St. John’s Bashir Ahmed Represents a Tradeoff Between Efficiency and Intangibles

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 15th, 2017

St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin has the luxury of being able to construct a wide variety of lineups, but a curious dilemma arises when one of his most important players is also his least efficient. His roster has lightning-quick, penetrating guards, floor-stretching shooters and a handful of ultra-athletic big men who can defend the post and rebound, but he only has one Bashir Ahmed. Most of his other players, no matter how talented, are limited to specific positions. Guards Marcus LoVett, Jr. and Shamorie Ponds stand at 6’0″ and 6’1″, respectively. Swingman Malik Ellison is a defensive specialist. And shot blocker Tariq Owens is tremendous in his role protecting the paint, but he is generally confined to putbacks on the offensive end of the floor. That leaves Ahmed, a 6’7″ JuCo transfer who possesses great talent combined with a penchant for iffy decision-making.

Bashir Ahmed is the Only True Wing Threat St. John’s Has (USA Today Images)

Ahmed is aggressive in attacking the basket, savvy enough to draw contact in the lane, and athletic enough to challenge most defenders — all highly desirable attributes in a small forward. But when combined with an ingrained habit of unabashedly exerting his will against good defenses, the result is too many turnovers and missed shots. As the below table shows, Ahmed lags behind the other Red Storm rotation players in just about every shooting category.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Say a Prayer for the Sooners Edition

Posted by Big 12 Team on February 14th, 2017

There wasn’t any question what the college basketball world thought about Oklahoma a season ago. The Sooners were led by a likable All-American who was surrounded by a group of teammates that had played more than 100 consecutive games together. Even after a blowout Final Four loss to Villanova ended their season, conventional wisdom was that one poor performance wouldn’t diminish the tremendous gains and relentlessly bright future the program had ahead of it. Unfortunately, this season has made last year feel like the tail end of the Jeff Capel era. The returnees and freshmen have failed to mesh in any meaningful way, resulting in two seven-game losing streaks and looking like a finish in the Big 12 cellar is imminent. With leading scorer Jordan Woodard out for the rest of the season with a career-ending ACL injury, what seemed like an achievable 600 win threshold for Lon Kruger this season is increasingly looking like an impossibility. One bad season among several very good ones will not tarnish Oklahoma basketball in the long run, but it represents a reminder to those on the outside that no one is immune to a bad year every once in a while. This week’s power rankings are right after this goofy picture of Kruger.

Lon Kruger is two wins away from notching 600 wins as a collegiate head coach. The question is: will his wounded Sooners win two with a month left in the season? (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

  • 1. Kansas — all voted 1st – “Aside from a few down games which should be expected of any high-major college player, Josh Jackson has lived up to the hype. In the seven games prior to an average outing against West Virginia (14 points, 11 rebounds, six turnovers) last night, though, he averaged 20.6 points on 56.3 percent shooting (53.6% 3FG), along with 7.6 rebounds in 34.4 minutes per contest. Kansas’ depth issues have led to some recent second-half struggles, but the Jayhawks’ freshman phenom is the primary reason the Jayhawks have been able to overcome them.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)
  • 2. Baylor — all voted 2nd – “Kansas has made a living in the Big 12 historically with its outstanding interior defense, and now Baylor is doing the same thing. Opponents have made just 44.5 percent of their twos against the Bears in conference play this season, with the next best mark Kansas and Oklahoma’s tie at 47.5 percent. Jo Lual-Acuil and Johnathan Motley have combined to make Baylor a realistic competitor even when its offense struggles.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)
  • 3. West Virginia — all voted 3rd – “Per KenPom, West Virginia owns the seventh-best defense and 10th-best offense in college basketball. Despite a heart-breaking overtime loss in Allen Fieldhouse last night, the Mountaineers are still in contention for a top-two NCAA Tournament seed if they can finish strong in their last five games.” – Drew Andrews (@DrewAndrews24)

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Brad Brownell’s Days May be Numbered at Clemson

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 14th, 2017

It’s been six long years since Clemson has been invited to the Big Dance, and based on recent history, we are likely witnessing Brad Brownell’s farewell ACC campaign. Just six weeks ago, the prospect of the Tigers ending their NCAA drought looked promising — a 10-2 mark in non-conference play included four wins over Power Five schools. After a comeback road win over Wake Forest to begin ACC play, however, the bottom has since dropped out. Clemson now rests near the bottom of the ACC with a conference record of 3-9. Saturday’s 64-62 loss at Duke was a typical outcome, as six of the Tigers’ ACC defeats have been by five points or fewer. Now holding an overall record of 13-11 going into tonight’s rematch against Wake Forest, Clemson faces a steep uphill climb to earn an NCAA bid and save Brownell’s job.

