NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Pac-12 Teams

Posted by Adam Butler on March 12th, 2017

We thought that the Pac-12 Tournament champion would be rewarded with the West Region’s best available seed. The release of the committee’s bracket confirmed as much and here we are. With the Pac-12 represented by only four teams this season, let’s react to their seeding.

Arizona Rode the Wave to the Pac-12 Title (USA Today Images)

  • #2 Arizona, West – The Wildcats stormed through Las Vegas over the weekend and were rewarded for the effort. What will be interesting in the upcoming days, however, is how Arizona will be evaluated. The advanced metrics like KenPom rate Sean Miller‘s squad as the nation’s 20th best team, loosely correlating to a #4 or even #5 seed. Subsequently, the Internet has instareacted by noting that Saint Mary’s (Arizona’s potential Second Round opponent) in fact has fantastic odds of making the Elite Eight. Of course, Saint Mary’s (14th) rates ahead of the Wildcats, which means that it makes sense that the Gaels are a trendy sleeper pick. But ask yourself, is the team that just beat UCLA and Oregon on successive nights not capable of making the Final Four?

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Weekly Pac-5: Offensive Rebounders

Posted by Adam Butler on February 10th, 2017

In last week’s Pac-5 we discussed the most frustrating of turnovers in an exploration of the teams that cause their coaches and fans the greatest angst. This week we’ll continue that line of inquiry, but instead of considering the victims, we’ll highlight the culprits. The unforced turnover is without a doubt the game’s most frustrating play, but an offensive rebound comes in a close second. Defending your way to a missed field goal simply to have to do it all over again is incredibly disappointing. The offensive rebound is brutal.

Ivan Rabb Has a Knack for the Putback (USA Today Images)

Unless, of course, you’re on the side of the offense! In that case, you’ve refreshed your thirty or put yourself in excellent position for a putback (read: easy bucket).

The Pac-12’s top offensive rebounders as determined by offensive rebounding percentage:

  1. Ivan Rabb, California – 13.4% – Rabb, who was recently omitted from the late-season Wooden Award list, is a fitting first place offensive rebounder. Remember last week when we noted that the Golden Bears were coughing the ball up at wild levels? Rabb’s acquisition of extra possessions is a huge reason why they can endure that frustrating practice.
  2. Thomas Welsh, UCLA – 13.4% – Consider that UCLA leads the nation in eFG% and thus isn’t missing many shots; then consider that it’s borderline unfair that the Bruins have a guy gobbling up extra shots on what few attempts they miss.
  3. Michael Humphrey, Stanford – 11.9% – One thing that I’ve long wondered was whether Jerod Haase would follow in the footsteps of his mentor, Roy Williams. In the instance of offensive rebounds, it’s worth noting that North Carolina has been a top-25 offensive rebounding team for 13 of the last 14 seasons. So while Stanford might not resemble the Tar Heels in many meaningful ways, Humphrey is at least trying to fit the mold.
  4. Kingsley Okoroh, California – 11.8% – With Rabb already listed here, its worth noting that the Bears are collectively the 55th-best offensive rebounding team in college basketball (by rebounding rate).
  5. Dusan Ristic, Arizona – 11.2% – As teams continue to play zone against Arizona, there should be many more opportunities for Wildcats like Ristic to grab misses. Note that Ristic’s teammate, Rawle Alkins, rates as the top offensive rebounding guard in the conference.
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Weekly Pac-5: Unforced Errors

Posted by Adam Butler on February 3rd, 2017

The unforced error, most commonly quantified in tennis, is universally agreed upon as annoying. No matter your task, an error sustained but perhaps not earned, is peak frustration. As it translates to basketball, the non-steal turnover would seem to be among the most frustrating of unforced errors. This is the time of ball forfeiture that looks like an errant pass, a dribble off the foot, or an extra step and a travel. I imagine you cringed just reading that list.

Cal Outlasted Utah Last Night Partially Because of a Low 10 Turnovers (USA Today Images0

In this week’s Pac-5, we look at the Pac-12’s leaders in unforced errors. To quantify this, we’ll look at the percentage of a team’s turnovers that were not caused by theft. Here are the Pac-12’s team leaders in unforced errors:

