Tag Archives: Sean Miller

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THREE FOR BART: HBO, Boyle, Stanimal

  1. HBO Producer Reveals the Crazy Story of When Bob Dylan Tried to Make a TV Show – Yes. I read the insiders look at Saturday Night Live,  Live From New York. It was hundreds of pages filled with quips like this. Getting behind the scenes is always so exciting. It’s why the 30 for 30 series has been so fantastic. It’s why I’m so excited for the basketball version of The Drive.
  2. Q&A Part I: CU Coach Tad Boyle has fond memories of high school days and coaching in Greeley - This is perhaps one of the most unique interview I’ve ever seen. It’s by no means groundbreaking and Boyle plays things pretty well buttoned up. That’s far – eons – from the point. This is Boyle’s hometown paper Q&A’ing him up and the guy being pretty candid, or at least open, about the whole thing. In a word: adorable.
  3. Stanley Johnson’s special skill set – You guys, I’m an Arizona fan. Shocker, right? And this article is intended to excite me and finger point because the dude talks about staring down and calling out LeBron. He’s got “exquisite swag” and he’s tossing the most svelte collegian I’ve seen (Kaleb Tarczewski is all of the Guile sonicboom that Medcalf doesn’t describe him to be). He is the Stanimal. But this article most closely highlights what Sean Miller recently highlighted in a recent, spicy, press conference. He called his team out for lacking leadership and holding personal agendas. Quiet practices, Miller noted, were a reason his team would struggle early on. This is a great article about a great player. It also just might afford us a glimpse into what Sean Miller was talking about.
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THREE FOR BART: Sportsmanship, Net, Depth

  1. Angels and Angels: Lauren Hill, Mountain Ridge High, and the American Myth of Sportsmanship – This was was particularly current to me (although the almost week late linkage) because of I piece (possibly long form) I’m drafting. What is the role of sport? To teach or to entertain? We’ve so muddled the two and I appreciate Charles PIerce’s simplification of it here. It’s not the complex unless we make it so.
  2. Obama’s net neutrality push cheers some, riles others - Is that the least shocking title to a political article you can imagine? Coin tossed, could land heads or tails. Howland calls timeout, followed by media timeout or another timeout. Girlfriend makes plan, will be late or tardy. Nevertheless, net neutrality is an issue that can and/or will affect all of us. ISPs hold significant power and as we’re on the verge of significant changes to the way we intake media – between NetFlix and HBO Go and everyone else including Amazon becoming streaming services as well as content providers – a la carte is not far away. Let’s hope we’ll have the chance to afford it.
  3. Miller Continues to Work on Rotation – Find the quote in here that’s very telling. I think it’s the one where Miller basically says how many guys he’s going to play this season but maybe I’ve been wrong all summer long. Who knows? Anyhow, he brought Stanley Johnson off the bench in his first-ish college game and went deep into that bench for the exhibition. Based on performance, I’m sticking with my semblance-of-depth prediction. This is a six-man work horse.
BKC-UCLA-FLORIDA

Desperate Times: Tempo Variance and Job Security

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:

Coach Variance Average Tempo
Dawkins 1.14 67.37
Martin 1.3 64.11
Miller 2.4 66.13
Boyle 2.61 67.38
Enfield 2.67 69.55
Alford 3.51 67.57
Altman 4.24 66.97
Tinkle 5.24 64.24
Kent 6.45 68.5
Romar 7.58 70.9
Sendek 8.02 65.03
Krystkowiak 8.42 65.63

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.

Our Hypothesis

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
Ken Bone 11.4 6.2
Ben Howland 3.9 5
Ernie Kent 6.5 1.9
Kevin O’Neill 5.2 5.3
Seth Greenberg 8.3 6.6
Sydney Lowe 1.9 2.5
Ben Braun 4.5 5.1* / 3.3**
Mike Davis 4.5 3.8^ / 4.9^^
Average 5.775 4.46
  • 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.

ben braun

Ben Braun was fired by Cal in 2008

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.

BoneReax

Ken Bone was let go my WSU after a slow season.

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).

