Handicapping the Wooden Award Finalists

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 21st, 2015

The Wooden Award released its midseason top 25 list last week. College basketball’s top individual honor will likely go to a player named on that list, but there’s still time for others (attention: Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet, Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon and Syracuse’s Rakeem Christmas) to work their way into the picture. However, it’s also true that the field of real contenders for the award is thinning as we near February and March. RTC handicaps the race for the Wooden…

Jahlil Okafor, Duke. Odds To Win = 3/2.

Any national Player of the Year discussion must begin with Duke’s freshman sensation. Okafor’s averages of 18.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game begin to explain his value to the Blue Devils, but the impact of his presence runs much deeper than that. His steadiness (double-figure points in every game this season) has stabilized a Duke attack that was far more reliant on the three-point shot a season ago, while his unselfishness has helped the Duke guards find space on the perimeter. The presumptive top pick in next June’s NBA Draft has looked like the best player in college basketball from opening night, but an April coronation as the National Player of the Year will surely depend on Duke’s success. Balance has fueled the rise of other national title contenders (Kentucky and Virginia most notable among them), but there is no question that Okafor will continue to lead the Duke charge. Pole position has been well-earned: This is Okafor’s award to lose.

At The Midway Point Of The Season, Duke Freshman Jahlil Okafor Is The Frontrunner To Win The Wooden Award. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

At The Midway Point Of The Season, Duke Freshman Jahlil Okafor Is The Frontrunner To Win The Wooden Award. (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin. Odds To Win = 5/2.

Kaminsky nabbed the national spotlight last March with a show-stopping regional final performance against Arizona. He has not given it up since. ‘Frank the Tank’ is grabbing more rebounds (8.2 RPG this season), blocking more shots (1.8 BPG) and even handing out more assists (2.4 APG) than he did a year ago. The Wisconsin center has been outstanding all season, but his value to the Badgers may have been best exhibited in a 40 minute stint on the bench. As their star sat out with a concussion on January 11, Wisconsin fell to Rutgers in one of the most shocking results of the season. The loss showed just how important the versatile center has become for Bo Ryan’s team. A balanced Badgers’ lineup may pose some threat to Kaminsky’s Wooden Award chances, but that surrounding talent is also what’s made the his team legitimate national title contenders. And as Wisconsin chases that elusive championship, its versatile big man is making a serious push for the most prestigious of individual accolades.

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Fixing College Basketball: On Pace of Play and End of Game Scenarios

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 16th, 2015

Last Saturday morning, I sat down to do something that I increasingly rarely do: I watched a full college basketball game on television, live and in real time. Ohio State at Indiana. A couple of teams I really like to watch — players like Troy Williams, Yogi Ferrell, D’Angelo Russell and Sam Thompson – all among my favorites in the sport this season. This was a game that featured a ton of thrilling plays, a strong but unsuccessful comeback by Ohio State in the final minutes including a potential game-tying shot — many of the elements that make for a great college basketball game. And yet, for the final four minutes, I was often bored out of my mind. Why? Let’s just look at a play-by-play, including real Eastern Standard Time and game time of the final 3:37 of action in a game that, while maybe a bit on the high end of the spectrum, was not in any way extraordinary in terms of length or length of crunch time.

If You Call One More Timeout, I'm Gonna Flip This Thing Right At You (Michael Conroy, AP Photo)

If You Call One More Timeout, I’m Gonna Flip This Thing Right At You (Michael Conroy, AP Photo)

Indiana/Ohio State (January 10, 2015) – Final Four Minutes

  • 1:51:51 PM EST With 3:37 left, Ohio State threw the ball out of bounds and initiated the under-four media timeout. At this point, the teams still had a combined seven timeouts remaining. It would take more than 30 minutes before this game, which ended in regulation time, finally ended.
  • 1:55:05 Ball inbounded following media timeout.
  • 1:55:15 (3:32 on game clock) Whistle blown following a James Blackmon layup and foul. Jae’Sean Tate fouls out.
  • 1:56:26 Blackmon’s free throw goes through the bottom of the net.
  • 1:56:42 (3:19 on game clock) Following a Shannon Scott jumper, Thad Matta calls his first timeout of the half; he has three remaining.
  • 1:57:47 Play resumes.
  • 1:57:57 (3:11 on game clock) Sam Thompson is fouled, and one.
  • 1:58:28 Thompson’s one shot is through the net.
  • 1:58:41 (3:05 on game clock) Blackmon is fouled.
  • 1:59:31 Blackmon’s second shot is through the net.
  • 2:00:32 (2:08 on game clock) Thompson is fouled, and one.
  • 2:01:08 (still 2:08) Thompson misses, D’Angelo Russell rebounds, is fouled, Nick Zeisloft fouls out.

