Can North Carolina’s Offense Compensate for Its Porous Defense?

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 22nd, 2015

Free throws, threes, layups and dunks — the distance or form didn’t matter. For much of the second half in Saturday’s game against UCLA, it felt like North Carolina couldn’t miss. And for a crucial six-minute stretch late in the second half, it didn’t. The Tar Heels made 11 consecutive field goals, during which its lead ballooned from five to 16 points. From there, Roy Williams‘ veteran team put the Bruins in the rear view mirror and never looked back. For opponents that have never experienced the frenzy of North Carolina’s offense, the task of slowing it down once it gets rolling can be daunting, and UCLA was only the latest victim to conveniently fall into this trap. Still, for a team that blew the doors off of another quality opponent, questions linger about the quality and legitimacy of the Tar Heels’ defense.

North Carolina Carved Up the UCLA Defense (USA Today Images)

North Carolina Carved Up the UCLA Defense. (USA TODAY Sports)

The North Carolina offense is humming. The Heels boast seven players averaging more than eight points per game and rank second nationally in offensive efficiency. But a heavy reliance on an uptempo attack to generate all those points comes with the caveat that their two losses this season came against teams that are among the slowest in college basketball. Texas and Northern Iowa like to slow down the pace, and both have experienced guards who manage to limit turnovers, and hence, the overall number of possessions. As such, North Carolina stands at 8-0 this season in games with 70 or more possessions and is 1-2 in games where it failed to reach that threshold. While its offense is averaging a robust 14.6 seconds per possession, its defense is using 18.8 seconds per possession — one of the 10 slowest teams nationally. In other words, North Carolina is spending an inordinate amount of time in its games laboring away on the defensive end. Read the rest of this entry »

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Considering Utah’s Foundational Win Over Duke

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 21st, 2015

A year ago, Utah hosted Wichita State in early December. After a 2013-14 season in which the Utes had made great strides but gone 3-8 in two possession games, it was a mammoth game for a program with March aspirations. It took 45 minutes to decide a winner, but a Delon Wright game-winner with 14 seconds left gave the program a foundational win against a proven opponent. They showed that they could not only hang with a top-10 team, but also come away with a win. Early this season, the big story for Larry Krystkowiak  is that life after all-Pac-12 performer Wright is hard. Prior to Saturday, they had played two games against quality competition this year and were blown out in both. So when the team traveled to Madison Square Garden to play Duke on Saturday, the opportunity felt similar to that offered by the Shockers last season. These Utes had plenty to prove.

Larry Krystkowiak, Utah

Larry Krystkowiak And Utah Earned A Win To Build On At MSG Saturday (Photo: AP)

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SEC Week That Was: Volume IV

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 21st, 2015

The week before Christmas provided stocking stuffers for fans of SEC teams, as the league picked up a number of wins against power conference competition. But there was some coal too, highlighted by Kentucky‘s buzzed-about loss to an underwhelming-to-this-point Ohio State team. Here’s the rundown of the SEC’s penultimate non-conference week of action.

J.J. Frazier dropped 35 points over Georgia Tech in a big win for the Bulldogs (onlineathens.com).

J.J. Frazier dropped 35 points over Georgia Tech in a big win for the Bulldogs. (OnlineAthens)

Team of the Week Texas A&M has had a good time playing old Big 12 foes this year. The Aggies had wins against Texas (doesn’t that look better now?) and Kansas State under their belt, and then went and handled a good Baylor team at home this past week. Texas A&M did what Vanderbilt couldn’t a few weeks ago and controlled Taurean Prince, holding the versatile senior to just eight points on 2-of-8 shooting. In all, Texas A&M continued defending at the level it has all season, keeping an efficient Bears offense to 0.90 points per possession. On an individual level, this was a nice game for Danuel House. He helped the Aggies build an early lead and drilled a couple of three’s in the process. He’s a far better shooter than his numbers this year suggest (32.5 percent from three), but a lot of that is due to a dreadful 3-of-15 three-point shooting night against Arizona State. We’re talking about a potential future NBA wing, so confidence shouldn’t be an issue, but Billy Kennedy has to be pleased seeing House trend back up from distance. Read the rest of this entry »

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College Basketball’s Grinch: A Deeper Look at West Virginia’s Press