Brad Brownell’s Clemson Tigers suffered yet another close defeat at Duke on Saturday.
(Travis Bell/SIDELINE CAROLINA)

There was considerable discussion of Duke’s emotional state entering Saturday’s meeting with Clemson, tipping off just 38 hours after the Blue Devils’ draining win over rival North Carolina. But Clemson was also dealing with negative vibes stemming from its own gut-wrenching last second loss to Syracuse. In Saturday’s postgame press conference, Brownell commented, “You know, give our kids a lot of credit; we took a major punch in the gut this week on that loss against Syracuse. We’ve been a little snake-bit, but at the end of the day we’ve got to figure out ways to make the winning plays to change these things.” Mike Krzyzewski echoed Brownell’s view by saying, “I feel bad for Brad’s team because I have watched six of their games. Five that I watched, they could have won easy with one possession. This was another one, and that is the heartbreak of our league.”

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ACC Bubble Watch: February 14

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 14th, 2017

With the Selection Committee releasing its early look at the top 16 seeds on Saturday, we are now officially in the home stretch of the 2016-17 regular season. Here is a look at the state of the bubble in the ACC four weeks away from Selection Sunday. (KenPom rankings are all as of Monday, February 13)

LOCKS (6): North Carolina, Florida State, Louisville, Virginia, Duke, Notre Dame

BUBBLE:

Wake Forest vs. Clemson Tonight is a Key Bubble Match-Up (USA Today Images)

  • Clemson (13-11, 3-9 ACC, KenPom: #39). We knew there was likely to be a very good ACC team that would fall victim to a brutal schedule and as a result miss the NCAA Tournament. To this point of the regular season, it appears that Clemson is that team. Wins at home over Georgia (KenPom: #50), UNC-Wilmington (KenPom: #56) and Alabama (KenPom: #62), along with a win over Davidson (KenPom: #88) on a neutral court, and at South Carolina (KenPom: #27) represent an impressive array of victories. The Tigers’ only bad loss came against Oklahoma (KenPom: #82) on a neutral court, but nine defeats in ACC play are too much to overcome. Clemson probably needs to a 5-1 finish to the regular season and a decent showing in the ACC Tournament to receive a bid — a difficult, if not impossible, task. This Week: Wake Forest (2/14), at Miami (2/18).
  • Georgia Tech (15-10, 6-6 ACC, KenPom: #79). In league play, Georgia Tech has notched big home wins over North Carolina, Florida State and Notre Dame. A home loss to Ohio (KenPom: #109) is the only significant blemish on the Yellow Jackets’ non-conference resume, but it’s not a killer and a nice road win over VCU (KenPom: #43) will help compensate. The Selection Committee has seemed to value “big wins” regardless of location in recent years, so it will be interesting to see if that trend holds again this year. If the Yellow Jackets can take care of business in their three remaining home games and find just one win on the road (at Miami, Notre Dame or Syracuse), they should be going dancing in Josh Pastner’s inaugural season. This Week: at Miami (2/15), vs. Syracuse (2/19).

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ACC M5: 02.14.17 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 14th, 2017

