Washington on the Come Up?

Posted by RJ Abeytia on December 8th, 2017

Washington, a team left for dead by the pundit class before the season even started, showed plenty of bark and bite earlier this week in snagging the Pac-12’s best non-conference win of the season versus #2 Kansas in Kansas City — functionally speaking, the Jayhawks’ alternate home court. The question now becomes whether such a monumental win gives any indication that the Huskies’ level of play is sustainable? Three things stand out about Washington’s win: First, Mike Hopkins‘ club won the three-point battle. Second, the Huskies kept Kansas off the free throw line by defending cleanly and effectively. Finally, they got a 19-point, five three-pointer masterpiece of an offensive performance from Matisse Thybulle. So to what extent were these three pillars of victory outliers?

Mike Hopkins Leads a New-Look Washington Program (USA Today Images)

Per KenPom, Washington on the year is shooting 33.5 percent from behind the arc and its opponents are shooting 37.1 percent. The Huskies get 25.2 percent of their points from the three-point line, which rates 294th in the country, but logged 36.4 percent (27) of their points from distance on Wednesday night while holding Kansas to only 25 percent shooting beyond the arc. On the year, the Huskies send opponents to the line at a 34.2 percent FTA/FGA rate, but they allowed the Jayhawks just eight free throws against 62 field goal attempts in Kansas City. That’s converts to a stellar 13 percent FTA rate that would make Washington one of the cleanest defending teams in the country if they were to maintain that identity on a nightly basis. Thybulle’s 19 points were built on a great shooting night resulting in a 177.0 Offensive Rating for the game. Last year Thybulle carried a respectable 106.7 ORtg and is currently at 104.5 this season. Was his sharpshooting (five threes) against the Jayhawks an ascent back to his normal mean? Washington should probably hope so, as his body of work last year (41 percent on 131 attempts) suggests that’s the case.  

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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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ACC Weekend Preview: December 8-10 Edition

Posted by Mick McDonald on December 8th, 2017

It is expected to be a relatively quiet weekend in the ACC, but don’t miss the first conference game of the season and a couple more sneaky good matchups (all ratings are via KenPom and statistics are through the games of December 7).

Saturday, December 9

Duke is All Smiles Entering ACC Play at #1 (USA Today Images)

  • Duke (#5) at Boston College (#95). Look, a real live ACC game in early December! Boston College figures to finish near the bottom of the ACC once again this season, but that should not take away from the fact that the Eagles are much improved. A big part of the reason for that improvement was Illinois State graduate transfer Deontae Hawkins, who had gotten off to a terrific start prior to an untimely right knee injury that ended his season. That, once again, leaves the Eagles dangerously thin in the frontcourt and therefore exceptionally vulnerable against all the size of Duke. Speaking of which, Marvin Bagley III has been sensational but not enough has been said about his fellow freshman Wendell Carter. Carter has been nearly as efficient in scoring as Bagley (63.5% eFG to Bagley’s 63.8%) and is a slightly better rebounder (23.6% to 23.5% DRB; 14.4% to 13.9% ORB) to this point. Having two big men playing at such a high level of productivity gives Mike Krzyzewski several options and helps protect Duke if either gets into foul trouble. Without Hawkins available, Jim Christian’s team simply may not have enough bodies up front to pull off what would be a season-defining upset.

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SEC Stock Watch: 12.07.17 Edition

Posted by David Changas on December 7th, 2017

Now that the season is nearly a month old, it’s time to take stock of where the league stands. This is the debut of SEC Stock Watch for the 2017-18 season.

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  • An Improved SEC. There was considerable discussion about SEC basketball being better this season, and so far, it has been. Improved coaching and recruiting has led to better depth across the league, and the number of quality wins in the non-conference season has correspondingly grown. Despite a few setbacks, all 14 SEC teams currently sit in the KenPom top 100, and Texas A&M, Tennessee, Georgia and Mississippi State have all been early surprises.

Tyler Davis has led the way for Texas A&M so far this season (San Antonio Express-News).