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On This Season’s Gonzaga Dilemma

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 9th, 2015

Two years ago, the debate raged. Did Gonzaga, the #1 team in both polls on Selection Sunday, really deserve a #1 seed? It was a question rarely faced by teams towering over the polls at such a late juncture, but the Zags’ 31-2 record didn’t impress everyone. Critics brought up the weak WCC. They pointed out an unflattering RPI ranking of #8. More anecdotally, they looked up and down the Gonzaga roster and asked — other than Kelly Olynyk — where all the pros were. The Zags claim to a #1 seed was as energized a debate as any on Selection Sunday in March 2013.

Mark Few, Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Are Steering Gonzaga Towards Yet Another Dominant Regular Season Finish. Will The Zag's Disappointing 2013 NCAA Tournament Showing Impact This Team's Spot Within The Bracket?

Mark Few, Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Are Steering Gonzaga Towards Yet Another Dominant Regular Season Finish. Will The Zags’ Disappointing 2013 NCAA Tournament Showing Impact This Team’s Placement Within The Bracket?

That story’s ending shouldn’t have escaped memory yet (Cliff Notes: #1 seed granted, but Sweet Sixteen appearance sold separately) and it may have more damage to deliver the Bulldogs. This season boasts an equally dominant Gonzaga outfit and a similarly helpless WCC, which puts Mark Few’s team on a crash course for a familiar Selection Sunday predicament. After easily knocking off San Francisco on Thursday night, the 15-1 Bulldogs look as poised as ever to rip through a soft WCC and reach Selection Sunday with just one loss, an overtime defeat at Arizona (who is kind of good!). Early results indicate competition for the four #1 seeds is likely to be even fiercer this season than it was two years ago, but this Gonzaga group also looks to be stronger as well. Dominoes in the race for a #1 seed will be falling from now until March — in both Spokane and elsewhere — but round two of the great Gonzaga debate is coming. There’s no reason not to begin considering the question now: Will the kings of the WCC deserve to be on the bracket’s top line?

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Kentucky’s Perfect Dream: Is 40-0 Really Attainable?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 30th, 2014

On days like last Saturday, they tell you to throw out the records. Rivalry games like Kentucky-Louisville are supposed to occur in a vacuum, a place where bragging rights supersede any other consideration. At leas that’s how the thinking goes. It’s a quaint notion, indeed, but this latest installment of the Bluegrass State rivalry turned out to be all about the records. To be more specific, Kentucky’s record. With all due respect to Louisville’s previously unblemished loss tally – and even more respect to a stacked ACC – the Cardinals were never going to chase a perfect season, even if they had found a way to take down the Wildcats. But for Kentucky, with its stiffest test now in the rear-view and the zero in its loss column unchanged, dreams of an undefeated season have begun to transition out of fantasy and into reality. It was all anyone wanted to talk about after the game: Is 40-0 really possible?

The Young Wildcats Have Had Plenty Of Fun So Far; Are They Capable Of Crafting College Basketball's First Perfect Season Since 1976?

The Young Wildcats Have Had Plenty Of Fun So Far; Are They Capable Of Crafting College Basketball’s First Perfect Season Since 1976?

It is hard to look at the Kentucky schedule and find a single remaining game that it is likely to lose. This much is true. Using KenPom as our basis, the Wildcats are predicted to have at least an 89 percent chance of winning in 15 of their 18 SEC games. The three exceptions are visits to South Carolina on January 24 (84% win share), Florida on February 7 (77% win share), and Georgia on March 3 (84% win share). Florida’s best win this season is over Yale; the Gamecocks have beaten only one team in KenPom’s top 125 (Oklahoma State); and Georgia has two top-70 wins (Seton Hall and Colorado). Do we really expect any of these teams to prove capable of toppling one of the most dominant college basketball teams of the 21st century? I don’t think so.