AZ Cartoons

Arizona Wildcats Basketball Preview: The World According to You

I couldn’t do it. I’ve previewed eleven of the twelve teams in this conference but I knew that I couldn’t preview the Arizona Wildcats without egregious, alienating amounts of bias. I mean, I could do it, I’m just not sure you’d want me to. In a season like this I had to step back for fear of alienating you, my friends. So I asked – well – my friends to preview the Wildcats for us! Section by section, fellow interneters and real-life friends preview the 2014-15 Arizona Wildcats. The World According to You:

Wildcat Intro (Ben Burrows, Rumblin’ Buff)

What exactly is a Giant Death Robot?  Well, it’s the apex predator of the Civilization word of Sid Meier, a hulking killing machine noted for being ‘a towering mass of guns, rockets and futuristic death-rays.’  It’s also my pet name for the 2013-14 Arizona Wildcats.  Considering how badly they thrashed my Buffs in three meetings, I’m possibly biased by circumstance, but that bunch certainly was a writhing machine of death for many of their opponents.  The whole melange of destruction was based on a ferocious defense that stood as one of the best I’ve ever witnessed in person.  They would expel all their energy by the Elite Eight, falling in overtime to Wisconsin, but I don’t necessarily hold that against them.  Last season’s Tournament was especially bonkers, and Frank Kaminsky was born to give them fits. C’est la vie.

The trick then becomes, how does Sean Miller and crew reform the GDR after losing probably their two best players in consensus All-American Nick Johnson and athletic wunderkind Aaron Gordon? *laughs* Just kidding, there’s no trick, it’s just the typical tango of some elite returners and a top-5 recruiting class.  I guess that’s life at the top…

Why Brad Loves Them (friend of the program):

I’ll leave that to Stanley Johnson:

“I love to win; that’s why I came to school here. I thought we have the tools to win and the people that are here love to win as well. I think winning is an attribute. It’s a mentality and it comes with competitiveness.”

He’s right. For his part, Johnson is the reigning California Mr. Basketball (succeeding Aaron Gordon) and has won 70 straight high school games. As for “the people that are here,” they won 33 games last year and lost just 5 – by a combined 12 points. Maybe a coincidence, but they didn’t lose a game until they they lost Brandon Ashley to injury – he was averaging 12 points a game. Arizona is starting three McDonald’s All-Americans. The other two have seven years of experience and 13 feet between them. Of those one was a Cousy Award finalist (best collegiate PG) as a junior, and the other is a 7-foot center who averaged 9 and 6 last year (in just 28 minutes). For depth, Arizona will sprinkle in a bench with another seven footer, a 39% 3-point shooter (and another one that might be better), a five-star PG, and the top JuCo player in the country.  So, why do I love them? Because they’re climbin’ a ladder in Lucas Oil. Besides, I’m not the only one:

Why Connor Hates Them (House of Sparky):

So, obviously there is a lot to like about this team. But my job isn’t to tell you why the Wildcats are so good. Adam can do that, or any number of the preseason publications can. I have been called upon to nitpick this team, and so I will direct you to their backcourt. Sure, it is a talented one, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it is one of the top groups of guards in the country towards the end of the year. But there are also a lot of fresh faces, and I’m not sure if the group will gel enough in time to perform at peak potential early on in the season when Arizona has to play against teams like Gonzaga, Michigan, or any number of the quality opponents out at the Maui Invitational. To be honest, I would rather have a duo of Askia Booker and Xavier Johnson to navigate my team through that challenging non-conference slate. That combo is the elite, experienced mix of players I want running my offense.

Of course, with that being said, games in November and December are needed for newcomers to get their feet wet. I’m sure Sean Miller wouldn’t trade guys like Stanley Johnson and Kadeem Allen, because you know that come tournament time, they will be drawing oohhs and aahhs from fans around the country as Arizona marches from Portland to Los Angeles to Indianapolis. I just don’t think they are “elite” enough to garner a preseason top five ranking. And if that’s the biggest problem I can find with this team, they’ll surely be fine.
 Jason’s Stat You Must Know (All Buffs):
41
This is Stanley Johnson’s retired number at Mater Dei High School. At MDHS we won four consecutive state titles and the 2014 National Championship. He lost just 7 games as a Monarch. Other notable Monarchs to have their numbers retired include: [field, blank]. A school that has produced Miles Simon, Reggie Geary, The Wear Family, Jamal Sampson, DJ Strawberry, and Mike Hopkins has retired just one jersey. #41. Stanley.
Top-5 Stanley’s According to Luc (The Stoop Kids)
  1. Yelnats
  2. Flat
  3. Johnson
  4. Kubrick
  5. “Tookie” Williams

Here is where I make my triumphant return to preview. I wanted to keep it brief and poignant. It’s me again.

