanes (GH moving forward ’cause that’s a lot of letters) are a pretty tough defensive squad. They’re top 30 in defensive efficiency and while you might see this as a strength, I don’t. Arizona, the best defense in the world, couldn’t stop these Bruins. The Wildcats were about to have to shoot their way to victory and nearly did (with a wildly improved defensive effort in the second half). Tulsa touts just an average offense which should allow an opportunistic UCLA defense to get enough stops to outscore the GH. Plus, who the hell guards Kyle Anderson? No seriously, I pose this question to the entire nation.

Stories: Unlikely but worth noting, New Mexico is in this region. An Alford-UNM matchup wouldn’t occur until the elite-eight but wouldn’t that have some heat. I mean, just imagine the Bruins Nation reaction to that loss. And speaking of potential melt downs on a certain web site, run through this scenario: a second round matchup of UCLA and VCU. Shaka Smart was on fans’ shortlist of UCLA head coaching candidates. Could a UCLA win here finally get people on the Alford train? It’d be second sweet-sixteen and most certainly his first when he was expected to get there. Of course, the converse…? And if we’re going to harp potential match ups, let’s look at the most likely. How sweet would a UCLA-Florida sweet-sixteen game be? Two of those three great Howland Final Four teams were dismissed by Billy D’s dominant Florida squads. They’d go on to win back-to-back titles. UCLA would fire Howland. This iteration of the rivalry would be awesome, featuring a top offense (UCLA) versus a top defense (Florida) and I imagine it’d play out a lot like the Pac-12 title game which was just fantastic. Hooray sports!

Best/Worst:

  • Final Four. They have the guard play and talent to pull it off.
  • Third round. VCU poses a unique threat and Steve Alford has only been out of the first weekend once.

#7 Oregon Ducks

Opening Remarks: I saw the quote via twitter and can’t find the link to it so I’ll paraphrase Johnathan Loyd’s quote:

We’re very thankful to be in this position, a month ago this wasn’t a possibility.

That’s the absolute truth. And as I watched him and his squad streak into the Dance, I can’t help but think they could make some noise. The swag they re-generated in winning all those games didn’t disappear in one fell swoop from the Bruins. It’s still there, this team can shoot with anyone in the nation, and on a given night can outscore just about anyone. If Oklahoma State can garner as much Cinderalla attention as they’ve received, why not Oregon?

First Opponenet: If NC State was unanimously the most shocking invite, BYU has got to be the second most startling. They were in just 89 of the 100 brackets aggregated at BracketMatrix which was the second fewest to the Wolf Pack who were in just two of the 100 brackets (the aggregated total may have changed since publish). Alas, this doesn’t change the fact that Oregon will indeed be playing the Cougars so let’s make a Vegas line out of it: Over/under 20,000 points in this one? These two have already played one game this season and combined for 196 points. Hell, they combined to score 28 points in the five minute overtime. BYU’s offense is faster than a message board thread turning weird, quicker than a live-look in at a 16-seed’s second half lead. The Cougars gets shots up like spring break. They score the third most points per game in the country. Tyler Haws and Matt Carlino (the Cougar backcourt) do a great job of getting up and down the floor, leading the third highest percentage of transition offense in the nation. Oregon, meanwhile, takes the 25th highest amount of shots in transition, score the 11th most points per game, and 12th most efficient offense going. Want to see some kids run around a basketball court? Tune into this.

Stories: I think the Ducks outscore BYU and have a shooter’s chance to knock off Wisconsin. The Badgers are touting what everyone keeps calling the “best Bo Ryan offense ever.” Isn’t that any oxymoron? My point is that Oregon has a shot (pun) at their second straight sweet sixteen which could potentially have them facing the Creighton Blue Jays, Dana Altman’s old school. An establishment he never took to the Sweet-16. So this would play out like one of those awkward times when you run into your ex-girlfriend while you’re on a date at the ballet but the ex was always pissed you would never take her to the ballet. Hey, new girl gets new things. Rest assured, break ups happen for a reason.

Best/Worst:

  • Elite eight. They can out offense just about anyone but they’re not beating Arizona again.
  • Second round. Live by the three; die by it.

#8 Colorado Buffaloes

Opening Remarks: My gut was that I kind of liked what I saw for the Buffs. They were playing Pittsburgh who I’ve long sensed has a propensity to not score and who ultimately hadn’t really played anyone all season. But we can discuss that next. Now let’s just note and appreciate that Colorado has made three consecutive NCAA tournaments. Arizona and UCLA haven’t done that. This isn’t the team the Buffs thought they’d be this time of year but the fact of the matter is the Buffs are doing plenty of believing. I sincerely think they made this tournament because they believed they were supposed to and so they did. That reads pretty simplistic but this invitation is a very strong indication of Colorado’s culture shift.

