Duke’s Lineup Change: Beginning of Something Special?

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 23rd, 2017

With Duke down 11 points after a listless first half against Miami on Saturday night, acting head coach Jeff Capel decided some personnel changes were in order. Starters Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard and Harry Giles began the second half on the bench as Duke turned around the game — and maybe its season — with an overwhelming comeback performance to beat the Hurricanes by 12 points. Capel is now 2-2 in his new role, and it already appears that he is willing to shake things up to get his team’s attention. Capel was asked about the lineup change afterward, saying, “We just went with guys that we felt were going to give us energy.” It was something of a gamble for the interim coach — benching two of the team’s three top scorers and an elite freshman — but the results, both from a viewers’ as well as a statistical perspective, were dramatic.

Senior Matt Jones led Duke in its big comeback win over Miami. (Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports)

To begin the second half against Miami, regular starters Amile Jefferson and Jayson Tatum were joined by senior Matt Jones and freshmen Frank Jackson and Marques Bolden. As a result, the tone of the game immediately changed. Over the first five minutes of the half, the Blue Devils converted five steals into 12 points, the beginning of a 20-0 run that shocked the confident Hurricanes and ultimately finished off the game. Jones was the catalyst, setting the pace defensively and scoring all 13 of his points in the first eight minutes. Jackson was also effective in finishing with 10 points and four assists versus zero turnovers. And with eight points, four rebounds and some impressive defense against Miami’s guards on the pick-and-roll, it was the breakout game from Bolden that Duke has been waiting for. Of course, it didn’t hurt to have Jefferson back (especially on the defensive end) after missing the last two games with a bruised foot.

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Michigan’s Defense is the Difference Between NCAA and NIT

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 23rd, 2017

It doesn’t take a hoops junkie to recognize that a good, balanced effort on both sides of the ball generally equates to success. And maybe it would be overly simplistic to offer an unbalanced team such advice as “be better on defense.” For this year’s Michigan squad, however, there may not be a more apt prescription. The Wolverines—the Big Ten’s most efficient offensive unit—simply haven’t had a defense to match this season, ranking dead-last in conference play on that end of the court. On nights when they have defended well, the offense has taken a step back. Put simply, the pieces have rarely come together. After an inspired wire-to-wire victory over Illinois on Saturday, however, John Beilein’s group appears to be taking some steps in the right direction. Michigan was stout defensively, received contributions up and down the lineup, and—for perhaps the first time since November—played a complete game against a quality opponent. With a crucial five-game stretch coming and an NCAA Tournament berth still far from guaranteed, the Wolverines’ newfound balance has arrived just in the nick of time.

On Saturday, Michigan looked like the team that pounded SMU and Marquette back in November. (mgoblue.com)

“Blue-collar” defense. Following Illinois’ 85-69 thrashing of Michigan on January 11, Illini center Maverick Morgan referred to the Wolverines as a “white-collar team,” a comment which—at least at the time—seemed completely on point. Due to a mixture of lax perimeter defense and some bad luck, Michigan entered the weekend surrendering an astounding 52.4 percent from three-point range (53-for-101) against Big Ten opponents, including a 9-of-14 effort against the Illini in that first meeting. On the whole, Beilein’s team after came into Saturday’s game surrendering more than 1.2 points per possession, and yet, on the heels of an encouraging effort at Wisconsin, the defensive tide shifted drastically. Michigan held Illinois to just 0-of-5 from three-point range in the first half, and 2-of-12 for the game. Illini ball-handlers were forced into a Big Ten-high 17 turnovers, and Morgan, who made all but one shot from the field in the first meeting, was held in check underneath the basket. “We were active, we were in gaps, swarming to the ball, flying around,” Beilein said after the game. “That was as hard as we’ve played on defense all year.” Before the weekend, Wolverines’ guard Zak Irvin lobbied his team to wear its road blue jerseys to represent the “blue-collar” attitude with which it intended to play. And Michigan didn’t disappoint, holding Illinois to 0.86 points per possession in its strongest defensive effort since the calendar turned to 2017.

