How Long Can UCLA Last Without More Depth?

Posted by RJ Abeytia on November 21st, 2017

So UCLA is already four games into its season and its 3-1 start has been reduced to a footnote while Lavar Ball and President Trump usurp air, airtime and attention better spent on literally any other aspect of human life by any other humans on the planet. Bringing the focus back on to the court, however, the real questions begin for a team that is now down three scholarship athletes. What we know through those four games, though, is that the Bruins’ rotation is not so much a rotation as essentially a half-dozen players head coach Steve Alford either trusts or is forced to trust. Players in the former category include returnees Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday. Both were given relative siestas in playing 26 and 32 minutes, respectively, in the Bruins’ rout of South Carolina State, but Holiday played at least 35 minutes in UCLA’s three more competitive games against Georgia Tech, Central Arkansas and Creighton, while Welsh logged major minutes as well when he wasn’t in foul trouble (Creighton).

UCLA  (USA Today Images)

This grinding down of two players who will have to perform all season is clearly not sustainable, and it is the strongest indication yet that LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill will likely not be held out for the entire season. The Bruins’ loaded freshman class fortunately includes two standouts — Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands — who refrained from jacking sunglasses in China, and both are already establishing themselves as indispensable cogs in the UCLA “rotation.” Even in a loss, not much changed against Creighton on Monday night. Holiday was superb, scoring 25 points on 11 shots and dishing out seven assists against one turnover. Although UCLA exhibited a fairly balanced eight-man rotation, five of those players were underclassmen and three of those five are freshmen. The Bluejays took full advantage of that defensive inexperience, putting up an Offensive Rating of 119.0 on the evening that included 11 three-pointers.

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The Models vs. the People: Who Is Right So Far?

Posted by William Ezekowitz on November 21st, 2017

With the rise of KenPom’s preseason rankings and the ratings of other models like it (SI and T-Rank, for example), projection models have become increasingly important in college basketball. But there is still a long way to go before these metrics-based systems replace the good old-fashioned eye test as represented in the national polls. The two varieties of projection mechanisms, both valid in their own right, disagreed about a few teams coming into this year. In this article, we will evaluate the differences on a few relevant teams to determine if we can settle on which method has been accurate so far. We’ll start by analyzing a couple of squads from the Big Ten before considering a couple others.

Minnesota. AP Rank: #15; KenPom Rank: #36

Jordan Murphy has helped Minnesota live up to expectations in the early season (Getty)

  • What the people thought: Minnesota spent the offseason as one of the most hyped teams in college basketball, as Nate Mason received plenty of all-Big Ten buzz and Amir Coffey appeared ready to make a huge leap. Richard Pitino’s Gophers were also expected to play their particular brand of stifling defense, bolstered by possibly the best shot blocker in college basketball, Reggie Lynch. There was a lot to like.
  • What the models saw: Neither Mason nor Coffey were especially efficient for the nation’s 77th-best offense, which meant this year’s outfit was set to improve on that end. The defense, while stifling, was below average in both turnovers forced and defensive rebounding, limiting its potential to become a top-10 unit.
  • Who has been right so far: The people. Jordan Murphy has been unexpectedly dominant through four games, putting up 23 points and 14 rebounds, for example, in a very impressive 12-point victory at Providence. The Gophers are humming along at 18th nationally in offensive efficiency, and if they can stay in that range they will certainly live up to their poll projection as the 15th-best team in the country.

Michigan State. AP Rank #2. KenPom Rank: #10

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From Your Phone or TV? The Thanksgiving Hoops Conundrum

Posted by Adam Butler on November 21st, 2017

It’s 2017 and Little League parents are having Twitter wars with the President. It’s also, perhaps, an inflection point in cord-cutting. For years now we have heard reports of ESPN losing subscribers in droves (although it has seemingly slowed some) while television itself has become a nebulous medium. What is TV if we watch it on our phones, tablets or otherwise? It’s a good question, I admit, but specifically and more immediately draws me to Arizona’s second round (remember, they played an opening round game in Tucson) Battle 4 Atlantis game on Wednesday. It’s the nation’s #2 team playing on a low-work, high-consumption day against a Power 5 school in a high-profile tournament. North Carolina State (the alluded to opponent) doesn’t necessarily project as anything special (12th in preseason ACC voting and 99th currently in KenPom). But the Wolfpack are Arizona’s first real test of the season and it’s going to be broadcast on ESPN3. You cannot watch this game explicitly on your TV. You can stream it through an app and smart TV functionality, watching the game with a slight streaming delay.