  1. California, 64% of turnovers are non-steals – This is in fact a nationally bad number, ranking as the ninth-highest such ratio in college basketball. It might be particularly frustrating when you consider there are three seniors in Cal’s backcourt. There is, of course, also a freshman, Charlie Moore, who actually leads the Golden Bears in turnover rate. Furthermore, by volume, this must be wildly frustrating as the Bears play at the slowest tempo in the conference. That’s a lot of UFEs.
  2. Arizona, 60% – This one doesn’t hurt too bad when you consider the Wildcats commit a percentage of turnovers that is about at the national average.
  3. Washington, 58% – Considering that all these coughed-up opportunities could actually be Markelle Fultz jumpers? Also, Fultz owns the nation’s 28th-highest usage rate yet turns the ball over on just 14.9 percent of possessions.
  4. Oregon, 56% – Last season, Casey Benson had an outrageous handle at the point. This year he’s yielded those minutes to a Payton Pritchard, a freshman, who’s perhaps a greater scoring threat but something more of a turnover liability (as is Dillon Brooks, at 21%).
  5. Utah, 55% – We’re inching towards the national average (54%) so maybe this one isn’t as tough a pill to swallow as, for example, Cal? Too soon to mention those two teams in the same sentence?

NOT LISTED: Oregon State. The Beavers have the sixth highest turnover rate in the nation, which by itself is frustrating. They’re turning the ball over (stolen or otherwise) on nearly a quarter of their possessions.

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Weekly Pac-5: Zone Defenses

Posted by Adam Butler on January 27th, 2017

While the “beautiful game” is generally reserved for soccer (futbol), there is indubitably some innate beauty to this game of basketball. This season, UCLA has received a lot of hype surrounding its beautiful style. Its tempo, shot-making, passing, and creativity has captivated the nation. As recently as a week ago, they were the #3 team in college basketball, boasting the second most efficient offense of the KenPom era (2002). And now the Bruins have sustained two consecutive losses, most closely attributable to their defense. In one of those defeats, their offense remained spectacular. Arizona made a strategic decision to put some of its lock-down defenders on the Bruins’ peripheral players. They would let Lonzo Ball outscore them. He tried, valiantly, but couldn’t. USC, however, turned UCLA’s beautiful offense ugly. The Trojans’ zone defense forced the worst offensive performance (by efficiency measures) of UCLA’s season. USC has now won four straight over the Bruins.

USC Made UCLA Look Ugly Earlier This Week (USA Today Images)

As far as beautiful offense goes (consider a pure jumper splashing through the net in contrast with a great defensive stance), this will always be a two-way game. In considering aesthetics as well as USC’s disruption of UCLA’s beauty on Wednesday night, let’s explore how the Pac-12’s five most zone-enthusiastic defenses fare in executing this strategy (all data is acquired from Synergy Sports and enthusiasm is measured by total number of possessions played in zone).

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Pac-12 Weekly Power Rankings: Vol. 3

Posted by Pac-12 Team on January 18th, 2017

The Pac-12 last season boasted the toughest road game in college basketball. During conference play, the league’s home teams won at a higher rate (71%) than any other conference in America. This season, Pac-12 home teams are winning at just a 59 percent rate. They say that conference titles are won on the road. How has your team fared in hostile territory?

Plenty to smile about for Dillon Brooks and Oregon lately. (Cole Elsasser/Emerald)

  1. Oregon (1) – The Ducks’ conference dominance continues. Since their dramatic, two-point victory over UCLA in the Pac-12 opener, Oregon has simply decimated their opponents. Oregon’s average margin of victory over the last four games is 26.5 points, a full 15 points higher than UCLA. Granted, the four teams the Ducks have played also have a combined 6-15 conference record, but at least they are taking care of business.
  2. UCLA (2) – How do we convince Thomas Welsh to get to the free throw line more often? That is the question that head coach Steve Alford should be asking himself. After shooting 75 percent from the charity stripe last season, the junior has yet to miss in his 24 attempts this year (leading to a subtle breakout season for the junior). Now if he could just average more than one freebie attempt every two games… Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 Weekly Power Rankings: Vol. 2

Posted by Pac-12 Team on January 11th, 2017

Ivan Rabb thwarted away last weekend’s final shot, cementing his Player of the Week title and lending us little clarity on the Pac’s mid-section. The second volume of our Pac-12 Power Rankings saw minimal movement as home favorites mostly held court, road warriors fought and Oregon State got rolled (-22.9 conference efficiency margin). Last week’s ranking in parenthesis.

The Ducks Are Coming (USA Today Images)

1. Oregon (1) – After toppling the two southern California undefeated teams last week, Oregon continued its conference domination again in beating the Washington schools by a total of 41 points. What’s most impressive is that the Ducks did this with star Dillon Brooks playing only 25 combined minutes. Oregon’s depth was on full display as Tyler Dorsey picked up the slack against Washington (a career-high 28 points, including eight threes) and Chris Boucher did the same against Washington State (a career-high 29 points, including six threes).

