All posts by awbutler

The Unknown

Not long ago I was asked to write about a possible head coaching vacancy in Tucson. You’re smart and understand the genesis and timing of this request. I didn’t write it. I thought to perhaps corroborate or source but I also haven’t written all year. It was a question, however, worth pondering. I pondered:

It’s a job, like most, that comes with immense pressure. Whether its innate to competition, the salary, publicity or history, the title has expectations. It’s uniquely not the PSI of Rupp, Assembly Hall or Phog. McKale isn’t quite steeped in singularity like some of its contemporaries. Prior to the current administration, the job there was most recently held by a father-son duo. Of course, that strange reality manifested only when a Division-2 coach declined the role. Eventually that team went to the Sweet Sixteen. A studio host once took this school to the NCAA tournament. It’s a job that dances.

It’s a job with a big cactus. A stylized saguaro purveying a brand that the white-haired coach recognized would permeate the fabric of our culture. That cactus is ineffably woven into Campbell Avenue, eeggees, Bag’s, Frog’s and parking at the Hospital; the tones of Brian Jefferies, 1290, 1490 and whatever their FM affiliates are. Some will tell you it’s woven into improbably losses, painful defeat and the permanence of wanting. A badgering pain. It’s literally woven into the jerseys. A grown man would rumble to mid-court, disrobe, and consequently render McKale’s roof ajar. As another tale goes, John “Button” Salmon spoke to his coach, the arena’s namesake, from his deathbed. Salmon reminded the team to “Bear Down.” Legend. It’s a job that is Arizona.

It’s a job that means a lot to many. 230,947 by one measure. That’s how many people attended the McKale Center this season. That’s fifty-thousand more fans than any other Pac-12 school. It’s more than 3x the attendance at USC. And Stanford. They won’t sit down until the opposition scores. Games are played on 94-feet named after the job’s matriarch. I’m quantifying the caring because its generational now. Grandparents are watching with grandchildren. I’ll introduce you. They go to Tempe, Maui, Manhattan, Vegas, Boise. They won’t sit down there either. It’s a job that makes people feel.

It’s a job defended and appreciated by its holders. President Dr. Robert C. Robbins has alluded to his own dead body in defending this job. He also had the presence to ask and the leadership to be patient. Could he be wrong in all of this? Maybe. But there’s nothing more empowering than knowing someone’s got your back. Tucson – above the comments section – has this job’s back. It’s a job that’s supported.

It’s a job that wins. It’s a job that’s lost.

It’s Sean Miller’s job.

And I wouldn’t have anyone else in the seat. Perhaps unsurprisingly and unnecessarily declared, I’m all in. As if I needed to tell you. In that vein, I’m also for his team and what they’ve become. ‘Arizona vs. Everybody’ or any other mantra they want to offer, I’m glad to make grand allusions to the 1997 NCAA Tournament, the last time Arizona was a four-seed in the South Region.

I’m qualifying all of it because this one feels different. I don’t know what’s about to happen and that’s not TruTV or Buffalo. You know what I’m talking about. It’s a belabored point and not worth the exhaustive hypothesizing. There’s a disconcerting cloud over the entire sport – this job in particular. Three weeks ago we knew this team not to have a coach, shooting guard or power forward.

I just don’t know. You and they don’t know.

And more immediately we know even less. I’m clueless as to how far the 70th rated defense can travel or the projected top pick can carry. It’s impossible to know who might go without a touch for 11 minutes or the volume of lead squanderable in four minutes. Lord knows we’ve seen it tested, this tournament is brilliantly cruel.

But contrast to the other unknowns, right now we find great joy in ignorance. With little more than the promise of a chance, we allow ourselves comfort in the uncertainty of future results. The promise of possibility and what a little magic amidst the madness can yield. Hats and tee shirts? Perhaps.

I do know this: It’s a job preoccupied with the Buffalo Bulls. It’s a job I’m pulling for.


Examining the Sweetness: Arizona v. Xavier

Sean Miller’s first major NCAA tournament break (an 11-seed in the Sweet Sixteen is a treasure) naturally must be against his ex-girlfriend (wife?). Because if we’re to take Chris Mack at his word, there’s a few things at play here: 1) He and Miller have already agreed that Xavier will win this one, 2) That it really stinks to battle your mentor. We have to imagine the former is a joke and the latter a sharp reality and the converse – playing your mentee – is no more fun.

Alas, let’s learn a little bit more about playing this particular 11 seed tomorrow:

Sweet Sixteen – #11 Xavier

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Examining the Pod: Arizona Wildcats

It is my humble as well as braggadocios belief that Arizona is one of the four best teams in this tournament.

Of course this has sent me into something of an identity crisis. As you’ve loyally followed these pages, I have a clear and – once again – braggadocios stance on the power of KenPom and other metrics to explain a team’s chances to win a basketball game. As it were, I do not love Arizona by its advanced metrics. They do a little bit of everything well, nothing particularly great. They’ve also had one of the more unique roster situations of recent memory lending itself to a lack of performance continuity outside of one of the game’s most critical stats: WINNING. A wholistic view of the metrics, as aggregated by Five Thirty Eight tells us that the Wildcats have the eighth best odds to win the whole damn thing. Crisis averted?

I’m still just moderately satisfied. Saint Mary’s is a higher rated KenPom team with higher odds of reaching the Elite Eight than the West’s 3 seed, Florida State. The Gaels, in fact, have higher Final Four odds than UCLA and Oregon. We can get to Randy Bennett and the challenge the Gaels pose later. And no matter the case, no one said winning this thing was easy. Arizona, as an intact roster including Trier et. al. was KenPom’s 10th rated team. The 538 aggregate accounts for that and other preseason measures, a means to keep us all honest. Yet if the WCC (Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s) is providing Arizona’s greatest hurdles to making its first Final Four since 2001, then I’ll take those chances. Furthermore, Arizona was rewarded with just a 16-seed in the Name of the Year Bracket (s/o Chance Comanche). Does all this mean I’m an eye test guy?

