Weekly Pac-5: Unforced Errors

Posted by Adam Butler on February 3rd, 2017

The unforced error, most commonly quantified in tennis, is universally agreed upon as annoying. No matter your task, an error sustained but perhaps not earned, is peak frustration. As it translates to basketball, the non-steal turnover would seem to be among the most frustrating of unforced errors. This is the time of ball forfeiture that looks like an errant pass, a dribble off the foot, or an extra step and a travel. I imagine you cringed just reading that list.

Cal Outlasted Utah Last Night Partially Because of a Low 10 Turnovers (USA Today Images0

In this week’s Pac-5, we look at the Pac-12’s leaders in unforced errors. To quantify this, we’ll look at the percentage of a team’s turnovers that were not caused by theft. Here are the Pac-12’s team leaders in unforced errors:

  1. California, 64% of turnovers are non-steals – This is in fact a nationally bad number, ranking as the ninth-highest such ratio in college basketball. It might be particularly frustrating when you consider there are three seniors in Cal’s backcourt. There is, of course, also a freshman, Charlie Moore, who actually leads the Golden Bears in turnover rate. Furthermore, by volume, this must be wildly frustrating as the Bears play at the slowest tempo in the conference. That’s a lot of UFEs.
  2. Arizona, 60% – This one doesn’t hurt too bad when you consider the Wildcats commit a percentage of turnovers that is about at the national average.
  3. Washington, 58% – Considering that all these coughed-up opportunities could actually be Markelle Fultz jumpers? Also, Fultz owns the nation’s 28th-highest usage rate yet turns the ball over on just 14.9 percent of possessions.
  4. Oregon, 56% – Last season, Casey Benson had an outrageous handle at the point. This year he’s yielded those minutes to a Payton Pritchard, a freshman, who’s perhaps a greater scoring threat but something more of a turnover liability (as is Dillon Brooks, at 21%).
  5. Utah, 55% – We’re inching towards the national average (54%) so maybe this one isn’t as tough a pill to swallow as, for example, Cal? Too soon to mention those two teams in the same sentence?

NOT LISTED: Oregon State. The Beavers have the sixth highest turnover rate in the nation, which by itself is frustrating. They’re turning the ball over (stolen or otherwise) on nearly a quarter of their possessions.

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Can Michael Porter Jr. Save Lorenzo Romar’s Job at Washington?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 18th, 2017

On Monday in a gym in western Massachusetts nearly 3,000 miles east of Seattle, Nathan Hale High School (WA) forward Michael Porter, Jr. lit up an Oak Hill Academy team littered with Division I talent to the tune of 37 points, five rebounds and four assists. Back in the Emerald City, Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar is in danger of losing his job. The Huskies are drowning in a sea of defensive lapses and wasted offensive possessions, all the while squandering the services of arguably the best player in college basketball, Markelle Fultz. Over the last 15 years, Romar has banked significant good will as the most successful head coach in program history. But as the Huskies have churned out legitimate NBA talent over the past five seasons without any real NCAA Tournament success to show for it, even his staunchest defenders have begun to come around. And yet, the only person that seems to stand between Romar and a near-certain axing is the 18 year-old Porter.

Michael Porter Jr. is really good, but is he good enough to keep Lorenzo Romar from being fired?

The prep superstar is a lot of things. He is the No. 2 overall recruit in the Class of 2017 and a likely NBA lottery pick in 2018. He is also Romar’s godson and the crown jewel of Washington’s next recruiting class. His father, Michael Porter, Sr., is currently an assistant coach there, and his younger brother, Jontay Porter, is a top 40 recruit in the Class of 2018 who may reclassify to join his sibling in Seattle as soon as next season. Fans and administrators alike are well aware of the significant athletic gifts of the Porter brothers, but they are also well aware that the Porter brothers are only committed to Washington for as long as Romar and their father remain employed by the university. Read the rest of this entry »

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Weekly Pac-5: Freshman Efficiency

Posted by RJ Abeytia on January 9th, 2017

It’s very much a Year of the Freshman in college basketball and the Pac-12 has followed suit. As we now find ourselves through two weeks of conference play, it’s a good time to check in on the headlining freshmen in the Conference of Champions. Washington’s Markelle Fultz is the Pac-12’s leading scorer and the front-runner as the top pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, but there are a number of other high-scoring freshmen in the league. In fact, we could probably just list the top five scorers in the Pac, slap the top five freshmen label on them, and call it a day. Here’s what the list would look like if we did just that.