Good Luck Catching a Glimpse of DeAndre Ayton on Wednesday (USA Today Images)

Of course, if everyone is delayed eight seconds, is it really a delay? Einstein’s theory of relativity aside, is this game being appropriately broadcast for our evolving consumption? Is it a sign of a national disinterest in college hoops? West Coast hoops? Perhaps I’m overreaching on the latter points but as this game was announced on ESPN3 — online only — many fans were upset. Arizona fans, specifically, felt slighted. More broadly, Pac-12 fans might use this to express continued dissatisfaction with the Pac-12 Networks and Larry Scott’s TV dealings.

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This Year’s WAC May Be Better Than You Think

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 21st, 2017

Utah Valley’s opening weekend road trip to Kentucky and Duke — dubbed the “toughest 24 hours in college basketball” — started out with a bang for Mark Pope’s upstart program: The Wolverines stormed out to a nine-point halftime lead in Rupp Arena, led by as many 12, and stayed within single digits for much of the second half. Big Blue eventually came back and won, of course, but not before a speechless crowd — and a stunned coach — took notice: “This team, Utah Valley, they’re going to win their share of games now. They’re big… they have got a couple guys that are out that can shoot… they’re legit,” John Calipari said afterward. And he’s absolutely right. Existing on the fringe of the national discussion, Utah Valley is perhaps the perfect embodiment of the WAC’s collection of top contenders this season: a nascent program fortified with impact transfers that’s built to surprise in non-conference play.

Oregon grad transfer Casey Benson should help Grand Canyon’s title hopes. (Grand Canyon University Athletics)

Believe it or not, the Wolverines were not picked to win (or even finish second) in the league this year. That distinction belongs to none other than Grand Canyon, which is off to a 3-0 start in its first season of NCAA Tournament eligibility. After winning a combined 49 games since 2015-16, the Lopes return Preseason WAC Player of the Year Joshua Braun and several other key contributors from last season’s unit. As if that were not enough, head coach Dan Majerle (with an assist from a certain member of the coaching staff) lured Oregon graduate transfer Casey Benson, a veteran point guard who logged 21 minutes in the Ducks’ Final Four loss to North Carolina last March. Through three games, Braun (20.0 PPG) and Benson (10.0 PPG) have been awesome, and Grand Canyon — a for-profit university with an impossibly raucous home crowd — looks every bit the favorite pundits thought it would be. Even if the Lopes don’t upend St. John’s in their semi-home tilt on December 5, don’t be surprised if Majerle’s group gives Illinois loads of trouble just before the New Year.

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What’s Trending: November Non-Conference Games

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 21st, 2017

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

The Sviatoslav Myhailiuk question that everyone outside of Lawrence, Kansas is curious about…

Dunk(s) of the Week

St. John’s puts the old saying “defense leads to offense” with this against Nebraska…

Baylor, with authority…

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Tim Duncan and Jay Williams Lead 2017 College Basketball HOF Class

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 20th, 2017

One of the most fun things about following college basketball is observing its constant evolution, but it’s also fascinating to look back on the legends who impacted the game regardless of their era. On Sunday night in Kansas City, the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame enshrined its 2017 class, whose membership ranges from a former player-turned analyst who has yet to turn 40 to a pioneer who faced impossible challenges during integration. Let’s take a look at each.

Tim Duncan was an unstoppable force for Wake Forest, showing the dazzling post moves, defensive dominance and tremendous intelligence that made him an all-time great. (Getty)

  • Tim Duncan, Wake Forest: Before he was the linchpin for one of American sports’ top dynasties with the San Antonio Spurs, The Big Fundamental put together one of the most illustrious college careers of any big man to ever play the game. In a four-year career from 1993-97, Duncan was the 1997 National Player of the Year, a two-time consensus First Team All-American, two-time ACC Player of the Year and three-time NABC Defensive Player of the Year. The reserved big man made the game look effortless by combining his raw athletic ability with a high basketball IQ in soaking up the game’s nuances faster than anyone could have imagined. He famously rejected several opportunities to go pro despite favorable projections after each year and became the first player in college basketball history to notch 1,500 points, 1,000 rebounds, 400 blocked shots and 200 assists.
  • Jay Williams, Duke: With a devastating motorcycle injury that effectively limited his playing days to 75 NBA games, Williams’ professional career ended almost as soon as it began. We’ll always wonder what could have been, though, because the 2002 Duke graduate was one of the most talented, explosive and accomplished players the college level has ever seen. Williams was an all-time great college point guard and played a key role on one of the best Duke teams ever, pacing the 2001 National Championship Blue Devils in scoring (21.6 PPG), three-point shooting (42.7% 3FG) and winning the NABC’s Player of the Year award. Even though he had every reason to turn professional that summer, he returned to Durham to get his degree and put up another amazing season by sweeping every NPOY honor in 2002.