Mountain High (best possible season):

Win their last six games and finish ninth in the Western Conference, 1.5 games out of the eight seed.

Rock Bottom (worst possible season):

Los Angeles.

photo 4

Pac-12 Basketball Media: Vini, Vidi, Vici

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.

MY RTC THOUGHTS ON LAST YEAR’S BOTTOM HALF OF THE CONFERENCE.

MY RTC THOUGHTS ON LAST YEAR’S TOP HALF OF THE CONFERENCE.

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

Microphones At Press Conference

Platitudes Revisited for Pac-12 Basketball Media Day

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

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THREE FOR BART: McCandless, Miller, Mark

  1. How Chris McCandless Died - Today I’m going to go to a bar. It’s usually pretty popular for Wildcat football games. I’m going to watch the Arizona-Oregon game and I don’t really think the Wildcats will win. But they might. And the following night I’m going to go to Yom Kippur services. I’m not religious at all. On Thursday and Friday I’m going to attend public events for which not a lot of greater believe will be flowing from me. That’s not necessarily important to me. What is important is that I’m going to be connecting with people. Wildcats cheering me, Jews wishing me a good year. Chris McCandless, if you’ve read Into the Wild, journeyed – well – into the wild only to die alone and to discover that that the world is best shared. I appreciate his spirit of adventure, the kid had some guts, but I’d rather share the adventure. Learn to love the stranger I find along the way. McCandless did. But he couldn’t appreciate the connection. We’ve all got to find our own paths, figure things out for ourselves, but we don’t have to do that alone.
  2. Q & A: Sean Miller has deep roster, just needs to ‘sort out chemistry’ – On a lighter note if you’re an Arizona fan, things are looking really good – again – in Tucson. Was just discussing this article with a colleague. We noted Miller is slow to compliment. He won’t always glowingly sing the praises of his players. I even looked it up and his kindest remarks about Aaron Gordon were generally about his attitude. In this article, he says Stanley Johnson is “going to be really good for us.” Digest.
  3. The Quiet Genius - In our previously posted #34b, we discussed the greatness of showing up. Mark Helfrich has done a helluva job showing up. What’s more is profiles like these humanize these men we often revere as saintly and unattainable. Does Nick Saban seem to have one relatable characteristic? No. But Helfrich strikes me as an everyman. Who also happens to be at the reigns of one of the most high powered football programs in America. I’m not sure there’s really a Pac-12 basketball equivalent but I will say I get the impression that Steve Alford is taking a Helfichian approach. I’ve liked how he’s handled that program to date, keeping things minimally flashy in the face of both Andy Enfield’s brashness and the magnitude of his role.

Three For BART is a daily (or really close to that) drop of three thought provoking articles for your commute or day. Submissions for inclusion taken at: pachoops25@gmail.com

Team Enters

BB: Our 2013-14 Arizona Wildcats

I’m always pretty honest here. I don’t love ASU and, despite being 6’5″, I’ve only dunked a handful of times. Fastballs don’t translate into verticals. And so to get my mind around, and my heart into, re-examining this season – if not that game – I needed some time. A passage of moments to absorb everything that was our (my) last five months. Because my team didn’t win and because they were supposed to. Because I watched a season, five months, rest confidently in the hands of Nick Johnson. And then the season didn’t quite make it out of his hands. To tell you that I didn’t hurt sitting in section 407, row B, seat 4, alongside my brother, would be a Badger faced lie. I hurt, alongside a fan base starving to be in North Texas, watching the most exciting iteration of their team – our Wildcats – fall one point short. Pain.