First Opponent: So as I noted, my gut thought this was a good matchup. My research doesn’t really support that. First of all, it’s in Orlando. That’s clear across the country for Tad’s crew which is hurdle number one. Secondly, Pittsburgh is efficient on both sides of the ball, a pretty well rounded team. The Buffs, meanwhile, haven’t broken the 1.00 point per possession barrier in more than month (2/16 at USC, the conference’s worst defense). But the Buffs can defend and the Panthers take their sweet offensive time (271st in average  possession length). If Colorado stands a chance, it’d be in forcing those long possessions into some uncomfortable looks, create some bad shots, board like Buffaloes, and get run out on those D-boards.

Stories: I haven’t really found anything too interesting about where Colorado stands today. They’re a little bit over-seeded all things considered but they’ve also been shipped across the country to play in a quadrant built as Gator bait. But maybe getting an eight is a hat tip to the direction of the program? That’s something to smile about and hope for the best. In the meantime, Daytona Beach is supposedly a great Spring Break spot.

Best/Worst:

  • Third round. They can squeak past Pitt particularly if Pitt allows the game to be close. But Florida in Orlando?
  • Second round. They could also not squeak past Pitt.

#10 Stanford Cardinal

Opening Remarks: They made it! It only took six years for Johnny Dawkins to do what Dana Altman did in year three, Sean Miller and Tad Boyle did in year two, and Steve Alford did in year one.   Hell, Herb Sendek did it in year three. Quite the leash but NIT titles evidently buy you time in Palo Alto. The invitation came through, no matter how you want to criticize, and sometimes that’s all that matters.

First Opponent: They draw the New Mexico Lobos. One thing I did hear Doug Gottlieb quickly note on the Selection Show was that UNM struggles with the stretch four. I have no idea how to quantify this other than to note that UNM was 2-1 against SDSU who seems to have an entire roster of stretch fours. Well so too does Stanford, as Gottlieb’s proclamation would seem to be a great scenario for Huestis and Powell. But I think the main reason Gottlieb was suggesting this was because the Lobos do a generally good job of keeping teams away from the rim. Teams 32% of their offense from beyond the arc against UNM – the 19th highest percentage in the country. Good news for Stanford! Despite all of their size, they love going nowhere near the rim, content taking the 294th lowest percentage of rim shots. It’s from mid-range and out where Stanford can cause damage (I see you Anthony Brown) and New Mexico might let them.

Stories: Honestly, what more do you want beyond the fact that this team is in the tournament? More? OK. Well I’m kind of intrigued by the idea that this New Mexico team used to be Steve Alford’s. What if they make it further than UCLA? What if every team with a loose affiliation with UCLA (Iowa, UNM, VCU, Boston Celtics) makes it further? I’ve wildly digressed but I’ve struggled to dramatize this Stanford team all season. They do such a good job of it themselves. So maybe if I say enough bad things about Stanford, like how they’re not the best corner-back in the game, maybe Richard Sherman will come get them all pissed off for greatness?

Best/Worst:

  • Third round. They have the size and pieces to get past New Mexico but not Kansas (of course it is Kansas in March).
  • Second round. Many think that UNM is under-seeded which doesn’t bode well for the Cardinal.

#10 Arizona State Sun Devils

Opening Remarks: James Harden isn’t about to walk through that door, but even he couldn’t get the Sun Devils out of the first weekend. Nope, ASU’s season is perennially over by mid-March. They were the last Pac-12 announced, the selection committee with a cruel jest certainly not saving the best for last. They did, however, manage to escape a play-in game which I think is a good thing. And while Harden isn’t walking through that door, Jahii Carson most certainly is. He’s their must watch TV and March is must watch television. In skimming this amusing tourney guide, I was intrigued to find out that Jahii averages 20.8 points in 30 career neutral court games. That’s neat.

First Opponent: Rather than break down my thoughts on Rick Barnes and that beacon of mediocrity, let’s highlight Isaiah Taylor. I’ve only seen a handful of Texas minutes played this season but he was about as exciting a guard as I saw play all season. He did as he pleased in games against Kansas (23 points) and Iowa State (26 points). His FTrate is a threatening 58% which ASU doesn’t do a particularly good job of limiting. But what’s most interesting about this shifty little guy, is that he takes just 5.4% of his shots from deep. This means, Taylor is breaking down defenders and getting to the rim. And who’s he going to meet at the rim? Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Jordan Block-chynski. In general, there isn’t too much that jumps off the page about either of these teams offensively. I kind of like the idea of it becoming a battle of best players and ASU actually has the best player in this one. They also have Jonathan Gilling.

