Friday Figures: Big 12’s Strength, Andrew Jones’ Injury & Nick Weiler-Babb’s Excellence

Posted by Chris Stone on December 15th, 2017

Friday Figures is a weekly feature where we look at some of the most intriguing statistics from the Big 12. This week, we’ll focus on the league as a whole, what losing Andrew Jones means for Texas and the breakout season of Iowa State‘s Nick Weiler-Babb.

The Big 12 is as good as ever. Despite plenty of turnover last offseason, the league once again looks like by far the best — read: deepest — conference in college basketball. According to KenPom, a team expected to finish .500 in the Big 12 would have an adjusted efficiency margin of +18.14, a full two points higher than the next best league. That mark would also be the third-highest margin for a conference in the KenPom era behind the 2003-04 ACC and last season’s Big 12. There are certainly valid criticisms of this year’s Big 12 centered around the Final Four potential at the top of the league, but there are also feasible arguments that every team in the league could be on the NCAA Tournament bubble this March if things fall their way. It appears that the fears of the Big 12’s demise were greatly exaggerated.

Andrew Jones is expected to miss significant time for Texas. (Image source: Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

What life without Andrew Jones means for Texas. The Longhorns’ sophomore guard is out indefinitely after suffering a broken wrist against VCU, which is concerning given how poorly the team performed offensively without him in a loss to Michigan earlier this week. Jones was the lone player shooting well for Texas this season, connecting on 43.2 percent of his three-point attempts. Only one other player on the roster is shooting better than 30.0 percent from deep and the team made just 5-of-20 threes against the Wolverines. While poor shooting is a concern, the Texas offense over the last two seasons actually hasn’t been any worse without Jones on the floor on a points per possession (PPP) basis:

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Friday Figures: Kansas’ Zone O, Baylor’s Rebounding Woes & Texas Tech’s Defense

Posted by Chris Stone on December 8th, 2017

After a couple of weeks off, Friday Figures is back to dive into some of the most interesting statistical notes from around the Big 12 with a look at issues surrounding Kansas, Baylor and Texas Tech.

A smart game plan can make a big difference. It’s rare to see a team play against the same iteration of a zone defense in back-to-back non-conference games like Kansas did last week, but since Washington hired former Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins in March, the Jayhawks faced Jim Boeheim’s notorious 2-3 zone twice in five days with wildly different results. Kansas rather easily handled the Orange behind 35 points from Devonte’ Graham on Saturday before stumbling against a much worse Huskies squad in Kansas City on Wednesday night. So, what changed?

The Kansas offense couldn’t find success against Washington’s zone. (Image credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s all about shot selection. Hopkins brought the wings of his 2-3 zone all the way out to the perimeter to deny the Jayhawks’ three-point attempts in the half-court, effectively creating a 4-1 zone. He wanted to deny a potent Kansas offense its most efficient shot, and it worked like a charm. According to Hoop-Math, just 17.4 percent of the Jayhawks’ half-court attempts were threes against the Huskies compared with a wild 57.1 percent against Syracuse. Add in Kansas shooting just 3-of-12 on quickly taken threes and there is the anatomy for an upset.

Given that opposing defenses have more control over three-point attempts than actual three-point percentage, it’ll be interesting to observe if other teams try something similar against Kansas this season.

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Friday Figures: Big 12 Trends Worth Watching

Posted by Chris Stone on November 17th, 2017

Welcome to Friday Figures, a new weekly column where we’ll look at some interesting statistics from around the Big 12. There will be charts, graphs and plenty of references to KenPom. Obviously it’s still early, so this week we’re going to dive into a trio of numbers worth tracking as the season progresses.

West Virginia’s true shooting attempts differential always looms large. Under the “Press Virginia” system, the Mountaineers’ offense has never been the most efficient from a shot-making perspective. Dating back to the 2014-15 season, West Virginia has ranked 292nd, 177th and 139th nationally in effective field goal percentage (per KenPom). So far this season, they rank 185th. But what West Virginia lacks in accuracy, it makes up for in sheer volume by creating extra shots with offensive rebounds and opponents’ turnovers. Last season, the gap between the Mountaineers’ true shooting attempts (TSAs), a formula which accounts for free throws as well as field goal attempts, and their opponents’ attempts, was the largest in the country at 11.3 per game.

