Is Cameron Johnson the Key for Pittsburgh?

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 14th, 2017

When Kevin Stallings took over the Pittsburgh program last spring, it wasn’t the typical rebuilding job most new coaches walk into. Rather, Stallings inherited seniors Jamel Artis and Michael Young, who at this point in the season are the top two scorers in the ACC (Artis – 22.8 PPG; Young – 22.0 PPG). While the first-year head coach surely feels lucky to have two excellent players on hand, he also knows that they alone cannot get Pittsburgh back to the NCAA Tournament. The dynamic duo needs help, and perhaps the most vital piece to solving that problem is redshirt sophomore wing Cameron Johnson, who has become a strong third contributor this year. With so much defensive emphasis placed on containing Artis and Young, Johnson has been able to feast on a steady diet of open looks, shooting a career-best 38.9 percent from three-point range and producing a team-best Offensive Rating of 123.1.

Cameron Johnson knocking down shots is critical for Pittsburgh’s success (Pitt Athletics)

The ACC has illustrated Johnson’s importance to the Pittsburgh offense. In an overtime win over Virginia, he scored 16 points on 4-of-5 shooting from three-point range and grabbed eight rebounds in the Panthers’ biggest victory of the year. However, in Pittsburgh’s three ACC losses — road defeats at Syracuse and Louisville in addition to a home loss to Notre Dame — Johnson shot just 3-of-21 from three-point range. Young and Artis are excellent shooters in their own right — both well over 40 percent from distance — but when Johnson is also knocking down shots, it makes Pittsburgh much tougher to beat. Against the Cavaliers, Johnson nailed four threes and the Panthers won. Against the others, he didn’t and Pittsburgh lost.

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Arizona’s Offense Has Saved Its Season

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 13th, 2017

When Parker Jackson-Cartwright sprained his ankle in a game against Texas Southern on November 30, Arizona head coach Sean Miller must have been worried. His team’s offense, already a concern because of the retirement of Ray Smith and the continued absence of Allonzo Trier, was about to lose its only true point guard. To that point, Jackson-Cartwright had amassed a healthy 37 assists to just 11 turnovers and it stood to reason that, with the Wildcats’ best playmaker hurt and the schedule only getting tougher, an inexperienced offense would struggle to score. Instead, Arizona lost just once in the six games Jackson-Cartwright missed (to unbeaten Gonzaga) and have yet to suffer a defeat since his return. A team that ranks 325th nationally in experience is now quietly 15-2 overall and keeping pace with Oregon and UCLA at the top of the Pac-12. Miller’s defense, of course, deserves a lot of credit. His pack line scheme is one of the stingiest in the country, but that’s true most every year — the man can teach defense. Rather, that Arizona’s offense ranks among the best 30 in the country is the story in Tucson.

Parker Jackson-Cartwright’s ankle injury spelled doom for Arizona, but the ‘Cats never really missed a beat. (Tucson.com)

Arizona’s rotation effectively has one above-average three-point shooter and one above-average passer. It ranks 278th in adjusted tempo and 330th in its share of three-pointers taken within the offense. Yet the Wildcats average roughly 1.14 points per possession to this point (1.11 PPP in conference play), and if Trier can return at nearly 100 percent, they look like the third horse in what appeared to be a two-way battle for conference supremacy. It should be noted that Arizona’s offense has been more mediocre against top 100 opponents, but there are three key reasons why the team has been able to stay afloat offensively. Read the rest of this entry »

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Can Duke Still Put Together a Special Season?

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 13th, 2017

Before this college basketball campaign tipped off back in November, recall that Duke was the near-consensus choice as the nation’s best team. With a nice blend of established veterans and ultra-talented newcomers entering the program — along with the Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski at the helm — it appeared as if the Blue Devils were in position to dominate (remember some of the 40-0 chatter?). Now, as we approach mid-January, things look a lot different in Durham. It feels like Duke has battled almost nothing but injuries and controversies since practice began. The conventional wisdom has been that the Blue Devils will eventually get healthy and begin to achieve some of those lofty expectations, but is the more likely scenario quickly becoming something far less than anticipated?