2. UCLA (2) – Depth has become a minor concern for UCLA as Steve Alford has stuck to a very tight rotation. UCLA ranks just 343rd nationally in bench minutes and it is clear that Alford does not yet trust big men Ike Anigbogu or Gyorgy Goloman. It has not been an issue to this point, of course, but it will be something to keep an eye on as conference play progresses.

3. Arizona (3) – The Wildcats still can’t leap over the Ducks and Bruins despite a 4-0 conference start, but two storylines are emerging in Tucson that could very well vault Arizona to the top of the rankings. First, the Wildcats continue to defend very well, surrendering fewer than 70 points in 16 of its last 17 games (Colorado) and producing a conference-leading Defensive Rating of 88.3. Secondly, the Dusan Ristic Experience is real. In Pac-12 play, Ristic carries an effective field goal rate of 64.4% and an Offensive Rating of 126.7. He has provided good post play on both ends, taking some of the pressure from Lauri Markannen while also at times stepping into the spotlight himself. Sean Miller‘s team appears to be rounding into a team with deep March prospects.

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Weekly Pac-5: Rim Protection

Posted by Adam Butler on January 6th, 2017

Basketball, as we’ve discussed in previous Pac-5s, is a simple game. Score more than your opponent by playing better offense, defense or some sort of hybrid. In looking at the most effective ways to achieve this outcome, defensively speaking, rim protection is high. Let’s keep our opponent away from the shots that are most commonly and easily made: the layup and dunk. This key facet to the game is often attributed to the effort of big men — the lurking paint protectors threatening to put shots into the bleachers. And by that logic, we might consider rim protection quantifiable by a team’s propensity to block shots. It’s not wrong. Blocking shots is a tried and true means to protecting the rim. It also looks cool. But it’s not a comprehensive measure of rim protection. There’s also a team’s — or individual’s — ability to limit dribble penetration, force long jumpers, limit transition offense and so forth. Defense is a team effort and therefore to note that Oregon has the nation’s top block rate (20%) doesn’t necessarily mean they do the best job of protecting the rim (also of note: it doesn’t hurt the Ducks’ ability to limit layups and dunks).

Even Following A Lost Weekend By The Bay, The Ducks Are In Good NCAA Position (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

Defense is the name of the game for Oregon big man Chris Boucher, right. (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

In this week’s top-5, we’ll look at the Pac’s five best rim protecting teams. We’ll qualify this list by noting the five teams with the fewest total made shots at the rim. This does not take into account pace, unfortunately, which will dilute the total number of shot attempts against a defense. What I wanted to capture, however, was a team’s holistic approach to rim protection. By looking at the total number of made layups or dunks against those teams, we account for field goal defense and the propensity to limit overall shots (again, pace is a big component of this but also cannot be ignored as a strategy). A brief, contextualizing anecdote: Oregon owns the nation’s top block rate, yet teams still shoot 66 percent at the rim against them (fifth highest in the Pac-12) and allow the second highest percentage of shots at the rim. This perhaps suggests that Dana Altman’s team is content in allowing penetration to the rim, daring opponents to challenge Jordan Bell and Chris Boucher when they get there. The defensive risks then taken by Bell and Boucher could, perhaps, lead to drop off passes or putbacks, yielding a higher field goal percentage at the rim and consequently a slightly less effective rim defense. Here are the Pac-12’s five best rim protecting teams as measured by fewest layups and dunks allowed.

Team FGM at the rim Rim dFG%
1. California 109 54.5%
2. Arizona 124 56.6%
3. Utah 138 50.6%
4. Oregon 145 49.4%
5. UCLA 146 51.3%

In effect, each team exacts a different strategy to protect its rim. Be it through the collective or with a particularly lengthy big man, it remains a critical facet of the game.

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Breaking Down Ivan Rabb vs. Virginia’s Defense

Posted by Adam Butler on December 26th, 2016

Virginia basketball doubles the post. This is less opinion than fact. Tony Bennett’s teams double the post and they double it effectively. In using Internet search devices you’ll discover a fifty-two-second video compilation of Virginia post-doubles when searching the terms, “VIRGINIA BASKETBALL DOUBLES POST.” And then another video with three minutes of post-doubles. Core to the pack-line defense is denying the paint, to ensure help is always available. In sending the immediate double-team, these tenets are fulfilled: help arrives immediately, and the post – and player – is denied.

Ivan Rabb Was Often Swarmed by Cavaliers (USA Today Images)

Ivan Rabb Was Often Swarmed by Cavaliers (USA Today Images)

The ultimate point I’m beleaguering here is that California center Ivan Rabb didn’t touch the ball for the final four minutes in last week’s 56-52 loss to Virginia. Rabb, the second-highest vote-getter in Preseason All-America voting, took only four shots on the evening and did not touch the ball for the final four minutes of a crucial non-conference home game. OK, to be fair, he did get a touch with 18 seconds remaining. It was with his back turned 24 feet away from the basket and resulted in an immediate handoff to teammate Jabari Bird (and zero threat to score). Ignoring that touch fits this final four-minute narrative but also demonstrates two key points: 1) Bennett is indeed the best defensive coach in America; 2) Cal is ineffectively using its greatest asset.

