Weekly Pac-5: Freshman Efficiency

Posted by RJ Abeytia on January 9th, 2017

It’s very much a Year of the Freshman in college basketball and the Pac-12 has followed suit. As we now find ourselves through two weeks of conference play, it’s a good time to check in on the headlining freshmen in the Conference of Champions. Washington’s Markelle Fultz is the Pac-12’s leading scorer and the front-runner as the top pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, but there are a number of other high-scoring freshmen in the league. In fact, we could probably just list the top five scorers in the Pac, slap the top five freshmen label on them, and call it a day. Here’s what the list would look like if we did just that.

Markelle Fultz is the Presumptive #1 Pick in the 2017 NBA Draft (USA Today Images)

  1. Markelle Fultz, Washington – 22.1 PPG
  2. TJ Leaf, UCLA – 17.4 PPG
  3. Lauri Markannen, Arizona – 15.9 PPG
  4. Charlie Moore, California – 15.2 PPG
  5. Lonzo Ball, UCLA – 14.7 PPG

Pretty good, right?  Those are your top five freshmen by scoring average. They’ve all played enough minutes for us to trust in the validity of their averages, but what happens when you rank these five players based on offensive efficiency?  Here’s where things start to get interesting.

Player ORtg
TJ Leaf, UCLA 134.3
Lauri Markannen, Arizona 132.3
Lonzo Ball, UCLA 131.0
Markelle Fultz, Washington 119.4
Rawle Alkins, Arizona 107.7

 


Well then.  First, we see that Markannen, whose shooting splits are insane, vaults to the top of the group. California’s Moore gets voted off the island altogether; Arizona’s Rawle Alkins jumps into the picture; and Fultz slides down to fourth in our rankings. This is why efficiency is important to consider when judging players. Does Offensive Rating make Markannen a better player than the others? No, but it does clearly identify him as the most
efficient offensive player regardless of draft potential. That’s all well and good, but what about defense? For that we turn to defensive efficiency, an admittedly noisy statistic compared with individual Offensive Rating, but still a useful and informative metric. Limited strictly to defense, here’s how the top five freshmen scorers in the conference.

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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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Oregon’s Tyler Dorsey Appears Poised to Break Out… Again

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 5th, 2017

Last night in Washington, a 6’4” combo guard showed off a dizzying array of skills, set Twitter ablaze and almost certainly turned the heads of the numerous NBA scouts watching on ESPN2. In other news, the Huskies’ Markelle Fultz scored 22 points on 16 shots. Oregon sophomore Tyler Dorsey had, in the words of his coach Dana Altman, “one of those games,” unleashing a scoring flurry as good as any you will see in college basketball this season. With Dillon Brooks straddled with foul trouble in the second half and Washington threatening to hang around, Dorsey hit a three-pointer off a pass from Brooks and didn’t stop shooting until the game was over. When he was finished, he had made six consecutive buckets (five from downtown) in scoring 17 points in fewer than 12 minutes. His eight made three-pointers were three more than his career-high and his 28 points represented a career-high against a Power 5 opponent. But it wasn’t just the sheer number of three-pointers that made Dorsey’s performance so impressive last night, it was the variety in which he got those points that was notable.

Tyler Dorsey Put On A Show Last Night, But Can He Keep It Up?(Samuel Marshall/Daily Emerald)

Tyler Dorsey Put On A Show Last Night, But Can He Keep It Up? (Samuel Marshall/Daily Emerald)

Dorsey wasn’t just camping on the perimeter waiting for a kick-out pass. He was swishing shots in transition, pulling up effortlessly off the dribble and putting on a catch-and-shoot clinic. No stranger to 20-point games during his collegiate career, Dorsey looked as confident as ever in his touch last night. You’d be hard-pressed to find one of his second-half shots that even hit the rim. The question now becomes whether his performance against a lackluster Washington defense is a sign of things to come for the Los Angeles native, or just another tantalizing tease of his vast offensive potential. Remember that this was supposed to be a breakout season for the sophomore, the kind of emergence capable of making an already elite Ducks’ offense completely unstoppable. Oregon is still waiting for that breakout.

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Pac-12 Weekly Power Rankings: Vol. I

Posted by Pac-12 Team on January 4th, 2017

If you think one week into the conference schedule is an odd time to release our inaugural Pac-12 Power Rankings, you might have a decent case. However, we would argue that now is the best time to release our power rankings because the first weekend of conference play taught us a lot about a number of teams. For example, we now know that USC isn’t quite as good as its record and that Utah is likely better than its non-conference performance suggested. We will be updating this list weekly.