Getting through the SEC unscathed – conference tournament included — is definitely possible for the ‘Cats. But is it likely? As difficult as it is to look down the schedule and find an SEC foe capable of beating them, winning 21 straight games against major conference teams is not as easy a task as many are suggesting. Even KenPom gives Kentucky just a 24.3 percent chance of ripping off the next 18 in a row. Avoiding a road trip to Arkansas on the schedule this year helps the cause, but won’t there be a night – most likely away from Rupp Arena — where the shots just aren’t falling for Coach Cal’s young bunch? They are shooting just 32.1 percent from three-point range and 66.2 percent from the line; imagining a 40-minute offensive drought is not too difficult, particularly in a foreign environment. Of course, you could use those same percentages to make a different but equally compelling point. Kentucky has been utterly dominant to this point, despite those inefficiencies — why even worry about them?

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Duke and Notre Dame: Why the Nation’s Top Two Offenses Are So Efficient

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 19th, 2014

Basketball is a very complicated game. It is littered with intricacies, and like any sport, there are many different ways to be successful. Almost every weekend in college basketball, many of those ways are on display. But sometimes, in a sense, basketball can also be simple. We’re a little over a month into the college basketball season, and at the moment, there’s a bit of a surprise atop the raw offensive efficiency leaderboard: Notre Dame. Mike Brey’s team is averaging 130.5 points per 100 possessions, and, albeit against a fairly weak schedule, Notre Dame’s mark is a full 10 points higher than last year’s season leader, Creighton. Duke is right behind the Fighting Irish at 125.6 points per 100 possessions, good for second in the country. And since Brey spent eight years as an assistant on Mike Krzyzewski’s staff, it should come as no surprise that the two offenses, in some ways, are strikingly similar. But why exactly are they so efficient?

The ACC's Notre Dame and Duke Sport the Nation's Most Efficient Offenses (USA Today Images)

The ACC’s Notre Dame and Duke Sport the Nation’s Most Efficient Offenses (USA Today Images)

At a very rudimentary level, the efficiency of the two offenses comes down to three things:

  1. Talent. Great offenses can’t be great without great players.
  2. Scheme and spacing. Both teams space the floor impeccably, and their offenses are extremely well-structured.
  3. The offenses are well-structured because they are designed to get two things: shots at the rim and three-pointers. These are, fundamentally, the two best shots in basketball – the first one is self-explanatory, and threes are efficient because shooting 40 percent from three is equivalent to shooting 60 percent from two – and both offenses are tailored to get the ball to these areas of the court to players in positions to score.

The third point above gives us a great idea of why the offenses at Duke and Notre Dame have been so successful this season. One of the most important stats in basketball is effective field goal percentage. It measures how much value a team gets out of the shots it takes, regardless of what those shots are. And consistently, the teams with the best effective field goal percentages are the ones that, of course, have good shooters, but also the ones that take as many high-percentage shots as possible. Prior to Duke’s Thursday game against Connecticut, Notre Dame and Duke were the top two teams nationally in two-point field goal percentage and effective field goal percentage (in large part because they don’t shoot many mid-range jumpers). Their offenses are structured to allow players to take the right shots – to allow players to either get to the rim or free behind the arc.

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Saturday Rewind: Utah is Legit, Kentucky Cruises, and a Thriller in Richmond…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 14th, 2014

It was another whirlwind December Saturday of hoops, as 14 of 25 ranked teams were in action, and plenty major conference programs challenged themselves. Here’s how it all transpired.

Headliner

Delon Wright Did What He Could But Utah Fell Just Short (USA Today Images)

Delon Wright Did What He Could But Utah Fell Just Short (USA Today Images)

Kansas 63, Utah 60

  • The Game: This wasn’t your everyday, wire-to-wire battle. Kansas had seemingly left Utah in the dust with a 23-2 run toward the end of the first half that gave them a 39-21 halftime lead. But possession by possession, the Utes chipped away after the break, and reclaimed the lead with 4:39 to play. But Kansas didn’t miss a single shot – field goals or free throws – the rest of the way and escaped with the win in Kansas City.
  • Kansas Verdict: After the 32-point beatdown at the hands of Kentucky in mid-November, Kansas was rather rudely shoved to the background of the national college basketball picture. But since, the Jayhawks have somewhat quietly strung together some really nice wins – first over Michigan State and Florida, then at Georgetown, and now this one Saturday. However, it’s not as if Kansas has cruised – rather, it has labored through all four, and on different days, could’ve lost any of the four. Obviously this team is young, but it’s far from complete, and guard play in particular is a worry. Frank Mason and Wayne Selden looked worryingly out of sync during Saturday’s second half. So while the wins will look nice on Kansas’ résumé, Bill Self still has a lot of work to do.
  • Utah Verdict: Are the Utes legit? This game would seem to indicate they are. They are essentially a two-man team surrounded by role players, but those two men – Delon Wright and Jakob Poeltl – are really impressive. Wright is a true multi-faceted star no matter how you look at him, and Poeltl is a handful down low. And while Utah lacks some offensive punch – they scored 2 points in 10 late-first-half minutes – what stood out today was team defense. That’s what allowed them to mount their comeback. Over a 17-minute second half stretch, the Utes held Kansas to 11 points, and gradually, they climbed out of the 21-point hole with stop after stop. It wasn’t enough in the end, but a three-point loss is nothing to hang your head about – especially when you consider Utah was without Jordan Loveridge, arguably the team’s third best player, who should return in January.

