On Luguentz Dort as Arizona State’s High Usage Defensive Catalyst…

Posted by Adam Butler on December 7th, 2018

In learning about or defining Arizona State freshman Luguentz Dort, it is easy to come up with some comps. It’s a swift means to recognizing what kind of a talent we’re witnessing and – as it pertains to the brevity of a college career and the especially brief career of a possible one-and-done career – it’s a convenient means to evaluation. But for today’s purposes, let’s appreciate the individuality of Dort. It’s the least we can do for a young man of such unique skill and name.

Luguentz Dort Has Been Exceptional This Season (USA Today Images)

Dort is Arizona State’s starting shooting guard with the build of a safety. He’s listed at 6’4”, 215 pounds, and seemingly plays well above those measures. Consider that Dort has the ninth-highest usage rate among freshmen (68th nationally) and only trails Duke star RJ Barrett in freshman usage in the power conferences. For better or worse, Dort is exerting himself on the college game and it doesn’t appear as if head coach Bobby Hurley is soon to slow his powerful pup. Which, on the surface, might be something to consider. Dort is consuming all of these possessions (of note: the Sun Devils are still undefeated) with an offensive efficiency in the range of average (103.0). Why, Coach Hurley, would you want an inefficient player taking that many shots? His turnover rate is approaching 20 percent and his effective field goal percentage is just 49 percent.

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Pac-12 Five: Pre-Feast Week Observations

Posted by Adam Butler on November 16th, 2018

As we head into Feast Week, and the with the Pac-12 continuing to take its lumps, a few items to ensure you’re keeping an eye on.

Brandon Randolph Has Been a Pleasant Surprise For Arizona (USA Today Images)

  1. Arizona has impressed – I recognize that the Wildcats have only played teams in the KenPom >250 but their defense is currently the ninth-best (by raw efficiency) in the nation, a far cry from last season’s 102.8. The Wildcats have the steepest test ahead with a loaded Maui field awaiting next week.
  2. Oregon being Oregon – The Ducks seemingly have an annual tendency to struggle early and improve late, and last night they stuck to that script. See Exhibit 2017 when they swiftly dropped games to Baylor and Georgetown before going on a casual 31-4 run and wound up in the Final Four. Is this team THAT good? Probably not. But come time for Pac-12 play, expect Oregon to be the dominant squad.
  3. USC’s Kevin Porter will be a difference-maker – Yes, Nick Rackocevic has been a handful at 17 PPG, 15 RPG and 3 BPG. But considering the significance and impact of guards, not to mention the confusion a lefty creates, Porter has already demonstrated he’s going to be an absolute threat. The Trojans head to the NABC Hall of Fame Classic this weekend, so it would be a treat to see this group at full strength (reminder: Bennie Boatright is back).
  4. Could Washington find its defense in Canada? The Huskies head to Vancouver for an inaugural tournament just north across the border. But the Dawgs to date have done little to impress, getting blown out in a true road game at Auburn (I suppose excusable) but then just squeaking by a game San Diego squad visiting Seattle.
  5. Tempo – It’s notably up in the NBA and has been steadily increasing in college basketball over the past few seasons as well. Right now, however, the median tempo in college basketball is 71.5 possessions per game. Last year, that number would’ve ranked among the top 50. Keep in mind that pace usually slows down as we get into the meat of the season, but it’s an intriguing storyline to keep an eye on as a burgeoning trend.
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Five Pac-12 Observations From Opening Night

Posted by Adam Butler on November 7th, 2018

The Pac-12 opened the 2018-19 college basketball season with seven games last evening, winning all seven of those contests. Let’s take a few moments to run down some thoughts and observations from a relatively full slate.

Lugentz Dort Came Up Big in His Collegiate Debut Last Night (USA Today Images)

