The game of the year was played this week and it wasn’t in Seattle (I see you, Russ) and it wasn’t in Tucson (though I see you, Stanley). If on Wednesday I’d written that the GotW was going to be played during #Pac12AfterDark in Pullman, you’d have thought me crazy. But Ernie got his first win over his old team and it was full on crazy. Further, Arizona rolled up on Utah just to remind everyone where the Pac-12 is won. February 28, however. The one thing that delivered on its promise of greatness was Bilas-Walton on Thursday night. They talked about medicine and got into creationism. The duo delivered.
It’s a frustrating game and there are a lot of ways your team can frustrate you. From anything that happens on the court to the litany of things they screw up off of it. It’s the curse of fandom. And maybe you’re an optimist – see growth opportunities in a failed in-bounds or benching due to tardiness. Bless you and may that spirit take you far.
Of course one of the most frustrating things is when your team is struggling. When they just seem to suck but you can’t really figure out why. You can’t quantify it, there’s just a feeling – effing feelings – but you know it and the slouched shoulders aren’t helping. Neither is the scoreboard.
That’s maybe the feeling for Colorado right now. Continue reading
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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:
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.
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|
|Ben Braun||4.5||5.1* / 3.3**|
|Mike Davis||4.5||3.8^ / 4.9^^|
- 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.
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.
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).
I haven’t read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point but I’d like to. By my peripheral understanding, however, and through some Internet investigation, I’ve come to find that a ‘tipping point’ can loosely be defined as “when something not previously popular becomes popularized, and how that came to be.” Which is about where I find Colorado Basketball. Previously, winning wasn’t the most popular activity in Boulder. Then they joined the Pac-12 (a behavioral change) and they started to try the winning thing on. Three straight years of 20+ wins and three consecutive NCAA tournaments, unprecedented in school history. But we’re at that moment, the season where something is going to feel different. Could this be when we begin to believe that Colorado Basketball is a winning brand of basketball and not just fluke run through the Pac-12 tournament and some luck on the recruiting trail (Spencer Dinwiddie + Josh Scott)? This year comes with expectations but also a lot of questions. We basically got to see this roster compete for the latter half of last season. Tad called it a “jump-start.” It wasn’t remarkable and that has some people, myself included, concerned. Are these expectations realistic? Achievable? What even are the expectations? I see this year as a tipping point because I want to know if winning has or will be popularized in Boulder. Jump start for what?
Why I Hate 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
In December, we looked into how Jordan Adams had changed his game. A mid-range threat as a freshman, Adams had improved his offensive efficiency by getting to the rim. He had changed his game.
And now he’s changed his mind.
News dropped over the weekend that the efficient shooter would be foregoing his remaining two years in Westwood to head to the NBA. This differs from his initial April 17 declaration to stay in school. He gone.
This flip flop is a major blow to the Bruins. Their starting lineup will be 80% brand new and Bryce Alford will almost certainly be starting. Stay tuned for rants of Daddy Ball wielded by the Hoosier Loser (fear not, you’ll never read that here).
You don’t need me to spell out the significance of Adams’ departure. He was arguably the best returning player in the conference and was easily the best player on UCLA’s roster. With the Family Wear and Kyle Anderson already gone, Adams was going to be the centerpiece, likely expanding on what was already the conference’s 8th highest usage percentage. This is kind of a big deal.
And with regards to the Pac-12 landscape, I had hinged the Pac-12 off-season on the professional decisions of Adams and Spencer Dinwiddie. Both star guards were faced with tough choices. Furthermore, both seemingly held the fate of their teams’ 2014-15 success in their hands. Both have now chosen pro pastures and leave Alford and Boyle with some significant coaching opportunities. Good luck, gentlemen.
Of course it should be noted that both teams project to be in the upper half of the conference. UCLA has pieced together a nice class and Isaac Hamilton has had a year on the pine (after transferring from UTEP) to learn the Alford way. Colorado has a talented group that will now have the added benefit of knowing exactly what they’re working with and can lose their “deer in headlights” look they wore following Dinwiddie’s injury. It’s an uphill battle for both but a challenge both rosters are prepared to handle.