Best of the Rest

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And Then There Were 10: A Look at the Remaining Unbeatens

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 12th, 2014

We are exactly four weeks – four eventful and enthralling weeks – into the 2014-15 college basketball season. And while at times the non-conference season can get a bit monotonous, this time around it’s been anything but. Most of the top teams have challenged themselves, and we’ve already had several marquee match-ups that gave us a telling look at some squads that we assume will be contenders come March. As far as the hunt for a perfect season goes, there have already been significant casualties. Wichita State’s 35-game regular season winning streak was shot down in overtime by Utah. Top 10 teams Wisconsin and Kansas fell to Duke and Kentucky, respectively, in two titanic clashes. A strong Gonzaga team also came up just short against Arizona, which is easily the best team the Zags will play all season.

Ten teams now retain unblemished résumés through the first 28 days of action. And whereas in many seasons there are multiple mid-majors who feast on weak teams and get through the first month without a loss, that’s not the case this year. Two of the 10 come from non-power conferences, but neither is a fluke – both are decent bets for an at-large bid come March (if they don’t win their conference tournaments, of course). And only one of the 10 might be considered a total fluke. Let’s now take a look at these 10 teams, their remaining schedules, the biggest threats to their unbeaten records, and their chances to progress into January, February and beyond, unscathed.

Note: teams listed in order of KenPom probability of an undefeated regular season as of December 11, 2014.

Given Kentucky's Talent, Coaching and Conference, the Wildcats Easily Have the Best Shot to go Unbeaten (credit: USA Today)

Given Kentucky’s Talent, Coaching and Conference, the Wildcats Easily Have the Best Shot to Go Unbeaten (credit: USA Today)

  1. Kentucky (10-0) | Probability of perfect regular season: 4.6%

“Kentucky” and “undefeated” have been appearing in the same sentence a lot ever since the Wildcats demolished Kansas in Indianapolis in mid-November, and the Wildcats are by far the most likely team to accomplish the feat. KenPom’s model in fact probably undersells their chances. The biggest potential impediment to the notion might actually be the three-game stretch that begins this weekend in Lexington with a visit from North Carolina. Kentucky then plays UCLA in Chicago next weekend followed by a true road game at Louisville. The third of those three games is particularly tough, but John Calipari will have a week ahead of time to prepare for his team’s biggest rivalry game. And with the SEC down this year – like, waaaaay down – if Kentucky can get through these next three, the possibility of an unbeaten regular season is quite real. A February 7 trip to Florida could present a challenge if the Gators correct some of their current issues, but other than that, the toughest other conference games are either at Georgia, at LSU or at South Carolina. I’d put Kentucky’s chances to run the table somewhere around 15 percent.

  1. Duke (8-0) | Probability of perfect regular season: 1.1%

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Five Takeaways From Monday Night at the CBE Classic

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 25th, 2014

Feast Week tipped off Monday night, and RTC contributor Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) dispatched this report from Kansas City, where Maryland pulled away late against Arizona State before Iowa State handled Alabama to win its fourth straight game in the Sprint Center.

Melo Trimble Broke Out Last Night in KC (KCStar.com)

Melo Trimble Broke Out Last Night in KC (KCStar.com)