  1. The Pac swept opening night and that was nice! Arizona State tried its best to spoil it, however, with a double-overtime win at home against Cal State Fullerton. The focus of that game, however, may not be the result but rather Lugentz Dort’s performance. The prized recruit of Bobby Hurley’s class scored 28 points in the extended game. It wasn’t an efficient 28 but it was a collegiate debut 28 nonetheless. Something to keep an eye on: Dort is a big, physical guard who shot 13 free throws against the Titans. He only made seven of those attempts, though!
  2. Kris Wilkes had 18 at the half as UCLA rolled against Fort Wayne. He’d finish with 27 points and 10 rebounds along with three assists. Further, Jaylen Hands notched seven assists while Moses Brown logged SEVENTEEN rebounds (seven offensive). Context: Brown re-acquired 20 percent of UCLA’s missed shots last night!
  3. A season long storyline will be the performance of the Oregon State sons, Tres Tinkle, Stephen and Ethan Thompson. The triumvirate combined to score 75 percent of the Beavers’ points last night against UC Riverside.
  4. We shouldn’t belabor this one but Stanford drubbed Seattle, 96-74, while its starting power forward, KZ Okpala, scored 29 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Meanwhile, across the country, Stanford’s old starting power forward, Reid Travis, also had a nice night (22 points, seven rebounds) while being destructed by Duke.
  5. Another debut to note was Oregon’s Bol Bol. He’ll become a fascinating case of what the modern college big man can become – particularly against steeper competition – but on opening night, Bol was only modestly effective, taking no three-pointers and connecting on just 4-of-12 shooting. These kinds of games – big school with true bigs against smaller schools with generally smaller or unskilled bigs – can be challenging. The spacing is never normal and it’s not a huge surprise that Bol struggled. He did manage 12 rebounds, of course. Also of note: Kenny Wooten had three blocks.
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The 2018-19 Pac-12 Elite: What’s Setting the Top Teams Apart

Posted by Adam Butler on November 1st, 2018

With Gonzaga in the top five nationally and some of the traditional western powers not-or-barely ranked, it’s unclear where the conference’s top team lies. Pac-12 media came to the conclusion last month that it will be Oregon, UCLA Washington and Arizona. As we approach season tip-off early next week, let’s explore each of those squads and what differentiates them as the conference elite.

Oregon

Dana Altman Welcomes an Elite Group of New Ducks to Eugene (USA Today Images)

  • Why they’re here: Introducing the best freshman class of Dana Altman’s Oregon tenure to a sound cast of returnees.
  • Summary: Altman has worked magic in Eugene with minimal continuity cemented by transfers, but this year is a little different. He has as much talent as he’s ever had but much of it is youthful, and last season was a little underwhelming with similar (albeit less heralded) youth. Of course many eyes will focus on Bol Bol – the fascinating 7’3” freshman talent — but don’t forget about Kenny Wooten, poised to be something like the next Jordan Bell. Wooten had the nation’s third-highest block rate (15.3%) a season ago and should be poised to progress. Meanwhile, senior Paul White is the kind of dynamic forward Altman has typically built around — 6’9” with a 14 percent defensive rebounding rate and a 35 percent three-point shooter. Further, Payton Pritchard (41% 3FG) might as well be a senior point guard (full disclosure: He is only a junior), and while the Ducks may appear to be light on guards – clearly critical to success at the college level – their on-paper talent suggests this may be a nationally underrated squad.
  • Conclusion: Considering the Ducks’ mix of talented players and a proven (excellent) coach, Oregon should be the best team in the Pac-12.

UCLA

  • Why they’re here: Projected lottery picks returning and incoming.
  • Summary: It’s a familiar tale in Westwood: The Bruins are as talented as any team in the league if not the nation. Kris Wilkes may be the front-runner for Pac-12 Player of the Year while Jaylen Hands – a terrifically skilled big guard – inherits the reins from the last of the Holiday family. The other familiarity, of course, has been some of the underwhelming results of the Steve Alford era. In a Pac-12 with a low ceiling and what I’d consider a relatively high floor, the Bruins have the talent to win this thing outright and the pedigree to finish fourth.
  • Conclusion: Despite the summary’s closing sentence, look for consistency from these Bruins as roles and responsibilities appear clearer than they perhaps have in the past. What does consistency yield? Well, for these Bruins it very well could be a conference title.

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Three Pac-12 Returnees Who Should Expand Their Games This Season

Posted by Adam Butler on October 26th, 2018

Former UCLA guard Jordan Adams had a fantastic freshman season. You may recall that as a pup in 2012-13 he recorded a 115.0 offensive rating, efficiently posting 15 points per game. A year later, he expanded on that scoring skill set, improving his efficiency five points (120.0 ORtg) and scoring output (17.0 PPG). He also moved his game closer to the rim, taking nearly twice as many shots there as he did during his freshman campaign. Following this change in his offensive philosophy, Adams became an NBA first round draft pick. I’ve long found this fascinating as the whole of basketball seems to be moving to the edges. Particularly as we consider the college game and its general propensity to force longer-range shots (zone defenses; lesser skilled talent; individually impactful bigs). Furthermore, Adams is an intriguing starting point as college players often make their most significant leaps from their freshman to sophomore years.