Data source: Sports-Reference

Tracking that differential in TSAs on a game-by-game basis has been a pretty good way to figure out West Virginia’s chances of winning. The chart above plots every game the team has played since 2014-15 with losses marked in red. Notice how the presence of that color increases significantly when the differential falls below 10.0? In two games so far this season, the Mountaineers have experienced wildly different results. Against Texas A&M, they only took 1.2 more TSAs than the Aggies, but in a blowout win against American, that gap was 25.4. One was a 23-point loss while the other a 34-point win. If you’re tracking West Virginia’s box scores this season, simply observe the gap in field goal attempts and free throws versus the opponent and you will likely be able to figure out how the game is going.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Baylor 82, #11 USC 78

Posted by Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) on March 19th, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) is in Tulsa this weekend.

Johnathan Motley, who was stellar defensively, put up big numbers in Baylor’s win over USC. (J Pat Carter/Getty Images)

Three Key Takeaways

  1. Baylor dominated the interior. The Bears did what they always do and took care of business in the paint on the offensive end. Junior Johnathan Motley finished with 19 points and junior Terry Maston added 19 of his own. As a team, Baylor finished with 40 points — nearly half of their total — in the paint. The Bears also managed to grab 14 offensive rebounds to help extend possessions and create extra scoring opportunities. USC’s zone defense helped open up opportunities for their opponent to crash the offensive glass. This is the second big performance for Maston — he also put up 19 points in Baylor’s opening round game against New Mexico State.
  2. USC made up for it with threes. The Trojans didn’t go away quietly, though, finding opportunities to exploit Baylor’s defense — whether zone or man — from behind the three-point arc. As a team, USC finished 9-of-22 (40.9%) from deep and it was Bennie Boatwright and Elijah Stewart who led the way. Boatwright hit 4-of-9 triples while Stewart made three of his six attempts. The three-point shot can be a great equalizer in basketball as it opens up the game offensively and puts an extra point on the board. Against Baylor, Chimezie Metu was the beneficiary of the extra spacing. He finished with 28 points.
  3. Manu Lecomte was the hero. With Motley on the bench with four fouls, Baylor coach Scott Drew made a surprising decision to play a smaller lineup. The Bears have spent most of their time on the court this season with two traditional bigs, so this was a big departure for their norm. Drew was rewarded by point guard Manu Lecomte. The junior had struggled for most of the game, but found an extra gear during its most crucial stretch. He scored eight of his 12 points during a 46 second stretch to help build Baylor’s lead.

Star of the Game. While Motley’s stat line was a bit better, this award has to go to Terry Maston for his second straight important performance off the bench. In addition to his 19 points, the junior grabbed nine boards and collected a pair of steals. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 90, #9 Michigan State 70

Posted by Chris Stone on March 19th, 2017

Rush the Court will be covering the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks. 

Miles Bridges and Josh Jackson battled it out on Sunday. (Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press).

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Nick Ward’s foul trouble played an important role. Michigan State found success against Kansas by dumping the ball inside to the freshman big man. Over the second half of the season, Ward had evolved into a go-to post threat for the Spartans and it was no different today as he finished with 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting. The problem is that Ward was on the floor for just 20 minutes as he spent much of the game saddled with fouls. In those 20 minutes, Michigan State outscored the Jayhawks by five points. In the 20 minutes with Ward’s replacement, Ryan Goins, on the court, the Spartans were outscored by 25 points. That’s the difference.
  2. Kansas hit its free throws. The Jayhawks have struggled from the foul line all season long, shooting just 67.1 percent (284th nationally) from the charity stripe — still, there always seemed to be some unshaken faith that the team would make them when they needed to. Well, Kansas today finished 14-of-15 from the free throw line with senior guard Frank Mason going a perfect 8-of-8. Even freshman Josh Jackson, a 55.9 percent free throw shooter, made all three of his attempts, including converting a crucial one-and-one late in the contest.
  3. The threes eventually fell for the Jayhawks. Michigan State kept this game close in large part because the Spartans held Kansas in check from behind the arc. They did well fighting over screens and getting out to challenge shooters on the perimeter, but eventually, the shots started falling and Kansas pulled away. The Jayhawks finished 8-of-20 from behind the arc as they nailed several threes down the stretch. Guard Devonte’ Graham led the way, scoring 12 of his 18 points from deep. The Jayhawks are at their best when they’re knocking down outside shots. It just took them a bit more time to get that part of their game going against Michigan State.

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Michigan State 78, #8 Miami (FL) 58

Posted by Chris Stone on March 17th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament for the next three weeks.