  • Melo Trimble is going to be a load in the Big Ten. When Maryland’s attrition reached its apex over the summer (and arguably before then), it was easy to get down on their prospects for this season. Whether Mark Turgeon takes his remaining pieces to the NCAA Tournament is a question that won’t be answered for several weeks, but if they do, their freshman point guard will be a huge reason why. In just the fourth game of his career, Melo Trimble scored 31 points to nearly break a school freshman scoring record set by Joe Smith, but looked as poised and relaxed as a 31-point scorer could possibly look. While there’s a lot on the line for Maryland this year, the hope is that Trimble won’t need to be this good night and night out. Still, given shoddy performances by teams like Iowa and Indiana in the early going, there may be room for Maryland to ride its young star into the top half of the conference.
  • Arizona State lets a good offensive effort go to waste. The Sun Devils’ offense was stellar thanks to spacing and excellent execution, especially from deep. Arizona State rained in 14 threes, its highest total since November 12 of last year. Jonathan Gilling was white-hot, hitting seven of his ten three-pointers while Bo Barnes added on five on seven tries of his own. Arizona State’s undoing came in the final minutes as it missed several key rebounds and allowed Dez Wells to take over for Maryland. The game effectively ended on a possession where Barnes rushed a deep jumper with a bad angle. While ASU’s fiery 51.9% clip from distance Monday night is hardly sustainable, Herb Sendek’s team looked like it was much further along developmentally than most teams are at this point in the season, especially considering that they’re moving on without two huge pieces from last year. Unfortunately, they could find themselves wondering what might have been if they had managed to get just a few more stops.

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Champions Classic Report Card: Grading Hoops’ Biggest Early-Season Event

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 19th, 2014

College basketball reentered the national consciousness on Tuesday night as familiar blue-bloods Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State squared off in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis. Let’s examine, assess and grade a few of the event’s most interesting themes and outcomes.

Kentucky’s platoon system: B+

Kentucky vs. Kansas lacked drama, but the Champions Classic remains a great event. (Darron Cummings AP)

Kentucky vs. Kansas may have lacked drama, but the Champions Classic remains a great event. (Darron Cummings AP)

With the glut of talent on this year’s Kentucky roster (as if Kentucky ever doesn’t possess a glut of talent), John Calipari has taken to a ‘platoon’ system wherein he substitutes five guys at a time – two entirely different lineups – throughout each game. That approach, seldom seen at college hoops’ highest level, went swimmingly on Tuesday night as the ‘Blue Platoon’ (38 points, seven blocks) and ‘White Platoon’ (28 points, four blocks) each had an important hand in dominating Kansas from start to finish. Works like a charm, right? Well, maybe. While Calipari denies that his scheme amounts to ‘communism,’ one does have to wonder if the more inefficient or ineffectual players will end up receiving too much playing time as a result of this strategy in the future. Let’s say, for example, that Marcus Lee is consistently less effective than his Blue Platoon counterpart for a prolonged stretch – it wouldn’t make much sense to continue giving him equal or similar minutes each night. That said, the Wildcats drubbed the Jayhawks by 32 points, and – as the saying goes – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Early-season drama: D-

This event has generally produced very good, very tight contests,in the previous three iterations, with only a few points separating each team. Even last year’s 11-point Kansas win over Duke – the Jabari Parker vs. Andrew Wiggins game – was tied with under five minutes to play. That level of drama was nowhere to be found on Tuesday night, however, as Duke largely controlled things for the full 40 minutes against Michigan State, and Kentucky absolutely manhandled Kansas. We’ve been spoiled up to this point and were probably due for a couple blowouts (it’s a testament to the consistent excellence of each program that the first three years were so good), but it’s still a bummer. Hopefully the drama returns in 2015.

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Is Kentucky’s Platoon System Built to Last?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 19th, 2014

John Calipari has been known to indulge in a bit of hyperbole from time to time, which forced most of us to take the preseason news of his installment of a hockey-style, 5-for-5 substitution system at Kentucky with a grain of salt. Super cool that you have a roster deep enough to float an idea like this, Coach Cal, but lets talk when actual games begin, okay? Impediments to wholesale substitution patterns go well beyond having a short roster. Foul trouble, injuries and varying match-ups are all reasons to maintain the classic flexibility of free substitutions. Even with a Kentucky roster overflowing with ability, this mindless platoon system Calipari was espousing seemed suboptimal at best and viciously exploitable at worst.

Waves Of Wildcats Wore Down Kansas On Tuesday Night

Waves Of Wildcats Wore Down Kansas On Tuesday Night (USA Today)

Or so the thinking went. After Kentucky walloped Kansas by 32 points in Tuesday night’s Champions Classic, it is suddenly evident that Calipari’s decision to eschew convention has the potential to pay massive dividends. At least for a night, there were no complaints about playing time. Rhythm remained steady as the units exchanged places, and both blue and white platoons played with the sort of boundless energy that Calipari dreamed this arrangement could foster. You could pull any five guys out of the Kentucky 10-deep and field a sufficiently scary basketball team, but the relentlessness of a long, athletic Wildcats front line was significantly magnified by the five-in, five-out waves that Kansas had to fight through all night. The Wildcats not only looked like the best team in the country on Tuesday night, but also a potentially unbeatable best team in the country.