Jaylen Nowell is Poised to Break Out(USA Today Images)

So who in this year’s Pac might resemble a modern-day Jordan Adams? The answer may reside with players that took the lion’s share of their attempts (not specifically as a freshman) in the mid-range. Here are the Pac’s top-10 returning mid-range shooters (by % of their total shots coming neither at the rim or beyond the arc):

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Pac-12 Media Day: Team Capsules Filled With Evidence

Posted by Adam Butler on October 12th, 2018

A great focus of Thursday’s Pac-12 Basketball Media Day was “evidence.” It came up as both a recommendation from the Pac-12 as well as an implemented rule that the NCAA can use third-party investigations (evidence? information?) to enact punishment. Further, in defending the conference and an allusion to wide-spread corruption (half of the conference’s teams have been mentioned in a federal court in Lower Manhattan this week), commissioner Larry Scott referred to last November’s NCAA charter that all schools conduct internal investigations regarding their compliance. In doing such, the Pac-12’s member institutions found no EVIDENCE of wrongdoing.

All Hands on Deck Yesterday in SF (credit: UCLA Athletics)

Alas, this was a basketball Media Day with the presumed burden of evidence on coaches and players. The EVIDENCE (and media voting suggests) that Oregon will win the conference. But in evaluating what we have for basketball evidence, we find ourselves with very little to know. Players in attendance at Media Day (two per school) averaged just 19 starts last year. Five players started zero games (or weren’t Pac-12 players at all last year). Of course, this trend among the 24 players in attendance is a microcosm of the sport: roster fluidity, consistently new names, etc. It makes evidence difficult. Despite that, however, I’d like to present the most optimistic team-by-team 2018-19 BASKETBALL evidence:

  • Arizona – Sean Miller went out of his way, unprompted, to mention his star freshman, Brandon Williams. When he committed to the Wildcats for the second time, Miller had secured the top point guard recruit of his Arizona tenure. Further, Miller has managed to bring in some intriguing graduates (Justin Coleman, Ryan Luther) to help stabilize an unproven roster — and, in fact, naming Coleman a team captain.
  • Arizona State – Remy Martin showed flashes of scoring brilliance and an ability to slash and shoot, suggesting little drop off from the Tra Holder era. Beyond that, the Devils introduce Zylan Cheatham (SDSU transfer), Luguentz Dort (5-star recruit) and Taeshon Cherry (4-star recruit) to an already intriguing set of athletic forwards (Mickey Mitchell, Romello White) with the hope of improving on a porous defense. Bob Hurley spoke – almost to a man – about defensive prowess and ability.

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Pac-12 Conversation: Did the Pac-12 Get Hosed?

Posted by Adam Butler & RJ Abeytia on March 14th, 2018

With the Pac-12 already off to an inauspicious start given UCLA‘s First Four loss to St. Bonaventure, Pac-12 microsite writers Adam Butler (@pachoopsAB) and RJ Abeytia (@rj_abeytia) break down the burning questions facing ArizonaArizona State and the rest of the conference.

It’s Been That Kind of Year in the Pac-12 (USA Today Images)

Adam Butler: OK – let me start with the obvious – as Pac-12 bloggers, did the Pac get hosed by the NCAA?

R.J.:  I say we start with USC. Screwed or not screwed?

Adam Butler: Screwed! Whenever you’re “the somethingest to not something,” you’ve been screwed.

R.J.: USC was but most people are framing the argument incorrectly. It’s the whole body of work and the committee once again proved that there is no line of demarcation in their view between conference and non-conference play and, if anything, non-conference > conference. Andy Enfield has historically scheduled gutlessly in the non-conference realm but a #34 RPI is still a #34 RPI.

Adam Butler: Well… and this is where it gets weird with the 36 at-larges. Are they the 36 best teams remaining or the 36 most deserving?

R.J.: It has to be the 36 most deserving. I hate when an undeserving team gets in and then people retroactively declare them worthy of inclusion.

Adam Butler: Further – are you buying the FBI conspiracies? That the toothless NCAA is taking passive-aggressive jabs at schools explicitly under investigation?

R.J.:  This is not the first time USC has been made an example, only to have other schools get lesser penalties for greater infractions.

