“We do not notice Josh as much, and that is an indication, again, that he’s got a supporting cast around him that can score and do some things.” This is what Ernie Kent had to say about his All-Conference, baby faced Power Forward regarding the surprise that was 2014-15 Josh Hawkinson. I don’t believe it – not necessarily about Hawkinson but about his supporting cast. First of all, Hawkinson was an integral piece of Cougar overachievement last season. The Cougs were the 19th luckiest team in the nation (per the KenPom stat) which is an indication that they grossly outperformed their expected results. This stat, however, isn’t wholly predictive. So what have they added around Josh? Meh. It’s a commendable first recruiting class (not great but not abysmal) along with another year of system familiarity and growth. Will Washington State be any good? Not really. But they have an opportunity to surprise once again which – depending on whether you’re a glass half full or empty person – is a decent place to be in year 2 with a new regime (even if it is Ernie Kent).
When it comes to fandom, sports understanding, and humanity, you don’t have to follow a blue blood program to know a sport. Jeff Nusser does hoops. He does far more (better) than HOTTAKES for the power site he co-founded, the fantastic WSU blog, CougCenter.
And so he’s a fan of a program in change while he watches golden boy, Tony Bennett, dominate the ACC from across the country. Yet we must look forward and in doing such we find Arizona looming on the eve of President’s day (worth noting: growing up in Tucson we got Rodeo Break, not President’s Day. Fact). Cougars versus Cats and Jeff kindly and witfully catches us up on all things crimson and grey.
Months ago, before nary an Ernie Kent game was coached, you seemed less than optimistic surrounding his summer on the recruiting circuit. We’ve now got a little time under our belts, how are you feeling about Ernie the recruiter?
**updated! Just discovered the first link was busted. Here’s the noob:
- Dish’s new Sling TV is a huge deal. Here’s Why – I have a great drinking buddy with whom I’ve taken the conversation deep into the night on this subject. Live sports – as this article acutely highlights – is keeping cable alive as we know it. Dish’s latest incarnation, Sling TV, is a first effort to stay ahead of the evolving way in which we consume. Also, take note of the Per User chart. Those are some of the prices the Pac-12 Networks is competing with as they continue to find deals with the providers.
- Film Session: How Does Virgina’s ‘Pack-line’ defense work and how do you beat it – Dauster does a very succinct and easy-to-follow breakdown of how the Pack-line defense works. This is the defense that Arizona uses and – as the title suggests – provides a blue-print for how to beat the defense. Does your team have the pieces – the movement – to create the match ups necessary to beat it?
When a change is made it’s usually because a change is needed. I understand that’s simple logic but often if something isn’t working – and particularly if it’s trending downward – then a a new direction is needed. Not an adjustment.
What I’m getting at is I like the Ernie Kent hire. Maybe I don’t love it but that’s a strong word I save for only the prettiest girls on Tinder. Kent is not Ken Bone and the job is now Ernie’s. He’s a big personality – have you listened to him call a game – and is likely to bring excitement to a program seemingly devoid emotion.
If you’re curious his pedigree, how many games he’s won and the programs he’s led, I encourage you to read the WSU release. In short, he was pretty successful at Saint Mary’s (90-80) and cyclically good at Oregon (235-174). A graph:You can see the ebbs and flows of the regime where ultimately the lows outweighed the highs and he wound up at the Pac-12 Networks.
Alas, the point of this is to note that excitement is what Kent can bring. It’s perhaps his most marketable quality in taking over a program that never won a Pac-12 tournament game under Bone. The Cougars finished last in attendance this year with a putrid 2800 fans filling the Palouse.
And speaking of filling the Palouse, some talent wouldn’t hurt. Since 1986, the WSU program has recruited and developed six players into the NBA draft. In his thirteen seasons in Eugene, Kent recruited eventual NBA draft picks. Talent wins in March (see: Wildcats, Kentucky) and WSU is in dire need of it.
No one – except perhaps Kent – will be quick to call Pullman a recruiting hot bed or destination location. But that’s Kent’s challenge. One Tony and Dick overcame as well as Kelvin Sampson. It’s what Bone most struggled with.
And so it begins: The Ernie Kent era in Pullman. Change was needed and so a 180 was made. Tactical and quiet becomes gregarious and big. Welcome to the Coug show.
What shall it bring us?
That was a fun non-conference slate.
I had considered writing a review of it as the timing seems impeccable. We could walk our way through all those games played against everyone not under Larry’s leadership. It would afford us an opportunity to revisit Askia’s big shot, Washington’s ineptitude, the Wright-Loveridge show, Stanford’s roller coaster, numero uno, Dana Altman and Joseph Young, Jahii Carson, trips to Michigan, and the interesting fact that Oregon State has played games in Maryland, Chicago, and Honolulu otherwise known as places Barack Obama has lived.