Let’s expand on the latter because to this point we’ve effused on the former. Bennett’s teams have never finished outside the top 100 in defensive efficiency and have been among the top 25 in nine of his 11 head coaching seasons. That point is clear. So, back to Rabb. If Virginia denies the post and Rabb is one of the nation’s best post players, what’s a Berkeley to do? First of all, one of the things that makes Rabb special is his pronounced versatility. He can score from all over the floor, create on his own and draw fouls. To quantify: he shoots 84 percent at the rim and 41 percent in the mid-range; only half of his shots are assisted; and he owns the 45th best free throw rate in America. Furthermore, his 12 percent assist rate suggests that, while he won’t soon rival Lonzo Ball in his passing capabilities, Rabb will find the open man (for context, that’s roughly the fifth-highest assist rate among Pac-12 bigs). So what was Cuonzo Martin‘s team trying to do at the end of a winnable game against a top 10 team? Well here’s a detailed look at Rabb’s 34 touches on the evening (including the last second, back-to-the basket, moment):

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Weekly Pac-5: Mid-Range Shooters

Posted by Adam Butler on December 16th, 2016

The game is evolving away from the basket and toward the three-point line. That’s what Daryl Morey and James Harden would have you believe. The Golden State Warriors would have you think the same. We don’t need advanced metrics to understand that 3>2. Especially if you can make it, the three-pointer is the most valuable in the sport. This distance trend isn’t reserved for just the pros. The collegiate three-ball is being shot at a higher clip than ever before. A 36 percent share of all shots are from distance. Like we explored last week, teams make an effort to help their best shooters make that shot. But what if that’s not your strongest suit?

Regardless of how they did it, Thomas Welch and UCLA are one step away from the Sweet 16. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Considering his skill set, it’s not a huge surprise Thomas Welsh tops this list. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

What if you’re better off the bounce or closer to the basket? What if, philosophically, your team isn’t a three-point shooting team? This week we want to consider the Pac-12’s best mid-range players. It isn’t a lost art! It’s just a less appreciated and certainly a less sexy shot. It’s neither three points nor a dunk. Like middle management, the mid-range jumper isn’t glamorous, but it is effective. So who’s the most effective at it in the Pac this season? Here are the Pac-12’s five leading mid-range shooters (quantified by total number of makes):

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Weekly Pac-5: Spot Up Shooters

Posted by Adam Butler on December 9th, 2016

An open three-pointer is a simpler three-pointer. There are a few ways someone can get open for basketball’s highest value shot: dribbling by yourself; letting someone else attract the defense; or running off of screens set by teammates. These options (and I’ve indubitably missed some) are listed in order of increasing participation. Which is to say, scenario one takes just one player; scenario two requires a pair; and scenario three needs — at a minimum — three. As we learned in kindergarten, sharing is caring and there is no “I” in team. Greater involvement often lends itself to greater success. These elementary insights may not be the core reason you visit RTC’s Pac-12 microsite, but if the objective of the sport is to optimize shot-making or shot-stopping, then perhaps it’s a worthwhile exploration. Because we’d like to know who is best suited to make this team-built open shot? In this week’s segment of the Weekly Pac-5, we’ll discover and list the best spot-up shooters in the Pac-12.

Isaac Hamilton is the best long-range shooter in the Pac-12. (photo by Don Liebig)

Isaac Hamilton is the best long-range shooter in the Pac-12. (photo by Don Liebig)

These are the players, loosely defined, whose teams are going to make an effort to get them open. Through planning and screening, it’s a worthwhile endeavor to get these dudes open from distance. We’ll quantify it by the number of assisted threes made, as this suggests an open, quality shot in which one player has recognized the other’s advantageous, shot-making position. If assisted, the assumption is that our shooter has set his feet and evaded the defense with some assistance of his teammates. He is not running amok, wildly crossing over, stepping back or doing all of the moves you loathe as a fan (and cherish as a fan of Steph Curry). Consider that Klay Thompson scored 60 points on 20 assisted baskets (he made 21 field goals in total) earlier this week. For your further consideration and long-term focus, Pac-12 point guards have been outstanding thus far. Lonzo Ball’s success is well-documented, as is Markelle Fultz’s, but there are five other players averaging more than four assists per game. Nice distribution! Read the rest of this entry »

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