First Round – #15 North Dakota

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Examining the Pod: UCLA

In their last three games, the UCLA Bruins, owner’s of the nation’s sexiest offense, have posted efficiencies of 109, 102, and 99 points per 100 possessions. That accounts for three of the Bruins’ six worst 2016-17 performances. Trend or slump? I believe it’s the latter as the Bruins were a little banged up and had perhaps lost the element of surprise. Consider, UCLA’s lackluster performance in the Pac-12 tournament came against two teams it was playing for the third time each. Disinterest? An excuse Steve Alford in fact danced with. Nevertheless, Bryce Alford is 5 for his last 25 from distance (during the aforementioned three games) while Aaron Holiday was 5-19 in Vegas.

And here’s a little food for thought. In ignoring the adjusted metrics (the default KenPom numbers I generally cite and that you’re most used to), I wanted to see just how “bad” UCLA’s defense has performed. By even the adjusted numbers, their defense has most certainly improved, it’s currently sitting at 99.8 points per 100 ranking 78th nationally. The last team to make a Final Four outside the top-60 in adjusted defensive efficiency was VCU (fun fact #23). But I needed some additional perspective. So looking at the raw data, the Bruins indeed rate worse, 101.3 points per 100 (113th nationally), but what of their peers in that 100 PPP range? Kansas, Duke, and Creighton all rank greater than 80th nationally with raw defensive efficiencies of 100 or higher. This is a distinction that, of course, is directly addressed by the the adjusted metrics (most notably impacted by opponent and location). But in trying to contextualize some parts of the UCLA dilemma, I thought this might be helpful. To some extent, it suggests that the Pac-12 was so abysmal it cost what many of us saw as a poor UCLA defense an adjustment into mediocrity (Kansas 28th, Duke 39th, Creighton 40th). Thus, as you sort your brackets, remember all those shots UCLA made and perhaps ignore some punditry.

Furthermore, the Bruins are just fine as a half-court offense, rating in the 72nd percentile nationally. Let’s not mistake it for elite but it’s not poor. It in fact ranks 100th nationally with Florida State just twelve spots better at 88th (0.854 PPP vs. 0.841 PPP, respectively – and note that Synergy PPP data calculates possessions differently. We can disccuss offline if you please). The issue rises in UCLA’s poor ability in transition. They rank “below average” according to Synergy, the nation’s 269th worst transition defense. Here’s Isaac Hamilton attempting to use his foot:

First Round – #14 Kent State

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Examining the Pod: USC

For USC’s sake, let’s hope Andy Enfield’s lasting tournament memory/moment isn’t the Dunk City run. That team captured our attention at lasting levels such that we’re still calling Florida Gulf Coast University, “Dunk City.”

But when we pause to consider that the Eagles’ program is still touted as Dunk City, has anyone bothered to check if they’re actually are dunking? I got us. FGCU gets 45% of its offense at the rim, 12th highest rate nationally, suggesting that they’re either dunking or tremendous layer-uppers. Conversely, Andy Enfield’s new team sits way down the list at 39th (ok not that far), while also touting a 6’10” kid who takes 64% of his shots from beyond the arc. As it were: MADNESS.

First Round (Play-in) – #11 Providence

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Examining the Pod: Oregon Ducks

The Pac-12 Player of the Year hasn’t won the Pac-12 Tournament since 2008 (Kevin Love). Was the Ducks’ loss Saturday night a foregone conclusion? If so, the tournament committee made it relatively clear that the loss of Chris Boucher – and perhaps not to the Wildcats – would determine their fate. Their fate, of course, is off to the Midwest as the #3 seed out there.

First Round – #14 Iona

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Pac-12 Superlatives: My Picks, Their Picks and Some Reality

You might’ve read my Pac-12 preseason predictions. If not some of them here then if you were traveling in the early November time frame you might’ve seen them featured in USA Today’s College Basketball Special Edition/leaflet. My friend bought me a copy en route to a wedding in Mexico and left it in the hotel shuttle. I have the best friends!

If you didn’t click the above link, here’s how I had things shaking out: Continue reading

Lauri Markkanen’s Unique Season and Skills

Lauri Markkanen was struggling.

And despite those struggles, mock drafts are still touting him as the first pick. Sports Illustrated profiled him today.

It’s a unique juxtaposition as we hit the homestretch of the season and Lauri has looked less like a lottery pick and more like a Finnish freshman. Before earning this past week’s Player of the Week honors, during the previous five games, the sharp shooter had connected on a cool 27% of his shots. In earning the aforementioned award, the Finn shot 53% afield. Continue reading

PacHoops Power Rankings: Top Ten Teams!

The Pac-12 has three top 10 teams for the first time since 1992. In that year, per Greg Hansen, none of those three went to the Final Four. It’s as if getting to the game’s greatest stage were difficult or something?

1. Oregon

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PacHoops Power Rankings: Blowout in Eugene and what was your highlight?

The highlight of my weekend was the Oreo’s I bought for my Super Bowl watch. What was yours? Was it when Tyler Dorsey didn’t miss a three? Maybe it was when Jabari Bird dunked away the Utes? Could it have been Lonzo’s outshining of Markelle (kind of)? Perhaps Colorado’s first conference road win in a year (1/23/16 was their last)? You could even be from Massachusetts or simply not from Atlanta?

For me, the Oreo’s were really good. And here’s our podcast on the weekend (not the cookies).

1. Oregon

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