But we kinda just covered that so… If there’s anything else you want to cover, just @pachoopsab me.
That said, and this week excluded, it really was an exciting non-conference slate. The conference seems to be as good and deep as it’s been in forever. There have been good games up and down and all across the country. And as I was conjuring what to write during this slow week when no one is playing anyone of intrigue and I’m in Mexico for the twenty-third consecutive family New Years, I was reminded of a conversation about the success (or otherwise) of the new rules. Yes, I’m going to fill your holiday breaks with a discussion of officiating. Well only sort of.
Because just a few weeks ago the NCAA dropped their first bit of data on how their rule changes have affected the game. For a refresher on what they changed up, read this. And for the NCAA’s analysis, read this or allow me to synopsize:
- Basketball is better because of us
That’s about what the NCAA had to say about that. Like any good corporation they’ve pat themselves on the back for their job well done. I don’t mean that facetiously but if you’re going to tell everyone you’re doing X, Y, and Z to make A, B, and C better, your release on the matter will support that end-goal. You’re also going to tell the story that it’s working. As you may have noticed, the NCAA opens with:
Behold the new world of college basketball…
Well alrighty then, Cristobolo Columbus. Next they’re going to tell us they invented the Internet. Alas, picking on the NCAA is a touch passé. Really all the NCAA has done is push data at us to suggest the game has opened up. They are not wrong. Here’s what they’ve said:
- PPG: 67.5 –> 73.81
- FG%: 43.30 –> 44.71
- TOpg: 13.30 –> 12.75
- 2 more fouls per game, 5 more FTs, 3 more made FT
They warned us from the get-go that there would be more whistles and now they’re satisfied with this analysis and are “encouraged” by the direction they’ve sent the game. Nice.
But you know there are more smart guys out there studying this. I’m just absorbing it but read Kevin Pauga’s KPI Trend Analysis. He brings the analysis to a per possession basis and finds similar results. And, of course, more. The key takeaways from his thoughts are that possessions per game have increased, a by-product of more fouls and thus shorter possessions (17.99 à 17.20) as well as fewer turnovers. With steals and turnovers down, the conclusion is that they’ve now become fouls. The end result of this is an increase in scoring which is a conclusion in its own right. The question, however, becomes whether or not that indeed creates a more entertaining game?
Or is that even the question at all?
As you read through many of these analyses, “improvement” and “entertainment” get thrown around quite a bit. But how much can you quantify entertainment? The assertion has been that the NCAA has positively affected the game in such a way that it is more entertaining to us.
But is that right? Are these the elements that we find most intriguing? I suppose what I’m most directly getting at is I’m not sure the score of the game is what I find most appealing. I grew up watching Lute Olson teams beat ASU 127-99 and that was just as fun as last season’s 73-58 win. What’s more, I grew to appreciate what Tony Bennett did at Washington State. He began a paradigm shift in a conference of run-n-fun. He made a Goliath of Pullman’s David. The average Tony Bennett team was playing with just under 60 possessions per game. Olson was closer to a thousand. What Bennett achieved was wizardry and he still managed to do it in a conference long perceived as soft. The forty-five-feet-from-the-basket touch foul is nothing new to Pac-10 fans.
Meanwhile, as Bennett and Howland were constructing a philosophical shift in Pac-12 basketball, Lorenzo Romar was experiencing his most successful three years of basketball with about 72 possessions per contest. The Dawgs were good and fun. And different than the Cougs and Bruins.
I’m not criticizing the NCAA’s work. They recognized an opportunity to improve their product and they acted accordingly. I think their analysis is somewhat limited to suggest that things are better essentially because they made it so. I’m particularly drawn to the glaring omission of 2012-13 game duration data. This season’s games are clocking in at 1 hour and 54 minutes. With no context, I have nary a clue as to what that means. Is that long or short? The same? This is important to me because I’m a busy guy. For example, baseball has lost its sparkle. I’m no longer 16-year-old Adam absorbing 4-hour marathon games of roided out homeruns and 98mph sliders. 29-year-old Adam rarely takes four hours to watch that diminished and poorly marketed product*.
*unless it is October in which case I most certainly will make the time
Consequently, I don’t want to watch guys shoot free throws for two-and-a-half hours. I’m all for opening up the game and I’ll gladly watch Jordan Adams get buckets; but if things trend towards November’s Seton Hall-Niagra tilt, in which 102 FTs were taken, count me bored.
The point here is that entertainment is subjective. We’ve been presented the right measures but – with a Pac-12 focus – the players are just better. Sometimes it’s just that simple. Jorge Gutierrez, or the equivalent, will not be the conference POY. Or even First-Team All-Ten-Man-Conference Team. Come March, that thing is going to resemble a draft board. The NCAA is making strides – they’ve told us as much – but I’d also like to give credit to the ones playing the games.