With multiple injuries and distractions, Mike Krzyzewski and Jeff Capel have had to coach through major adversity in 2016-17. (Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY Sports)

As far as all the injuries, suffice it to say that, among Duke’s top 10 players, only Luke Kennard and Matt Jones have been available for every game. Blue-chip freshmen Harry Giles (who missed the first 11 games), Jayson Tatum (eight) and Marquise Bolden (eight) sat out for most of the early going, putting Duke in the difficult position of building rotations and chemistry on the floor without its full roster. Initially, the Blue Devils played well with Kennard and Amile Jefferson emerging as upperclassmen stars. When Tatum joined the starting lineup in early December and preseason All-American Grayson Allen once again looked healthy and happy, things appeared to be coming around. After the Blue Devils destroyed UNLV in Las Vegas on December 10, many observers thought they were well on their way. Then the bottom fell out.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: We Can See Clearly Now Edition

Posted by Big 12 Team on January 13th, 2017

With four games of conference action now in the books, we have good clarity on the league’s pecking order. The unblemished Jayhawks maintain their perch at the top of the standings, followed by West Virginia after its demolition of Baylor in front of a national audience. The middle is typically where things get jumbled, but Iowa State’s 3-1 start and Texas Tech’s head-to-head win over Kansas State this week made #4-#6 a fairly easy call. Rounding out the list of NCAA Tournament-caliber teams is TCU, followed by a trio of teams with just one combined win between them. Below is how our five Big 12 microsite writers — Drew Andrews, Justin Fedich, Brian Goodman, Nate Kotisso, and Chris Stone — see the conference stacking up entering the weekend.

  1. Kansas – “Roughly halfway through the regular season, Frank Mason is shooting better on three-pointers (54.9%) than he is on two-pointers (52.3%). Combine that staggering level of shooting efficiency with his flair for the dramatic against Duke and Oklahoma (not to mention his team’s status as the likely #1 team in America on Monday afternoon) and you have a recipe for a first-team All-American. Mason will have two chances to add to his legend when he goes toe-to-toe with Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans and Iowa State’s Monte’ Morris over the next few days.” -Brian Goodman Read the rest of this entry »
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ACC Home Court Advantage – Part II

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 13th, 2017

This is the second part of a review of home court trends in the ACC. In Part I that published yesterday, we looked at overall home court winning percentage in ACC conference games over the last 15 years. Today we will look at the outcomes when ACC teams play each other twice in the regular season. In the days before major conference expansion, every league team played the others twice each year, a convention that ended when the ACC reached 11 members in 2005. The conference has since played an unbalanced schedule that features several home-and-home scenarios but mostly consists of one-time match-ups. TeamsPlayTwice2

As the above graph shows, we reviewed 312 double-meetings between ACC teams over the last 10 years. We broke the data into four discernible outcomes — sweeps by better and worse teams (as determined by KenPom‘s final rankings), and splits where home or away teams won both games. The data shows that there were 188 sweeps and 124 splits over the 10-year sample. The better team won both games 53.5 percent of the time; teams splitting games by defending their home floors occurred 32.7 percent of the time; while sweeps from the worse team and splits with the road teams winning made up the remaining 21.8 percent — on average, about twice per season.

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ACC Home Court Advantage – Part I

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 12th, 2017

Through the first two weeks of conference play, ACC teams are an impressive 21-7 (.750) at home, flying in the face of a national trend. Over the past 15 years, there has been a slight but noticeable drop in home court advantage in college basketball. From 2002-09, teams won their conference home games at a rate of about 62 percent. It dropped to nearly 61 percent for the next four seasons from 2010-13, and then declined a bit further to approximately 60 percent over the last three campaigns. How has it looked in the ACC over the same span? This is the first of a two-part examination of home court advantage in the ACC.ConfHomeWin%15Yrs

As you can see above, the ACC at just over 63 percent ranks in the middle of the pack of the six power leagues over the last 15 seasons at defending home turf. Interestingly enough, home court advantage in the major conferences has not been as volatile as the nation overall. Read the rest of this entry »

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Are Villanova’s Smallest Lineups Its Most Effective?