All of which begs the question: Is it November yet?
Yesterday saw the announcement of the conference’s superlatives. It’s probably the third heaviest day of debate behind only Selection Sunday and the day in November when the preseason poll is dropped. But we can rank other things, too. Or, more aptly said, we can note a lot of the other great things that happened this season under the auspices that even more are coming (March). This is why we watched and remained so closely engaged. Great season.
Top 5 Moments
- Cobbs sinks Arizona – In some regards, shots like this had become commonplace. I’d seen Cobbs step back for the win what seemingly became always. But the reality is that making fading jumpers with seven-feet and an arm coming at you is anything but commonplace. Neither is knocking off undefeateds.
- Euro-step on a Jayhawk’s neck - Circled on Buffalo calendars for months – if not years – this one meant something. Colorado was a Kansas stepping stone for eons; Boulder the mountainous respite for the midlanders of Lawrence. Back-and-forth and then a sideline in-bounds and two dribbles. Euro step. Rush.
- Block-chynski, three times over - He’s now your Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and he perhaps locked that up by not once but thrice dismissing the would be game-tying or winning shot. Walk off blocks. He did it first against Marquette and then again Mutumbo’d Joseph Young’s attempt to tie. But then his biggest. The second ranked arch-rivals were in town and on Valentines Day. Fittingly, the national animal of Canada is the badger and Honey Bachynski don’t give a shit, blocking his ninth shot to seal the win and a premature court storming.
- Dotson steal, dunk, gamer – It was the first game of the conference season (or at least the first that I saw) and it came down to the final possession, a stolen basketball, a dunk, and a dog pile. In this play alone we could write out the narratives of half the conference and it came on the first game of the season. Like I said, good. effing. season.
- TBD – We haven’t yet played the Pac-12 tournament. So…full credit to UCLA?
Top 5 Games
- #1 Arizona @ Cal - Read this in your best Gus Johnson voice, “COBBS! SHAKE. STEP BACK…AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! AT THE BUZZER. J COBBS! COLD BLOODED.” Amiright, Husky fans? Goosebumps. Yeah, it may have been my team, but it doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate it.
- #10 Oregon @ #20 Colorado - I’m not positive if you’ve been paying close attention but the last handful of seasons haven’t been particularly elite. Furthermore, the pace of the game has slowed significantly, such that the NCAA has changed the rules to pick scoring up. Those notes considered, to have Oregon and Colorado square off in a top-20 battle and the final score read 100-91? Well I thought I was in heaven.
- Oregon @ UCLA - I really don’t care whether or not Slo-Mo or Jordan Adams played. This game involved a near Twin Killing. And that’s not even the proper use of that idiom but when you’ve got a full court baseball heave from one human of identical DNA as the heave’s recipient who then hits a game tying three-pointer as time expires? That’s amazing.
- #6 Kansas @ Colorado – I said as much when discussing the moment, but this one meant something to the Buffs. How’s this for a quote: “Deep down I bleed Jayhawk blood,” Boyle said, “but now I’m 100 percent Buffalo to the core.”
- #1 Arizona @ Michigan – What more do you need to know other than that at one point in the season, Michigan, SDSU, UCLA, Utah, Colorado and Stanford were a combined 83-11 at home. The Arizona Wildcats accounted for 6 of those losses. “The toughest teams survive,” Sean Miller once told his team. And so he brought them to Ann Arbor - I went, too – and by the time everyone left, Jim Nantz told me he’d see us in Dallas. Great ball game.
Top 5 Stories
- Brandon Ashley’s Foot – You can’t read an Arizona narrative without hearing about their offense and how it’s either changed or regressed since Ashley hurt his foot. I mean, Arizona never lost a game Ashley played more than two minutes in. That’s a walk-on stat. Not the kind of stat of a 12 and 7 guy. The Arizona story was such that people were discussing their undefeated season and whether or not it could be the greatest Arizona team ever. That all changed in Berkeley on February 1st. The Wildcats (and considering our move #2 below), however, can still put to rest the ‘what if’ stories. But what if…
- Spencer Dinwiddie’s Knee – At halftime in Seattle, not much more than thirty minutes after The Mayor went down, the Colorado Buffaloes still stood a nearly 75% chance of winning that ball game. They were promptly outscored by 17 in the next 10 minutes of basketball. And this was what we were to expect the rest of the Colorado season. They would lose three of their next four and look far from competitive. But Xavier Johnson caught fire, Josh Scott got gooder, Askia Booker transformed and the Buffs would finish the season in an impressive fifth place.