And in this afternoon there will be departures and returns. Perhaps some coaching changes down the line. New developments that might further dictate our feelings about those five months.

But for now, take a walk with me. Certainly not a run because a run might not let us appreciate things, the actual path. By running, we might get stuck with a singular memory of a ball, in hand, with a backlit backboard, and the wrong score. A run would neglect to recall how we got to Anaheim. So let’s walk. Walk to appreciate how we got there and because sometimes it helps to slow things down, make sure that this blog post doesn’t become one big :(. Also, my middle name is Walker. Fun fact.

Like any walk, I suppose we’d have to begin by getting off the couch. Of course that’s where it all began for me. I was amongst the more than 18,000 streaming a basketball scrimmage on a Saturday afternoon in October. On that day, TJ McConnell played defense. Yes, I was ecstatic to watch a 6’1” Pittsburgher play practice defense. A skill he’d assert 39 more times for my viewing pleasure.

But that was just a practice. We needed, craved, the real thing. And soon thereafter, by a convergence of love, convenience, and coincidence, I celebrated the first two games of the season and my dear friend’s wedding. In Tucson. God bless Sunday weddings in November.

Of course the Cal Poly game left something to be desired. The Mustangs (who would eventually win one NCAA tournament game) made eleven three-pointers and raised questions about whether or not the 2012-13 three-point defense was an anomaly or a trend. The Wildcats would go on to allow the 12th lowest percentage of threes in the nation. Opponents would make just 32% of whatever they got.

But Gabe York started, Kaleb Tarczewski grabbed zero rebounds, Jordin Mayes played 4 minutes to turn the ball over 3 times, and the team shot 56% from the line. Was this game foretelling? No, the next game was. An assertion of strength, execution, and we-are-better-than-you up and down the McKale floor.

The tone was set. Arizona would be the most exciting, defense oriented, pace conscious team there could be. At least that’s what we wanted. But their mettle was yet to be tested. Not even a win in San Diego meant enough. A stage, The World’s Most Famous Arena, was the only place to do it. So they went to Madison Square Garden, forced Jabari Parker into what would be the second worst offensive performance of his collegiate career (by ORtg), and left their scent all over the right coast. Early the following week, Carolina would win in East Lansing.

Four days later, Arizona was the number one team in the country. Back.

What do you think of our walk so far? Months of speculation about whether these Wildcats could shoot, lead, or get over their youthful hump had manifested into the nation’s top team. And it was fun. Validation of the previous tribulations that had seemingly set the program back. Number one again.

But this was December. Who cares about rankings – let alone college basketball – in December? The Wildcats had yet to take their toughest trip of the season, a frigid journey to Ann Arbor. I would join them. It become the upset dujour that weekend and perhaps deservedly so. Michigan was a talented squad playing at home. They’d go on to win the B1G and finish a dagger away from their second straight Final Four. Against Arizona, they led for more than 32 minutes. But Arizona won, Brandon Ashley was the best player on the floor during a game featuring countless NBA bound talent, and shit got real. Jim Nantz told me he’d see me in Dallas. I’m serious. The questions weren’t about whether the roster could do this or that, tt became, “Are they the best Arizona team, ever?” Jim fucking Nantz, you guys! And oh was it fun.

There were these:

aaron-gordon-vs-ucla-b

And this:

Rondae Dunk

And more:

aaron-gordon-double-clutch-reverseThere was a game that Washington State scored 7 points in an entire half. They scored just 0.46 points on each of their 54 possessions; twenty-five collective points from a high-major, Division-1 basketball team. That’s what Arizona was going to do to you.

And then these guys came up to see me. My team! Their first trip to the Bay Area in two years and I couldn’t be more ecstatic. My brother was going to be in town! The Wildcats! What a weekend.

But then it all changed.

The prohibitive favorites, winners of 21 straight and the top team in the land for eight straight weeks (a school record), lost in Berkeley. Sure the score read 58-60 and the court was preemptively rushed. How can an Arizona fan get pissed about that? Irrelevant. It all changed on February 1st when Brandon Ashley broke his foot. At the time, we couldn’t really speak of it. The foot failed but the team would not. Adjustments had to be made because there was still season to be played and we had to see Jim in Dallas. We’re on a walk here, right? Brandon couldn’t walk. It all changed.