  • Texas A&M as a contender. Much was also made of the Aggies in the preseason, and despite Wednesday night’s loss to Arizona in the desert, Billy Kennedy‘s club has been even better than expected. Texas A&M’s opening-night blowout of West Virginia in Germany remains the biggest win for the league thus far. If the Aggies can get preseason all-conference forward Robert Williams going soon, look out.
  • Missouri without MPJ. Assuming Michael Porter, Jr. does not return to the Tigers this season, his career likely will go down as one of the shortest in the history of college basketball. The devastating loss of a player who many pundits considered the best freshman in the country is an indescribably difficult blow for first-year head coach Cuonzo Martin, but the Tigers have righted the ship on their way to a 7-2 start. There is no reason to think Missouri can’t be pretty good even without the services of Porter.

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Improved Junior Class Keeping North Carolina in the Hunt

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 7th, 2017

After losing four key pieces from its 2016-17 National Championship team, many observers expected North Carolina to take a significant step backward this year. And with no proven frontcourt players returning to Chapel Hill, it was widely expected that head coach Roy Williams would need to make some major adjustments to his traditional style of inside-out offense. Through 10 games so far this season, neither of those assumptions have proven true. The nation’s eighth-best team, per KenPom, suffered its only defeat against a powerful Michigan State squad in the finals of the PK80 event — a game in which the Tar Heels logged their worst shooting night (24.6%) in school history.

Juniors Luke Maye and Kenny Williams have given North Carolina fans much to cheer about in the early season. (Jim Hawkins/Inside Carolina)

Joel Berry and Theo Pinson — the Tar Heels’ returning starters — were expected as seniors to shoulder the burden of carrying the team. And while each has made slight increases to his usage and production, they are getting far more help than was originaally anticipated. Berry scores (16.5 PPG) and takes good care of the basketball (10.1% TO Rate) while Pinson anchors the defense and leads the team with 4.1 assists per game. But the main reason these Tar Heels appear to once again be national contenders is because of the improved play of juniors Luke Maye and Kenny Williams. After missing the final 14 games of last season with an injury, Williams was a forgotten man coming into this campaign. He has responded to his new role by becoming the team’s third leading scorer (13.4 PPG) and scoring in double-figures in all but one outing this season. As for his classmate Maye, the numbers speak for themselves. In the below table, we compare Maye’s production with the eight forwards in college basketball who received votes on the AP Preseason All-American First Team. Read the rest of this entry »

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Xavier’s Revamped Offense Starts in the Paint

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 6th, 2017

Anyone who is familiar with Xavier teams of recent years knows that Chris Mack‘s most frequently employed lineup features four perimeter players running a drive-and-dish philosophy that emphasizes excellent spacing. Given that the Musketeers typically have several shooters on the floor at any given time, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the Musketeers are connecting on 39.1 percent of their perimeter shots (53rd nationally) this season. But the driver of the nation’s third most efficient offense isn’t the offensive rebounding acumen that has buoyed Mack’s last few groups; rather, this year’s team has taken a remarkable leap in its interior scoring. For the purposes of this article and particularly when applying it to Xavier’s four-out offense, interior scoring refers to shots at the rim in the half-court offense in addition to shots in the paint and transition-generated inside scoring. For a team that many figured would seek to replicate last year’s offensive scheme, there have been quite a few notable changes driving this season’s jump in efficiency.

Two. As in more than one way to win for Chris Mack and Xavier. (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

For one, the introduction of graduate transfer Kerem Kanter has given the Musketeers a legitimate low post scoring threat, something that was often lacking a year ago. While the 6’10” forward might sometimes be a defensive liability, he is connecting on a whopping 85 percent of his shots at the rim and is drawing the most per-minute fouls on the team. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Taking Stock: Volume II