- Steve Alford – It’s a big job and the shoes are even bigger. Nine men have tried to sit in John Wooden’s seat. By comparison, there have been just thirteen head coaches ever in the history of Arizona basketball. Eleven at Washington. They’ve run a conference champion out. Gene Bartow and Gary Cunningham – the winnigest by win percentage in school history – lasted a combined four seasons. They’ve won 36 conference titles, danced 45 times and won 11 of them. It’s a big job and it’s Steve Alford’s now.
- Delon Wright and the Utes - They were projected to finish ninth and they finished eighth. Whoopie do! But look me in the blog and tell me you’re not impressed with Utah. I am. That wasn’t your average eighth place finish and where did Delon Wright come from? I mean, I know he came from City College of San Francisco, but where did a 122 ORtg on 23.5% usage come from? Or, more traditionally, 16ppg, 7rpg, and 5apg come from? How about 2.6 steals and 1.3 blocks? Yeah, it all seemingly came out of nowhere and so now I ask: Who wants to play the Utes in Vegas?
- Stanfords Pursuit of the Dance – In 2012 they won the NIT in convincing fashion with a core of sophomores and we were excited! Oh how pissed off for greatness these budding trees were. And then 2013 saw essentially the same roster go 17-14 in the regular season; 9-9 in conference play. They were ousted in the second round of the tournament they were defending. Then seniors. Returning 80% of their minutes, I asked Johnny Dawkins, “What’s going to be different?” His answer didn’t impress me. He said they would be thinking about things differently. And now I ask you, faithful Pac-12 fan: Have the Cardinal thought differently enough to garner their first NCAA tournament since 2008?
Top 5 Seniors
- CJ Wilcox – I could watch this guy take jumpers for days. He’s sixth all-time in Pac-12 three pointers made.
- Roberto Nelson - His coach said he was fit for the beer leagues and then played him the most minutes on the team. In the storied history of OSU basketball, Nelson is the fourth leading scorer, a spot ahead of AC Green.
- Justin Cobbs - Pac-12 coaches can now breath a little easier in late game situations as the iciest veins this conference has seen in some time departs.
- Jordan Bachynski – The conference’s all-time leading shot blocker. Additionally, Jordan has one of the finest career makeovers we’ve ever seen.
- Dwight Powell – Developed year-over-year and has one of the most exciting skill sets in the conference. Embodied the Stanford student-athlete.
Top 5 Moves
- Transition Bruins - Steve Alford’s 2013-14 UCLA team, his first in Westwood, was a complete deviation from his general coaching resume (contrary to what some make up). And it worked. He had never coached a faster team (70.3 possessions per game) and 27.2% of their offense came in transition. His highest percentage at New Mexico (as far back as those stats go) was 19.5%. This was also the most efficient offense he has ever coached: 1.15 points per possession.
- York into the Starting Lineup - All the season long, Sean Miller took the obviouis route of starting his most talented roster. He did it for 22 games, why change that philosophy now that Brandon Ashley was out for the season? So Rondae Hollis-Jefferson began starting. In their first four games without Ashley (including Cal), the Wildcats put up 1.01 points per possession (their season ppp is 1.12). Further, if you remove one game against the defenseless Beavers, that number drops to an ugly 0.94 ppp. Enter: Gabe York, the starter. And Arizona out on the break. Mark Titus would call it Christ Air and the Wildcats would begin to get into transition more (~25% of offense since York, ~19% before) and put up 1.01, 1.33, 1.28, and 1.18 ppp in those first four games. York’s also putting up an additional point per game and…ready for this…he’s averaging 4.3 boards, double his season average.