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.23.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 23rd, 2017

We entered the weekend with a three-way tie at the top of the ACC standings and that is still the case as all three leaders were victorious on Saturday afternoon as North Carolina won a tight one at Boston College, Notre Dame handled Syracuse in South Bend, and Florida State held off visiting Louisville. In other action, Duke ended its two-game skid by coming back from a double-digit halftime deficit to defeat Miami on Saturday night. Then on Sunday evening, Clemson dropped its fifth straight–this time at home by a single point to Virginia Tech–putting the Tigers’ postseason hopes in major jeopardy. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Freshman Jonathan Isaac has been on fire lately for Florida State. (Phil Sears/AP)

  • Best Win: Leonard Hamilton‘s team has taken on all comers to begin ACC play and has done more than hold its own – going 5-1, all against ranked opponents. Saturday in Tallahassee, Florida State finished the tough opening stretch in style by beating Louisville by a score of 73-68. It wasn’t the prettiest contest as there were a total of 45 fouls whistled and both teams shot under 40 percent from the floor. Freshman Jonathan Isaac has ramped up his play recently. After finishing with 16 points and 10 rebounds, Isaac now has posted three consecutive double-doubles. After navigating that front-loaded conference slate, the Seminoles will probably only face two more ranked opponents when they meet Notre Dame and Duke in return games on the road in February. So even though Florida State now hits the road for three straight contests, they are primed to contend for the league regular season title.

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Should We Care About Who Shares? Offensive Efficiency vs. Assist Rate

Posted by RJ Abeytia on January 21st, 2017

If you grew up in the ’80s and you loved the game of basketball, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird changed the way you watched it, judged it and maybe even played it. One of the cornerstones of their impact was the elevation of the assist both as a highlight play and as a marker of a player’s impact. In today’s game, there is no better criteria for evaluation than efficiency. Assists make basketball the beautiful game, providing gasps in appreciation and awe at the sport played in its most fluid and selfless form. However, when it comes to college basketball — a game which has undergone a tectonic shift or 10 since the days of Bird and Magic — the question becomes, how valuable is the assist?

Lonzo Ball is one of many high assist/high efficiency standouts in the conference this season. (Getty)

To answer that question, the first place to start is by cross-checking team offensive efficiency with assist rate. Here is how the Pac-12 looks.

Offensive Efficiency Assist Rate
1. Oregon Oregon
2. UCLA Arizona
3. Arizona UCLA
4. Arizona State Washington State
5. Utah Stanford
6. Colorado Oregon State
7. California USC
8. Washington Colorado
9. Washington State Utah
10. Stanford Arizona State
11. USC California
12. Oregon State Washington

The eyeball test clearly shows a strong correlation between Pac-12 teams in terms of their assist rates and efficient offenses. There’s no room at the top without great ball movement, but the line between offensive success and assists gets somewhat obfuscated at the bottom. Stanford, Oregon State and USC all rank among the top half (okay, USC is seventh) in assist rate, yet each team still struggles offensively. Conversely, Arizona State has a proficient offense this season without the services of a great assist rate. If assist rate turns out to be an important metric, we would expect the Sun Devils to regress offensively while the Cardinal, Trojans and Beavers should ascend. If we simply resign ourselves to this unscientific snapshot, it’s fair to say there’s a light correlation between offensive efficiency and assist rate, but the two metrics are not collinear.

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Notre Dame’s Matt Farrell Leading Irish to Top of ACC

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on January 21st, 2017

The play itself, spectacular as it was unique, took guts, guile and extraordinary self-belief, and represents a characteristic of every overachiever. With his team clinging to a three-point lead with 46 seconds remaining last weekend in Blacksburg, Matt Farrell looked to put the finishing touches on Notre Dame’s fifth consecutive victory to start ACC play. In an effort to preserve a few precious seconds, the Hokies rolled the ball up the court. Making himself inconspicuous, Farrell created the illusion that he was not paying attention. Then, in the blink of an eye, the subterfuge ceased, as Farrell dived headlong to smother the ball, pop up, and drop a dime to T.J. Gibbs. Gibbs extended the lead to five with an easy layup, effectively putting an exclamation mark on yet another impressive ACC victory for the Irish.

At 16-3 and tied for first in the league standings with North Carolina and Florida State, Notre Dame is without question one of this year’s pleasant surprises. The presumed strength of the league notwithstanding, the primary reason for hesitation regarding this year’s version of Mike Brey’s squad centered around the transition of point guard duties from three-year standout Demetrius Jackson to the little-known junior from Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey. Farrell entered the season with a mere 86 career points in 43 career games, and as a sophomore, he posted the team’s poorest player efficiency rating. And those notes, among others, is why Brey is one of the most under-appreciated developers of talent in college basketball. His teams change somewhat based on the available personnel, but they are always well-versed on the game’s fundamentals and know how to find open shots. Perhaps no player in the head coach’s 17 seasons at Notre Dame puts a stamp of approval on his process quite like Farrell.