Posted by Matt Auerbach on December 5th, 2017

It remains to be seen whether the whitewashing of the Big Ten in the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge last week illuminates the weakness of the latter or the prowess of the former. But, as non-conference competition softens a bit heading into the upcoming holiday season, the ACC continues to boast the nation’s unanimous #1 team in addition to what appears to be another strong group behind Duke. One of the teams headlining that upper echelon group — Virginia — has been somewhat of a surprise, as Tony Bennett’s squad has steamrolled its way to a perfect start through eight games. Using their signature pack-line defense to once again stifle the opposition, the Cavaliers are allowing a paltry 85.6 points per 100 possessions (first nationally). If I were your broker, though, I’d exercise some caution before buying into these Wahoos. Consistently beloved by the computer models, Virginia’s placement as the fourth-best team in America (per KenPom) should be met with some healthy skepticism. A home win against a scuffling Wisconsin squad — wherein Virginia managed only 49 points of its own — and a neutral site thumping of Rhode Island (without star guard E.C. Matthews) are fine endorsements of a good team — but tonight, Virginia can play itself into the national conversation as a top-five team with a trip to Morgantown, West Virginia. The Cavaliers face an opponent in West Virginia intent on speeding the game up and making them uncomfortable. Win that game in a hostile environment and buying what the computers are selling on Virginia becomes easier to swallow.

A big week is ahead for Virginia. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY)

While the most popular form of investing is generally done by following the momentum (see: Bitcoin), the most money can be accrued in buying high quality, proven winners that are undervalued and underappreciated at a particular moment in time by the investment community (see: Apple in 2002). And while it would be unfair to compare Louisville‘s Quentin Snider to the most profitable company in the universe, the analogy still exists. The senior point guard has, without question, experienced numerous ebbs and flows during his career at Louisville, but the highs have been frequent enough to surmise that a tough start to his final campaign can quickly be eradicated. As a junior, Snider shot nearly 48 percent from behind the arc in ACC play, good for fourth in the league. Through this season’s first six games, Snider has made just seven of his first 32 triples. That will improve. It is both fashionable and intellectually lazy to blame the failings of the Cardinals down the stretch in its two losses to Purdue and Seton Hall on rookie head coach David Padgett. And sure, Rick Pitino’s presence on the sideline would have probably made a difference. But veteran players with the experience and success of Snider are supposed to make such a transition in leadership smoother. The bet here is that we start to see more of the Snider who had 22/6/5 in a win over Kentucky a year ago, and less of the Snider who posted a goose egg in the Cards Round of 32 loss to Michigan. Read the rest of this entry »

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Maturity, Resilience & Strong Start Has Seton Hall Poised for a Special Season

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 5th, 2017

Picture this: It is March 11, 2015, and Marquette, with a conference record of 4-14, has just laid a 22-point beatdown on Kevin Willard’s Seton Hall team in the #8 vs. #9 game of the Big East Tournament. Marquette would go on to lose to Villanova by 35 points the following afternoon and Seton Hall fans are not happy. Local media and message boards are calling for the head coach’s ouster after five seasons at the helm (without any NCAA Tournament appearances), and Willard even experienced some in-person heckling from Pirate fans the night before. After all, the fans have just witnessed a once promising season that began with a top 15 recruiting class and a 13-3 record crumble to bits in epic fashion as locker room tension destroyed a young and immature team. What would become of that dysfunctional group of freshmen that lost nine of their last 10 games to end the 2014-15 season?

Seton Hall Has Risen From the Ashes of 2015 (USA Today Images)

Exactly 1,000 days later (yes, really), Willard is in the midst of his eighth season in South Orange and those freshmen (minus Isaiah Whitehead, now plying his trade with the Brooklyn Nets) have blossomed into talented seniors. Three of those seniors — Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez and Khadeen Carrington — form the only active trio of 1,000-point scorers in college basketball. The Pirates are coming off two consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and a 2016 Big East Tournament championship run (two feats not seen since the P.J. Carlesimo era of the early 1990s) that included consecutive wins over top-five opponents for the first time in the program’s 114-year history. Willard’s experienced Pirates stand at 7-1 and are ranked 19th nationally following a week in which they won at No. 17 Louisville and defeated No. 22 Texas Tech at the very arena where the program hit rock bottom nearly three years ago. The win at Louisville was Seton Hall’s second true road win against a ranked ACC team in program history, and to date this season, the Pirates are one of only two teams to have recorded four non-conference wins against power conference teams (with three of those coming away from the Prudential Center). The other team? That would be No. 1 Duke.