Miles Bridges led Michigan State into the Round of 32. (AP)

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. This was a different Michigan State team. The Spartans came into their meeting with Miami tonight as a slight underdog and 42nd-best team in KenPom. They had lost three of their last four games and for the most part had put together a disappointing season. During the Big Ten Tournament, however, head coach Tom Izzo made it clear that some of those struggles related to growing pains with his freshmen. Well, something flipped on Friday as Michigan State dominated the Hurricanes for much of the contest. The Spartans scored 1.24 points per possession, stifled Miami’s best offensive pieces, and set up an exciting matchup with Kansas in Sunday’s Round of 32. Izzo also moved to a 14-10 record as the lower seed in the NCAA Tournament.
  2. The Spartans did well to weather the early storm. Michigan State didn’t dominate the entire contest. In fact, for a while, it looked like the Spartans were going to get run off the floor by Miami. The Hurricanes opened the game by bounding out to a 10-0 lead before Michigan State closed the first half on a 38-17 run where it scored 1.23 points per possession. Miami was dogged by turnovers and gave up six offensive rebounds during the half. For the Spartans to weather such a storm while largely relying on the composure of freshmen was extremely impressive.
  3. Nick Ward powered Michigan State. Freshman forward Nick Ward has become a stabilizing presence on Izzo’s interior. When the Spartans need to find a bucket in a one-on-one situation, it’s easy for them to dump it down low to the 6’8″ forward and let him go to work. Ward put it all together against Miami tonight, scoring 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the field and grabbing three offensive rebounds. Ward’s performance was symptomatic of a larger issue for the Hurricanes as Michigan State managed to shoot 72.7 percent on its two-pointers in the contest.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 100, #16 UC Davis 62

Posted by Chris Stone on March 17th, 2017

Rush the Court will be covering the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks. 

Kansas advanced easily in Josh Jackson’s return to the court. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. UC Davis was just totally overmatched. Not every matchup between a #1 seed and a #16 seed is a complete snoozer, but this game most definitely was. Kansas was significantly better than the Aggies tonight and it showed just about everywhere on the floor, as UC Davis looked like the team that entered the NCAA Tournament with the worst KenPom ranking of any club in the field of 68. After an early flurry of offensive fouls called on the Jayhawks, the better team settled in, moved the ball around, and picked apart the Aggies’ defense.
  2. Josh Jackson is back. The freshman has been mired in off-court controversy over the last month — and was suspended for the Jayhawks’ opening round loss in the Big 12 Tournament — but the freshman came back in a big way tonight. Jackson put together an all-around game, delivering 17 points and seven rebounds and showing the versatility that Kansas needs if it hopes to make a deep run. Few teams in the field have an equal who can match Jackson’s combination of competitiveness and athleticism.
  3. The game took a cruel turn after Jim Les’ technical foul. UC Davis was actually keeping it close for a while in the first half before things took an ugly turn when the Aggies’ head coach picked up a technical foul while arguing with an official. Ahead by only two at the time, the Jayhawks then went on a 27-7 run run to close out the half that featured plenty of alley-oops and threes. The run may have happened even without Les picking up the violation, but the four-point possession that resulted from the ensuing free throws and another pair from Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk certainly didn’t help matters.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 USC 66, #6 SMU 65

Posted by Chris Stone on March 17th, 2017

Rush the Court will be providing on-site coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish.

USC pulled off the upset on Friday afternoon. (J Pat Carter / Getty Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. USC has the talent to make the second weekend. The Trojans have been wildly inconsistent this season, often oscillating between lengthy winning streaks and tough losing stretches, but they have proven that they can compete with the top teams in the country when at their best. Sure, everyone was looking forward to a potential SMU-Baylor matchup in Sunday’s Round of 32, but USC — because of its size and versatility on the interior — should also be competitive against the Bears. The teams are oddly somewhat similar with De’Anthony Melton playing the Ish Wainwright role of versatile wing. While he scored just two points today, he also dished out three assists, grabbed a pair of boards and snagged a steal. Melton, Jordan McLaughlin and Chimezie Metu are all potential NBA players and it’s all too common for these types of teams to coalesce and make a run in March.
  2. USC’s zone changed the game. After going into halftime with an eight-point deficit, the Trojans switched it up and played a 2-3 zone against the Mustangs for much of the second half. The new defense worked magnificently as SMU looked like it hadn’t seen a zone all season. The Mustangs struggled to get dribble penetration against it with the long arms of the USC defense all over the place. SMU also failed to get the ball into the middle of the zone by passing it to the free throw line. USC outscored the Mustangs 36-27 in the final 20 minutes to come away with a one-point win.
  3. We got a One Shining Moment play. It’s always fun to try to pick out the plays that might show up in One Shining Moment at the end of the NCAA Tournament. SMU’s Semi Ojeleye delivered a no-doubt inclusion against the Trojans as he skied above everyone else for a one-handed putback slam early in the second half. Ojeleye is a special player who at 6’7″ gives head coach Tim Jankovich versatility because of his athleticism, strength and outside shooting. The junior may ultimately be bound for the NBA at the end of this season, but in the meantime, we can watch his ridiculous slam on repeat.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Baylor 91, #14 New Mexico State 73

Posted by Chris Stone on March 17th, 2017

Rush the Court will be providing on-site coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish.