Dillon Brooks Daggered UCLA Last Week to Open Conference Play (USA Today Images)

Dillon Brooks Daggered UCLA Last Week to Open Conference Play (USA Today Images)

1. Oregon: Lost amid the start of the Dillon Brooks Revival Tour was the emergence of freshman Payton Pritchard as a legitimate playmaker. The precocious guard amassed 16 assists in his first two Pac-12 games and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Ducks’ offense looked more potent as a result. If he can continue to distribute the ball so effectively, it should alleviate some of the team’s offensive concerns moving forward.

2. UCLA: Let’s not focus on losing to a Dillon Brooks leaner. Process above results and UCLA was mostly UCLA during its recent trip to Oregon. You know who wasn’t? Isaac Hamilton. The Bruins’ guard shot 1-of-16 for the weekend — is this an anomaly or a trend? Most likely the former as Isaac is a career 45 percent shooter. He’ll recover, but the Bruins’ first road trip in conference play was a staunch reminder that the core of this team was 15-17 one season ago and still plays very little defense.

3. Arizona: While Oregon was stealing headlines at the front end of opening week, the Wildcats were quietly completing an impressive road sweep in the Bay Area. The best development for Arizona may be the arrival of its frontcourt as a legitimate offensive complement to the backcourt. Over the weekend, Lauri Markkanen, Chance Comanche, and Dusan Ristic shot 29-of-39 from the field and combined for 76 points. Arizona is already a great defensive team (81.7 DRtg after two conference games), but if they find consistently balanced scoring, look out.

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Grading the Pac-12 Non-Conference Performances, Part II

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 28th, 2016

The non-conference portion of the schedule is now over for the entire group of Pac-12 teams and, aside from UCLA running roughshod over every team it faced, it was a relatively uneventful non-conference season. Some teams scored important wins and other teams showed their weaknesses, but none of the 12 at-large resumes really stand out at this point in the season. To prove it to ourselves, let’s run through where each team stands heading into the 18-game Pac-12 schedule.

Ed. Note: the other half of the league’s report cards published yesterday.

UCLA – A+

Lonzo Ball (USA Today Images)

Lonzo Ball Has Turned UCLA into a National Title Contender (USA Today Images)

  • Good wins: Kentucky, Texas A&M, Michigan, Ohio State
  • Bad losses: None
  • Synopsis: When you breeze through the non-conference portion of your schedule with several quality wins (including a road victory at Kentucky), you probably deserve a perfect grade. UCLA has perhaps the most efficient offense in the country, multiple All-America candidates and enviable depth and size at every position. The Bruins’ defense is a non-negligible concern but head coach Steve Alford has his team firing on all cylinders and headed toward a No. 1 seed in March.

Stanford – C+

  • Good wins: Seton Hall
  • Bad losses: None
  • Synopsis: The Cardinal’s performance to this point won’t blow anyone away but they have quietly been a solid team under first-year head coach Jerod Haase. A win over Seton Hall in Florida was a nice starting point while losses to the likes of Kansas, St. Mary’s, Miami and SMU were to be expected. Plus, there is something to be said for taking care of business against lesser opponents. Stanford probably won’t force its way on to the right side of the bubble with this schedule, but Haase has at least served notice that the program is on solid footing.

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Grading the Pac-12 Non-Conference Performances: Part I

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 27th, 2016

The non-conference portion of the schedule is now over for the entire group of Pac-12 teams and, aside from UCLA running roughshod over every team it faced, it was a relatively uneventful non-conference season. Some teams scored important wins and other teams showed their weaknesses, but none of the 12 at-large resumes really stand out at this point in the season. To prove it to ourselves, let’s run through where each team stands heading into the 18-game Pac-12 schedule.

Arizona – B+

Arizona (USA Today Images)

It’s Unclear Where Arizona is Headed But a B+ Non-Conference Grade is Acceptable(USA Today Images)

  • Quality wins: Texas A&M, Michigan State
  • Bad losses: None
  • Synopsis: The Wildcats would have received an A- except that their best win over Michigan State doesn’t look as good as it would have in most years. That said, the Wildcats posted an impressive 11-2 non-conference record and have done so without the services of arguably their best player (Allonzo Trier) and inarguably their best point guard (Parker Jackson-Cartwright). It would have been nice to steal a win against Gonzaga or Butler, but Arizona has to this point helped its NCAA Tournament chances more than it has hurt them.