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 11th, 2017

Much has already been written about Omari Spellman’s ineligibility ruling at the beginning of the season, leaving Villanova light in the frontcourt with 6’9″ center Darryl Reynolds acting as the lone interior player. The prevailing concern at the time was that Jay Wright‘s team would struggle to both defend in the post and get abused on the glass, but that line of thinking has proven incorrect. Instead, Villanova’s offense has flourished, and the key to unlocking its full potential might just be re-calibrating the lineup to completely embrace small-ball. For all the discussion over the Wildcats’ elite offense last season, it’s hard to believe that this year’s team is almost two points per 100 possessions better. If Villanova finishes the season at this level of offensive efficiency, its 1.232 points per possession would rank as the fourth-highest of any college basketball team in the last five years. More remarkably, though, is what happens Wright removes Reynolds from the lineup. Take a close look a the table below.

The table shows a Wildcats’ lineup that includes Jalen BrunsonJosh HartKris Jenkins, Eric Paschall and either of Donte DiVicenzo or Mikal Bridges — in other words, a lineup that features no player taller than the 6’7″ Paschall, who was a wing at Fordham and has deftly assumed the role of an undersized center at Villanova. In this even smaller-ball lineup, offensive efficiency spikes further (1.28 PPP) and, given that all five players are comfortable handling the ball, turnovers correspondingly drop (-4.3%). Paschall is a better passer and more viable scoring threat than Reynolds (averaging 15.9 PPG at Fordham) with a demonstrated ability to hit perimeter shots. Moreover, he is dangerous in pick-and-roll situations and Wright can also choose to park him on the three-point line if he wants to open up the lane.

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Pac-12 Weekly Power Rankings: Vol. 2

Posted by Pac-12 Team on January 11th, 2017

Ivan Rabb thwarted away last weekend’s final shot, cementing his Player of the Week title and lending us little clarity on the Pac’s mid-section. The second volume of our Pac-12 Power Rankings saw minimal movement as home favorites mostly held court, road warriors fought and Oregon State got rolled (-22.9 conference efficiency margin). Last week’s ranking in parenthesis.

The Ducks Are Coming (USA Today Images)

1. Oregon (1) – After toppling the two southern California undefeated teams last week, Oregon continued its conference domination again in beating the Washington schools by a total of 41 points. What’s most impressive is that the Ducks did this with star Dillon Brooks playing only 25 combined minutes. Oregon’s depth was on full display as Tyler Dorsey picked up the slack against Washington (a career-high 28 points, including eight threes) and Chris Boucher did the same against Washington State (a career-high 29 points, including six threes).

2. UCLA (2) – Depth has become a minor concern for UCLA as Steve Alford has stuck to a very tight rotation. UCLA ranks just 343rd nationally in bench minutes and it is clear that Alford does not yet trust big men Ike Anigbogu or Gyorgy Goloman. It has not been an issue to this point, of course, but it will be something to keep an eye on as conference play progresses.

3. Arizona (3) – The Wildcats still can’t leap over the Ducks and Bruins despite a 4-0 conference start, but two storylines are emerging in Tucson that could very well vault Arizona to the top of the rankings. First, the Wildcats continue to defend very well, surrendering fewer than 70 points in 16 of its last 17 games (Colorado) and producing a conference-leading Defensive Rating of 88.3. Secondly, the Dusan Ristic Experience is real. In Pac-12 play, Ristic carries an effective field goal rate of 64.4% and an Offensive Rating of 126.7. He has provided good post play on both ends, taking some of the pressure from Lauri Markannen while also at times stepping into the spotlight himself. Sean Miller‘s team appears to be rounding into a team with deep March prospects.