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This Weekend in the ACC: January 21

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 21st, 2017

Here are a few things you should be keeping your eye on around the ACC this weekend (all times Eastern).

Have We Reached the Point Where Syracuse Begins to Save Its Season? (USA Today Images)

  • 12:00 PM: Syracuse (11-8, 3-3) at Notre Dame (16-3, 5-1). The Orange, which desperately need some quality wins to get on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, will have a big opportunity this afternoon against the ACC-leading Fighting Irish. The problem for Jim Boeheim‘s club is that this game is in South Bend. In Syracuse’s six (yes, just six) games away from home this season, the Orange are 0-6, having lost those games by an average of nearly 13 PPG against questionable competition (i.e., St. John’s, Connecticut and Boston College). Most teams experience significant home and road shooting splits, but the Orange’s numbers away from home — 37.4% from the field, including just 31.2% from three — have been downright dreadful. Keep an eye on point guard John Gillon. In his six games away from the Carrier Dome, he’s made just 9-0f-37 shots (24.3%) and 3-of-17 (17.7%) from beyond the arc. If Gillon can knock down a few shots to relieve some of the pressure from Andrew White III and Tyler Lydon, Syracuse might be able to hang with Notre Dame long enough to have a chance to pull the upset. If not, it could be a very long afternoon in South Bend.
  • 2:00 PM: Louisville (16-3, 4-2) at Florida State (17-2, 5-1). In our Stock Watch that published earlier this week, we noted the recent terrific play of Louisville wing Donovan Mitchell and how important it will be for the sophomore to maintain his high level of play with starting point guard Quentin Snider on the shelf. Mitchell was once again terrific in the Cardinals’ win over Clemson on Thursday night, but the story of the game was Snider’s replacement, freshman V.J. King. Prior to Thursday night’s game, King had scored just 21 total total points in five ACC contests; his debut as a starter resulted in 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting. Now that he’s a known commodity, keep an eye on how King performs against the array of talented athletes that Seminoles’ head coach Leonard Hamilton will throw at him. In order to walk out of Tallahassee with a victory, the Cardinals will need King to knock down shots as well as remain physical with the Florida State guards.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: It’s Happening Again Edition

Posted by Big 12 Team on January 20th, 2017

Kansas had a big night on Wednesday and the Jayhawks didn’t even play. Despite being favored by 17 points, West Virginia lost in stunning fashion to Oklahoma, done in by a few clutch plays from Jordan Woodard. The loss dropped the Mountaineers two games behind the Jayhawks in the Big 12 standings, and with Kansas set to play Texas at home on Saturday while West Virginia travels to Kansas State, the deficit could grow even deeper before the pair square off in Morgantown on Tuesday. Whether they beat the Wildcats or not, West Virginia could theoretically climb back into the race by notching wins against its peers in the upper third of the conference, but Wednesday’s loss underscores the importance of winning at home when it comes to contending for the Big 12 title. For now, the focus shifts back to Baylor, which is set to take on a tough TCU team in Fort Worth this weekend. The Bears will be favored, but not by more than a few points, which means the wheels could be in motion for Kansas to create some serious distance in its pursuit of consecutive regular season title #13. With comments on each team are Big 12 microsite writers Drew Andrews, Justin Fedich, Brian Goodman, Nate Kotisso, and Chris Stone.

1. Kansas: “The Jayhawks are unblemished in league play because they’re one of the best teams in America. They’re led by a National Player of the Year candidate, they have a likely one-and-done lottery pick who is asked to do a lot, but not too much, and they’re coached by one of the best in the profession. It’s tough to beat that combination. But another reason why Kansas is currently 6-0 in league play is because they’ve had the league’s second-easiest conference schedule to this point. That’s about to change very soon, however. After Saturday’s game against Texas, the Jayhawks travel to Morgantown, take a break from Big 12 play by playing Kentucky at Rupp Arena, then resume conference action with home games against Baylor and Iowa State. This team will ultimately be defined by what it does in March, but if they beat the odds to make it through the rest of January unscathed, it may be time to start thinking about this season as one of Bill Self‘s best ever.” -Brian Goodman

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume I

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 20th, 2017

With approximately one-third of conference play now in the books, it’s time to take a closer look inside the ACC numbers. This is the first edition of our weekly look at the current ACC standings with a focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their records may indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to find a few interesting notes on teams, statistics and trends. Finally, we will forecast how the final ACC standings may look given current efficiency margins, and what that may mean for teams’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Wednesday, January 18.

