Night Line: Is Vanderbilt Back? Commodores Are Getting Stronger Every Game

Posted by EJacoby on January 20th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor and correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.

The popularity of Alabama’s basketball team might pale in comparison to that of its National Championship football squad, but the boys on the hardwood win its games in a similar fashion: defense, defense, and more defense. So the fact that Vanderbilt showed up in Tuscaloosa on Thursday night with the more physical defensive effort was impressive, especially considering how poor the Commodores struggled on the defensive end just a few weeks ago. Kevin Stallings’ team allowed just 59 points in the road win, and Vanderbilt (14-4, 4-0 SEC) is a much tougher team now with physical force Festus Ezeli back in the lineup. This group is a changed bunch from the team that lost to Indiana State at home in December, and the Commodores must be taken seriously now as a team with the formula to make a run in March.

With Ezeli Back, Vanderbilt is a Much Tougher Team Defensively (Getty Images/G. Halverson)

Vanderbilt entered this season a preseason Top 10 team, bringing back all five starters and three NBA prospects in Jeffery Taylor, John Jenkins, and Ezeli. Jenkins has held up his end of the bargain, leading the conference in scoring at 19.8 points per game. He’s arguably the best shooter in college basketball, currently leading the nation in three-point field goals (67) at a 45.3% rate (third in the SEC). Taylor has done his part, too, displaying his all-around game to the tune of 16.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.4 steals per game on 53.6% field goal shooting and the ability to hit from deep (45.3% on 3.5 attempts per game). But Ezeli missed six games due to an NCAA violation-related suspension, and another three recovering from knee surgery, and the Commodores struggled without him. While he doesn’t provide the statistical production of his fellow team leaders, Ezeli is their only true interior threat and most impactful defender. Take away those two aspects, and Vanderbilt barely looked like an above-average team for the first 10 games of this season.

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Tracking The Four: Conference Play Begins

Posted by EJacoby on January 10th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist and contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

Welcome to Tracking The Four! This new series reads just like it sounds, as we will be following four buzz-worthy teams across the country. Those lucky teams are Syracuse (current #1 team and a title favorite), Indiana (a feel-good contender), Murray State (undefeated dreams), and UNLV (the best of the West). With TT4, we hope to provide readers with interesting insights about each of the featured teams that helps capture the atmosphere of the programs throughout the rest of the season. Look for a full TT4 piece every Tuesday, as well as a shorter update later in the week. Each post will be loaded with highlights, lowlights, and tidbits about each team, as well as recaps from their recent play and a look ahead at their upcoming games. Conference play is well underway and there’s plenty of news to get to this week:

Kris Joseph & Syracuse are All Smiles Right Now (Getty Images/A. Lyons)

Syracuse Orange

  • Trending UP Because… – They’re looking like national title favorites. The undefeated Orange (17-0, 4-0 Big East) remain number one in every national poll, including the RTC Top 25, with its consistently dominant play. They’ve beaten their four conference opponents by an average of 16.5 points, which includes two road games and two home games against ranked teams (Seton Hall & Marquette). Seton Hall has proven to be a solid and cohesive offensive team, yet the Pirates were blown out of the gym by Syracuse in a 75-49 thrashing. The Orange are the deepest team in the country with 10 meaningful contributors, and their patented 2-3 zone is as strong as ever. Jim Boeheim‘s team is now making bigger headlines on the court than off it (the Bernie Fine sexual harassment allegation was a big story), a refreshing trend for the sake of all its fans.
  • This Week’s Key Cog – Brandon Triche. The junior guard led the team in scoring last week, going for 16 points at Providence on Wednesday and another 16 at home against Marquette on Saturday. He hit four three-pointers in each game with an impressive line of 16/7/4 assts and two steals in the victory over Marquette.
  • Play of the Week – Point guard Scoop Jardine finds his go-to guy Kris Joseph in transition for a thunderous dunk from several feet away from the basket against Providence.
  • Talking Point – Guard Dion Waiters, who comes off the bench, had this to say after the win over Providence: “I’ve never been on a team with subs like this. It’s crazy. We continue to get better and make each other better in practice every day. We’ve got some of the best guards in the country.’’
  • Stats Central – Syracuse leads the nation with 37.5 points per game from its bench, further proving that they’re the deepest team in America. Also, their zone defense has been truly elite this season, as the Orange lead the country in steals (10.9 per game), are third in blocks (7.4 per game), and fifth in forcing turnovers (18.7 per game).
  • What’s Next? – The Orange play at Villanova on Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia (7:00 PM ET, ESPN2) against a struggling Wildcats team, but it’s still a rivalry game in which the Villanova crowd should be fired up and looking for the upset. Then, Cuse gets its second matchup with Providence, this time at home on Saturday (6:00 PM ET) as heavy favorites.
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Night Line: How Far Can Wisconsin’s Unique System Carry Them?