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The 2017-18 RTC16: Week One

Posted by Walker Carey on November 20th, 2017

The first few weeks of the college basketball season are normally characterized by quality teams distinguishing themselves as teams to watch the rest of the season. #13 Texas A&M acquitted itself as just such a a team with its dominating opening night victory over West Virginia. The most impressive aspect of the Aggies’ big win was it came without the services of standout sophomore Robert Williams — suspended for the first two games of the season. With Williams set to return for today’s game against Oklahoma State, it is safe to assume A&M’s hot start is poised to continue. #8 Purdue proved it deserves some early season attention by securing an impressive road victory last Tuesday against a solid Marquette squad. The Boilermakers will have a chance to further distinguish themselves this week, as they are in the same Battle 4 Atlantis field as both #2 Arizona and #5 Villanova. With Feast Week now upon us, you can expect more teams will begin to showcase the traits necessary to become a team to watch for the balance of the season. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty analysis is after the jump…

Quick N’ Dirty Thoughts.

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Five Big 12 Feast Week Storylines to Watch

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 20th, 2017

Feast Week is here, and with it comes the first chance for many Big 12 teams to see how they stack up against legitimate competition. The storylines around the league haven’t evolved significantly over the season’s first two weeks, but in case you need a primer, here’s a quick breakdown on what to watch for as you gorge yourself on college hoops and turkey this week.

Baylor will need Jo Lual-Acuil’s intensity this week in Kansas City. (Tom Pennington/Getty)

  1. Will Baylor assert its will on the offensive glass against Wisconsin? The Bears were the third-best team in college basketball at rebounding their own misses last season and are off to a strong start again this year — logging an offensive rebounding rate of 41.3 percent through their first three wins. Wisconsin, however, is a different animal than the likes of Central Arkansas, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Alcorn State, rebounding 83.5 percent of its opponents’ tries. Baylor’s offense has been very efficient in the first week-plus, but the Bears’ big men have effectively gone unchallenged inside. Ethan Happ and Andy Van Vliet bring an element of size that Baylor has yet to face, so outlasting the Badgers on the glass will be vital in this rematch from the 2014 Sweet Sixteen.
  2. How will Matt Coleman fare in facilitating Texas’ offense? The freshman point guard has brought some much-needed stability to Texas’ backcourt, dishing out 10 assists against just one turnover over 74 minutes across the Longhorns’ first three games. Still, Shaka Smart’s club ranks among the bottom 25 schools nationally in assists per field goal. Coleman’s distributing ability wasn’t needed in Saturday’s blowout win over Lipscomb, but it’s going to be a different story in Portland this week when the Longhorns face Butler and potentially Duke. Read the rest of this entry »
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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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Rodney Bullock’s Inconsistencies Continue to Impact Providence

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 17th, 2017

Given how impressive Providence has been these last few seasons, it’s hard to criticize the program. Ed Cooley has done a terrific job at taking what often appears to be an underwhelming lineup and transforming them into NCAA Tournament caliber players by the end of the season. Last year Big East coaches picked the Friars to finish ninth in the conference standings, and yet they earned a #11 seed and nearly toppled USC in the First Round. In fact, Providence has outperformed its preseason ranking in each of the last four seasons. For that to happen this season, particularly if it involves a longer stay than one game in March, Cooley desperately needs a go-to scorer to emerge.

Rodney Bullock’s Variability is an Issue for the Friars (USA Today Images)

Point guard Kyron Cartwright is a tremendous passer (6.7 APG last season) and one of the best point guards in the country, but he’s better as a playmaker and not a primary scorer. Otherwise, the team is littered with tertiary players who can either shoot or finish inside, but lack in a “give it to this guy with time running out” sort of way. But what about Rodney Bullock, the 6’8″ senior forward who led the team in scoring last season with 15.7 PPG? He’s the obvious option for Cooley, and yet, despite having logged over 70 games, he continues to prove inconsistent. Against #14 Minnesota on Monday, Bullock tallied just 10 points and didn’t provide the aggressiveness necessary for the team to overcome a mounting deficit in the second half. And yet, on Thursday night against Washington, his 17 points and 10 rebounds led the team in both categories.

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