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Arizona State’s Stars and the Infrequence of its Bench

Posted by Adam Butler on March 7th, 2018

Earlier this season, as many were asking if Arizona State was the best team in the country, it was hard to disagree. The Sun Devils were 12-0 and had logged wins over Xavier and Kansas, now-and-then teams projected to be fantastic. On the eve of Pac-12 play, they were ranked among the nation’s top five in the national polls and rated 20th by KenPom. Bobby Hurley was America’s coaching darling and Tra Holder was outpacing Deandre Ayton for the Pac-12 Player of the Year (although I did call Holder a dark horse favorite for the award). But now, at season’s end, the Devils are 8-10 in a mediocre-at-best Pac-12 and no longer our national sweethearts (to the extent a Devil ever could be). It wasn’t the level of competition (exclusively) that caused this collapse. A win at Kansas is rarely a mistake. Even Washington went 10-8 in the same conference! What happened to Arizona State?

Arizona State Was Flying High Earlier This Season (USA Today Images)

I chose to call it a “Curtain of Exhaustion.” Back when the Sun Devils were streaking, we noted that Hurley was very rarely leveraging his bench. Now, to be clear, leveraging a bench is a complex topic. In the college game specifically, a bench isn’t always a required or an available asset. Arizona State started the season without Mickey Mitchell or Kimani Lawrence, both of whom wound up playing significant-if-not-impactful roles throughout the conference season. Regardless of their availability, the Sun Devils still finished the season with just one-quarter of their available minutes (305th nationally) going to the bench. Again, this isn’t always a death sentence for teams, but in closely examining Arizona State’s tumble, it seems clear. Holder and Shannon Evans — who have played 87 percent and 86 percent, respectively, of their team’s available minutes — are exhausted. Their totals represent the fourth and fifth most minutes in the Pac-12 this season. To further visualize this thesis, here are their rolling field goal percentages this season:

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On Arizona’s Uncertain (Immediate?) Future…

Posted by Adam Butler on February 23rd, 2018

Allonzo Trier’s suspension yesterday came with great emotion, at least from the perspective of an Arizona fan. Immediately, it’s upsetting. Trier is in his third season in Tucson but it’s been closer to one-and-a-half. It was a broken hand during his freshman year that led to missing seven critical mid-conference games. The Wildcats went 5-2 in his absence during that stretch. They’d finish 6-4 upon his return. His sophomore campaign started in January because of a 19-game suspension. The Wildcats went 17-2 without him and 15-3 after his return. So while his absence hasn’t always led to Arizona’s demise, his absence isn’t welcomed either. The presumed irresponsibility of accepting unknown substances isn’t quickly forgiven.

Will Allonzo Trier Ever Play at Arizona Again (USA Today Images)

And now Arizona finds itself without Trier again as the same reason for last season’s suspension has re-emerged. According to the school, trace amounts of his last failed test were found after a late January drug test. As we said, it’s immediately upsetting. But consider the case of Kolton Houston. The Georgia football player tested positive, was approved by the NCAA to return, but only upon clearing the drug completely from his system. Turns out that clearing certain drugs is hard to do and Houston spent all his eligibility and a lot of money trying to play again. Houston is a case by which we might sympathize with Trier. Further, the NCAA just isn’t a group we generally laud for its jurisprudence. Typically, the opposite.

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Observations on Pac-12 Rim Defense

Posted by Adam Butler on February 7th, 2018

As much of the basketball community discusses the value of a DeAndre Jordan with the NBA’s trade deadline approaching on Thursday afternoon, I thought it would be interesting to examine a few measures of Pac-12 rim defense. To be clear, the Jordan reference is an allusion to the value of rim-protection and not necessarily which teams in the Pac have a traditional center. That can be left to more subjective measures, especially as you consider that Arizona hasn’t exactly looked unstoppable despite Dusan Ristic catching fire.

Dusan Ristic Has Caught Fire But Isn’t Known as a Rim-Protector (USA Today Images)

Rim protection can be quantified in many ways. For example, another Deandre (Ayton) has drawn criticism (or at least prose) regarding his block rate. As a measure of individual rim-protection, this is probably the most telling metric among readily available stats. In noting such, Kenny Wooten (the Oregon freshman) has the third best rate in the nation, blocking a remarkable 16 percent of the shots taken while he’s on the floor. That is insane. Ayton, by comparison, owns a six percent block rate, good for eighth in the conference. It’s an improvement since The Ringer compared him to other elite college bigs, but still lacking. If nothing else, it’s not remotely close to Wooten.

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