Posted by EJacoby on December 1st, 2011


Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist. You can find him 
@evanJacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.

Every year, Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan finds a way to turn a collection of mostly unheralded individual players into an overachieving team, thanks to a well-designed playing style that values time of possession and situational playmaking. This season appears to be no different, and in fact might be the ultimate example of the perfect Wisconsin system. Bo’s Badgers suffered their first loss of the season on Wednesday night at No. 4 North Carolina, yet the team nearly pulled out a victory against a team it never stood a chance against, at least on paper. Once the ball tips off, Wisconsin dominates the pace of games, and this team does one thing better than any other – it limits their opponents’ possessions. This style almost took down UNC tonight, and it should lead to victories against nearly any other team.

They Lost to UNC, But Wisconsin's Defense Should Lead to Many Victories (AP/G. Broome)

This is Bo Ryan basketball; a slowed-down version of the game that may not be the most entertaining for casual fans to enjoy, but is fascinating for basketball purists to watch. A Wisconsin tilt this season averages out to a 60-possession game, which is the lowest pace in the country. They have the best defensive efficiency (83.5) and lowest turnover rate (8.1 per game) in the nation as well. They have a fearless leader in preseason All-America point guard Jordan Taylor, and he orchestrates the team on both ends of the floor. Even though the Badgers got outrebounded on Wednesday by 13 against North Carolina, and they hardly ever got to the free throw line (six attempts), limiting their opponent’s offensive opportunities gave them a reasonable chance to win in the final few minutes. Few teams that Wisconsin plays will be as gifted offensively as UNC, so they should be able to prevent more points against other teams by employing this style.

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Behind the Numbers: Who Needs to Shoot More Threes?

Posted by KCarpenter on December 22nd, 2010

Kellen Carpenter is an RTC contributor.

A wise man was once asked why he shot so many threes. The sage stroked his chin and replied simply, “Because there are no fours.” Truly this is the wisdom of the ages. While there are some amongst us who dispute the wisdom-dispensing qualifications of former Kentucky Wildcat/Boston Celtic/Miami Heat Antoine Walker, there is at least a hint of a whiff of a smidgen of truth to his sentiment. The three is a powerful and deadly offensive weapon and the proper deployment of judicious three-point shooting can transform a tough team into a deadly team.  This isn’t a secret. Lots of teams know this. How many March upsets follow the familiar script of an overmatched, smaller team launching a barrage of threes in a bid to upset its major-conference opponent? Most of them. But it’s not just underdogs that utilize the three, it’s the top dogs too: Duke’s tremendous early season success is due in no small part to shooting a blistering 43.6% from beyond the arc so far this season. The three is potent, indeed.