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Quick Reactions to Tuesday Night’s Big 12 Action

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 11th, 2017

With college football season officially in the books, hoops took the baton last night with five of the Big 12’s best teams on display. Though only one contest came down to the last few minutes, there were several key takeaways from Tuesday’s three league battles. Here’s what we learned.

Jevon Carter put an early end to Baylor’s reign as the #1 team in America. (Ben Queen/USA Today Sports)

  • The battle for second place is officially on. It’s worth noting that top-ranked Baylor entered last night’s game against West Virginia as a six-point underdog, but the Bears were woefully unprepared for the Mountaineers’ press, turning the ball over on 35.7 percent of their possessions en route to their first loss of the season. Baylor’s resume still shows a tremendous set of wins, but the one thing Scott Drew‘s team lacks — and West Virginia does not — is a true road win against an NCAA Tournament-caliber team. In dominating the nation’s #1 team from start to finish, the Mountaineers effectively neutralized their close loss against a Texas Tech team that may end up on the bubble. Nathan Adrian and the rest of “Press Virginia” have a good chance to keep things rolling over the next week with upcoming games against the league’s two worst teams in Texas and Oklahoma, which is about as much of a breather as it gets in this conference.
  • These aren’t (exactly) last year’s Mountaineers. In the first two seasons of Bob Huggins‘ retooled running and pressing system, the Mountaineers paid a price for their intense defense by finishing dead last nationally in defensive free throw rate. Year Three of the experiment has revealed a slightly different story, as the Mountaineers rank a more respectable 273rd (40.5%) this time around. There’s a natural ceiling to how much a team can limit fouls while playing such aggressive defense, but West Virginia may be finding it. The team’s depth is still an asset that can prevent foul trouble from becoming an issue, but it always helps to be able to keep guys like Adrian, Esa Ahmad and Tarik Phillip on the floor as much as possible. Another area where the Mountaineers have improved is in three-point shooting, burying 36.7 percent of their attempts from distance — up from 32.5 percent last season, and 31.6 percent in 2014-15. While West Virginia will continue to rely heavily on points in transition, the long ball gives them a weapon on night when they either don’t generate turnovers or when a considerable ratio of the turnovers are of the dead-ball variety.

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Florida State: A Quiet Contender

Posted by Charlie Maikis on January 10th, 2017

Just a little over a week into the ACC schedule, the conference race has thus far been a jumbled mess. Every team has at least one win in conference play, and the only two unbeaten teams are a pair of unlikely candidates, Notre Dame and Florida State (both 3-0). While the talk of surprising teams nationally is predictably being dominated by #1 Baylor, Leonard Hamilton’s team assuredly falls into the next tier. Anchored by future first-round draft picks Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac, the Seminoles have won 11 straight games heading into tonight’s battle with Duke at the Tucker Center. We’re only one-sixth of the way through the conference regular season slate, but can Florida State continue its push and make a run at the school’s first regular-season ACC title?

Florida State (USA Today Images)

In their three ACC wins over Wake Forest, Virginia and Virginia Tech, the Seminoles have relied on their size, winning the rebounding battle each time. As the nation’s second-tallest team (featuring two seven-footers and five players 6’9″ or taller), Florida State will lean on that inherent advantage to control the boards and defend all over the floor. The Seminoles’ long-distance shooting has appeared to turn a corner in recent weeks as well. They’ve converted 42.1 percent of their attempts in ACC play, including a blistering 15-of-32 in the last two wins. Last month I wrote about how Bacon’s improved three-point stroke has opened things up for his team, and he came through on that point by draining six threes in their two-point win at Virginia. If Florida State can leverage its prolific size to gain extra possessions and then cash those in by shooting at a high percentage, they’ll be in great position for success no matter which ACC powerhouse is lined up across the Seminoles.

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