And I buried that change, still absorbed by the narrative of January 31st, not February 2nd. Prohibitive favorites and now who knows what? Somberly, we left Haas that night with what felt like a season in flux. A proverbial tipping point. But the season couldn’t be buried in one podiatric misfortune. Onward the Wildcats would go. The feeling was buried. The season endured.

Exhibit A was a two-point home win over Oregon. Exhibit B was a hohum dismissal of the Beavers. The next two games would see the Wildcats in three overtimes, escaping with just one win. They lost in Tempe.

It all changed on 2/1 and whatever we buried was soon to bubble up. The aforementioned post-Ashley exhibits were less than encouraging and Colorado’s Keg was looming. Arizona had never won in Boulder as members of the Pac-12. Regardless, my buried feelings and tempered expectations flew to Boulder. With a busy mind, it wasn’t clear to me what would happen. I should have known better:aaron-gordon-dunk-gifColorado didn’t record a field goal for the game’s first ten minutes and Arizona won by 27. And then they won by 28 and then 13 and again we could believe. We could slip back into Goliath’s slippers and feel good in them.

There was a forgettable trip to Oregon before a defensive tour d’force through the MGM Grand Arena. Utah was throttled and Xavier Johnson – who once noted that the Wildcats “weren’t that good” – would make just 5 of 21 shots against the Wildcats after that January remark. And this:

Aaron Gordon BlockThen the Pac-12 championship game – Arizona and UCLA – was every bit the heavy weight battle it was supposed to be. The Pac-12 deserved and needed it. The Bruins punched first, taking it to Arizona’s top rated defense like no other team all season. The Wildcats, however, shot back. Raining from beyond the arc before settling into their more typical defensive effort. But when push came to shove – and it did – Jordan Adams hit the biggest shot. UCLA was your 2014 Pac-12 Tournament Champions. He didn’t touch the ball.

To this point I haven’t mentioned the walk we were on. It had a title, or at least I had one for it, “The Road to Dallas.” But this is the hardest part of the walk. The path narrows and the way more treacherous. Sudden death is a possibility. Sudden death is a reality. This is the NCAA tournament. You know all of this and when Arizona’s name was called on Sunday, you contemplated how you’d get to San Diego, Anaheim, and Dallas. I did. We toed the waters but never hesitated to jump in. Bring on the challenge.

And a challenge it is. Littered with hyperbolic prose surrounding its uncertainty and glass slippers. Goliaths enter and one exits. But you – we of the red shirts – were behind Goliath. The Wildcats were going to win this whole fucking thing.

And then they didn’t.

I had charged down Interstate-5 with my buddy, Jamie – a lifelong Badger, brilliant hoops mind, sports enthusiast, and beer drinker – for Thursday’s games. My brother was flying into LA to join. Jamie and I crashed at a friend’s Wednesday night, worked from Westwood the morning of, and then invaded the Honda Center. For Jamie, the early game was a breeze. Wisconsin was on to Saturday’s game faster than you could say ‘On Wisconsin.’

The Wildcats then took Thursday’s court and Nick Johnson scored 15 points in the games final 2:45. He made all of the free throws everyone thought the Wildcats would miss to send them packing from this tournament. The dismissal of SDSU evoked little sympathy. Self inflated with a brotastic following dripping with little brotherdom, I couldn’t have ushered them out any faster. And they were removed from the game’s hallowed event by the right  team. The Aztecs gave the West coast a go and the big kids will take it from here. Kthanksbye.

Which of course brings us to Saturday and me next to my brother at the tops of our chairs and lungs. The game itself could be dissected; examined for the minutiae of +/- data, offensive and defensive efficiencies, and probability charts. Ultimately, on the grandest stage where only one advances by any means possible – survival – the Badgers bettered the Wildcats. By one point. It needn’t be pretty, you just need to have the extra point.

For Arizona, they didn’t have the extra point. That’s the hurt stuff.

The kind of stuff that doesn’t let you appreciate an Aaron Gordon overtime three-pointer. He of the comically broken shot stepped into a three in the biggest game of his life. Onions. All the game long nothing would fall for the superfrosh. So naturally he grabbed 18 rebounds – nearly a quarter of all available boards in the game – and stuck that three.