Posted by Chris Stone on December 21st, 2015

After five straight seasons of NCAA Tournament appearances including a run to the 2010 Final Four, West Virginia missed out on March Madness altogether in its first two years in the Big 12 (2012-13 and 2013-14). A 13-19 season was followed by a 17-16 mark, and after that disappointing season, the team’s second leading scorer, Eron Harris, announced plans to transfer. To outside observers, it appeared that the program was in something of an identity crisis. The next season, the Mountaineers were subsequently picked to finish sixth in the preseason Big 12 poll. But rather than to wallow in mediocrity, head coach Bob Huggins opted to make a significant change to his style of play. That process has been well-documented by both Raphielle Johnson from NBC Sports and C.J. Moore at Bleacher Report, but the short version is that Huggins enlisted the help of former Cleveland State coach Kevin Mackey to implement a faster pace and full-court press. The first-year results were impressive, as the Mountaineers became the most proficient team in college basketball at turning opponents over and their adjusted defensive efficiency shot 100 spots up the rankings. West Virginia finished tied for fourth place in the Big 12 standings with a 25-10 (11-7) record before making a run to the Sweet Sixteen.

With a revamped press philosophy, Bob Huggins and West Virginia are climbing their way up the college basketball mountain. (USA TODAY Sports)

With a revamped pressure defensive philosophy, West Virginia is climbing its way up the college basketball mountain. (USA TODAY Sports)

Through the first month of this season, the Mountaineers once again lead the country in defensive turnover rate. They are sixth in overall adjusted defensive efficiency and figure to again be a tough out in March. While many have already written about how “Press Virginia” came into existence, few have examined what makes the defense really tick. Last Thursday, in a below average defensive performance, West Virginia defeated intrastate rival Marshall, 86-68. It created a turnover on 24.7 percent of possessions, a number well below its 30.3 percent season average. However, the game still offered several insights into how Press Virginia operates. Let’s start with a full possession from early in the game. Read the rest of this entry »

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Purdue’s First Loss: To Panic or Not?

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 21st, 2015

After dropping a 74-68 game to Butler over the weekend, Purdue is no longer unbeaten. Even though the Boilermakers were thoroughly outplayed by the Bulldogs in the nightcap of the Champions Classic, they still sit with a record of 11-1 and aspirations for a Big Ten title and a protected seed on Selection Sunday. Are those dreams of glory well-founded? Is the loss to Butler a red flag or simply a one-game aberration for an efficiency darling still destined for a successful season? A legitimate case can be made for either option.

Despite Problems With Turnovers, Caleb Swanigan is a Budding Superstar. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

A couple things should be worrisome for head coach Matt Painter as his team finishes non-conference play. Much like the Purdue teams of recent vintage, the Boilermakers struggled on the offensive end of the floor against Butler (0.94 points per possession). The opponent certainly deserves some credit for its poor first-half shooting (35.5%), but numerous easy shots were missed and overall shot selection was poor. Isaac Haas (four points) and AJ Hammons (12 points) got the ball more often down low in the second half, and this team needs to play inside-out in order to be successful.

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Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: 12.19.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 19th, 2015

After a quiet week for the league, this weekend storms in with some great games. The centerpiece of the next two days will be the Crossroads Classic, an event that takes the four most prestigious programs from the country’s most basketball-rich state and pairs them together in Indianapolis. It’s turned into one of the premier events before conference plays begins. Here is your weekend preview:

The Crossroads Classic

The Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis is upon us once again this Saturday.

  • Northwestern at Depaul (Saturday, 2:00 PM ET, FS1). People may not have noticed, but Northwestern is 9-1 with its sole loss against North Carolina–a game which was at least competitive in the first half. Not many have jumped on the Wildcats’ bandwagon because their schedule as of today has been laughable. Only two of their wins have come from teams ranked higher than #175 on KenPom and both those wins came in overtime. A win at DePaul (5-5) wouldn’t convert many to be believers, but it would represent Northwestern’s best win of the season (given their light schedule thus far).
  • Notre Dame vs Indiana (Saturday, 2:00 PM ET, ESPN2). This is the opener to the Crossroads Classic and Mike Brey decided to turn up the heat to it when he said yesterday that Notre Dame was the most consistent program in the state, “and it isn’t close”. It’s not certain whether his statement was a direct shot at their upcoming opponents, the only blueblood program in the state, or it was just innocuous praise for himself and assistant coaches. Either way, it should be a highly entertaining and frenetic game as both these teams have Top 5 offenses paired with pedestrian defenses. The game might come down to whoever makes the most threes or who has the most transition points. Grab the popcorn before you watch this one.

