Breaking Down Ivan Rabb vs. Virginia’s Defense

Posted by Adam Butler on December 26th, 2016

Virginia basketball doubles the post. This is less opinion than fact. Tony Bennett’s teams double the post and they double it effectively. In using Internet search devices you’ll discover a fifty-two-second video compilation of Virginia post-doubles when searching the terms, “VIRGINIA BASKETBALL DOUBLES POST.” And then another video with three minutes of post-doubles. Core to the pack-line defense is denying the paint, to ensure help is always available. In sending the immediate double-team, these tenets are fulfilled: help arrives immediately, and the post – and player – is denied.

Ivan Rabb Was Often Swarmed by Cavaliers (USA Today Images)

Ivan Rabb Was Often Swarmed by Cavaliers (USA Today Images)

The ultimate point I’m beleaguering here is that California center Ivan Rabb didn’t touch the ball for the final four minutes in last week’s 56-52 loss to Virginia. Rabb, the second-highest vote-getter in Preseason All-America voting, took only four shots on the evening and did not touch the ball for the final four minutes of a crucial non-conference home game. OK, to be fair, he did get a touch with 18 seconds remaining. It was with his back turned 24 feet away from the basket and resulted in an immediate handoff to teammate Jabari Bird (and zero threat to score). Ignoring that touch fits this final four-minute narrative but also demonstrates two key points: 1) Bennett is indeed the best defensive coach in America; 2) Cal is ineffectively using its greatest asset.

Let’s expand on the latter because to this point we’ve effused on the former. Bennett’s teams have never finished outside the top 100 in defensive efficiency and have been among the top 25 in nine of his 11 head coaching seasons. That point is clear. So, back to Rabb. If Virginia denies the post and Rabb is one of the nation’s best post players, what’s a Berkeley to do? First of all, one of the things that makes Rabb special is his pronounced versatility. He can score from all over the floor, create on his own and draw fouls. To quantify: he shoots 84 percent at the rim and 41 percent in the mid-range; only half of his shots are assisted; and he owns the 45th best free throw rate in America. Furthermore, his 12 percent assist rate suggests that, while he won’t soon rival Lonzo Ball in his passing capabilities, Rabb will find the open man (for context, that’s roughly the fifth-highest assist rate among Pac-12 bigs). So what was Cuonzo Martin‘s team trying to do at the end of a winnable game against a top 10 team? Well here’s a detailed look at Rabb’s 34 touches on the evening (including the last second, back-to-the basket, moment):

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Why Isn’t California Basketball a Monster?

Posted by RJ Abeytia on November 25th, 2016

During the Glory Years of Cal basketball, Pete Newell had the Bears playing at an elite level year after year. How elite? Newell’s Golden Bears beat John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins eight straight times before Newell retired. He took the Bears to four NCAA Tournaments (1957-60), landed consecutive Final Four appearances (1959-60, and won the 1959 National Championship. Those were to be his final four years in Berkeley, and Cal hasn’t come anywhere near those highs since. In fact, Cal went nearly 30 seasons without a single NCAA Tournament appearance after Newell’s departure, and even considering a few lesser peaks through the Todd Bozeman, Ben Braun, and Mike Montgomery eras, at no point has Cal again been considered among the top programs in college basketball.

Pete Newell Was the Only Coach Who Dominated John Wooden

Pete Newell Was the Only Coach Who Dominated John Wooden

And that brings us to Cuonzo Martin.

There are many moving parts to putting together a successful basketball program, but time and again everything tends to come down to two questions: Do you have the right guy, and do you have enough money? The right guy, of course, plays a big role in answering the latter question. First, he needs to build an identity (that tends to focus on a specific side of the ball), some attribute, or sometimes just a pace of play. Think about Tom Izzo’s Michigan State teams as physical, Mike Krzyzweski’s ruthlessly prolific motion offense at Duke, or Jim Boeheim’s zone defense at Syracuse. What can we say about Martin’s “brand” of basketball?  He’s only in his third season at Berkeley. In season one, the Bears ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.  In season two, thanks to the arrivals of Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb, Cal qualified for the NCAA Tournament on the backs of the fourth-best offensive efficiency and best defensive efficiency in the league.