Baylor avoided a first round upset for the first time in three years. (AP Photo/Jerry Larson)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Al Freeman came up big for Baylor. The Bears’ guard lost his starting spot in the middle of conference play, but since returning he’s delivered some important performances off the bench. Freeman put together 21 points in the win on Friday afternoon while shooting 6-of-10 from the field, including 3-of-3 from behind the three-point arc. Freeman’s ability to stretch the floor — he came into the game hitting 37.3 percent of his threes — is vital to the Bears’ offense because they play with two traditional big men who don’t space the floor. Baylor needs the threat of Freeman’s outside shooting to create driving lines for point guard Manu Lecomte, and sometimes that three-point threat actualizes itself like it did today against New Mexico State.
  2. Baylor’s man-to-man defense stifled the Aggies. New Mexico State actually led by two points at the half on the back of 6-of-13 shooting from behind the three-point arc, but a defensive change from the Bears put a quick end to the Aggies’ hopes. Head coach Scott Drew had his team play strict man-to-man defense in the second half, which allowed his team’s length and athleticism to overwhelmed New Mexico State. This is one of the most frustrating things about Drew as a head coach. He’s consistently had the talent, athleticism and size to play man-to-man, but he often defaults to a 1-3-1 zone. That zone got shredded for the first 20 minutes, though, and the man-to-man defense brought the Bears back. Credit Drew for being willing to make the switch.
  3. The first half must have terrified Baylor fans. Since making the Sweet Sixteen in 2014, the Bears have failed to advance past the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. In each of the following two seasons, they lost to double-digit seeds in the Round of 64, first to an R.J. Hunter buzzer beater by Georgia State in 2015, followed by Makai Mason and Yale last year. With Baylor trailing at halftime and its opponent hot from deep, there was a definite sense of deja vu around Tulsa. Luckily, with strong performances from the bench and a switch up on the defensive end, the Bears were able to avoid a repeat of recent history.

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Rushed Reactions: Michigan 71, Wisconsin 56

Posted by Chris Stone on March 12th, 2017

RTC’s Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) is providing on-site coverage of the Big Ten Tournament in Washington, DC.

Derrick Walton Jr. led Michigan to a Big Ten title. (AP)

Three Key Takeaways. 

  1. Michigan didn’t look like the tired team. If you asked a neutral observer with no knowledge of prior events which of these two teams had played four games in four days, the answer probably would have been Wisconsin. In the first 10 minutes of the second half, however — a time when you might expect Michigan’s weariness to show — the Wolverines went on a 13-4 run while the Badgers sputtered. During that stretch, Wisconsin shot 1-of-10 from the field and committed five turnovers. It helped Michigan open up the lead that carried them to victory.
  2. Zak Irvin showed up huge. The Michigan senior was hyped during the team’s warmups and he delivered a magnificent performance to back up his talk. Irvin finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and five assists, including a backbreaking three-pointer with 5:46 remaining. Irvin’s three followed a five-point Wisconsin run that forced a John Beilein timeout and briefly quieted the largely pro-Michigan crowd. The scary thing about the Wolverines is that they have so many pieces who can heat up in a hurry. Irvin came up big for them today.
  3. This was not Ethan Happ’s best day. Early on in conference play, Happ looked like a serious contender for Big Ten Player of the Year, but Happ’s candidacy went with it as the Badgers suffered a late season slide. The Wisconsin sophomore is a great talent who does a bit of everything, but Sunday simply wasn’t his day. Happ ended up with a double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds), but really struggled to score efficiently around the rim. He finished 6-of-16 from the field and most of his misses came in the paint.

Star of the Game: Derrick Walton Jr., Michigan. Irvin was excellent, but so was Walton for the second day in a row. The senior finished with 22 points, seven assists, six rebounds and two steals en route to the tournament title. Walton was once again terrific in directing traffic and if anyone leads the Wolverines on a March run, it will be him.

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