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Dear Santa: Here’s Our Pac-12 Holiday Wish List

Posted by Mike Lemaire (@Mike_Lemaire) & Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on December 18th, 2015

Here at the Pac-12 microsite we are hardly immune to the allure of a cheesy holiday-themed post, and so in the spirit of the season, we created a wish list for each team in the conference. Although none of the teams are even close to a finished product and it may be too early in the season to thoughtfully examine strengths and weaknesses, everyone has played enough games that we can start to draw worthwhile conclusions from what we’ve seen. As with any holiday wish list, there are some wants and needs that are easier to satisfy than others but hey, you have to dream big when gifts are involved.

Arizona: Another Shooter

Arizona Could Stand To See Mark Tollefsen Dial In His Perimeter Shot (USA Today Sports)

Arizona Could Stand To See Mark Tollefsen Dial In His Perimeter Shot. (USA Today Sports)

Even without post anchor Kaleb Tarczewski, the Wildcats have been and will continue to be the conference’s best defensive team. But the offense has been a work in progress primarily because the outside shooting has been ugly. The team is shooting just 31 percent from downtown, down from 38 percent last season and Gabe York is pretty much the only one making shots behind the three-point line with any regularity. York has been much better of late and is one of the most dangerous shooters in the country when he gets hot, but he is pretty much the only one on the roster who can shoot. The big reason why the Wildcats rank near the bottom of the country in 3PA/FGA is because Sean Miller knows his team can’t really shoot it from there. The best hope is that Mark Tollefson rebounds from a slow start and becomes the 36 percent three-pointer shooter he was coming into the season.

Arizona State: a Personal Offensive Coach for Savon Goodman

Goodman is almost as bad at shooting and passing as he is good at everything else he does on the court. He is a vicious dunker, a suffocating defender, one of the better rebounding wing players in the entire country and a good finisher at the rim. But, like many freak athletes on the basketball court, as he moves farther away from the basket, his effectiveness disappears. Goodman has missed all seven of the three-pointers he has attempted in his collegiate career and he is a career 57 percent free throw shooter. Also, his assist rate is below 5.0, which means once he gets the ball, he isn’t looking to get rid of it again. Goodman’s offensive issues are a good microcosm for Arizona State’s offensive issues. The team is athletic and defends hard, but they don’t have any truly skilled offensive players. Goodman will likely never become a consistent three-point threat but imagine how good he and the Sun Devils could be if he develops some feel for his shot.

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Levy’s B1G Layup Line: Week 5

Posted by Adam Levy on December 18th, 2015

Finals week is the absolute worst. You’re stuck at the library through the wee hours of the morning, cramming information that you may or may not have ever seen before into your brain and trying to memorize it for 24 to 48 hours (what, you didn’t study like that?). On top of that, there is legitimately no watchable college basketball throughout the week, which is actually way worse for people like myself who aren’t in college anymore. Only five Big Ten teams played a game this week, and the rest of them have not played since last weekend. It was a super boring week for almost all college basketball fans, and the Big Ten was no different. The Layup Line is back but on a small diet for week five due to all the inactivity around the nation; it promises to eat and drink its way through Christmas Eve next week and come back strong.

REPORT CARD

A: Northwestern Wildcats

Chris Collins and Northwestern had a good week. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Chris Collins and Northwestern had a good week. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

 

Sure, Northwestern annihilated two of the 12 worst teams in the country (actually) this week, but they looked damn good doing it and earned themselves a promotion to the no. 45 ranking in the Bilas Index. Many pundits (like myself) were high on Northwestern heading into the season but low on them when Vic Law was lost for the season. They have yet to beat a ranked team, and their strength of schedule to date is incredibly weak (338th nationally), but wins are wins. They’ve proven they have the experience and balance to win games they should (see Virginia Tech and Missouri) as well as stay competitive in games they probably shouldn’t (see North Carolina). In what looks to be a fairly weak Big Ten this year, the Wildcats could have some prime opportunities to do something special.