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Pac-12 Roars Out of the Gates: Opening Weekend Thoughts

Posted by RJ Abeytia on November 14th, 2016

The Pac-12 took a lot of heat as a conference during the Big Dance last year as a number of high-seeds (forgiving Oregon) didn’t amount to deep runs in March. The beauty of college basketball is that a new year brings new chances to make a mark, and as a whole, the conference’s opening weekend was outstanding to tip off the year. Here is a rundown of some of the opening weekend action:

  • UCLA and its talented freshmen burst out of the gate and ran Pacific right out of Pauley on Friday night. The Bruins’ 119-80 victory came with very auspicious debuts for T.J. Leaf and Lonzo Ball. They combined to shoot 15-of-21 for 41 points, and Ball stuffed his first stat sheet with a very impressive 19 points, 11 assists, and eight rebounds (and just one turnover) in 34 minutes. That minutes total brings us to one of the big takeaways from the game, as head coach Steve Alford used a very tight rotation, something rare for an opener that was clearly over at halftime. Leaf played 37 minutes and every starter played at least 26, with Aaron Holiday rounding out the half-dozen man rotation with 24 minutes off the bench. Nobody else logged more than six minutes off the bench.
It Was That Kind of Day For Steve Alford's UCLA Team (USA Today Images)

With a great freshman class in action, Steve Alford has a great chance to lead his Bruins back to the top of the conference. (USA TODAY Images)

  • UCLA came back Sunday night in a defense “optional” performance to beat Cal-State Northridge. The Bruins blitzed the Matadors’ matador defense to the tune of 62 points in the second half to overcome what was actually a small halftime deficit. Again, Alford utilized a short bench, with Holiday getting 29 minutes off the pine and Gyorgy Golomon seeing 15. With Alford depending on such a young and inexperienced core, it’s understandable why he might be willing to give his youngsters heavier doses of minutes. Bruins’ possessions lasted 12.5 seconds on average in the opener, and they didn’t take the foot off the gas against Northridge. Something’s gotta give here. Either Alford lengthens the bench or the Bruins slow down, lest they collectively collapse from exhaustion come January.

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Pac-12 Player of the Year Debate: Dillon Brooks vs. Ivan Rabb

Posted by Mike Lemaire & Adam Butler on November 11th, 2016

It isn’t often that you see a reigning conference Player of the Year return to school and not be considered the favorite to win it again. But such is life when you play in the same conference as a talent like California’s Ivan Rabb. Oregon’s Dillon Brooks is still the likely favorite to win the award again, but Rabb is almost universally considered the better NBA prospect. To make matters even more complicated, Brooks is returning from a foot injury. While Oregon doesn’t seem overly concerned that its star junior will miss a significant amount of time, it remains unclear when he will be back so speculation will continue. I believe Brooks will be back sooner rather than later and he will quickly return to his spot atop the conference food chain. Adam likes Brooks too — he just likes Rabb better. Let’s make the case for both.

The Case for Dillon Brooks

What Does Dillon Brooks Have In Store For An Encore Performance? (USA Today Images)

What Does Dillon Brooks Have In Store For An Encore Performance? (USA TODAY Images)

It would be easy to just state plainly that Brooks is the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year and thus should be the front-runner until proven otherwise. But it would be equally foolish to underestimate the development of a player as talented as Rabb, so let’s make the case for Brooks more thoroughly. The Toronto native is not the most efficient scorer, especially from downtown; he isn’t the best passer; he isn’t the perfect defender; and, he can disappear on the glass. But there isn’t any other player in the conference, Rabb included, who can claim to be above-average at all of those categories. Assuming he is healthy (and for now, at least, that is a big assumption), Brooks has a chance to rank among the top 10 in the Pac in scoring, assists, rebounding and steals. He has NBA size and athleticism, and if he can cut down on his turnovers and improve his shot selection, he could become a ruthlessly efficient and unstoppable offensive player. Rabb is without question a future lottery pick and almost certainly has the brighter NBA future, but he will never be able to stuff a stat sheet as completely as Brooks. He is the best player on the best team in the conference and his ability to create his own shot and guard multiple positions is the engine that powers Oregon. He should be able to improve on his numbers from last season and lead the Ducks to the conference crown. If he in fact does both, there will be nothing Rabb can do to stop the Brooks’ coronation ceremony. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Burning Questions: Is Ivan Rabb an NPOY Contender?