Markelle Fultz is the Presumptive #1 Pick in the 2017 NBA Draft (USA Today Images)

  1. Markelle Fultz, Washington – 22.1 PPG
  2. TJ Leaf, UCLA – 17.4 PPG
  3. Lauri Markannen, Arizona – 15.9 PPG
  4. Charlie Moore, California – 15.2 PPG
  5. Lonzo Ball, UCLA – 14.7 PPG

Pretty good, right?  Those are your top five freshmen by scoring average. They’ve all played enough minutes for us to trust in the validity of their averages, but what happens when you rank these five players based on offensive efficiency?  Here’s where things start to get interesting.

Player ORtg
TJ Leaf, UCLA 134.3
Lauri Markannen, Arizona 132.3
Lonzo Ball, UCLA 131.0
Markelle Fultz, Washington 119.4
Rawle Alkins, Arizona 107.7

 


Well then.  First, we see that Markannen, whose shooting splits are insane, vaults to the top of the group. California’s Moore gets voted off the island altogether; Arizona’s Rawle Alkins jumps into the picture; and Fultz slides down to fourth in our rankings. This is why efficiency is important to consider when judging players. Does Offensive Rating make Markannen a better player than the others? No, but it does clearly identify him as the most
efficient offensive player regardless of draft potential. That’s all well and good, but what about defense? For that we turn to defensive efficiency, an admittedly noisy statistic compared with individual Offensive Rating, but still a useful and informative metric. Limited strictly to defense, here’s how the top five freshmen scorers in the conference.

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Oregon’s Tyler Dorsey Appears Poised to Break Out… Again

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 5th, 2017

Last night in Washington, a 6’4” combo guard showed off a dizzying array of skills, set Twitter ablaze and almost certainly turned the heads of the numerous NBA scouts watching on ESPN2. In other news, the Huskies’ Markelle Fultz scored 22 points on 16 shots. Oregon sophomore Tyler Dorsey had, in the words of his coach Dana Altman, “one of those games,” unleashing a scoring flurry as good as any you will see in college basketball this season. With Dillon Brooks straddled with foul trouble in the second half and Washington threatening to hang around, Dorsey hit a three-pointer off a pass from Brooks and didn’t stop shooting until the game was over. When he was finished, he had made six consecutive buckets (five from downtown) in scoring 17 points in fewer than 12 minutes. His eight made three-pointers were three more than his career-high and his 28 points represented a career-high against a Power 5 opponent. But it wasn’t just the sheer number of three-pointers that made Dorsey’s performance so impressive last night, it was the variety in which he got those points that was notable.

Tyler Dorsey Put On A Show Last Night, But Can He Keep It Up?(Samuel Marshall/Daily Emerald)

Tyler Dorsey Put On A Show Last Night, But Can He Keep It Up? (Samuel Marshall/Daily Emerald)

Dorsey wasn’t just camping on the perimeter waiting for a kick-out pass. He was swishing shots in transition, pulling up effortlessly off the dribble and putting on a catch-and-shoot clinic. No stranger to 20-point games during his collegiate career, Dorsey looked as confident as ever in his touch last night. You’d be hard-pressed to find one of his second-half shots that even hit the rim. The question now becomes whether his performance against a lackluster Washington defense is a sign of things to come for the Los Angeles native, or just another tantalizing tease of his vast offensive potential. Remember that this was supposed to be a breakout season for the sophomore, the kind of emergence capable of making an already elite Ducks’ offense completely unstoppable. Oregon is still waiting for that breakout.