B: Malcolm Hill

Much like most of the Big Ten teams, Ilinois only played one game this week against dreadful Illinois-Chicago and only won by four. Take Malcolm Hill out of the equation and they’d likely have lost this game, the Yale game and the Chicago State game. The junior’s length and athleticism make him a mismatch for a lot of opposing guards, and the play of him and Kendrick Nunn have impressively kept this team floating just above water. Hill can certainly stand to improve his shot, but the “underrated-ness” of his all-around game cannot go unstated. He’s third in the Big Ten in points (17.1) and free throw attempts (65), sixth in steals (1.45) and 12th in assists (3.9). Here’s to hoping Hill can help the Illini win their last two games of the non-conference season (South Dakota and Missouri) so they can enter conference play on a hot five-game win streak.

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Handing Out Grades For Finals Week

Posted by Andrew Gripshover on December 18th, 2015

It’s finals week across the country and we’re currently in the midst of the slowest week of the college basketball season. The basketball may not be great, but it is the perfect time to hand out a few grades of our own to teams, players, coaches and conferences. Hopefully the feedback will be easier to understand than your teacher’s scribbled critiques in those little blue books.

Purdue: A

Isaac Haas Has Been Dominant For The Undefeated Boilers (Photo: The Exponent)

Isaac Haas Has Been Dominant For The Undefeated Boilers (Photo: The Exponent)

Over the first month of the season, the two biggest “it” teams are Oklahoma and these Boilers. Purdue is 11-0 for the first time since 2009-10, when Robbie Hummel, E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson led the Boilers to a share of the Big Ten crown. This Purdue outfit may be the best Matt Painter team since that group, and some are saying this could be the best team in West Lafayette since Glenn Robinson donned the black and gold in the early ’90s. That kind of talk may be getting a little ahead of things, but these Boilers have won all 11 games by double-figures. The major tests start coming in now, beginning with the Boilers’ next four games: Butler at the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis; Vanderbilt at home; at Wisconsin (in the Badgers first Big Ten game without Bo Ryan in over a decade); Iowa in West Lafayette. Go 15-0 and this is a surefire A+.

Isaac Haas: A+

If you asked the average college basketball fan to name the best player on Purdue, the answer you’d likely get is AJ Hammons. It wouldn’t be a terrible response — last season, Hammons led the Big Ten in blocked shots for the third straight year (only JaJuan Johnson and Penn State’s Calvin Booth have ever done that before). If you asked a recruiting guru, you might hear the name of blue chip freshman Caleb Swanigan, who has met or even exceeded the lofty expectations attached to him since stepping on campus. But neither of those two has been the most important Boilermaker so far. That notation belongs to Haas, the 7’2″ sophomore who has made the leap as a sophomore. Last season Haas’ offensive rating, per KenPom, was 95.1. So far this year, it’s a whopping 129.8 as he draws almost 9.8 fouls per 40 minutes, the highest average in the country. He’s improved his free throw percentage by 20 points (54.7 percent to 74.2 percent) and he’s making 10 percent more of his two-point attempts (63.3 percent this season) He and Hammons are both dominant on the boards and as shot blockers (Haas’ 8.5 percent block rate falls just a bit short of Hammons’ 10.1 percent) but it’s Haas who is the #5 player in the (very early) KenPom Player of the Year race.

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The RTC Podcast: Final Exams Edition

Posted by rtmsf on December 18th, 2015

The RTC Podcast is back in action this week with sharpened pencils ready to tackle the key questions surrounding the first month of the season. As always, Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) hosts, Bennet Hayes joins (@hoopstraveler), and the banter is fast and furious. Ranging in topics from Bo Ryan, court rushing, best teams, biggest disappointments, and all the way back to Ryan again, the guys are juiced and ready to tackle their exams. Who gets a passing grade?

Remember to add us to your iTunes lineup so the pod will automatically upload each week. The entire lineup of topics is below. Happy Holidays, everyone!