Posted by Adam Butler on November 2nd, 2016

It’s been floated around the league that California‘s Ivan Rabb could contend for the National Player of the Year award (more on that and other Pac-12 prognostications later). From what we saw last season, however, the Bay Area big man is wildly efficient and offensively underutilized. To quantify: 120.0 offensive rating; 62 percent inside the arc; top-100 (nationally) eFG% and true shooting percentage. From a utilization standpoint, Rabb played 70 percent of the available minutes (a bit above average for most big men) with a very pedestrian 20 percent usage rate during his time on the floor. His lack of involvement with the offense last season was at times heartbreaking. Meanwhile, teammates Tyrone Wallace and Jaylen Brown hovered around the herculean usage mark. For context against Rabb’s 70/20 minutes/usage ratio, Wallace and Brown were 68/32 and 65/28, respectively. Seriously, the two Bears finished first and second in Pac-12 usage, respectively, one of just three pairs of teammates to lead a conference in such. Naturally this becomes a numbers game — Rabb will get more touches and a corresponding increase in usage, and his scoring efficiency suggests that he will thrive when he gets that opportunity. Consequently, the talk of a National Player of the Year effort.

Ivan Rabb for player of the year? Only if his teammates help him. (Pac-12 Networks)

Ivan Rabb for Player of the Year? Only if his teammates help him. (Pac-12 Networks)

And yet two thoughts immediately come to mind: 1) Cuonzo Martin knows how to milk his stars for all they’re worth and he isn’t afraid to give the ball to those individuals. In which case, Rabb could get all of the touches for seemingly every minute he’s on the floor (something akin to Brown’s one-and-done experience); or 2) Martin’s strength is on the defensive end and he won’t necessarily optimize the offensive end. This dichotomous thinking is the fodder to Cal’s burning hot fire question. If we look at Martin’s teams historically, they’ve generally followed the pattern of riding two horses to their best success. Last year it was Brown and Wallace (at not particularly high efficiency). During his 2014 Tennessee campaign (24-13, Sweet Sixteen appearance), it was Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes (28.9% and 25.9% usage rates, respectively) yet at very efficient numbers (each greater than 115.0 offensive ratings). At Missouri State in 2011 (26-9), it was Kyle Weems (25.2%) and Will Creekmore (25.7%) who logged greater than 110.0 offensive ratings. All of which leads us to a third (perhaps fourth) question: Can Jabari Bird be that second guy? He’s played his entire California career somewhat in the shadows after arriving to considerable hype. Gone are Wallace and Brown, but so too is sharpshooter Jordan Mathews, who chose to grad-bolt for Gonzaga. This ultimately feels like a Bears’ roster that is thin on high-major bodies and talent — two critical pieces not only to earning a teammate the highest individual hardware, but also for making another NCAA Tournament. Consider the last four NPOYs:

  • 2016 – Buddy Hield, Oklahoma – #2 seed
  • 2015 – Frank Kaminski, Wisconsin – #1 seed
  • 2014 – Doug McDermott, Creighton – #3 seed
  • 2013 – Trey Burke, Michigan – #2 seed

Does Rabb have the talent to be an NPOY? Absolutely. Does he have the teammates? It’s going to take more than just a strong senior year out of Jabari Bird. Which is a long-winded and politically correct way of saying: No.

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Five ACC Storylines to Watch this Offseason

Posted by Matt Patton on April 11th, 2016

With the long offseason ahead of us, let’s take a look at five key ACC storylines to keep an eye on over the summer.

  1. NCAA Sanctions: After investigations that surrounded both programs in different ways this season, there should finally be some closure for Louisville and North Carolina. Louisville is still trying to get in front of NCAA sanctions by self-imposing its own (in addition to this year’s postseason ban, the program also recently added recruiting penalties). This strategy has worked well for other schools, but predicting eventual NCAA punishments is an exercise in futility. North Carolina is the more interesting case — the Tar Heels may not receive any sanctions or they may get the book thrown at them. What remains unclear is whether there will be administrative fallout from either scandal. I would not be shocked if Rick Pitino ends up stepping down from his post — especially if the NCAA deems the Cardinals’ self-imposed penalties insufficient. But I would be shocked if Roy Williams did.