Current StandingsWith a sample size of games this small, any one-game extreme performance can really impact the season numbers. This means that some of what we see in the table above is the result of two ACC blowouts — North Carolina’s 51-point rout of N.C. State, and Duke‘s 53-point beating of Georgia Tech. The Tar Heels are currently leading the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency, mostly because of their incredible dominance on the boards. North Carolina’s 44.0 percent offensive rebounding rate in ACC play is even higher than its nation-leading mark for all games (42.7%). Florida State and Notre Dame have achieved great starts (both are 5-1) despite facing two of the three toughest league slates to this point. At the other end of the ledger is Clemson, which has only managed a single win over Wake Forest while playing the toughest conference schedule. The Tigers’ actual performance margin, however, is better than the three squads ahead of them in the standings, so maybe they are not struggling as much as it appears.

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Allonzo Trier’s Suspension: More Questions Than Answers

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 19th, 2017

Just minutes before Utah was set to play Washington State in what promised to be one of the least exciting Pac-12 games of the week, ESPN made things much more interesting by reporting on the reason behind Arizona star Allonzo Trier’s long suspension. A poorly kept secret for months in college basketball circles, Trier’s indefinite suspension was the result of a positive test in September 2016 for a performance-enhancing drug. According to the report, Trier had appealed the suspension and won, but the NCAA would not allow him to play until the drug had completely exited his system. This explains why no one has been able to provide realistic timetables on when the sophomore guard would be back on the court.

Allonzo Trier Has Been a Mystery Man at Arizona This Season (USA Today Images)

This is a compelling story for a myriad of reasons. First, any time one of the most recognizable programs in college basketball is involved in something newsworthy, it is going to draw interest. Second, there just aren’t many historical instances where a college basketball player has been suspended for PED use. A quick Google search turns up a number of stories on college football players getting suspended for PED use, but there are very few high-profile cases of PED use in college basketball. Finally, what makes this story so fascinating is the way it has been handled from the very beginning.

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Evaluating Purdue’s Shooting Against Recent Big Ten Teams

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 19th, 2017

As recently as the 2012-13 season, Purdue ranked among the bottom 100 teams nationally (253rd) in three-point shooting. As the team’s perimeter marksmanship has steadily improved since hitting a low point of 32.7 percent the following season, the Boilermakers’ record has tracked correspondingly. Now, at the midpoint of the 2016-17 campaign, Matt Painter’s team is shooting a scorching 40.6 percent from behind the arc, already making 10 or more threes in seven games this season. If Purdue’s hot shooting continues, it has a chance to become one of the best deep shooting teams in the Big Ten over the last five years. How do the Boilermakers compare with the best in the league over this time span? And what does it mean as we slowly turn the corner toward March?

Ryan Cline is one of five Purdue players connecting on over 40 percent from the three-point line. (John Terhune, Journal &Courier).

For the sake of this exercise, three components were analyzed: team three-point percentage; team effective field goal percentage; and the number of players shooting over 40 percent who make at least one three-pointer per game. Ten Big Ten teams have made at least 37.9 percent of their three-point shots since the 2012-13 season. The best of the bunch was last season’s Michigan State squad at 43.4 percent, which led the nation. Purdue’s marksmanship so far this season ties for third. From an eFG perspective, last year’s Indiana team led the nation (58.7%), while Purdue’s 57.0 percent through 19 games comes in behind the Hoosiers. Finally, that same group from Indiana boasted five excellent shooters, as do this year’s Boilermakers. In the aggregate, Purdue finishes no worse than third in any of these metrics, which means that if it maintains the pace, it should definitely be mentioned as one of the best shooting teams in the Big Ten over the last five years. Here’s a look at the data.

  • Indiana 2012-13: (40.3% 3FG, 54.8% eFG, Watford 48.4%, Hulls 44.4%, Oladipo 44.1%)
  • Michigan 2012-13: (37.9% 3FG, 54.6% eFG, Stauskas 44.0%)
  • Michigan 2013-14: (40.2 3FG, 55.7% eFG, Stauskas 44.2%, Irvin 42.5%, Walton 41.0%, LeVert 40.8%)
  • Michigan State 2013-14: (39.2% 3FG, 54.5% eFG, Kaminski 49.4%, Trice 43.4%, Payne 42.3%)
  • Indiana 2014-15: (40.6% 3FG, 54.4% eFG, Hartman 47.5%, Zeisloft 45.0%, Ferrell 41.6%)

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