And now we’ve arrived at the really fun part. The section of the season where it doesn’t matter whether the final score is 99-92 with gazillion FTs taken or 14-8 with eight concussions. It’s storyline time and that’s the real entertainment. Because you shouldn’t fool yourself: You love drama.
Do you realize Andy Enfield now must out-tempo Steve Alford? As in he has to do it on a basketball court and not with his mouth? That Johnny Dawkins is coaching for his career the same way Ken Bone, Craig Robinson and maybe even Lorenzo Romar are? That Spencer Dinwiddie is going to prove – or otherwise – that he and his Buffs are the cream rising to the top?
That’s entertainment to me. When Utah knocks someone off or a court is rushed by giddy students. That’s a good game. Those slack jawed moments of howdidthathappen; holy shit, if you will.
It was a fun non-conference slate. And it’s about to get better.
I’ve been struggling to piece this one together. I think from the outset components of Ken Bone’s time at Washington State have been doomed. Tony Bennett is one of the few coaches who can compete with him in the cool name department (see QUOTABLE below) and who also set an unparallel-able bar in Pullman. Now to be clear, I’m not writing a fire and brimstone preview. I’m also not about to say “quite the contrary.” I’m just saying that there isn’t anything particularly interesting about this team. They’ve lost one of my favorite Pac-12 players of All-Time in Brock Motum. The Australian was my two time reigning Australian of the Year (which I’ve already awarded to Angus Brandt for this season) and he was really good at basketball. The saving grace of Cougar hoop. And now he’s gone to Italy and so too is long time assistant, Ben Johnson. They’ve lost him to Australia, too. Something about down undah.
Why I love them: It’s hard to love something you don’t know and there really isn’t a ton to know about this Cougar team. So I went to their Official Roster and that’s when I fell in love. For someone working in UX (user experience) and guiding different design teams to optimize a digital experience, I appreciate things like hover boxes that help with name pronunciation. You would think Apple Cup rivals, the Washington Huskies, would develop a stand alone page to help with the pronunciation of Giles Dierickx. The Cougars may not get a ton of love nationally or coastally, but god dammit you’re going to pronounce their names right. Additionally, I appreciate the back court of DaVonte Lacy and Royce Woolridge. They’re veterans (JR and rJR, respectively) and have shouldered the point guard role in the excuse of Reggie Moore. They were due help in the arrival of Danny Lawhorn – a JuCo standout set to take over at the one – but HEGONE. I have heard good things about red-shirt freshman, [cue] Johnson, and Dexter [KER-nick]-Drew. So there’s that.
Why I hate them: BROCKMOTUM. How can you be a fan of this conference and be glad to see him leave? He was the consummate collegian and I loved his game. How glorious was it to see him go HAM in Vegas – 28 points in a loss to UW – during his final game (a friend of mine saw him going the other time of HAM on the Strip but that’s a different tale and please note that Aussies party harder than anyone else. Anyone.). Alas, their roster comes at us guard heavy and in a league that already touts Jahii Carson, CJ Wilcox, Justin Cobbs, Nick Johnson, Jordan Adams, Damyean Dotson, TJ McConnell, Spencer Dinwiddie, Chasson Randle, Jarbari Bird, Joseph Young, Nigel Williams-Goss, Jermaine Marshall, Aaron Bright, Dominic Artis…do you get my point?
Stat you need to know:
To be honest, I have no idea what this number means as a number by itself. With context however, this is the 345th worst luck in Division-1 basketball. It basically means that the Cougars were in a lot of ball games (projected to win, arguably) that they wound up losing. There were 10 games last season they lost by 5 or fewer points. Often a poor luck scoring can translate into an improved record the following year. The logic suggests that you lost a bunch of games you were projected to win one year (youth, tough bounces, monitors) and that you’ll get those bounces the following year. Ya know…get better. But I wouldn’t soon hang my hat on luck, Cougar fans, but it is something.
“I’m cheering for Washington State to win the Pac-12 this year only because I don’t want their coach to get fired. There aren’t enough good porn names in sports, so Ken Bone getting axed would be a huge loss.” – Mark Titus
Outlook: Bleak. There’s early hot seat talk and that’s never a good thing. There’s nothing returning in the front court and lots lost. DJ Shelton will man the middle. He did tout a 21.7 DR% which I suppose is encouraging. Addtionally, Ken Bone’s best teams play fast. Or at least swifter than the average bear. His last three seasons, however, Bone’s teams have been playing increasingly slower from his better teams. They’ve also been getting increasingly worse in the ORtg and DRtg department. In analytics we call this a downward trend. But how about that Titus quote, eh?