Stories: Steve Patterson isn’t the most well liked guy but neither are Texas or Arizona State. Patterson, naturally, just left ASU after less than two years in Tempe to be the AD in Austin. In trying to learn more about this, I came to find out that ASU president, Michael Crow, was upset about Patterson’s departure. And then I got to the line in the article where they noted that Crow was paying him about $450k and Texas was offering $1.4M. Are you kidding me Michael? I’d cheer Rick Barnes results for $1.4M a year, too.

Best/Worst:

  • Third round. It’s Rick Barnes in March and ASU has one of the best players going. But ASU-Michigan is not a match up I like if we’re looking for ways the Sun Devils advance.
  • Second round. Texas ain’t bad.

UCLA’s Transition Offense from Defense and More. Much More.

Take this journey with me because that’s what it became. I’d set out to discuss UCLA versus Cal and their contrasting abilities to steal the ball and to not let the ball be stolen, respectively. But then a Wonderland twist of fate had me follow John Wooden down the rabbit hole and I wound up with an opinion on Westwood’s coaching situation. Like I said, buckle up cause it’s a long strange journey and that’s not even a Walton reference.

The UCLA Bruins aren’t soon going to be confused for a great defensive team – they’re good so don’t get me wrong – but not great. They yield 97 points per 100 possessions which is 50th in the nation. That’s good but like I said, it’ ain’t great. They rate as just the sixth best defense in the conference (the same conference that rates Oregon’s defense).

But what you might be able to say about their defense is that it is opportunistic. Like any intelligent entitiy, they recognize what they do well and they exploit it. It’s why Katniss Everdeen grabs the bow and Jordan Belfort grabs the blow. What UCLA does so well is get into transition. They take 29.7% of their offense in that go-mode (12th in the nation) and having watched them play, they make a very concerted effort to get into this facet of their game.

Before going into the offense – because I already defined this a defensive article and the Bruins are really effing good at the offense – I want to establish the components of UCLA’s defense and how it opportunistically feeds their offensive beast. We could break this down by a good, bad and ugly with the caveat that it’s really more like the good, less good, and meh:

The Ugly/Meh: Kyle Anderson’s goatee. Too far? Sorry. UCLA doesn’t protect the rim. They allow opponents to shoot 61.8% (260th nationally) and take more than a third of their shots there. That’ll add up.

KA HairThe Bad/Less Good: Teams manage to shoot pretty well against the Bruins. They “limit” teams to an average eFG% which is a combination of the aforementioned rim protection and a very high percentage of three pointers taken against them. Make more threes, increase your eFG%. This is essentially a matter of math but it’s an average output by the Bruins regardless. Regarding the threes, teams have been allowed to jack up 6th highest percentage of threes in the nation and they make a little bit below the average 3FG%(33.8% ranks 153).

The Good/Good: Steals! UCLA has the third highest steal percentage in the nation and has taken away 192 basketballs (interestingly that’s second most in the nation to Shaka Smart’s VCU team whom many UCLA fans thought should be the head man in Westwood because of the defense he coaches – just an interesting note). Furthermore, while the ‘less good’ section informed us that teams are making shots against the Bruins, when teams do miss, the Bruins do a pretty good job of jumping on the defensive glass. Go Joe Bruin was quick to note it isn’t necessarily a Bruin strength but they do manage to clean up alright: teams garner just 27.3% of their own misses against the powder blue (26th best in the nation).

Feeling settled on the defense? I feel like I understand it better and recognize that – again – it’s not great but it more than gets the job done. But what is the job? Traditionally a defense is built to limit the opponent. But if defense isn’t necessarily the Bruins’ strong suit, if they play more zone than a Steve Alford team is accustomed to, then the ‘job’ of the defense isn’t necessarily to stop the opponent but to accentuate the Bruins’ strengths. That’s arguably why they play more zone than man. They’re just better suited to it.

Here is a breakdown of how UCLA uses it’s defense to feed their offense:

UCLA's Transition OffenseIt’s pretty clear to me that UCLA would get a higher percentage of their transition shots off a rebound as teams are likely missing more shots than UCLA is stealing basketballs. The chart confirms that they use all those steals to ignite their fast break (12.8% of which I wish I had a national ranking). But we still don’t really have much context. Allow me another sweet graph, this time comparing the transition ignition breakdown including the next best Pac-12 transitions teams, Oregon and Colorado:

UCLA, Oregon, Colorado TransitionUCLA blows these guys out of the water in our third column (steals) while Colorado leads the break out of rebounds and Oregon out of opponent scores. The Buffaloes are great defensive rebounders. The Ducks are great opponent-letter-scorers.