It hurts and you maybe don’t get to remember when all seemed wrong, when the Arizona offense was operating at a second grade level, why not Jordin Mayes? He was there for the offensive rebound and the lay-in with sixty seconds left. In the three years of data I can access (hoop-math), it’s Jordin’s only career putback.

That immediate pain might not allow the opportunity to appreciate a moment like TJ McConnell and Nick Johnson hugging at mid-court. I can’t finger the exact situation but into a timeout, deep in the contest with the outcome in the balances and punches being thrown back and forth, the Wildcat backcourt embraced in the middle of the Honda Center. It was the kind of scene you expect to see with a Luther Vandross backdrop. Shit, I thought it meant they weren’t going to lose.

SPOILER: They did.

I’m late on all of this but I needed to get away from the suddenness of zeros and no more games. As noted I’m honest on here and the flurry of “UCONN!?!?!?!?! REALLY!?!?!?!?” texts into and out of my phone was…abundant? Ubiquitous? Fiery? And all of that heat was promptly followed by an outpouring of everything we couldn’t discuss after 2/1. A date we won’t forget and can’t neglect in reviewing, even appreciating, this season. Goliath down a peg.

Which is the end of our walk. A saunter through five of the most exciting and unique months of fandom I can recall. We felt promising optimism and crippling defeat. I saw triumphant revenge, fierce confidence, and assertions force. We hoped, believed, and hurt. We did it together and that’s the overarching importance of sport. 2013-14 was section 407 with my brother; the living room with my best friends;  a bar with countless strangers; every arena I entered. In taking this walk, it’s my hope that you remember where you were and who you were with for each of the shining moments that were this season.

Those illuminated flashes that define our favorite game are brief because they’re shared. If 68 enter and only one leaves, then we have to believe in those shining moments. We can share those and remember when.

The first games begin in November with the promise of a whole season with anticipation for the unexpected and hopeful before us. And then we get caught in a sprint. Running to March in search of the shining moments that just might not come. Everything changed on 2/1 and maybe that’s OK? Maybe it’s not. It’s OK to remember, just don’t get stuck in Haas.

And remember this walk, and all the fun you had watching the 2013-14 Arizona Wildcats Men’s Basketball team.Team Enters

March Madness

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.
Nick Johnson POY

Pac-12 Conference Awards: Traditional Ones

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.

  1. Nick Johnson (POY)
  2. Kyle Anderson
  3. Delon Wright
  4. CJ Wilcox
  5. Aaron Gordon
  6. Jordan Adams
  7. Jahii Carson
  8. Justin Cobbs
  9. Joseph Young
  10. Chasson Randle
  11. Josh Scott
  12. Byron Wesley
  13. Dwight Powell
  14. Mike Moser
  15. 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.

  1. Aaron Grodon (FOY)
  2. Nigel Williams-Goss
  3. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
  4. Zach LaVine
  5. Bryce Alford

All-Defensive Team/DPOY: Johnson gets my vote for dPOY as well.

  1. Nick Johnson (dPOY)
  2. Aaron Gordon
  3. Josh Huestis
  4. Jordan Bachynski
  5. 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:

Ortg %Poss eFG% TS% Stl% FT% FG% 3FG%
2014 112.1 27.5 54.4 60.1 2.4 82.8 42.8 38.6
2013 105.8 20.4 52.8 56 1.9 68.8 41.1 37.7

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.

All-Conference:

  1. Jordan Adams
  2. Jahii Carson
  3. Spencer Dinwiddie
  4. Mike Moser
  5. Dwight Powell

Conference Standings: This is why I love baseball. Two-of-twelve success is only a three game slump. Not a complete disaster.

  1. Arizona
  2. Oregon (UCLA)
  3. Colorado (ASU)
  4. UCLA (Cal)
  5. Cal (Colorado)
  6. Stanford
  7. ASU (Oregon)
  8. Washington (Utah)
  9. Oregon State (Washington)
  10. Utah (Oregon State)
  11. USC (WSU)
  12. WSU (USC)