    Rick Pitino may be in for a stressful offseason. (photo: Getty Images)

    Rick Pitino may be in for a stressful offseason. (photo: Getty Images)

  2. Coaching Carousel: This is a slow year for the ACC in terms of coaching turnover. Pittsburgh lost Jamie Dixon to his alma mater, TCU, and Georgia Tech fired Brian Gregory. The Yellow Jackets were initially spurned by Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel and Bryce Drew (who went to Vanderbilt instead), and after reports that Cal’s Cuonzo Martin was their top candidate, athletic director Mike Bobinski hired Josh Pastner away from Memphis. Pastner is far from a sure thing in this spot, but he should be able to put more talented teams on the floor. Whether those teams will have more success than what Gregory mustered (two teams with winning records; no NCAA Tournament appearances) remains to be seen. In Pittsburgh, many fans were upset with the hiring of Kevin Stallings away from Vanderbilt (ironically, the response from Commodores’ fans mirrored Dayton fans after Georgia Tech hired Gregory). Stallings will have his work cut out for him in the Steel City, but he was a solid coach with several very good teams in Nashville. Like Jamie Dixon, he may have stuck around the same place a little too long, but there’s no reason to think he won’t do reasonably well there. Read the rest of this entry »
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From Bad to Really Bad: Assessing the Pac-12’s NCAA Tournament

Posted by Mike Lemaire on March 22nd, 2016

The dust has settled on a wild first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and guess what Pac-12 fans? All that talk about the conference being overrated and its teams not showing up on the big stage in March?

It is all pretty much true!

Oregon is the lone remaining representative of Bill Walton’s Conference of Champions and the onus is on the Ducks to carry the rest of the conference from here on out. This is because the league didn’t just have another tough tournament; it has had a brutally bad tournament. Only Utah and Oregon made it out of the First Round and the Utes didn’t exactly do the conference proud by getting run out of the gym against Gonzaga.

In honor of all the awfulness, we ranked the performances from really bad to downright awful and went back to wishing Oregon well against Duke.

USC.

Andy Enfield's Team Choked Away A Late Lead But They Are Still Young

Andy Enfield’s Team Choked Away A Late Lead But Otherwise Actually Played Providence Team

Congratulations to the Trojans, a team that lost to Providence at the buzzer and therefore cemented its status as the Least Bad Pac-12 Tournament Team of 2016. In the interest of full disclosure, USC basically had Providence on the ropes with three minutes to play and frittered the lead away in a flurry of turnovers and missed free throws. You could therefore make an argument that thee Trjoans’ performance in this Tournament was especially bad. The team’s youth and inexperience showed through in a big way down the stretch, as it did pretty much all season long. They shot the ball well, played solid defense for the most part, and literally return everybody, so there’s no obvious reason to hang their heads. They probably would have just been blown out by North Carolina in the Second Round anyway.

Oregon State. Aside from some awful shooting from Stephen Thompson and general uselessness from Malcolm Duvivier, the Beavers actually played VCU tough. The team’s offensive struggles were expected against the Rams’ athletic defense, but Oregon State mitigated some of its shortcomings by taking care of the basketball and locking down their perimeter shooters. The moral victory, however, is limited in that the Rams shot better than 60 percent on their two-pointers and completely had their way on the offensive glass. The Beavers will miss Gary Payton II next season, but they have a solid young nucleus and should be excited about the future in Corvallis.

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Cal’s Tyrone Wallace Sidelined Again With Broken Hand

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on March 18th, 2016

California has an unexpected hole in its starting lineup today after senior point guard Tyrone Wallace broke his hand for the second time this season days before the Golden Bears’ NCAA Tournament game. The injury came in a non-contact drill when Wallace, the team’s lone senior, got his hand caught in a teammate’s jersey, head coach Cuonzo Martin said during a Thursday news conference. With the importance of veteran guard play in the NCAA Tournament, the injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for the #4 seed in the South Region. But at least they’ve already played five games without Wallace this season. The Bears went 3-2 in those games, losing both ends of the Pac-12’s difficult Utah/Colorado road trip in late January and winning home games against Stanford, Arizona and Arizona State with junior Sam Singer as their point guard.