But more on Steve’s team. UCLA’s offense ranks 22nd in the country by ORtg and 10th in eG%. It is their greatest strength and it is fed – as stated – by their transition offense which is fed by the aforementioned defense. The equation of it all looks a lot like this:

Steals + Defensive Rebounds = Transition Offense

Very simple, yes, and probably flawed, but this where it all gets fascinating. Steve Alford, in the Ken Pom era (since 2003) has never coached a top-100 steal percentage team. Additionally, the last two teams he coached at New Mexico didn’t come remotely close to the top of any transition offense list (ranking greater than 200th in % of offense in transition in both 2012 and 2011). Furthermore, this team’s defensive efficiency is the fifth worst amongst Alford coached teams since 2003 and the hands down best offense in that span.

What I think just happened is that I explained to us that Steve Alford is doing one helluva job. This team – a team he inherited and didn’t build but with his own son – is doing things no team of his has ever done. He recognized where and how this team could be its best and made sure to accentuate what he felt they could be best at.

I opened this piece by telling you that the defense was opportunistic. We moved our way along to discover that they used steals and defensive boards to ensure they could do what they do best. Then the journey took us down the path of discovery that Steve Alford has made adjustments, been anything but bullheaded, as the leader of the most storied basketball program in the history of the sport.

In light of such, I’m tempted to follow another tease down the judging coaches rabbit hole. But that would put us in some sort of a Catch-22/hypocrite scenario in which I’d diatribe about not judging a coach with 900 words sitting above that diatribe about what a great coach the coach we shouldn’t judge is. I’ll refrain.

Besides, Alford and his transition show just dropped a game at Utah and has one tough assignment ahead of them with Stanford and Cal coming tonight and Sunday, respectively.

And with that, I’ll transition out. The journey endures.

Steve Alford is no April Fools

I love the Steve Alford hire.

I’m watching the Kevin Ware injury on repeat.

I have little interest in what Aaron Gordon has to say tomorrow.

It was about time to get the Oregon cheerleaders off TV.

I will not miss this college basketball season.

APRIL FOOLS!

Are you kidding me!? Steve Alford was a fallback hire and I will not watch the Ware thing once. If Aaron Gordon says what I think and hope he’ll say dancing will ensue and preferably with an Oregon cheerleader. There are just three games left 🙁

But I really want to dig into this Alford hire.

It came across my ESPN ScoreCenter push notifications at something like 8:50am Saturday on my way to a pickup hoops game. I was driving alone and immediately didn’t know what to do. I headed to social media, quickly, and then to Wikipedia. The Alford page already mentioned UCLA.

Hadn’t he just signed a 10-year deal in Albuquerque?

Alas, Dan Guerrero and Bruins Nation have their man. He has to be. Westwood’s newest coach:

  • 4 Tournament wins in 18 seasons as HC
  • .589 win percentage at High Major Iowa
  • 7 NCAA appearances
  • 3 4* recruits while at UNM
  • Avg AdjT ranking of 181st
  • 1 Sweet Sixteen
  • 0 Final Fours

But I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt here. He’s signed, sealed, and delivered and it’s going to be his show. BruinsNation must withhold their vitriol for a minimum three-seasons. In my opinion, at least.

The Howland firing was universally accepted as a necessary change. It doesn’t always look right on paper but a break was necessary. A lot like your college girlfriend.

Alford doesn’t fit all the buzz words like “winning the press conference” or “home run hire” but he does offer a new regime in Westwood which is what the Bruins had coming to them. And while some will tell you that he was hired in desperation, that Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens’ declining led Guerrero to jump on the first available “yes”, I’m not buying it. Who’s to say he hadn’t been in the Pitino and Donovan camps for weeks? Why wouldn’t he have been? You fire the Head Coach of the conference champ and you knew you were going to do this for awhile. Phone calls were made. Interests were felt out. Guerrero had at least an idea of which trees to bark up and at a certain juncture he barked up the Alford tree and here we are.

Change for the sake of change.

Whether he’s a good fit or a successful hire will ultimately boil down to how he fills the left column. History suggests he might struggle to do so.

I say give it time. This hire can can hold the promise of spring after a cold winter.

And it sure ain’t April Fools.