Employee #8 Never Hesitated on a Trey Attempt

Yet, for some reason, many teams shy away from the three. Why? The three is mighty, and sometimes a player or a whole team can become drunk on its power, letting loose a barrage of deep shots only to have the shots not fall. The barrage of bricks, airballs, and just plain ugly shots can grind an offense to a halt. Fairly or not, some coaches disparage the three and discourage their players from taking what they see as a relatively low-percentage shot. In their eyes, the three is imprudent and hasty, the product of players not having the discipline to work the ball around the defense, to set up a shot closer to the rim for a “high-percentage shot.” It’s hard to fault coaches for wanting their teams to take the best shots they can get, but sometimes, in trying to avoid the risk of the three-point shot, coaches are actually turning down the real “high-percentage shot.”

Three-point shots, as you may have noticed, are worth one point more than a regular field goal, and because of this mathematical fact, hitting two out of five three-pointers or hitting three out of five standard field goals nets you the same result: six points on five shots taken. Dazzling arithmetic, I know, but I just want to be crystal clear on this so I can make the point that it’s easy to compare the relative efficacy of shooting twos versus shooting threes by simply taking the three-point shooting percentage of a given player or team and multiplying it by 1.5. This is the essential wizardry behind the concept of effective field goal percentage (eFG%) and the trick we are going to use to figure out which teams would be better off shooting more often from behind the arc.

If a team’s actual two-point field goal percentage is lower than the three-point field goal percentage multiplied by 1.5, it suggests that the team’s better offensive option is shooting the three. If you were to run this basic check on all 345 teams that Mr. Ken Pomeroy quantifies, you’d see that a whopping 246 teams get more offensive bang for their buck from shooting threes. Now, this is a really crude calculation with an even cruder suggestion: if you are effectively better at shooting threes than shooting twos (which most of you are) you should take more threes. This advice ignores a lot of variables like which shots are open, who is open to take those shots, and the difficult-to-measure value of a balanced offense. In many cases, coaches realize how valuable the three-point shot is and are taking those shots at a rate that they feel is most effective for their offense. In these cases, it’s not inherently interesting that the effective three-point percentage happens to be a little higher than two-point percentage; it’s simply a matter of chance with a fairly ambiguous interpretation. What’s much more interesting is to take a look at teams where the numbers are less ambiguous: teams that are much better, relatively speaking, at taking threes than twos, yet insist on ignoring that evidence anyway.  (see table below)

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Where 2010-11 Happens: Reason #28 Why We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 6th, 2010

Shamelessly cribbing from the clever NBA catch phrase, we here at RTC will present you with the 2010-11 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball as we ramp up to the start of the season a little over a month from now.  We’ll be bringing you players to watch for this season and moments to remember from last season, courtesy of the series of dump trucks, wires and effluvia known as YouTube.  If you want to have some fun while killing time, we encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons.  Enjoy.

#28- Where En Fuego Insults the Man Happens

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2008-09 Quarterly Report – Q1

Posted by rtmsf on December 8th, 2008

Believe it or not, we’re already one-quarter of the way through the regular season.  Most teams have played seven or eight of their allotted 28 regular season games, and as we head into the next two weeks of semester finals, things will quiet down a bit.  Thus, now is a good time to stop, take a look back at the first month of the season, and reflect as to some of the things we think we’ve learned through the “getting to know us” portion of the schedule.  Here’s your 2008-09 First Quarter Report.  (all stats and records through Sun. Dec. 7th)

Top Storyline. Nothing could be finer than to be from Carolina.  Right now, the top storyline is whether anyone can stop the North Carolina Tarheels before April 6th in Detroit.  There’s no need to go over all the impressive stats in this space again (check here instead), but suffice it to say that UNC has looked absolutely dominant through its eight games, and the reigning NPOY has only played in half of them.  It’s an absolute lock that UNC will hit ACC play undefeated and it’s very difficult to envision a scenario where the Heels drop more than a couple in league play by March Madness.  The storyline from here on out will be if any other team(s) develop to the point where they can realistically challenge UNC.

Men's Health
photo credit: Men’s Health

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