morning5_ACC

  1. WTVD (ABC 11): Mark Armstrong dropped quite a bombshell on NC State fans yesterday. Per his sources, Debbie Yow has decided to fire head coach Mark Gottfried at the end of the season and the school has already reached out to Archie Miller. Reaching out to the Dayton head coach is the only part of the report that NC State denies, which makes sense (the school would reach out to Miller’s agent, not him directly). Joe Giglio does a good job breaking down Gottfried’s resume and it appears that such a move could be the right decision so long as the school makes the right hire.
  2. Richmond Times-Dispatch: Virginia Tech announced forward Chris Clarke has torn his ACL and is done for the season. This is a huge blow to the Hokies’ NCAA Tournament hopes, as their rotation isn’t very deep and Clarke is the team’s best defensive rebounder. Even considering last weekend’s big win over Virginia, the loss of the sophomore likely means Virginia Tech’s postseason rests on a strong showing in the ACC Tournament (wins over Duke and Virginia probably do not make up for such a lackluster non-conference schedule).
  3. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Is the honeymoon era over for Pittsburgh and the ACC? Was this a form of destiny or a simply a clash of basketball styles? Maybe some of both. While Mike DeCourcy is right when he points out Pittsburgh’s lack of homegrown talent, plenty of schools with abundant local products also regularly struggle (see: Georgia Tech). Occam’s Razor suggests that Jamie Dixon didn’t like the change of administration and knew he’d be paid handsomely with correspondingly less pressure at TCU. However, Decourcy’s point does mean that the Pittsburgh program cannot afford to float into anonymity. That being said, if the last couple of seasons have taught us anything in ACC basketball, the right hire (hello, Buzz Williams) can make all the difference.
  4. Sporting News: I hate this storyline. Yes, the ACC could set a new record for number of entrants to the Big Dance, but that’s a product of expansion rather than depth. The same was true of the Big East in 2011, which placed 11 teams into the NCAA Tournament. There’s a simple reason neither the Big East nor the ACC was rated as the best conference by Ken Pomeroy in 2011 or this year. Our perception of depth (highly impacted by media coverage and one-off results) differs from reality. It’s true that there’s a ton of parity at the top of this league, but highest number is dumber than non-possession adjusted stats (in 1996 and 1997, for example, the ACC placed six of its nine teams into the Big Dance).
  5. Technique: In happier news, Georgia Tech still has a chance to make the NCAA Tournament. That’s astounding considering what this program looked like coming into the season. It still looks like an uphill climb thanks to a pretty uninspiring non-conference schedule, but a strong finish could make up for some of those early season struggles.
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ACC Weekend Review: 02.13.17 Edition

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

Saturday was a day for home cooking in the ACC as all six road teams went down to defeat. In the only meeting between top-half teams, Notre Dame ended Florida State’s three-game winning streak. In other action, Louisville rallied late to beat Miami, Syracuse lost at Pittsburgh in a payback game, and Duke held off Clemson on the game’s final possession. The best game of the weekend came Sunday night as Virginia Tech rallied from 14-point halftime deficit to beat Virginia in a two-overtime thriller. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Mike Brey had a lot of positive things to discuss after Notre Dame’s impressive win over Florida State. (espn.com)

  • Best Win I: After Notre Dame’s 84-72 win over Florida State, Irish head coach Mike Brey noted: “That was probably the best we’ve played in league play on both ends of the floor.” Considering that the Seminoles had won their previous three games by an average margin of 33.0 PPG, it’s difficult to find fault with Brey’s statement. The Irish did a great job on the boards (+7) against the taller Seminoles and used superb foul shooting to maintain a comfortable margin throughout the game. Notre Dame converted 19 of its 21 attempts from the stripe while Florida State only made 7-of-22 (31.8%)

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This Weekend in the ACC: February 11

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 11th, 2017

Here are a few things to keep your eye on around the ACC this weekend (all times Eastern).

Saturday, 1:00 PM: Clemson (13-10, 3-8 ACC) at Duke (19-5, 7-4 ACC) Someone call Kenny Loggins, because the Tigers have officially entered the Danger Zone. After losing at the buzzer to Syracuse to suffer yet another heart-breaking defeat at home, Clemson’s NCAA Tournament hopes are in big, big trouble. Sometimes you can pinpoint a specific reason why a team is struggling, but sometimes losing a handful of close games is nothing more than just bad luck. In Clemson’s six ACC games that have fallen within a five-point window, the Tigers are just 1-5. It’s difficult to imagine that anything less than a 5-2 finish will be good enough for Clemson to make a realistic run at the NCAA Tournament, and the immediate road ahead is filled with difficulty. Including today’s trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium, three of the Tigers next four games are on the road against NCAA Tournament-quality teams.

Can Quentin Snider’s return to the Louisville lineup lead them to an ACC Championship? (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Saturday, 2:00 PM: Miami (16-7, 6-5) at Louisville (19-5, 7-4) This is an important game for both Louisville and Miami, but for very different reasons. The Hurricanes have won four of their last five contests and appear to be trending on the right side of the bubble — a road win over Louisville would do wonders for their Tournament resume. As for the Cardinals, point guard Quentin Snider is expected back in the lineup after missing six games with a hip injury. The junior was averaging 14.8 points and 5.3 assists per game over the last four games prior to his injury, so for a team with limited offensive capabilities, getting a healthy Snider back is incredibly important for the prospects of a championship season for Rick Pitino.

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Did UCLA Get the Defensive Memo?