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Five-Star Analysis From the High School Class of 2011

Posted by Sean Moran on November 14th, 2014

RTC recruiting guru Sean Moran takes an in-depth look at the players ranked as five-star recruits from the class of 2011. How many of these players are still in college? How many are already out of the NBA? We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul dedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

Rating high school players is an inexact science. Look no further than the 2011 recruiting rankings for evidence of this. That year Scout.com ranked 27 players as five-star prospects, and as we get set to enter the 2014-15 college basketball season, there are only six of those players remaining. Anthony Davis was the No. 1 recruit and he certainly lived up to the billing, leading Kentucky to a National Championship during his only collegiate season. Davis is now an All-Star in the NBA, but several other teams spent high draft picks on members of the class with varying degrees of success: guys like UConn’s Andre Drummond, Florida’s Bradley Beal, Duke’s Austin Rivers and Indiana’s Cody Zeller. A few other five-star players were not so lucky. James Michael McAdoo went undrafted after three years at UNC and Kentucky’s Marquis Teague is now out of the NBA after getting drafted late in the first round in 2012. Three years later, only 11 of those 27 are in the NBA (including Quincy Miller, who was recently waived by the Nuggets) while 10 are out of the league altogether, and six are still in college. For those remaining six collegians, they have one season left to impress the NBA scouts. The entire list of five-star prospects from the Class of 2011 is below.

class of 11 where are they now

2011 Five-Star Prospects Still in College

No. 9 – LeBryan Nash, 6’6”, SF, Oklahoma State. Nash is the highest-rated prospect of the class still in college. The athletic wing expected to be a one-and-done player coming out of high school, but he is now a senior for the Cowboys. He spent part of his freshman season injured but still managed to average 13.3 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. His field goal attempts have decreased every successive year and, as a result, his efficiency has risen. As a junior Nash averaged 13.9 points and 5.5 rebounds with a 109.5 ORtg. He had some big games in league play, including a 29-point performance against West Virginia, but Nash only managed to score six points in a first round NCAA Tournament loss to Gonzaga last year. Heading into his senior year, Nash was named an Honorable Mention All-Big 12 selection.

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Digging Deeper Into ESPN’s Future Power Rankings

Posted by Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) on September 16th, 2014

The 2014-15 college basketball season may be creeping ever closer, but the folks over at ESPN are already thinking well beyond Indianapolis and the 2015 Final Four. Last week, ESPN’s group of college basketball insiders released their take on what Top 25 polls could look like over the next three seasons in a column entitled “Future Power Rankings.” The panel evaluated and rated programs on a 1-10 scale in five different categories — Coaching, Current Talent, Recruiting, Program Power, and Stability — then pooled the results to extract a singular score (out of 100) for each program. Coaching, Current Talent and Recruiting each counted for 25% of that final tally, while Program Power made up another 15%. Stability counted for just 10%.

Rankings and lists may seem particularly interesting on the slog through these college basketball-less months, but the exercise in responding is the same now as it will be in January, February and March: We will always have our gripes. Highlighted below are a few of the more controversial decisions — some method-based, others result-oriented — that ESPN’s committee of experts produced.

Coach K Should Have Plenty Of Reasons To Keep Smiling; His Program Graded Out On Top In ESPN's Future Power Rankings

Coach K Should Have Plenty Of Reason To Keep Smiling, As His Program Graded Out On Top In ESPN’s Future Power Rankings

  • Redundancy Within Formula: In many ways, this list would have wound up more accurate, honest and interesting if the esteemed panel hadn’t been forced to break down each program into five components. The gimmicky, algorithmic path that they followed may offer more individual points of discussion (Is John Thompson III really that bad a coach? Is the power of Xavier’s program ACTUALLY significantly stronger than Villanova?) , but there’s significant overlap across many of the categories. The delineation between coaching and recruiting is often a difficult one — as Mike Francesa and John Calipari recently discussed — and stability also strongly correlates with a successful, entrenched head coach. In fact, save for Kentucky, every team in the top 10 of the rankings had a stability score that measured within four points of their coaching score (UK received a 98 for coaching and an 88 for stability). Looking elsewhere, recruiting and program power are another pair of categories with predictable overlap, as growth in either category inevitably fuels the other.

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