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Weekly Pac-5: Mid-Range Shooters

Posted by Adam Butler on December 16th, 2016

The game is evolving away from the basket and toward the three-point line. That’s what Daryl Morey and James Harden would have you believe. The Golden State Warriors would have you think the same. We don’t need advanced metrics to understand that 3>2. Especially if you can make it, the three-pointer is the most valuable in the sport. This distance trend isn’t reserved for just the pros. The collegiate three-ball is being shot at a higher clip than ever before. A 36 percent share of all shots are from distance. Like we explored last week, teams make an effort to help their best shooters make that shot. But what if that’s not your strongest suit?

Regardless of how they did it, Thomas Welch and UCLA are one step away from the Sweet 16. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Considering his skill set, it’s not a huge surprise Thomas Welsh tops this list. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

What if you’re better off the bounce or closer to the basket? What if, philosophically, your team isn’t a three-point shooting team? This week we want to consider the Pac-12’s best mid-range players. It isn’t a lost art! It’s just a less appreciated and certainly a less sexy shot. It’s neither three points nor a dunk. Like middle management, the mid-range jumper isn’t glamorous, but it is effective. So who’s the most effective at it in the Pac this season? Here are the Pac-12’s five leading mid-range shooters (quantified by total number of makes):

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In Hoops We Trust: Blue-Blooded Season

Posted by Joshua Lars Weill on December 15th, 2016

One of the biggest changes in college hoops over the last 10 years has been the rise of several consistently strong mid-major programs to the status of legitimate national title contenders. George Mason first crashed the Final Four party in 2006 with a gutsy, emotional Elite Eight win over #1 seed Connecticut. That paved the way for the rise of Butler (2010, 2011), VCU (2011), and Wichita State (2013), each of which were led by dynamic young coaches building winning programs. Throw in the likes of Gonzaga, San Diego State and Xavier, and the growing parity brought with it added competitiveness and a widening of the NCAA hoops pie. But this year is all about the blue-bloods. Kentucky, Duke, Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina and UCLA are all in the AP top 10 for the first time since 1994. While some of those schools have maintained relevance over the intervening seasons, the simultaneous rise of the Hoosiers and Bruins augurs a shift back to the traditional power programs.

College Basketball Benefits When the Elite Programs Are Elite (USA Today Images)

College Basketball Benefits When the Elite Programs Are Elite (USA Today Images)

The “why” for this trend could very well be recruiting. Kentucky’s John Calipari was the first coach to truly embrace the one-and-done model of recruiting. The theory is basically that if you can gather the most talented players in the country — regardless whether all of them will be headed to the NBA after just one season — you should. Yes, there are challenges with youth, inexperience and with program continuity, but he proved with the 2012 National Championship and four Final Fours in five years that if you recruit the best players, challenge them in practice, and preach selflessness and defense, you can win. Mike Krzyzewski noticed and Duke jumped on board. Roy Williams also has a slew of McDonald’s All-Americans, and Bill Self has never shied away from recruiting one-year talents regardless of whether he plays them. UCLA this season joined the party with a pair of freshman All-Americans in Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf. So far, Steve Alford‘s accumulation of talent has helped transform a formerly teetering program into the current #2 team in the country.

Conventional wisdom once held that experience trumps talent in the NCAA Tournament. This was the rationale for the VCUs, Butlers and Wichita States of the game. But as major programs blend experienced returnees with those talented NBA prospects, they often overwhelm their less athletic, overachieving rivals. So, does this early trend hold? That remains to be seen. Perhaps those talented freshmen will revert to traditional norms or hit the rookie wall as the long season works its way into spring. Or perhaps injuries will take a toll. Or maybe some of those power programs in smaller conferences will again crash the party. It wouldn’t be a shock. But so far this season, it’s been a feast for the rich. How fat they get we shall know in good time.