Posted by RJ Abeytia on February 10th, 2017

There was no mistaking the takeaway after Arizona came into Pauley Pavilion a few weekends ago and put on a 96-85 dismantling of UCLA‘s defense. Head coach Steve Alford said all the right things afterward, acknowledging and even extensively cataloging his team’s numerous deficiencies in defending their own bucket. With #5 Oregon coming to Westwood three games later, there was little evidence in the interim to suggest that much had changed. Immediately after the loss to the Wildcats, UCLA gave up 84 points to USC (the Pac-12’s seventh-best offense). Following that defeat, the conference’s ninth-rated offense, Washington State, dropped 79 points on the Bruins at an efficiency of 110.0. UCLA”s most recent game against Washington yielded just 66 points and an 80.0 efficiency, but the Huskies (the Pac-12’s 10th-best offense) are essentially a flaming clown car at this point.

UCLA Rode Its Defense to a Second Half Comeback Victory (USA Today Images)

Thursday night’s first half against the Ducks — which featured 50 percent shooting and a 133.3 efficiency rating — didn’t look much different. All the bad things that bad defensive teams consistently do (or fail to do) were on display. The Bruins were lax on the ball. Aaron Holiday entered the game, played hands-down defense, and watched two Oregon players bury jumpers right over him. UCLA wasn’t contesting on the ball and they weren’t doing much off the ball either. Alford tried a zone, but it was hard at times to discern whether his team was playing a slothful man or zone. The “switches” on the ball looked as much like each UCLA player being unwilling to pursue an Oregon player more than five feet in any direction than any particularly coordinated defensive effort.

Then Lonzo Ball started checking Dillon Brooks.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume IV

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 10th, 2017

Here is the latest edition of our weekly review of the current ACC standings and team performances where we focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their records indicate. Each week we delve into advanced metrics to reveal a few interesting teams, player statistics and trends. This week we will compare some ACC player usage rates with offensive efficiency, seeing where some teams might benefit from a shift in possessions. Finally, we forecast how the final ACC standings may look given current efficiency margins, and what that means for teams’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All data is current for games played through Wednesday, February 8.

Current Standings

Syracuse‘s rise up the league standings is the story of the week. Jim Boeheim‘s club has now won five straight games by 10 points or fewer. The Orange’s close game effectiveness is why their record outshines a relatively low efficiency margin. For similar reasons, North Carolina continues to top the league standings despite trailing Louisville and Virginia in per possession performance. Florida State‘s efficiency margin now lines up nicely with its record after blasting its last three opponents by an average of 30 points per game.

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Weekly Pac-5: Offensive Rebounders

Posted by Adam Butler on February 10th, 2017

In last week’s Pac-5 we discussed the most frustrating of turnovers in an exploration of the teams that cause their coaches and fans the greatest angst. This week we’ll continue that line of inquiry, but instead of considering the victims, we’ll highlight the culprits. The unforced turnover is without a doubt the game’s most frustrating play, but an offensive rebound comes in a close second. Defending your way to a missed field goal simply to have to do it all over again is incredibly disappointing. The offensive rebound is brutal.

Ivan Rabb Has a Knack for the Putback (USA Today Images)

Unless, of course, you’re on the side of the offense! In that case, you’ve refreshed your thirty or put yourself in excellent position for a putback (read: easy bucket).

The Pac-12’s top offensive rebounders as determined by offensive rebounding percentage:

  1. Ivan Rabb, California – 13.4% – Rabb, who was recently omitted from the late-season Wooden Award list, is a fitting first place offensive rebounder. Remember last week when we noted that the Golden Bears were coughing the ball up at wild levels? Rabb’s acquisition of extra possessions is a huge reason why they can endure that frustrating practice.
  2. Thomas Welsh, UCLA – 13.4% – Consider that UCLA leads the nation in eFG% and thus isn’t missing many shots; then consider that it’s borderline unfair that the Bruins have a guy gobbling up extra shots on what few attempts they miss.
  3. Michael Humphrey, Stanford – 11.9% – One thing that I’ve long wondered was whether Jerod Haase would follow in the footsteps of his mentor, Roy Williams. In the instance of offensive rebounds, it’s worth noting that North Carolina has been a top-25 offensive rebounding team for 13 of the last 14 seasons. So while Stanford might not resemble the Tar Heels in many meaningful ways, Humphrey is at least trying to fit the mold.
  4. Kingsley Okoroh, California – 11.8% – With Rabb already listed here, its worth noting that the Bears are collectively the 55th-best offensive rebounding team in college basketball (by rebounding rate).
  5. Dusan Ristic, Arizona – 11.2% – As teams continue to play zone against Arizona, there should be many more opportunities for Wildcats like Ristic to grab misses. Note that Ristic’s teammate, Rawle Alkins, rates as the top offensive rebounding guard in the conference.
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