Arizona State – C-

  • Quality wins: None
  • Bad losses: New Mexico State, Northern Iowa
  • Synopsis: Bobby Hurley hasn’t been subtle about his desire for more national exposure for his program but the strategy somewhat backfired this year as the head coach has opened more eyes with his press conferences than with his team’s play. The Sun Devils are shorthanded and weren’t expected to contend for an NCAA Tournament bid this season, but the way in which they have been blown out by quality opponents is at least mildly embarrassing. Arizona State’s non-conference performance deserves the low side of the gentleman’s C.

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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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Should We Be Taking USC More Seriously?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 14th, 2016

When USC rallied to beat Texas A&M, it was good luck. When the Trojans squeaked past SMU a week later, it was thanks to Bennie Boatright. When they beat BYU a week after that, it was because the Cougars really aren’t that good and the game was in Los Angeles. These are all logical ways to rationalize dismissing USC’s hot start, but the fact remains that the Trojans are just one of six unbeaten teams remaining in Division I basketball and a group that was picked to finish seventh in the preseason Pac-12 standings is rebuilding faster than anyone imagined. Of those six teams sporting flawless records, most smart basketball minds will tell you that Andy Enfield‘s team is easily the worst of the group. KenPom agrees. ESPN agrees. The Trojans are off to their best start in more than 40 years and CBSSports.com barely included them in this week’s Top 25. The conventional wisdom is that, while USC’s early success deserves some attention, the Trojans still aren’t worth taking all that seriously yet.

USC Basketball is Soaring -- Has Anyone Noticed? (USA Today Images)

USC Basketball is Soaring — Has Anyone Noticed? (USA Today Images)

USC feels like a prime candidate for regression to the mean once the rigors of conference play begin. The Trojans own three resume-building wins by slim margins, but a non-conference slate that will include just one game outside California doesn’t impress anyone. Enfield’s roster is one of the 20 least experienced nationally and his best player is expected to be out of the lineup for at least another month. Still, there’s a lot to like in Troy. USC has used more than good fortune to remain unblemished for the first five weeks of the season. The steward of “Dunk City” has created a well-rounded, disciplined and deep group that is producing top 50 efficiency metrics on both ends of the floor, placing a particular importance on taking care of the basketball (top 15 nationally).

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Expectations Bring Growing Pains at Oregon State

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 9th, 2016

When Gary Payton II graduated from Oregon State last spring, it was well understood that the Beavers were losing one of their best players of all-time and would face an uphill battle back to the NCAA Tournament. With one month of this season now in the books, dancing again in March seems all but forgotten. Oregon State lost a close road game to a marginal Charlotte team last weekend, dropping its overall record to 3-6 and reflecting the team’s sixth straight loss to a Division I opponent. While head coach Wayne Tinkle‘s two-year extension and raise in light of the team’s first NCAA appearance since 1990 was well-deserving, Oregon State knew the program would spend this season rebuilding. Still, even though they were clearly confident in the direction of the program, this is not the kind of disastrous backslide that anyone in Corvallis envisioned.

Things In Corvallis Have Not Gone According to Wayne Tinkle's Plan This Season. (Getty)

Things In Corvallis Have Not Gone According to Wayne Tinkle’s Plan This Season. (Getty)

Building basketball prestige in a place where there isn’t much requires a lot of things to go right. Wins on the court or on the recruiting trail help build buzz around the brand, which can often be the start of something more sustainable. Tinkle looked to doing just that, but the team’s brutal start this year has undone a lot of that momentum. The importance of Payton’s loss cannot be overstated, but it appeared as if the program was in good hands with rising sophomores Stephen Thompson, Jr., Tres Tinkle and Drew Eubanks. Thompson, however, missed six of the team’s first seven games with a foot injury, and Tinkle, who was the team’s leading scorer, broke a bone in his wrist. Mix in an ACL rehab that is keeping freshman Ben Kone on the bench as well as a pair of suspensions for promising wing Keondre Dew, and it is somewhat surprising the elder Tinkle has managed to keep his sanity in place. Read the rest of this entry »

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