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Weekly Pac-5: Spot Up Shooters

Posted by Adam Butler on December 9th, 2016

An open three-pointer is a simpler three-pointer. There are a few ways someone can get open for basketball’s highest value shot: dribbling by yourself; letting someone else attract the defense; or running off of screens set by teammates. These options (and I’ve indubitably missed some) are listed in order of increasing participation. Which is to say, scenario one takes just one player; scenario two requires a pair; and scenario three needs — at a minimum — three. As we learned in kindergarten, sharing is caring and there is no “I” in team. Greater involvement often lends itself to greater success. These elementary insights may not be the core reason you visit RTC’s Pac-12 microsite, but if the objective of the sport is to optimize shot-making or shot-stopping, then perhaps it’s a worthwhile exploration. Because we’d like to know who is best suited to make this team-built open shot? In this week’s segment of the Weekly Pac-5, we’ll discover and list the best spot-up shooters in the Pac-12.

Isaac Hamilton is the best long-range shooter in the Pac-12. (photo by Don Liebig)

Isaac Hamilton is the best long-range shooter in the Pac-12. (photo by Don Liebig)

These are the players, loosely defined, whose teams are going to make an effort to get them open. Through planning and screening, it’s a worthwhile endeavor to get these dudes open from distance. We’ll quantify it by the number of assisted threes made, as this suggests an open, quality shot in which one player has recognized the other’s advantageous, shot-making position. If assisted, the assumption is that our shooter has set his feet and evaded the defense with some assistance of his teammates. He is not running amok, wildly crossing over, stepping back or doing all of the moves you loathe as a fan (and cherish as a fan of Steph Curry). Consider that Klay Thompson scored 60 points on 20 assisted baskets (he made 21 field goals in total) earlier this week. For your further consideration and long-term focus, Pac-12 point guards have been outstanding thus far. Lonzo Ball’s success is well-documented, as is Markelle Fultz’s, but there are five other players averaging more than four assists per game. Nice distribution! Read the rest of this entry »

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A Closer Look at Washington’s Markelle Fultz

Posted by Luke Byrnes on December 8th, 2016

The game of basketball has changed dramatically over the last few decades. The three-point shot has become a significant offensive piece rather than an afterthought, “small-ball” lineups have become en vogue at every level of basketball, and youth has taken over. With these changes have come a different type of NBA prospect — someone like Washington freshman guard Markelle Fultz. Considered the likely overall No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft by many, Fultz has great length (6’4″ with a 6’9” wingspan), silky smooth athleticism, and is extremely skilled — all characteristics that coincide with the evolution of the game toward players that transcend position. And Fultz does just that. The point guard is shooting 50.8 percent from the field, including a scorching 48.5 percent from three-point range, while averaging 23.0 points, 7.1 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.4 blocks and 2.0 steals per game. On Wednesday night, Fultz’s Huskies renewed their cross-state rivalry — which had fallen dormant for nearly a decade — with #8 Gonzaga. The Bulldogs quickly ran away from his team and, for the better part of the game, the only drama in the McCarthey Center swirled around whether Fultz would put on display the skill set that has propelled him to the top of nearly every mock draft.

Markelle Fultz (USA Today Images)

If You Didn’t Watch Last Night, You Missed One of Your Few Opportunities to See Markelle Fultz on National Television (USA Today Images)

Well… Yes and no. 

Fultz, like the rest of the Dawgs, got off to a slow start. The superstar freshman made just two of his first eight shots and finished the first half with six points (3-of-14 FG) as Washington trailed 47-22 at the break. Despite his shooting struggles, Fultz showed that he is equally capable of affecting a game without scoring. He grabbed seven first half rebounds, including four offensive, and also logged one blocked shot and a steal. The point guard who is the presumptive #1 pick couldn’t buy a bucket and played a half without a single assist?  Well, yes, but… as poorly as Fultz shot in the first half, his teammates didn’t exactly pick up the slack or capitalize on the scoring opportunities created by their floor general’s playmaking and rebounding. The rest of the Huskies combined to shoot 21.4 percent from the field before halftime, repeatedly missing layups and open jumpers. Fultz still put his well-rounded skill set on display by consistently getting into the lane, mostly going to his right, using a deceptively quick first step and finishing with 10 rebounds. 