Tyrone Wallace might be the best player in the Pac-12, but he's going to need help for Cal to stay near the top of the conference standings. (AP)

The loss of Tyrone Wallace puts junior point guard Sam Singer back in the driver’s seat. (AP)

“Everybody loses someone at some level, injuries, stuff happens. You have 13 scholarships. So there’s no excuses, it’s part of the game,” Martin said. “We won games with Sam at our point. I’m not worried at all. Sam will do a great job at the point guard position and whoever backs him up will do well as well.” But there’s a big difference between home conference games in January and NCAA Tournament games in March, and there’s just as big a difference between Wallace and Singer. Wallace leads Cal with 32.2 minutes, 15.3 points, 4.4 assists and 1.0 steal per game, and averages 5.4 rebounds as well. Singer, who has played in every game, averages 3.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists in just under 20 minutes per contest. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jabari Bird is Leading Cal’s Resurgence

Posted by Mike Lemaire on March 1st, 2016

After thumping UCLA last week, Cal forward Jabari Bird told reporters that the primary reason for the Bears’ recent success was that they were “coming together as a team.” It is a nice sentiment but it isn’t why the Bears are winning. What Bird is too humble to admit is that Cal is winning because he was one of the Pac-12’s best players in February. His 12-point, five-rebound effort against USC over the weekend came in the wake of 20 points — including 5-of-8 threes — against UCLA, and and that wasn’t even his best performance of the last two weeks. His contribution against the Bruins was the third game in two weeks in which he has scored more than 20 points and made at least four 3-pointers, and it illustrates why the Bears have now won seven games in a row.

Cal forward Jabari Bird Is Helping His Team Finally Live Up To the Preseason Hype

Cal forward Jabari Bird Is Helping His Team Finally Live Up To All of the Preseason Hype. (AP)

Bird is averaging 15.3 points per game and is shooting 58 percent from both the floor and downtown during the streak. If you toss out a dud performance at Washington, he is averaging better than 18.0 points per game and is shooting better than 60 percent from the field. That is twice his season scoring average and the 22 threes he has made during the streak is more than twice as many as he made in the nine previous conference games. If that wasn’t enough perspective, the number of career games in which Bird has made at least four threes has doubled (from three to six) and the number of games in which he has made at least five threes has tripled (from one to three) in the past two weeks. Consequently, his shooting percentage from downtown has risen by seven percent (from 33% to 40%), and he has seemingly overnight gone from being one of the most disappointing players in the Pac-12 to perhaps its most important, at least relative to his team’s success. Read the rest of this entry »

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On the Quiet Rise of the California Golden Bears

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on January 6th, 2016

About three weeks ago, after California struggled to put much of any space between itself and Incarnate Word, we here at the Pac-12 microsite staged an intervention. Without actually intervening, of course. But we did call out the Golden Bears’ loaded roster for poor defensive effort, a general lack of energy, non-existent half-court offense and questionable chemistry. Given that it only a month into the season, we still gave Cuonzo Martin‘s team a pass with upcoming dates against St. Mary’s, Virginia, Davidson and the entirety of the Pac-12 on the horizon. Since that December 9 game, the Golden Bears have gone 5-1, with the sole loss coming in an overtime affair at Virginia, KenPom‘s fourth-best team in America. That loss, if anything, gave Cal its first taste of credibility. So are the the boys from Berkeley now out of the woods and headed to the Final Four? Hmmmmm.

In Recent Weeks, Jordan Mathews Can't Seem To Miss (Mike Stobe, Getty Images)

In Recent Weeks, Jordan Mathews Can’t Seem To Miss. (Mike Stobe, Getty Images)

There is a lot to be excited about in the East Bay right now. Jordan Mathews can’t miss (52.3 percent from three-point range). Jabari Bird is finally showing the two-way consistency that was missing in his first two campaigns. Kameron Rooks and Kinglsey Okoroh are making wholly unanticipated leaps into relevance as capable big men on both ends. Ivan Rabb  is impressing with his ability to both pull bigs away from the hoop but also bang with them down low. Sam Singer has been a legitimately good reserve off the pine. Jaylen Brown, while still struggling to put it all together, has started hitting more jumpers while improving his defensive effort and terrorizing opponents in transition. All of this is happening while senior point guard Tyrone Wallace is in the midst of a serious drought (13.3 percent from three-point range; three turnovers per game). In past years, such a malaise from Wallace would have surely coincided with a significant losing streak (see: last year’s devastating 1-8 stretch in late December and January).

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