- Booker: The Evolution – He’s a shooter. You might even say a shot chucker, a loose cannon that’s never seen a shot he wouldn’t take. But that had to change when Spencer Dinwiddie went down with injury. And change it did. I documented it all here but note that Booker was central to helping Colorado very likely earn it’s third straight NCAA bid by changing the game he’s so often criticized for.
- Powell: The Evolution - I don’t know that it’s a good one but it’s a noticeable one. In this season of “thinking differently” in Palo Alto, Johnny Dawkins also had his hyper-athletic power forward become the offensive facilitator. He handily lead the team in assists (3.2/game) and assist rate (21.7%), both significant career highs. This ultimately moved him further from the basket (lowest percentage of shots at the rim in his career) but Stanford also posted their highest ORtg in Powell’s career at the school.
- Whatever this means, but something changed and it worked, too - “You pulled together,” Altman told the Ducks in the locker room. “You pulled together and found a way. We’ve won seven games in a row, and it’s you guys. It’s you guys. It’s your character, it’s your toughness — that’s what changed. We didn’t do anything differently. You guys said, ‘We’re not going to allow this. We’re going to dig down deep and we’re going to find a way.'” Dana Altman after beating Arizona.
This post, had it been written two months ago, would’ve looked a lot different than it does today. Back then, seeing as how I’m a big Booker fan, it would have evolved into another defense of his shot selection and gumption. We’d probably have revisited the Jayheave and his performance against then #10 Oregon where he dropped 27, 7, and 4 on (have to note this in an Askia column) 8-16 shooting. That would have made for a great post and likely unfolded a lot like this one.
Won’t be the case.
Not since Colorado’s season pivoted (I live in start-up land) and what the Buffs need from Booker, the once trigger happy sidekick. The Doc Holiday to Spencer’s Wyatt Earp. When it all changed, Askia has had to reign things in and be the Buffs’ facilitator. It wasn’t necessarily a strong suit of his. We often discuss poor decision making when addressing the matter of Askia. So how has he adjusted?
The first measure I’d like to examine is assist to turnover ratio. This is a less than scientific formula but it is a general indicator of a sound facilitator: distribute to friends, keep away from enemies. Here’s the five game rolling A/T ratio I’ve been subscribing to lately:
As you can see, there’s a correlation between not having your primary ball handler, not winning basketball games, and learning over time. This would suggest that it took Askia about five games to learn a new role. To begin facilitating things such as easy buckets. In the immediate post-injury slate, the Buffs were 1-4 and Booker, in his new role, saw his A:T ratio dive. And then it all began to change. He became more comfortable and distributing. The ball moved and the Buffs won.
When they began winning again, Colorado’s PPP returned to right about their season average (average: 1.08 vs. 1.05). During their 1-4 skid, the Buffs’ effectiveness dipped to 0.896ppp. You don’t need me to tell you that’s bad and conversely you don’t need me to tell you that getting back to their season average was good.
Now I won’t soon forget about Josh Scott and if you’re looking to beat Colorado, neither should you. But his game hasn’t had to significantly change the way Booker’s has. He’s upped his scoring but there are a number of factors that play into that. He’s getting more touches in the post and deserves a lot of credit for turning those touches into points, but he’s not necessarily playing a different role.
Booker, on the other hand, has made some changes. Let’s glance at his FGA:Assist ratio. In doing such, I think what we’ll see is Booker distributing more and shooting more effectively. Or at least marrying up two of his skills to more facilitate the Buffaloffense.
I find this to be a particularly Askia-centric point because his shot selection has so long been a point of contention. The gross numbers don’t necessarily indicate fewer shots, interestingly enough, but it appears he’s working harder to get others involved and better shots for himself. Our previous chart demonstrated that he was taking better care of the ball. This one shows us he’s perhaps taking better shots and getting others into good position. Furthermore, and this is probably a discussion for another time, if his role is to facilitate the offense, it seems he’s doing such.
But everything boils down to wins and losses. The Buffs have lost their last two games (AZ and Utah) and will now head to the Bay for another pair of road games. The type of game (road) the Buffs don’t win very often. As they currently sit, Colorado seems to be in the NCAA tournament but a four game losing streak heading into the Pac-12 tournament might not do them any favors.
Can Askia facilitate a win?