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Pac-12 Freshman Ladder: Early December Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 7th, 2016

I don’t know how long Scott Howard-Cooper has been writing his Rookie Ladder column for NBA.com but it has long been one of the more underrated features in basketball writing. There is nothing complex about its structure as a traditional weekly power ranking of NBA rookies. Yet basketball fans are always drawn to the new, which is why the Rookie Ladder column exists. The appeal of rookie coverage is true in college basketball as well. You don’t see the Pac-12 handing out a “Second-Year Player of the Year” award, do you? The season is now old enough that sample sizes are starting to become meaningful. Also, I am nothing if not a ruthless (but self-aware) copycat. So here is our best imitation of Cooper’s excellent feature – the inaugural Pac-12 Freshman Ladder.

Lonzo Ball (USA Today Images)

Lonzo Ball Leads the Pac-12 Freshman Ladder (USA Today Images)

  1. Lonzo Ball, UCLA. In our top-secret algorithm that determines these rankings, winning matters, if only a little. UCLA is undefeated and that is why Ball edges past Markelle Fultz on this list for now. Bolstered by a surprising ability to knock down threes (43.5% 3FG), Ball has been one of the most efficient offensive players in college basketball (67.5% eFG) while also affecting every possession without having to score. He has turned the ball over 12 times in the last three games, but the Bruins are so lethal offensively with the freshman running the show that UCLA will live with those mistakes.
  2. Markelle Fultz, Washington. Fultz is playing a different role at Washington than Ball is at UCLA but his playmaking skills are just as advanced. Fultz’s assist rate (37.0%) and turnover rate (17.6%) compare favorably with Ball and his shot-making responsibilities and usage rate mean that he is scoring more as well. His defensive numbers (4.1% block rate and 3.4% steal rate) are also superior to his southern California counterpart. One could reasonably argue that if Fultz were running point in Westwood and the Bruins were still undefeated, he would be the clear alpha dog on this list. Read the rest of this entry »
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Markelle Fultz is Terrific: Will Washington Waste Him?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 17th, 2016

Last Sunday night in Seattle provided a huge helping of catharsis for the Lorenzo Romar detractors out there. Romar certainly didn’t help his case by bravely taking to Twitter after the game — a 98-90 loss to Yale — to thank the fans. Not so grateful Washington fans responded by asking why the longtime Huskies head coach still has a job. It is hard to blame those fans for their frustration after watching their team shoot almost 60 percent from the field against an Ivy League opponent and still lose by giving up nearly 100 points to a team without its best player. Perhaps the most disheartening part of the result is that it appears the college basketball world will struggle to fully appreciate a potential No. 1 overall pick because his team won’t play many meaningful basketball games. Markelle Fultz was everything people said he would be (and more) in his debut, scoring 30 points on just 17 shots while adding seven rebounds and six assists to boot.

Markelle Fultz has been everything pundits expected, but will it be enough? (Seattle Times)

Markelle Fultz has been everything pundits expected, but will it be enough? (Seattle Times)

Fultz was hardly perfect — he missed four free throws and contributed greatly to the team’s overall defensive malaise — but he dominated the Bulldogs on the offensive end in a smooth and effortless manner. At times it barely looked like he was trying — the freshman would just glide up the court, beat his defender off the dribble and make a shot. East Coast fans with insomnia could do worse than tuning in to watch Fultz work his offensive magic a couple times per week. The problem is that, much like Ben Simmons at LSU last season, Fultz appears condemned to basketball purgatory, sentenced to a season of video game numbers with plenty of losing. That is an unfortunate outcome for everyone who loves college basketball, because the sport as a whole benefits when the best players play meaningful games. Read the rest of this entry »

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