  • 0:00-9:30 – Bo Ryan Retirement
  • 9:30-13:21 – What we learned the last few weeks
  • 13:21-16:28 –  Best team in the Big 12
  • 16:28-20:41 – Best team in the Big Ten
  • 20:41-24:24 – Biggest surprise of the season
  • 24:24-26:04 – Player of the Year
  • 26:04-27:48 – Best conference?
  • 27:48-30:59 – Biggest disappointment of the season
  • 30:59-33:47 – Impact of new rules
  • 33:47-45:18 – Court Rushing Rules/wrap
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Otskey’s Big East Observations: 12.18.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 18th, 2015

While every season is definitely long and winding, Georgetown’s loss to Monmouth should be concerning for both the Hoyas and Big East fans. The primary reason is not that Monmouth is a bad team — rather, the Hawks have a quality squad this season — it is that the Hoyas were run off their home floor in a game that should have been a close, competitive loss or a win. This loss is the latest in a recent history full of uninspiring Georgetown losses under John Thompson III and the second of this season alone. When you look at the Hoyas’ overall KenPom profile, a few things stand out. First, this team is not defending at a high level. While Georgetown’s field goal percentage defense of 37.7 percent is very good, that statistic only shows so much.

John Thompson III's team was the latest to fall victim to upstart Monmouth. (Washington Post)

John Thompson III’s team was the latest to fall victim to upstart Monmouth. (Washington Post)

When you dig a little deeper, you find a team fouling at a high rate and failing to close out possessions on the boards effectively. A team that struggles to rebound and puts opponents on the foul line too often allows for plenty of extra points, which is the main reason why Georgetown ranks 87th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. When compared with their Big East companions, that rate puts the Hoyas ahead of only Butler, Creighton and hapless DePaul. Already with four losses on its resume, Georgetown has some work to do in league play in order to safely make another trip to the NCAA Tournament. Lackluster performances like those against Monmouth and Radford need to become a thing of the past, and Georgetown will have to become a more efficient squad in order to earn that invitation. Read the rest of this entry »

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On Bo Ryan’s Lasting Legacy at Wisconsin

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 17th, 2015

Dick Bennett’s role in building the Wisconsin basketball program cannot be overlooked. This is a program that was a Big Ten doormat for nearly a half-century before he brought the Badgers back to prominence with several NCAA Tournament appearances culminating in a run to the 2000 Final Four. If Bennett gets credit for laying the program’s foundation, though, then Bo Ryan came to Madison and made it a seven-figure property in a wealthy neighborhood. During his 14 seasons at the helm, Wisconsin became an NCAA Tournament fixture. His teams rarely had a surplus of NBA-caliber players, yet they still went on an unfathomable conference run where the Badgers never finished lower than fourth place in the Big Ten regular season. Much has already been discussed about his decision to step down as head coach 12 games into the season, but this is not the space for that debate. Instead, this post is meant to look at his career as program-builder during his time in Madison.

Bo Ryan finished his career as one of the best head coaches in the history of the Big Ten. Photo: Steve Gotter

Bo Ryan finished his career as one of the best head coaches in the history of the Big Ten. Photo: Steve Gotter

If we look at records through the decades, Wisconsin notched a 111-127 overall mark in the 1960s, a 108-145 mark in the 1970s, and a 118-166 record in the 1980s. With the arrival of Bennett in the 1990s, that mark improved to 157-142. Since Ryan took over the helm of the program in 2001, however, the Badgers’ overall record has been 364-130. He also made the NCAA Tournament every year he was on the sideline in Madison, and this marked improvement wasn’t necessarily because he was the slickest salesman on the recruiting trail. Wisconsin brought in the occasional elite prep star like Brian Butch or Sam Dekker, but for every blue-chipper he lured to his program, there were two or three versions of Mike Bruesewitz or Josh Gasser also on board — players of somewhat lesser talent who were nevertheless perfect fits for his system.

All that winning and consistency for his first 12 seasons were great, but everything came to a crescendo during the last two campaigns. Led by National Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky and a veteran cast surrounding him, Wisconsin went to consecutive Final Fours, put together a come-from-behind Final Four win over perhaps the most dominant regular season team in two decades, and swept both Big Ten championships last season. Despite the Badgers’ somewhat rocky start this year and his surprising departure, it’s difficult to argue that Ryan didn’t go out on top. The program is in great position for sustainable success, and Ryan should get the majority of the credit for developing the Badgers’ culture that facilitates it.

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