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TCU Looks To Solidify Itself With a Big Week

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 5th, 2017

When we last checked in on TCU, the Horned Frogs were entering the season looking to parlay last year’s NIT title into the program’s first NCAA Tournament bid in two decades. Three weeks into the campaign, not much has changed other than perhaps the notion that Jamie Dixon‘s team could be even more formidable than originally forecasted. TCU currently owns the longest active winning streak in college basketball (13), but with tough match-ups on tap this week against intrastate foe SMU and Mountain West contender Nevada, we’re about to find out exactly where the Horned Frogs stack up in the national conversation.

With five double-doubles in eight games, wing Kenrich Williams has been a steady force for the Horned Frogs (AP/Ralph Laurer).

TCU’s 8-0 start, while impressive, isn’t a true indicator of its talent level because the team’s competition to this point has left something to be desired. Their best win to date is a neutral court victory over St. Bonaventure, but while the Bonnies look to be a contender in the Atlantic-10, they pale in comparison to stronger teams like SMU, who already boasts wins over Arizona and USC, and the Wolf Pack, one of college basketball’s 12 other remaining undefeated teams. That’s not to say that there aren’t legitimate reasons to believe TCU can tangle with the Big 12’s best this season, because Dixon’s club certainly can. The Horned Frogs enter tonight’s game with a top-20 offense and a top-35 defense, headlined by their current standing as the nation’s top defensive rebounding team, collecting over 80 percent of their opponents’ misses. Significant improvement from Vladimir Brodziansky, J.D. Miller and Kenrich Williams have provided the spark, while additional support from VCU transfer Ahmed Hamdy and redshirt freshman Kouat Noi round out the corps.

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Tennessee Defying Preseason Expectations with Hot Start

Posted by David Changas on December 5th, 2017

On Monday morning of this week, Tennessee entered the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2010. And while it has been a very long road back into the national rankings for a program on its fourth head coach in those intervening seasons, things finally appear to be on the upswing in Knoxville. Under third-year coach Rick Barnes, the Volunteers are proving correct those skeptics around the program who scoffed at the SEC media’s  preseason 13th-place projection. Tennessee’s only loss to date came in a semifinal match-up against #4 Villanova at the Battle 4 Atlantis, and even that was a game in which the Vols led by double-figures at the half. Barnes’ team also owns a number of resume-enhancing wins against Purdue, NC State, Georgia Tech and a Mercer club that figures to spend much of the season in the RPI top 100. Another solid mid-major test looms on Saturday against a potent Lipscomb team before a December 17 home date with defending National Champion North Carolina. Even with a loss to the Tar Heels, Tennessee will likely be 9-2 and ranked heading into SEC play later this month.

Sophomore Grant Williams is a major reasons why Rick Barnes’ rebuild is ahead of schedule. (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Since his arrival in Knoxville three years ago, Barnes has regularly received criticism for his recruiting. He has countered with dialogue about finding players to fit his system, and the fruits of his efforts to build a nucleus of solid yet unspectacular players appears to be paying off. This is a particularly interesting turn of events for a coach who came from Texas with a reputation of being a better recruiter than floor coach. Instead, Barnes has built a roster of athletic players who have bought into a system stressing defense and rebounding. The Volunteers are turning opponents over on 25.5 percent of their defensive possessions — good for 12th nationally, per KenPom – and despite lacking significant size, are grabbing 37.2 percent of their misses (17th nationally) on the offensive end. These improvements from last season (126th and 82nd, respectively) can largely be attributed to greater experience and familiarity in Barnes’ system and the development of players who have spent multiple seasons learning it. Read the rest of this entry »

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